Yesterday was my birthday. My celebrations in the past have included multiple dinners and a Sunday brunch with girlfriends, going out to a club, going to a concert, and my all-time favorite, celebrating my 19th birthday with friends in Rio de Janeiro (I was studying abroad in Santiago, Chile at the time). This year was markedly different, because I was dealing with fatigue. I learned a huge lesson about living life in the wake of illness, by reframing my idea of a celebration.
Two weeks ago, I went out with a friend on a Sunday for church and brunch. After our meal, I had this sudden feeling that I was exhausted and needed to curl up in a blanket. Next, my knee began to hurt. This wasn’t a classic sign that I needed a nap. Instead, this dragging feeling has occurred on and off ever since that day. It has been exacerbated when I don’t get enough rest, or overdo it on exercise. So, as my birthday neared, I knew to draw in my expectations of what I would be able to do. I made no promises to myself, or anyone else.
Believe it or not, I felt bad about not gathering with my friends, because I was focusing on the fact that they took the time to reach out and wanted to see me. However, I decided to reframe this and be appreciative that I have friends who love me, with whom I can gather at any time. For now, I had to make decisions based on what I needed. In the end, I managed to do a lot, thanks to my partner who drove us to each destination, and was okay with planning the itinerary moment by moment:
I woke up to a lovely early breakfast. Then, I had about two hours to relax. This gave me time to thank my friends for birthday wishes, and preserved the energy I needed to enjoy a lovely midday tea. I surprised myself when I was able to follow it with a short walk to the pier.
After sitting for a minute, I checked in on how I felt before moving on to a new activity. I couldn’t see myself staying out for hours, or overly exerting myself, so I opted for a cafe that offered board games.
Finally, I decided that I wanted to go somewhere with a beautiful view. We went to a steakhouse that has a wonderful view of the Queen Mary and the Carnival Inspiration sitting in the Long Beach harbor.
I soon discovered that I was too tired to have drinks or dinner, but enjoyed appetizers along with hot water and lemon. I enjoyed watching the view until 5:30, when I was completely out of fuel. I came home and rested for a few hours, then enjoyed a slice of ice cream cake (and only one slice, thanks to Vons, which now sells single slices for this purpose!).
I’ve learned from my birthday celebration that the mid-morning is magical for me, followed by the late afternoon. I knew that overdoing it yesterday would do me no favors today, when I have an evening event to attend. Having a chronic illness doesn’t mean you can’t do things. It does mean, however, that you prioritize, and do things differently. You may not be able to take a day off from illness, but if you put your health first, you can still find ways to enjoy life.