5 Tips for Dealing With Chronic Illness & Chronic Decision Fatigue

Celebrating Birthday Despite Ear Infections
Celebrating Birthday Despite Ear Infections

I recently celebrated my birthday.  A few days before my big day, I got a bad ear infection (yes, another one–my last ear infection came a few days before Christmas).  Thing is, my ears already hurt everyday just like my back, neck, shoulders, hands, and feet.  So, when I get an infection, that daily pain I’m already feeling is multiplied by a factor of ten!  I wanted to get better so I could see my 8-year old nephew perform at his school’s Variety Show the night before my birthday.  (Mikko did an Elvis montage.  He wore a wig with sideburns, black leather jacket, and blue suede shoes.)  Also, I wanted to celebrate my birthday on my actual birthday.  I had a craving for matzo ball soup and pastrami, and there are no Jewish restaurants near me.  After spending days lying in agony, I got better just enough to see my nephew’s show (he brought the house down) and started to plan my birthday the night before.  I was on the internet looking for Jewish restaurants.  After five minutes, I had found a place with positive reviews that served matzo ball soup and pastrami and told my mom about it.  Then, I went back to researching other places.  My mom asked me what I was still doing.  And I said, “Well it’s 4 stars.  I’m looking for other places.”  She replied, “So four stars is great.  Let’s go there!  Stop looking.”

What Am I Doing?

That’s when it hit me!

Here I am with this terrible ear infection and I’m putting all this effort into a decision that isn’t really that serious.  I’m not a food critic.  I’m not writing a book on matzo ball soup.  I’m a sick person trying to celebrate her birthday.

Yummy! Matzo Ball Soup + Challah French Toast
Yummy! Matzo Ball Soup + Challah French Toast

I got it from my father–the compulsion to research every decision I make–no matter how small.  In an era of Yelp, it’s all too easy to overthink a decision that isn’t life changing.  I ended up being able to celebrate my birthday–the matzo ball soup was yummy as was the pastrami.  I also had challah french toast, which is the best french toast I’ve ever had in my life.  (See the pics of me in bed with ear infection and later at the diner on my birthday.)

So Many Medications To Remember

I take somewhere between 35 to 40 pills to take everyday.  I also have to remember doctors’ appointments for five different illnesses–that’s a lot to keep track of every day.  Every decision takes something out of you when you have a chronic illness or several.  Just responding to an email can be tiring when you have chronic fatigue.  I’m tired and I’m in pain all the time.  How do we deal with chronic decision fatigue?

5 Questions To Ask Yourself:

  1. How can I simplify this?  Last fall, I was speaking at a mental health conference.  For sixteen months, I’d met with these other people on the committee by Skype once a month.  When I was at the conference, I realized I wore the same green shirt to almost every single meeting.  Occasionally, I wore a green tank top.  I realized I must have done it because I didn’t want one more thing to plan or think of–we’re already discussing very serious subjects.  And it takes energy to shower–I always shower before my meetings.  At the actual conference, I wore nice dresses, especially when I gave my speech.  But for a simple Skype meeting, one green shirt will do.
  2. How precise do I have to be?  As I discovered when planning my birthday, I don’t have to know all the Jewish restaurants within a 50 mile radius of my house–I just need to know one great one, and I found it!  Right now, I’m combing through my students’ research as we prepare to go to the State Championship in a few days.  I coach high school debate.  I proofread things I write multiple times because there is a difference between citing an article from “The Washington Post of March 31, 2014″ versus “The Washington Post of March 30, 2014.”  Details matter in debate.
  3. Does this have to be done right now?  This month has been filled with doctors appointments in addition to preparing for State.  Yesterday, I got an email asking me if I wanted to write an article for a website I like.  It came with an attachment that would answer questions about terms and conditions.  I felt overwhelmed looking at it.  I had just gone cross-eyed reading research material for seven hours straight (and there’s more research to come).  I realized, Wait, I don’t have to make this decision right now!  I can explain.  I sent a response back saying, “Nice hearing from you.  I am getting my students ready for the State Championship right now while juggling several doctors appointments.  Can I respond next week?”  The person responded with a warm email telling me to get back to her whenever I could.  And she wished me and my students luck this week.
  4. Can this be automated?  So I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like automating things because I like the personal touch.  Last week, I responded to every single birthday wish on Facebook, text message, card, and voicemail one by one instead of making an announcement on Facebook thanking everyone for their wishes; it’s just who I am.  So I hesitate to automate things but there comes a time when you run out of choices.  On Twitter, I started using Twitnerd a month ago to automate my #followfriday tweets.  So helpful!  If I could, I would tweet at each person following me on Twitter with a unique tweet but I now have too many followers to do that.
  5. Can I make a list?  My friend, Jackie, told me a great stress hack and that’s making a list of step-by-step procedures for anything that stresses me out even if it’s something I’ve done dozens of times.  As we travel to State this week, I’m going to pull out my “travel list” on my computer that I wrote about in 5 Tips for Traveling with an Illness or Disability.  There are some changes since I last traveled especially since I’m now avoiding processed and genetically modified foods.  But with my list, I don’t have to start from scratch.

–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno


Hi there! I am a patient advocate, writer, and public speaker most well known for my TEDx Talk, “How to Get Stuff Done When You Are Depressed.” As someone who is juggling 5 illnesses: bipolar 2, myasthenia gravis, endometriosis, psoriasis, and asthma, I’m passionate about helping people who navigate life with both chronic physical & emotional pain. If you’re interested in hiring me to speak at your event, check out the CONTACT tab.

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