“Ongoing health challenges* and tired of defining yourself and being defined by limitations? I’ll help you unearth the possibilities, rekindle HOPE, and stake your claim for a future worth loving and living.”
I don’t want to sound preachy here about all the gifts and silver linings that one gets from being perpetually sick. I certainly do not mean to trivialize how disheartening and even depressing it can be to have our lives derailed unexpectedly. I get it.
But I AM going to talk about the hidden treasures that – when we choose to see them – CAN reduce the suffering we create when we keep kicking and screaming and punching at a reality that doesn’t budge an inch. So if today’s the day you want to keep feeling sorry for yourself (and let me be clear, there are days when that is indeed the best choice), then come back to this when you can at least imagine being hopeful…
A mantra I learned somewhere goes like this: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, YES”. Inherent in the first part is to be grateful for ALL things that have already happened. Even the “bad” things.
I’ve written before of practicing gratitude for the things in our lives we might otherwise take for granted (and learning to grow that part of our psyche to push out shaming thoughts). And this is taking another step – plugging in some otherwise unpleasant event into the practice. Doesn’t have to be the big nasty things – yet… Pick some little catastrophe and turn towards it with intentional gratitude (for it has already happened).
Try experimenting with repeating your “thanks” for this event until it melts into something less unsettling, or less disturbing. Or until the opportunity to learn or receive something that you otherwise might have missed reveals itself to you. Then you can smile ;-? ~Z
Flexible: able to bend without breaking, characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements.
Flare ups, bad days, relapses… Whatever they are for you – they happen. Even in the best of times they happen – the day after a sleepless night, colds, flu, headaches etc. Sometimes we see them coming and even know how we’ve contributed. Sometimes they seemingly come out of nowhere.
Choice point: consciously choosing to respond (vs unconsciously reacting) to the news that your body isn’t going to live up to what you had planned for it. Can you step maturely towards your highest priorities or fall victim to self-defeating thoughts? Your first step matters…
The truth for most of us is, even those “flare ups” that come out of the blue aren’t really a surprise, because they’ve happened before and will happen again. So we can anticipate this, yes?
Fighting through it is one option. And sometimes it’s worth it – at a cost. Ignoring your limitations – pretending they don’t exist (and not changing your plans) is another even less enlightened choice.
John Wooden said “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do”.
Make a list of things you CAN do when the “bad day” inevitably arrives. Can you read? Listen? Watch? Organize? Plan? Talk? Delegate? Reschedule things? Take breaks? Do some seemingly trivial thing you’ve been avoiding? Ask for help?
Honor your anger or grief or sadness or self-pity (versus suppressing it). Then find your list and go.
Consciously moving on to the back-up plans requires hope and optimism and belief and faith in your future. It’s not always easy. And it won’t get easier if we don’t plan and intentionally practice.
Flexibility (and persistence) are prerequisites to resilience… ~Z
I had my first tennis lesson in a year yesterday. Probably a mistake to skip lessons for a year, but that’s another story…
Hopefully you can apply what I learned – which is that practicing and repeating my “bad” tennis habits repeatedly was NOT making me a better tennis player. And that undoing those habits and relearning how to move, and step and swing etc. felt REALLY awkward.
Why? Because I’d become familiar with other ways of moving my body. So the new ways were uncomfortable. So the next time I play, I’ll know that if I’m not feeling at least a little bit awkward, I’m probably not practicing the proper techniques.
I’m aware I can apply this to anything I’m trying to improve on – be it better eating, exercise, time management, networking… – any new skill or habit. If I’m feeling comfortable, I’m probably not doing anything any differently. That’s fine… unless I want a different outcome.
And my old habits of being casual with my time and my priorities… they don’t serve me so well anymore with the limited amount of energy and ability to concentrate I’m left with. I have some new habits and I want more.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Anonymous
Self-defeating, belittling and shaming thoughts, are the last thing we need when we’re just trying to get through another day with the burdens of living with chronic disease, illness or other health issues.
We need resilience to cope, adapt and ultimately to prevail and thrive in our lives – thriving in a way that probably looks different than what we’d imagined for ourselves before we got sick. The aforementioned thoughts… those eat away at our resilience.
So the positive take on “defeating self-defeating messages” is really one of building and strengthening our resilience. A daily gratitude practice gradually builds inner strength. Self-compassionin the difficult moment reduces unnecessary suffering. And finally, the idea of self-blessing.
Self-blessing is an ointment to the constant driving of our ambitions – not necessarily a replacement – but a counter to the nagging. Blessing yourself for the positive act you DID or didn’t do – however small – is surely an act of self-love is it not? Sure, the nagging voice may keep at it. But you can say to it “And, I did THIS!”.
I challenge you to a daily practice of self-blessing for at least 3 things. Maybe for moving forward (e.g. added 5 minutes to exercise). Or for not going backwards (e.g. 11th night in a row in bed by 10:00). Maybe for having compassion for yourself (e.g. felt poorly, skipped my walk but didn’t spiral into shame). Perhaps for letting something go (e.g. took care of myself by not going to party last night). Maybe for kind, forgiving or generous acts to others?
You get to choose. And you’ll have to believe you deserve the blessing. Consider this a form of “self-treatment”. You got something better to do? ~Z
“You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness…” Wally de Backer (Gotye)
How good are you at turning compassion on YOU? At really believing you are okay even when you’re feeling at your worst?
In Part I, I wrote about self-defeating and self-shaming thoughts – and how they can worsen with chronic illness. I’m sure you know, emotional moods like sadness and shame can make themselves at home in as a result of these inner bullies – further reducing our resilience to respond productively.
But trying to fight these moods/thoughts head on is creates new problems. For me, trying to negate my nagging thoughts or foul moods – to somehow club them to death (or bury them alive) – usually creates more distress.
One secret “weapon” can be self-compassion. And to have compassion for your “self”, you have to be okay with NOT feeling shitty about whatever is going on (note the quote…). Easier said than done for those of us conditioned that we SHOULD feel bad if we’re not perfect all the time… But self-compassion can be a beautiful back-door approach counter to the habit of “fixing things”.
So how to do it?
I have a practice of repeatedly breathing in “love and compassion for myself” when I’ve got an emotional upheaval I’m not managing well.
Also, when I coach folks, I help them to experience compassion for another (e.g. child, puppy, friend), because sometimes self-compassion is unfamiliar and hard to invoke. I then invite them to imagine themselves from a distance – say from across the room or looking down from the ceiling etc., and to transfer that compassion towards themselves. Repeat as needed…
Being sick, we have enough to deal with without beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up – or being addicted to the sadness… ~Z
Illness or ongoing health challenges reveal andmay even strengthensome weaknesses. One shortcoming many of us share is a merciless inner critic – a voice reminding us that we’re just not good enough yet, and perhaps even that we deserve all the “bad luck” we’ve gotten…
However that shaming voice came to be, I’m guessing that you’ve been unwittingly practicing it at every downturn in your life – for decades… So there’s at least that one thing you’re masterful at… 😉
In my work with people, I often hear them say some version of “I need to stop thinking that way”. Good luck with that. I’ve never been able to stop those thoughts. But I’m a big believer in counteracting them by growing other aspects of our being: Gratitude, Compassion and Self-Blessing.
Unless you’re already an expert, start practicing – no matter how silly it feels. And by practicing, I mean start doingsome kind of repetitive practice
No matter what has befallen you, there is something you can be grateful for. I journal a daily gratitude practice. Some days I’m grateful for no pain, no headaches, etc. On painful days, I’m grateful that my appliances work and that I woke up, or for my feet, and for not having ______ disease (because having any illness does not preclude getting another). And of course, I’m grateful for friends and fine weather.
This daily practice has also made me more skillful at feeling grateful in real time – for birdsong, or a juicy peach. Building this muscle of gratitude in my psyche has helped me become a more resilient person and therefore less susceptible to my own subconsciously imposed attacks on my value and worth.
F**k shame! My dishwasher’s been running for 10 years straight ;-! ~Z
Making change in our lives and the world is invigorating when we have the luxury of deciding with abandon what our next project or goal is. Ambition can be fun!
Other times, like when you find yourself with some diagnoses or health situation that isn’t going away, the opportunity for making change is in your face whether you like it or not.
So what to do?
For many of us aspiring go-getters, the default answer is to keep doing what got us the success we enjoy. That usually means working harder at this or that – doing MORE of something. So let’s run with that for a moment…
And add the twist of; WHAT are you going to work harder at/do more of? Make a longer to-do list? Work harder at “pushing through” your symptoms that are slowing you down? We can become kind of like the rat that just keeps pushing the lever one more time hoping this time will get us the vaunted food pellet.
Depending on what stage of chronic illness you’re at, you may have already learned that more of the same might be digging you deeper into a hole of denial and despair. That the gap between your dreams and your abilities just keeps getting wider despite all your best efforts.
If you haven’t discovered that, take it from those of us who have. Try taking the proverbial “30,000 foot view” of your life. Get some distance. Some of what has gotten you here will help you (e.g. good problem solving skills, networking etc.). Some of it won’t.
Try working harder at NOT working harder and see what happens next. I predict you’ll be surprised at what in your life is more negotiable than you thought… ~Z
“Without goals, acceptance has the tendency to become indifference” “…Leaving your future blank allows a diagnoses to crowd out your life”. – Danea Horn, from Chronic Resilience
I read another quote saying something like “A goal without a deadline is a dream”.
Quotes like this help me simplify my thinking, as I can certainly be a dreamer with “goals” that are just ideas without a commitment. And the gap between the dreams and my reality can be vast. I feel the vacuum when my life is undirected, and how it can start to fill up with dreams, indifference, fears, doubts and limiting self beliefs. Does that happen for you?
So I’ve been getting specific about some daily goals – targeting a minimum number of things I’ll get done in a day related to various areas of my life (work, music, exercise, household etc.). And when I say MINIMUM, I mean minimum. Because then, at least something gets done in each area rather than nothing.
And I’m learning that I like myself better when I have a way to evaluate whether I’ve met my own expectations – whether my actions have been congruent with the life I say I want to have. Yeah, I already knew that. But sometimes I forget. Because forgetting and playing the victim is easier…
So, I’ve got no fancy words of wisdom today, other than to report some progress on the front lines of the continuation of moving forward with my own re-invention of my identity, and purpose and lifestyle, by trying a few things a little differently.
Maybe you’ll be inspired to do the same? ~Z
PS: If you like this post, please forward it on or actually “like it” on facebook or LinkedIn. Thank you!
“There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.” Helen Keller
A weighty challenge for many of us as we recognize increasingly the things that we can no longer do well, easily or at all, is learning to ask others for support. Learning to ask from a place of power and self-confidence is an art, and not one that most of us have had much if any teaching or mentoring in. It becomes an important tool in your new toolbox.
I was also reminded recently of the power and importance of acting to help someone else as a valuable if not obvious logical option to help us feel better about ourselves. Serving and giving are part of being human and whole. Just because I may need help in some areas, may not preclude me being able to help or support others some other way.
It can be easy to get caught up in our own survival. But thriving will require thinking beyond our immediate self-interest of surviving. Thriving requires being human. Being human is a different kind of self-interest. Perhaps of a higher order?
So I invite you to look for or create the opportunity to help someone. Oh, and be sure and ask them first so you’re not “care-taking” them. In fact, I find being asked “Do you want any help?” as one of the kindest and humbling things anyone can say or do for me, regardless of the outcome.
So go feel better and offer to help someone!
I’m okay that I like myself more when I’m kind or generous. It helps me counteract that feeling of being a victim or being entitled. It helps me feel well…