All, Lifestyle

The Chronic Illness Series (2): How To Be Sick

In the search of a way to deal with being a chronically ill person, I stumbled upon this book: How To Be Sick by Toni Bernhard. It had very good reviews on Goodreads, so I decided to give it a go. This book is aimed at offering strategies to deal with the things most people with chronic illness deal with, like physical suffering, the ups and downs of being sick, communication with others about the illness,… These strategies are Buddhist-inspired, though you don’t have to be a buddhist to give her advice a go.

The author of How to be Sick, Toni Bernhard, suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Her symptoms are flu-like, she is constantly tired and bed-bound. In the book she talks about how it all started and the journey that took her to where she is now. She lives her life from her bed, meditates, writes, has friends over and has what sounds like an amazing husband that takes care of her. She has spend a lot of time practicing and adjusting Buddhist practices to her own needs. By writing this down, she created a sort of manual to deal with a whole list of problems that a chronically ill person may face, all doable from your bed.

I’ve learned a lot from reading this book. The way Toni deals with her illness is really inspiring. She explains how she cultivates joy in the joy of others, lets go of her suffering and frustration through her breathing, how she has compassion for her own suffering body and how she attempts to sooth and comfort her body and mind.

Mindfulness is a big part of the book. She explains how, when you are worried about the future, focussing on the facts of the current moment can help to lighten your mental distress. I practiced this technique so many times. When I am stressed out in the waiting room of the hospital, I make my mind focus on the visual aspects of the room; this chair is white and rounded, the wallpaper has a zig-zag texture and is painted in a light-green color, the lady sitting in front of me is wearing brown boots with black tips,… Or I start to count certain things: What kind of food do I have in my fridge right now? How many pieces of furniture are there in my living room?

Try Byron Katie’s practice of stating what you’re doing physically right now: ‘Woman lying on bed, reading a book’. This will take you out of your repeating round of stressful thoughts and into the present moment.

There are also some small but efficient techniques I took from the book, like stroking my arm with my other arm. This may sound a little stupid, but it reminds me that my body is working hard to keep me alive and that it is not the enemy.

I personally tend to be really hard on myself when it comes to the way I deal with my symptoms. I think that I am a bad friend for talking/nagging too much about my symptoms. Toni says that she blamed herself for a lot of things similar to this too, until she realized that she would never be as hard on a friend than on herself. She then changed her way of thinking and became kinder to herself. Inspiring.

Remember that we’d never speak as harshly to others as we do to ourselves.

A lot of techniques in this book offer a different way of looking at things and thus finding some peace in being ill. Some of the techniques aren’t for me, like repeated loving-kindness phrases and trying to keep a don’t-know mind. Most other things I found really interesting and eye opening. The book definitely changed my views on dealing with my illness for the better and was therefore the best book I read in 2016. I highly recommend it!

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