Dealing With Chronic Illness: How to Feel Better When You Aren’t Better

Sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it. Here are some tips that really work to help you forget how  sick you are for a while and feel a little bit better.

A few weeks ago, when I walked into the bathroom at work, I was greeted by sticky notes all over the mirror. They bore messages like “Good Morning Gorgeous! Go Get ‘Em!” and “You Are Good Enough. Accept Yourself.” and “Smile!” and “Hello, Lovely!” and many more.

Even though I know that whoever put up those notes wasn’t thinking of me, and probably doesn’t even know me, I felt it was a personal message to me that I desperately needed to hear.

I haven’t felt very good lately. A major surgery will definitely do that to a girl. I’m exhausted. I can barely drag myself out of bed in the morning, and since getting ready one-armed is so difficult, I go to work feeling a little self-conscious and just not quite put together. Then there is the added fun of being newly diagnosed with Lyme disease and just beginning treatment, which makes me feel even worse. And I know I have a long road ahead of me with both my shoulder rehab and the Lyme treatment. I’m not going to feel good for a long time.

When I look at that picture I took of the sticky notes, I see a girl whose hair isn’t just how she likes it because her husband has to do it for her right now. I see a girl wearing an ugly sling who can’t use her arm. I see a girl who has to do her make-up left handed, so she isn’t wearing as much as she usually does and is feeling a little self-conscious about her unibrow, because plucking is out of the question right now. I see a girl who is wearing glasses when she’d prefer to wear her contacts, but it’s too hard to put them in one-handed. I see a girl who could stand to lose a few pounds. Ugh.

But if I back up and look just a little more objectively, I see a girl whose hair looks just fine. Her husband did a pretty great job on that pony tail! I see a girl who has nice skin, even if her eyeliner isn’t perfect. I see a girl who is wearing some cool funky glasses that she really likes, and bonus! They hide the fact that she hasn’t plucked that dang unibrow. I also see a girl who is wearing a color that looks fabulous on her and who chose clothing that fits her well. I see a girl who is wearing a houndstooth scarf because she LOVES houndstooth more than anything.

We are our own worst critics, aren’t we?

So I’ve been thinking of ways I can shift my focus and feel more confident when I don’t feel great. Or, you know, when I don’t look great. It’s all the same thing, right?

1. Wear Things You Love

I used to think I needed to dress to fit in better with others. But in the past few years, I have given myself permission to wear the things I really love, even if it’s not trendy or if it’s not something my friends would wear. One thing I love is houndstooth. So I wear it a lot, and I feel great in it.

Don’t just wear stuff you love, BUY stuff you love. Stop buying clothes just because they’re on sale, or because the clerk said you look nice in them. If you don’t love it, don’t buy it. This has the nice side effect of saving you money as well as ensuring that your wardrobe makes you happy. (If you feel like you need help with this, I have found Dressing Your Truth to be an incredible resource for learning which clothes to wear.)

I love houndstooth, but my youngest daughter loves wearing cheetah and leopard print. She wears it every. single. day. It’s all she ever wants to buy at the store. But it makes her really happy, so I’m totally cool with it. Maybe it’s a phase she’ll grow out of, or maybe she will wear animal print for the rest of her life. Who cares, as long as she feels great?

2. Get Ready For the Day

When you don’t feel good, this can be difficult. On the days I don’t have to work, I would definitely rather stay in my pajamas and mope around the house. And sometimes that’s exactly what I do. But I sure don’t feel very good doing it. Even if I don’t do much, if I take the time to get showered and dressed and maybe put on a little bit of makeup, I feel better because I took the time to care about myself.

After my surgery, I had my first physical therapy appointment two days later. I felt more than awful. But my mom told me to put some lipstick on. I did, and I immediately felt just a little bit better. In fact, “Put some lipstick on” is a phrase I’ve heard from my mother since I was old enough to wear lipstick. She was right then, and she’s still right now.

On my way to physical therapy, wearing a little bit of lipstick and even a necklace! (This was a week after the surgery…)

Of course, if lipstick isn’t your thing, that’s cool. Put some chapstick on, comb your hair, get dressed (in something you love!), and feel better.

3. Smile!

Audrey Hepburn said that the happiest girls are the prettiest girls, and she was exactly right. Even if you’re not feeling well enough to actually feel happy, fake it till you make it by putting a smile on your face.

Me and my mom–we’re the prettiest because we’re the happiest.

4. Do Things That Bring You Joy

This will depend on how you’re feeling, of course, but bring joy into your life. If sleep does that for you right now, by all means, take a nap! Read your favorite book, watch a movie that you love, go out to dinner with your friends, play games with your children, watch the sunset, or bake your favorite treat. Don’t let how you feel keep you from doing something you enjoy each day.

About a month before my shoulder surgery, we were vacationing in Hawaii. That alone was enough to bring me lots of joy, but I really wanted to go snorkeling. I was worried about my shoulder, though, and I was in a lot of pain. I snorkeled anyway, even though I was slow because I had to do a sort of modified one-armed doggy paddle to keep from hurting myself.

It was the highlight of my trip and I am so glad I did it!

5. Forget Yourself and Think of Others

Once you have taken care of yourself, it’s time to forget about how you look and focus on those around you. Nothing will give you more confidence than helping others and being there for those you love.

Even if you aren’t feeling great, you can still do small things for others. Maybe just sending a quick note in the mail or being a listening ear is all you can handle, but it helps to forget your own issues. If you’re feeling more energetic, you can find bigger things to do for others. The point is, to take your mind off of how you look and feel by helping others. I promise it works.

What do you do to feel better?

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Andrea B.

Great reminders, Lara. I hope you're back to yourself 100% soon – but at the same time I know you're hanging in there and making your way, as this post goes to show. Keep smiling and keep hanging on!

Hilda Rodgers

These are great lessons Lara! When I was first laid off from my former job I spent a lot of days in pajamas. It was a nice break at first after having to get ready in the morning for so many years, but then I noticed I wasn't very productive in my pjs. I still enjoy the occasional pajama day on the weekend or holidays, but on other days that I'm at home, I make a point of "getting ready" just like I used to. Thanks for these reminders. I'm inspired by your positive attitude through your recovery. Hope you're all better soon!

Kimber Daley

Thank you for this!! I've been doing a better job of trying to do #5 more … but honestly, I think I need to do #1 more! I am pretty frugal and I'm still wearing pants that are 5 years (and a baby) ago. I need to give myself permission to buy pants that flatter me! Thank you for the motivation!

Heidi Schilling Fowler

Pinning this for sure. Lara, you are beautiful. I can't believe your hubby did your hair! Great advice for everyone–even if we don't have a diagnosed illness. These are perfect for anyone going through a bit of a rough stretch.

Sarah K.

You are beautiful inside and out, Lara! Thank you for sharing these amazing tips! I struggle with health issues, too and it is so hard to feel joyful sometimes. I've definitely found that serving others and getting dressed helps me a ton! (A little ice cream doesn't hurt either. haha) I hope you feel better soon! My thoughts and prayers are with you. <3



Sarah @ Seriously, Sarah?

Wonderful tips!!! I love "wear things you love," especially. I find myself letting myself wear "yucky" clothes when I feel bad, especially. A cute outfit can change my mood!