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Everyone experiences fatigue sometimes, but that experience is different when you have a chronic illness. Chronic illness often causes deep fatigue that sleep and rest can’t solve. In my last column, I discussed how there needs to be more research about fatigue as part of the normal disease experience for myasthenia gravis (MG) patients.

After 10 years of living with chronic illness, I have learned some personal strategies that help me rest and cope with constant fatigue. I have to spend most of my time resting, and the key to quality rest is to find ways to get my brain to focus on something else.

Listening to music every day is one of the strategies I use to cope with fatigue. I’m a musician and a music nerd; there always has to be music throughout the day. I usually listen to quiet music when I’m resting and music I know well. Music, more than anything else, helps me escape what I’m physically experiencing.

I lived in bed for a few years before I was on treatment that helped stabilize my condition, and I would listen to composers like Enya and William Ackerman during that time and still listen to their albums regularly. It’s like my brain knows it’s time to rest and feel better when I put their music on. I also have an extensive vinyl collection and listen to that often during rest. There are great music and ambient sound channels on YouTube as well I put them on in the background sometimes while I’m resting.

I also have audiobooks ready on my phone all of the time because they are a good form of escapism to cope with fatigue and physical suffering. I’ve listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks many times, and I essentially have them memorized. Listening to them doesn’t take much brainpower, so I listen to them when I’m really struggling. Usually, when I’m in the hospital I will either listen to music or listen to an audiobook with my noise-canceling headphones on. I’ve found that’s the best way to disconnect from what can be a stressful, exhausting environment there.

Read more about experimental therapies for MG

I cannot live without humor, and I actively seek out ways to laugh every day. That is one of my biggest coping strategies in general. I love finding funny memes on social media or funny animal videos. My husband and I send each other funny videos throughout the day or watch funny videos on YouTube together. Sometimes just finding ways to laugh at myself and my situation is a great form of escapism. There really is so much humor and absurdity in the chronic illness experience if you look for it.

I try to spend some time every day sitting in our little yard. I have a chair that’s comfortable out there, and I go out and listen to the birds and look at my plants. It can wear me out sitting outside, but it’s a great way to escape whatever symptoms and fatigue I’m going through. It really lifts my spirits. I often put music on while sitting out there, and that’s one of my favorite ways to relax. 

When I am really struggling and can’t get my brain and body to disconnect from my discomfort and instead focus on rest, I will use a meditation app. Even just doing a 20-minute meditation can really help me refocus and feel calm. Meditation, I’ve found, also helps with pain relief. A similar strategy I discovered during the years I lived in bed is just counting to 100 forward and backward, over and over. Just simply focusing on the numbers is sometimes the only way to disconnect from what I’m experiencing.

I’m always looking for new strategies to cope with fatigue. I think it’s important for any chronic illness patient to find ways that work for them to mentally and physically separate from the fatigue and discomfort they are experiencing, so they can find relief in quality rest time. Rest and recovery are as essential as any other form of medical treatment we rely on.