When I am doing better, my yoga practice gets to be more active and I love it. I find it way easier to stay interested in the practice, it invigorates my body and energizes me. When I’m having a Lyme flare, I can’t do anything active. My practice revolves around propping myself gently into different restorative poses and breathing through them. This gives my brain plenty of time to drift into The What Ifs.
The What Ifs play through my head in a cyclical loop as soon as I’m having a flare. The themes go something like this:
- What If it stays this bad?
- What if I can’t handle the pain this time?
- What if it takes years to get back to where I was?
- What if I can’t work (or walk, cycle, cook, get out of bed, cut my own food) anymore?
There are no answers to these questions. Sometimes the flare is just for a day but it can last weeks or months. I don’t know what I’m in for when I wake up and am plastered to my bed (or I crash mid-errand) and this makes a ripe environment for The What Ifs. Almost everyone with a chronic illness seems to need to contend with The What Ifs. There is plenty of writing available on how to manage them, some stressing the power of positive thinking, others the importance of non-attachment. I’m all for this, there is no one solution, folks are bound to experience and thus need to work with The What Ifs so differently.
There’s a really tricky point for me: If I tell myself that it will be fine, the “what if it won’t” loop plays louder. It is highly vigilant and does not want to get “tricked” into believing what might not be true. There are two things that help my brain to relinquish The What Ifs:
- To tell myself that I don’t know yet and allow for uncertainty. This side steps the part of my loop that will reply to any positive assurances with “yeah, but what if it doesn’t?” When I have a flare I need to tell myself that I have no idea how it will turn out and validate that this uncertainty carries a wide range of feelings. To each What If that arises, I reply, “yeah, I have no idea yet.” This is soothing to the pain fuelled part of me. “I have no idea.” Breathe. “There is no way to know.” Feel the feelings this evokes and breathe.
- I make a plan. For example: When faced with “What if it stays this bad?” instead of telling myself that I will be fine, I plan. “I will rest for two days and then call my specialist if I haven’t improved,” or “I will ask a friend to alert 3 people that I will be needing extra help.” I jot the plan down, if I am able, and then have more capacity to stay present in my yoga practice, knowing the answer to The What If. This is really affirming to me when I am stuck in a loop as it validates that an ongoing flare may need help, planning, or intervention.
How about you, friends? Do you have The What Ifs when you have a pain condition flare? What has been useful to you in managing the thought loops and in getting through the day?