Living with chronic illness means constant vigilance, in a way that only those who've experienced it can fully understand. It’s mentally exhausting! Even when you are doing something you enjoy or are with people you love, your mind is constantly reviewing your symptoms and status, considering your restrictions, and adjusting your body to meet your needs. This isn’t neurotic – it’s necessary. Eating the wrong food, doing too much, or just standing for too long can result in serious consequences that last for days or longer.
But there are times in everyone's life where you get caught up in the moment and actually – amazingly! – just forget you are sick briefly. I'm not talking about ignoring your limits and doing anything you want – we all know how that ends. But when you suddenly realize you experienced a period (perhaps just minutes) of living in the moment and letting go of the weight of that constant vigilance, it feels wonderful. You can increase those moments in your life by paying attention to what brings them on for you and seeking out those experiences.
I often spot these rare moments of mental freedom in hindsight. After laughing hard with my family (usually over some story that’s been told a hundred times), I might suddenly realize I wasn’t thinking about my illness for ten minutes. Or perhaps I got caught up in the beauty of a gorgeous sunset and just experienced those moments of pure joy. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as an amazing book or movie that takes me out of my own life and immerses me in a fictional world.
Here are some ideas to help you figure out what makes you briefly forget that you’re sick:
Think Back Over Past Experiences. Try to remember times when you just got caught up in the moment. What kinds of experiences make you feel that way? Are there certain people in your life that tend to make you laugh or get so involved in a conversation that you forget your illness for a few minutes? Think back to times when you felt this way and make note of who you were with and what you were doing.
Observe yourself. Many of us have trouble with our memories, so in addition to thinking back, keep a small notebook or your phone with you and jot down some notes immediately after an experience where you lived in the moment. Again, consider who you were with, where you were, what you were doing, and your mood or state of mind.
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Keep a Joy Journal. These moments of forgetting are really about joy – a joy that takes you out of your own head and allows you to just experience the moment. I have a Joy Journal where I periodically write down things that bring me joy. For a jump-start, try taking a few moments at the end of every day to write down everything that brought you joy. It might be simple things, like a brilliant blue sky out your window, hearing a wonderful song, a cup of your favorite tea, or a hug from a child in your life. Writing down these moments of joy helps tremendously; you will find yourself noticing joy more often in your life and feeling more grateful…and it will give you some ideas about what kinds of experiences help you to forget you are sick, even for just a few moments.
Once you start to pay attention, you will notice more of those miraculous-feeling times when you are able to just live in the moment. And when you recognize what kinds of experiences, people, and places bring on moments of mental freedom, you can take steps to have more of them. Perhaps for you, music takes you away mentally or being immersed in fiction or spending a little time with a particular friend or family member. Whatever brings on those moments of pure, unthinking joy for you, seek them out and recognize them when they occur. What makes you forget?
Suzan Jackson, a frequent ProHealth contributor, is a freelance writer who has had ME/CFS for 15 years and also has Lyme disease. Both of her sons also got ME/CFS 13 years ago, but one is now fully recovered after 10 years of illness and the other is in college, still with ME/CFS plus three tick-borne infections. She writes two blogs: Living with ME/CFS at http://livewithcfs.blogspot.com and Book By Book at http://bookbybook.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @livewithmecfs.