Well, at the first sign of a flare-up, I go into my own red alert mode.
For me, that means doing things like:
- canceling trips outside the home for appointments, engagements and events
- cutting back on all physical activities--chores, driving, shopping, arts & crafts
- scheduling lots and lots of extra rest and sleep
- pulling out medications and self-care items to combat increased symptoms: pain medications and patches, muscle rubs, ice packs, heating pads
- delegating tasks and asking for extra help from my support system
- increasing the use of pleasant distractions, like music, movies and TV shows
- engaging in a lot of soothing and encouraging self-talk, i.e. 'You can get through this.' 'With some extra rest, you will be O.K.' 'Just take this one day at a time...'
How long I need to do these things depends of course on how intense and severe my flare-up is. Early on, my flare-ups from overdoing things were pretty epic, requiring a few weeks to overcome. My absolute worse flare-up, after my failed attempt at Hepatitis C treatment back in 2007, took about 3 months of post-flare recovery time.
I developed my personal flare-up response plan over time. It became a real priority after I learned the hard way that ignoring a flare-up and continuing to push myself had big, bad consequences--like a 7 day migraine headache that required a trip to the Emergency Room. (By the way, like knee pain, migraines are a symptom I only get when I am flared up.)
To put things into perspective, having a flare-up plan isn't just another burden and bother of living with fibromyalgia. I've come to see it as an important self-management tool, one that people living with other chronic illnesses use too. For example, people with diabetes develop a sick day plan to deal with the high blood sugar that comes with having a cold, flu or stomach bug.
Getting a heads up when I am heading into a flare-up is one of the benefits I found to tracking my symptoms and their severity. So now, if I see that my symptoms are getting worse, I can cut back and rest up right away. I've discovered that an early response to a flare-up 1) prevents the flare-up from getting worse and 2) help me recover and get back to my "normal" chronically ill self sooner.
In addition to taking steps to recover and calm my body down, I also take some time to figure out the cause behind my flare up. I do this to learn what factors contribute to my flares, some of which I shared with you yesterday in the section So what causes flare-ups? My goal is to learn what factors are under my control and then take steps to prevent these things from flaring me up again.
This is not always as easy as it sounds, both in finding the culprits and figuring out how to combat them.
For example, I recently flared-up and found myself scratching my head. I know I hadn't overdone it and the weather wasn't the culprit. Turns out, a few days later I came down with a cold. It seems the cold virus started a flare-up several days before cold symptoms appeared.
I can't always prevent myself from getting sick, so this is one flare-up culprit I need to accept as being out of my control.
Tomorrow I am going to talk about how I learned to stop the push/crash flare-up cycle and move towards living life inside my energy envelope. Plus I want to share with you my current goal of finding to the "sweet spot," my term for living well with chronic illness while also storing energy for healing.