Note: This article was original published on The Mighty on July 1st, 2016
Chronic illness has a way of hiding in every nook and cranny of your life. Every meal revolves around what you can and cannot eat, every half hour you are taking a different supplement, and if you're not tired you're in pain, and if you're not in pain you're tired. There are very few moments throughout the day where you feel… normal.
About six months after my chronic Lyme disease diagnosis, I realized it was all I ever thought about. From the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, Lyme was always there. Then, I made a decision. I needed to focus on healing, not disease, and if I couldn't focus on healing I needed to find ways to distract myself from disease.
Of course Lyme continues to permeate my daily life. Scheduling appointments, maintaining supplements and medications, and tracking symptoms is a full-time job, but just like my other job, I don't want it to be my life.
Here are 10 ways to take your mind off your illness:
1. Read a book you can get lost in.
I love this quote from Jonathan Franzen: "To me, the point of a novel is to take you to a still place. You can multitask with a lot of things, but you can’t really multitask reading a book. To me, the world of books is the quiet alternative— an ever more desperately needed alternative."
You cannot read a book and multitask; therefore, if you are reading a good book you won't be thinking about your illness. The best books to get lost in are fast-paced suspense or page turning science fiction/fantasy. Chronic illness patients tend to read only books about disease and healing. Sometimes we need to escape into a completely different world.
2. Follow/like people on social media unrelated to your illness.
I write a blog about Lyme disease, so most of the people I follow on social media have Lyme or are involved in Lyme advocacy and awareness. One day I realized my Twitter feed was all Lyme all the time. Sure it was informational and even inspirational, but not very diversified. I took action and followed some of my favorite celebrities, a couple of like-minded politicians, and a few motivational quotes. Now my feed is mostly Lyme with some happy distractions sprinkled in.
3. Discover a funny new podcast.
Podcasts are all the rage, so it's likely one of your favorite comedians or comedic actors has one. Search for "comedy" on a podcast app, like iTunes or Stitcher, and listen to one or two episodes of a few different podcasts until you figure out which ones make you laugh out loud. I love walking the dog listening to funny people banter. And, as we know, laughter is the best medicine.
4. Find and walk a labyrinth.
A labyrinth is a walking meditation. It's a spiral patterned path you walk to quiet your mind. Sometimes people walk the labyrinth looking for answers to a question or because it is grounding. The website World-Wide Labyrinth Locator has an extensive database. Do a search of your area to see if there are any labyrinths near you. They are commonly located on church grounds or parks and are usually open to the public.
5. Take an adult field trip.
Remember when you were a kid and field trip day was the best day ever. You completely forgot about school and were even excited to go to school. Why should you lose that feeling simply because you are an adult? I plan adult field trips all the time in Chicago where I live. I've toured famous architectural buildings, spent a day at the zoo or nature center, gone to the science museum, I even consider going to movies an adult field trip — anything to get you motivated to get out of the house.
6. Revisit your favorite childhood movie.
There is something timeless and innocent about your favorite childhood movie. Most likely it's a movie you watched over and over again and haven’t seen in awhile. Nostalgia is a great way to transport yourself away from thoughts of illness. Do yourself a favor and take a walk down memory lane. For me this would be the Anne of Green Gables miniseries. It's amazing how I’ll go years without seeing it and still remember every single line.
7. Find and listen to your feel good song.
You know that song that comes of the radio and your mood immediately goes from a 2 to a 10? That's the song you need in your back pocket when you feel stuck in the endless loop of "What now?," which is ever present with illness. Sometimes when my mind takes over, I turn to music to make the static a little more clear. And why stop at just one song? I have an entire playlist of "feel good" songs. See number eight for some suggestions.
8. Have a solo dance party.
I don't know about other people with chronic illness, but nothing sounds more exhausting than going out dancing. However, I love to dance. Sometimes I'll turn on a favorite song just to dance through a chore I otherwise wouldn't have had the energy to do.
Africa by Toto
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by The Beatles
I Really Like You by Carly Rae Jepsen
You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates
Best Song Ever by One Direction
I've Just Begun by Britney Spears
Wannabe by The Spice Girls
Don't Stop Me Now by Queen
Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon
9. Read a gossip magazine.
The beauty of gossip magazines is they require very little thinking to "read." Flip through the pictures to see what celebrities are up to these days. Gossip magazine writers get paid to make stories as enticing as possible, so you are bound to get caught up in which celebrity just got plastic surgery.
10. Help out a friend or family member.
A good way to forget about your illness for a little while is to turn your focus outward. Is there a friend or family going through a difficult time? Could they use a little assistance or a kind message? A person with chronic illness most likely won’t be able to help someone move or clean someone’s house, but you can send a nice email or make a phone call.
Chronic illness can really feel like an inescapable cage, but remember every cage has a small door. Find your key to unlocking the door and use it as much as you can.
What do you do to forget about your illness for a while?
"I finally figured out the only reason to be alive is to enjoy it." - Rita Mae Brown
I'm Kerry (She/Her/Hers) and I am a licensed therapist, group facilitator, poet, writer, & speaker. This is a place to acknowledge and validate our suffering and trauma, while also learning how to turn toward aliveness and spaciousness.