So…. Over to Emma!
Hello, I’m Emma, a blogger at Not Just Tired and I’m very excited to be contributing a guest post to The Thyroid Damsel! I’ve been living with ME/CFS for the past four years, and I blog to create awareness of this condition, as well as sharing ideas on how we can live well with chronic illness!
That old saying ‘a change is as good as a rest’ speaks a lot of truth when we’re healthy & well, but does it actually apply when we’re living with a chronic illness?
When living with a chronic illness it goes without saying that rest is absolutely essential. Most of us need to plan in time to rest each day. On the bad days (or for people with severe chronic illnesses) sometimes the only thing we are able to do is rest and anything else is a bonus.
I have ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and without sufficient rest, I know that I wouldn’t be able to function and get through each day.
So can a change of scene still be good for our health and what does it actually involve? It could mean going on holiday, taking a short break, or simply taking a couple of hours to visit somewhere new. However, when living with a chronic illness those aren’t the only things we need to consider.
We need to think about whether we can cope with the traveling, the climate, being away from our routines and home comforts that help us to manage our health. Will we have enough support, access to medication, the right facilities? Will we be able to cater for any dietary requirements we may have, etc etc! Also, will we have enough energy to go away and enjoy ourselves and not crash when we’re there or when we get home?
In other words, is it actually worth it?
It’s no longer just a matter of booking your tickets or hopping in a car and away you go! When living with a chronic illness like ME/CFS everything has to be planned.
Last month my husband, our two and a half-year-old son and I managed to go on holiday to Spain. Hooray! For me going on holiday, these days is a big achievement in itself and I’m grateful my health actually allowed me to do so. Bearing in mind that before becoming ill my husband and I used to love to travel, having visited places like Thailand, Australia, and many European destinations! These days just visiting my local town takes up a lot of energy – not to mention planning!
I’d also like to point out that we previously tried to travel abroad when I was pregnant (with ME/CFS) and just as we were about to take off on the flight, I took a funny turn and fainted – so it was game over!
Sometimes our bodies don’t do what we want them to – or maybe it was trying to tell me that a trip abroad at that time was simply too much for me. However, after (almost!) getting over my fear of this happening again by taking a holiday abroad last year, I was up for trying again this time! I knew it would be a lovely place to go as a family and also I find the sunshine does me some good!
To prepare before we went I made sure I had plenty of rest the week before we were due to travel. I kept my diet nice and simple and ate foods that were unlikely to cause an IBS flare up (something else I suffer with!). Packing was done very gradually, rather than running around like a headless chicken throwing things into the suitcase – like I used to do! Having a toddler to pack for as well meant I definitely had to pace myself!
On the day we were due to travel I gave myself plenty of time to get ready and eat breakfast. We booked sensible, daytime flights – as getting up too early in the morning or traveling late at night would not do me (or my toddler!) any favors.
Throughout traveling, I made sure I stayed as calm and relaxed as possible, as any kind of stress can mean a flare up of symptoms. I let my husband entertain my toddler as much as possible in order for me to reserve my energy to get through the day! I made sure that I ate regularly, and I took a time to shut my eyes on the flight and listen to a relaxation track, as I knew I’d miss my usual daily lie down.
So once we finally got there, was it all worth it? Yes! It really was! As expected I was pretty wiped out that evening and into the next day, but I recovered ok after that. I actually felt pretty well on holiday and got some welcome relief from my symptoms.
Sometimes at home, I’ll have good days, but these usually don’t last for more than a day or two. On holiday, I seemed to feel quite well for most of the time we were away 🙂 Yes, I was sensible and made sure I paced myself, got enough rest and went for a lie down every afternoon (quite nice that taking a siesta is actually ‘normal’ in Spain!) – but it was so nice to feel ok and get some relief from the pain and all the other symptoms I suffer with.
Which left me pondering as to why that actually was! I know that it is, of course, more relaxing on holiday, but we were with our (very energetic!) toddler, which meant there was not much time to wind down and take it easy! Yes, the sunshine definitely helped (as long as I sat in the shade of course!), but I think there was more to it than that. I believe that the change of scene definitely had something to do with the improvement in my health!
I found I was able to do more without realizing it (for example walking further), which led me to think that maybe we can get a little stuck in our normal habits and routines. Maybe subconsciously we put limits on ourselves by following the same patterns in our everyday life?.
If we always get up at the same time, follow the same daily activities, visit the same places, eat the same things, be with the same people – then perhaps our bodies and minds get used to this and we learn to live within our boundaries.
I know that when living with a chronic illness we have to be really sensible and we can’t just throw caution to the wind. However, by taking my mind off things and breaking my usual habits, it seemed to do me some good!
Being away also made me realize how much easier it was to become absorbed in living in the present moment, as we visited new sights, took in the local area and followed a new way of life for a few days.
We receive constant advice about living our lives in the present, but sometimes it can be difficult to step off the treadmill of everyday life. Especially when living with a chronic illness. We become so used to our normal routines that we find ourselves living on autopilot a lot of the time.
Seeing new things, tasting different food, taking photos, doing things at different times of the day – all meant that I was much more conscious of being in the moment rather than worrying about the past or thinking about the future.
In Spain, I loved taking time to gaze at the sea and the mountains; taking an evening stroll through the winding streets; sitting in a plaza watching the world go by; enjoying the tempting lure of the many tapas bars; watching my toddler having fun on the beach and playing in the plazas each evening! All very different activities to what I would do at home, and I found myself relaxing and simply going with the ‘flow’ a lot more.
I think that when you take time out from the distractions and stresses of your own life, you find you relax more easily and notice more of what’s going around you – both of which lead to you enjoying more of life’s simple pleasures. Bliss!
Of course, the holiday had to come to an end! To be honest, coming home was tough, and I found the traveling on the way back took it out of me a lot more.
It took me about a week to recover from it all and get back to my kind of ‘normal’. Post-holiday blues mixed with Post Exertional Malaise (PEM – many people with ME/CFS suffer from this after physical/mental activity), was not much fun!
Still, we had a lovely holiday and I’d say it was definitely worth it! It was nice for my world to get that bit bigger again and to see and experience new things. Having a change of scenery made a huge difference.
So in answer to the question, ‘is a change as good as a rest’, I’d say that in my experience a change was definitely a wonderful thing!
I believe a change can provide us with a new lease on life and a fresh perspective on the world.
However, when living a chronic illness, rest obviously needs to come first and needs to be incorporated into any holidays and activities you may be able to do.
Now that I’m back, in reality, it’s made me think about how can we easily bring some of that ‘flow’ and fresh perspective into our everyday lives.
When living with a chronic illness it’s not always possible to up sticks and hop on a plane to Spain, but we can perhaps make small changes to bring new things into our lives. It doesn’t have to anything big, just a few little tweaks here and there can make a difference.
How about trying something different to eat for breakfast, going somewhere new for a cup of coffee, sitting in the park and watching the world go by, or trying a new activity like painting or knitting perhaps!
You never know where it may lead and you may find you surprise yourself!
What small changes do you think you can make today? I’d love to hear your comments!
If you loved Emma’s post as much as I did, You can follow her on her social media links below!