I've been going through my closet after binge-watching Marie Kondo's show on Netflix, and I've been asking myself if each item of clothing "sparks joy."
The reality is, since I got sick, I've had to abandon my carefully curated wardrobe in favour of comfortable leggings. On the plus side, they do fold into those KonMari triangles better than a Prada jacket — you really can find the bright side to everything.
Late last year, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis: conditions of the uterus and surrounding areas that lead to swelling and pain. For me, the diagnosis was a strange sort of blessing. It meant the debilitating pain I'd been feeling for over a year had not been in my head. A diagnosis was also something I could tackle, like a new writing project or a renovation. I resolved to learn to craft a joy-filled life in spite of a chronic condition. Here's what I've discovered so far.
Focus on the positives
The first thing I did when I received news of my condition was find the silver lining. Actually, that's a complete lie. The first thing I did was to feel very sorry for myself. Then, I googled the conditions obsessively, scouring through medical abstracts to try to find a cure. Eventually, I realized I would be stuck with this thing for a while and had better find some positives.
Luckily, I had my kids, so I was spared the fertility worries that can accompany this diagnosis. I'd had an eye surgery procedure go bad the previous year, so I was used to operating in less than optimal conditions. I'm old, so I'm not that far from menopause, which often proves to be a cure. Additionally, they'd been able to remove a lot of endometriosis during the diagnostic surgery, so there was a good chance some of the pain would be lessened. And my surgeon was optimistic that progesterone would help me too. Compared to a lot of people in my situation, I was actually pretty lucky, and I tried to focus on that.
Watch: Endometriosis symptoms women commonly report. Blog continues after video.
Find joy in what you can do
I had spent a lot of the past year focusing on what I could not do. But there's a lot I could do. During my six-week recovery from the surgery, I read, wrote, and watched a zillion Hallmark movies. Because I was prepared to be physically incapacitated over the holidays, I'd done all my preparations in advance, making for a joy-filled, stress-free holiday compared to past years. To keep my spirits up, I made a list of all of the things I could do once I'd recovered: go to an art gallery, attend the ballet, and have lunch or coffee with a friend. There were more things I could do than I couldn't.
Find some control in the chaos
One of the worst things about chronic illness is the sense of helplessness that develops. After a year of cancelled plans, it felt like I might never get better. For me, the key was regaining a sense of control. I discovered a lot of bloggers and Instagrammers who'd found pain relief though diet. Giving up dairy, gluten, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and red meat is never easy, but it gave me the sense that I had some control over the way I felt. Plus, I discovered the merits of oat milk decaf lattes, which put me on trend.
It's hard to make plans when you don't know how you'll feel from one day to the next. I was reluctant to buy concert tickets or make travel plans, which were previously sources of enjoyment. I'm now telling everyone that I'm a good person to call at a moment's notice when they want to get together or someone else cancels plans. I have no idea if I'll be good for lunch three Wednesdays from now, but I know I'm good for lunch in ten minutes. I've never been a spontaneous person, but I'm starting to see its merits.
Take baby steps
Everyone seems to swear by the healing powers of exercise, but exercise had been a key source of my pain. The hundred crunches in Pilates is not fun at the best of times, but it becomes excruciating when your abdomen is on fire. Now, I'm happy if I get in a walk or do some stretching, knowing I'll get back to where I need to be eventually.
Be open to new things
While I know the jury is still out on a lot of non-traditional medicines, many smart people swear by their effects. And ever since I got over a cold after spending an hour in a salt cave, I've been a believer. I've found success using essential oils and crystals as part of a self-care plan to manage pain and fatigue. This year, I plan to try some new, alternative healing methods like cupping and reiki and singing bowls (after consulting with my doctor, of course.) If nothing else, it will keep me busy and distracted.
Focus on the soul
While I would not have asked for this, illness can be oddly freeing. You really do learn to take pleasure in small things, and what you once took for granted now brings you joy. I've finally been able to do some light skiing after sitting out a few seasons, and skiing green runs down an escarpment brings me as much pleasure as skiing Whistler once did. One of my favourite things to do now is to hang out with my family and watch something on TV. Life is no longer about bragging rights, it's about enjoyment. (And, let's face it, leggings are way more comfortable than anything in the pages of Vogue.) Chronic illness might be terrible for the ego, but it can be oddly good for the soul. This year, I plan to focus more on that.
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