Living with a chronic illness isn’t easy. Even simple everyday tasks can be daunting. And chronic illness as a mom can make things even more challenging.
I have been living with chronic illness and pain since 2006. Long story short, I was born with two extra ribs around my neck which caused immense pain, numbness, and loss of mobility/function of my arms and fingers. This condition is known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). I went through two separate surgeries to get rid of the culprits. But due to the anatomical structure of those ribs, the surgeons could only remove them partially. So even after the surgeries and physical therapy, I am still in pain.
Life with Chronic Pain
This condition has affected my life every day. After every 10 minutes of walking, I have to lie down in bed or rest. I am not able to move my body or stretch my arms like an average person. Even keeping my arms above my head for a couple of minutes causes pain and numbness.
I cannot remember the last time I spent a day without any pain; I don’t remember how it feels to easily play badminton, basketball, or just run around.
Some days my pain is manageable. Other days when I am physically active (for example: cooking, doing photography, or making videos), the problems get worse. Sometimes it gets so bad that I have to stop everything and lie down to catch my breath.
When I got pregnant in 2015 I was terrified. I had so many questions running through my mind: How am I supposed to take care of a baby when I can hardly take care of myself? What if the baby turns out like me? How can I hold a baby when carrying a regular purse with my cell phone and wallet causes pain? How will I manage chronic illness as a mom?
To try to ease my anxiety, I spoke with another mother who had been in a similar situation. I asked her how she handled all her responsibilities as a mother while dealing with chronic pain. She said, I took it one day at a time.
One Day at a Time
One day at a time sounded doable, but I am someone who hates surprises and likes to have a plan.
Needless to say, nothing went according to “plan” when my baby arrived. She was premature, the 24-hour long labor was excruciating, and I had no support system here in Fargo. And as soon as we brought our daughter home, my husband had to go back to work and I was alone.
In addition, I experienced Postpartum Depression. It got to the point where I spent my days either crying or not having any emotions at all. I was in pain and still doing all the things necessary for my daughter, but I didn’t know what to do for myself. Then I remembered: One day at a time. And began to take it day by day.
Days turned into months, and months rolled into years. Eventually, I learned how to manage my health, family, and career. I created a seemingly “normal” routine; becoming so busy with work and my daughter that I didn’t have time to reflect on anything depressing. I also pushed my body and taught myself to recognize the “point of no return” (the last point where I can push my body to work; if I crossed that threshold, the result will be extremely bad for my health). But I also learned along the way to go easy on myself and accept my shortcomings.
Adjusting Family Life and Career with Chronic Illness
One comment I get often is that I make the chronic illness look so normal! I always take this as a compliment. I know all the work that is done behind the scenes, what I go through and how much sacrifice my family has to make for me just to get through each day.
In my experience, time and energy management is the key to getting through all the responsibilities I have each day. This is especially true since becoming a mother. Do I have the best management skills? Nope! But I am learning and implementing skills each day.
My management skills were not worth mentioning before becoming a mother. But after my daughter’s birth, I found a new strength to push forward and challenge my limits.
My family and my career as a blogger/ writer/ social media consultant are both are so important to me. And I have found that I need to plan out my day and prioritize to get things done when dealing with chronic illness and pain, especially as a mom.
Often, it comes down to which role needs to be made my absolute priority on a specific day. For example, on days when I have a deadline or am working on a big project, those days are mainly dedicated to work. My husband will take over my daughter’s care. When my family has any event which requires me to go outside and be physically active, I will keep that day for the family. I cannot do anything else related to work that day. It’s because my health limitations require me to focus on one big task a day (like photography, videography, cooking, or doing groceries). In the chronic illness world, it is known as Spoon Theory.
The Emotional Toll
There are days when my tolerance reaches its limit. This is especially true on the days when my body cannot take any more pain and I just want everything to stop. For these days a support system is what can make everything a little bit better. I am blessed to have a family who understands my condition and some good friends who also have chronic illnesses. These are my people who comfort and support me when I need it most.
If you are like me and suffering from a chronic illness as a mom, I advise you to create a support system, who can help you keep it all together, physically and mentally, on the bad days.
The thing that helps me most on the tough days is a hug from my daughter and when she says “Don’t worry, Mommy, I will take care of you.” The love and understanding I receive from my five year-old is what keeps me going!
You Are Not Alone
This article is dedicated to the mothers who tolerate the pain, discomfort, and loneliness a chronic illness brings. I salute you and I am here for you. Although many people will not see your pain, I see it. I feel it. You are not alone.
Leave me a comment below or send me a direct message. I am here to listen to your story and encourage you. Living with a chronic illness is remarkably difficult, but together we can support each other, one day at a time.