Dealing with chronic illness can bring up a set of challenges you never expected to face. Learning how to cope feels even harder when you don’t feel well. Keeping a journal can be a place to reflect on your chronic illness, how you feel about it, and keep track of what you’re going through.
What is chronic illness?
A chronic illness is a condition that lasts a year or more, and that either requires ongoing medical care or limits day to day activities, or both. Some examples of chronic illnesses are heart disease, cancer, stroke, endometriosis, migraine, fibromyalgia, arthritis, diabetes, and asthma.
Chronic illness not only leaves you with physical symptoms and pain, but the toll it takes in other aspects of life is heavy as well. It’s expensive to be unwell in the US. Health insurance is a tricky maze to navigate. Not everyone with a chronic illness can have a job, so finances can be really tight.
Chronic illness also brings up tremendous grief. There’s the grief for what could have been if things were different. There’s the grief of coming to terms with your condition. There is also the grief of missing out on important events due to your illness. Many folks deal with the grief of not being able bodied in a world that is hostile to disabled folks.
How does journaling help with self-care?
Journaling can be an important part of self-care for people with chronic illness. Keeping a journal can be beneficial to mental health, but it can also support physical health too. Research has found that journaling can help improve resilience, strengthen immunity, and manage stress. Stress management is particularly important, because prolonged exposure to stress can lead to physical illness and mental distress. Journaling can help you understand your thought process, explore your feelings, understand yourself better, find patterns in your thinking, track symptoms, and even problem solve.
A journal is also a nice reminder of how far you’ve come. You can intimately see your progress and refer back to it when you feel like nothing will ever change. If you need proof that things can change, it’s right there in your journal.
Finally, you can use a journal as a reference point of sorts for managing your chronic illness. You can track your symptoms and see if there are any patterns for what gives you relief. You can keep lists of ways to manage pain or distress when flares come up. It can be hard to think of things that will make you feel better in the moment when you’re in pain, so having a cheat sheet handy can be helpful.
Why do community care and self-care matter for chronically ill folks?
Self-care is a particularly important tool for chronically ill people. When your baseline is already not feeling well, it might feel counterproductive to take care of yourself. However, everyone deserves care, even you. Self-care is a way to show yourself that you are worthy of being taken care of, even when you don’t feel like it. It can make you feel empowered, even when you’re feeling otherwise miserable or in pain.
The world we live in is not set up for folks with chronic illness and disabilities. Many places are inaccessible physically. Self-care is definitely an important part of the formula, but community care is necessary too. If you can, advocate for community organizations in your area that work with chronically ill and disabled folks. Self-care and community care go hand in hand when it comes to overall wellness.
Journal prompts for people with chronic illness
If you’re looking for ways to practice self-care as a chronically ill person, a journal can be a great place to start. A journal can be whatever you want it to be – a letter to yourself, a place to keep lists, an art diary – whatever speaks to you is perfect. It can be tough to think of what to write in a journal sometimes, though.
Here are some journal prompts for people with chronic illness:
- How do I feel about my body today?
- How is my body communicating with me today?
- Where do I feel the most energy in my body?
- Where do I feel the least energy in my body?
- Make a list of warning signs for an illness flare.
- What are my favorite ways to recharge my mind?
- What are my favorite ways to recharge my body?
- How have my thoughts on my chronic illness changed over time?
- What small change could I make that would impact my health?
- How would I talk to my best friend about this same issue? Is it the same way I would talk to myself?
- What does chronic illness mean to me?
- What is my first memory of my illness?
- Are there any things I’ve learned about myself because of my illness?
- What emotions are coming up for me today? Where are they coming from?
- Is there anything I have control over today?
- What don’t I have control over?
- Write about your diagnosis journey.
- What bothers me about not having control?
- What small thing can I do right now to feel better in the next five minutes?
- Who can I ask for help?
- Who can I count on to hold space for me?
- List some things you hope people never say again about your illness.
- What is the most supported I have felt during my illness?
- What would I like people to know about living with chronic illness?
- What’s something I struggle with on a daily basis? Is there anything that could make that easier for me?
- How has my diagnosis changed me as a person?
- Keep a list of ways to cope on a flare day.
- How can I show myself kindness today, no matter how I’m feeling?
- Write a letter to your illness.
- Is there anything I can forgive myself for?