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A Mental Health Flare-Up Kit

During a flare-up, we all have our tools and assistive devices to make things better. From a walker to a cane to a showering chair, we try to keep up with our body's needs. I sleep with a heating pad beside me most of the time, and BioFreeze is my best friend.

I have found that when I’m in an ankylosing spondylitis flare-up, I go into what I call crying spells. I get weepy, needy, and soft. I’m more sensitive than I typically am  — I’m already pretty sensitive by nature — and my emotions are heightened. I feel bad for not being able to do all the things that I want to do. I don’t enjoy being in a position of helplessness, and it’s triggering to be in so much pain when the day before was so very different. I start falling into, "what is happening?" rabbit hole — which does no one any good. Flares make me feel different, helpless, and weak.

Flare-ups also push on all my buttons; they bring up things that come from a rough childhood. That may sound histrionic, but I think dealing with a chronic illness means confronting your demons and your ghosts and your past selves, which is something you don't always anticipate.

And so protecting my mental health during a flare-up is one of my top priorities. The body and the mind are not separate, I've learned the hard way. These vessels we embody are sensitive and fickle and require awareness and action.

Here's what my mental health kit looks like.

Reduce anxiety with calming videos

I like to reduce my pain anxiety by watching ASMR videos on YouTube. ASMR videos are made by people who use soft sounds and dim lighting to tell a story, usually in whispers. The point is simple: Relaxation and joy. Sometimes I’ll just lay in bed and let myself be distracted by one of the videos; they help me "turn off" and get out of my head. More often than not I’m listening to a French guy whispering into a microphone about history. It’s a win-win! I learned something new and I rest my weary mind.

Get into nature

There are so many proven benefits to being in nature, especially when you’re stressed or anxious. Nature has a way of showing you resiliency, patience, and generosity. I tend to take a walk through the Brooklyn Botanical Garden or slowly walk through the park. Sometimes I’ll tend to the plants inside my home, simply as a way to meditate and get my mind off the pain. It's like the color green is a sedative that gently lulls me into a meditative, happier state.

Remember, this is temporary

Even if I’ve experienced flare-up after flare-up, I try to remember the old adage: This too shall pass. I'll scribble the affirmation on a piece of paper and tape it to my desk or over my bed. It's a great reminder that the feelings that I’m feeling and the pain that I’m in does end.

I’ve done this before. I can get through it again. And there will be a day where it will be a memory.

Seek acceptance

Accepting this disease — let's be honest — is incredibly difficult, but it’s something I’ve turned to time and again. I used to ask, "why me?" in the middle of flareups. I would obsess over the fact that the disease was handed down to me and that it would never go away.

These days, I try to say to my body, I accept you as you are. It’s a small token of love toward the body, and I feel like that shifts the energy and the way that I respond to flare-ups.

How do you tend to your mental health when you are in a flare-up and dealing with major pain?

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