“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.”
Apparently, I need help asking for help. I’m going to share some obstacles to growing this skill for me in hopes they may serve you as well, as this is an important skill for taking care of ourselves AND living lives that still have the meaning and value we want.
One obstacle I’ve uncovered is stories/judgments I tell myself about people who ask for help. I was taught that you need to take care of yourself and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. So one hurdle is overcoming my own self-judgment of being “weak” if I ask for help (among others – like being “needy”).
Another impediment is that, since I’ve mostly excluded this as a viable option, I’m not very skilled at doing it well and I’m uncomfortable doing things I’m not good at. A goal is about asking for help from a place of power and empowerment versus from a victim or “needy” place. I don’t always trust myself to skillfully ask powerfully.
And then there’s being unattached to the outcome. I have practiced doing this and do it well in many areas of my life. Oddly, that ability doesn’t seem to transfer as well over to asking for a favor or for help doing “ordinary” things.
Not to mention the fear of rejection and the stories we can so easily make up about our worth or loveableness (none of them good) if someone says “nope” or even “not now”.
It also appears to be ingrained in me that give and take must be equal – I don’t want to feel like I owe anybody anything. Again, not helpful when stacked with the other issues.
So, no answers for you today. But I think I’m asking some good questions for me. You? ~Z
In this world of The Secret and the interconnectedness of all things… there are copious schools of thought around how our outer illness might be a manifestation of some unresolved inner trauma. Questions arise like: “Did I Make Myself Sick?”, or “Am I Keeping Myself From Getting Well?”.
Here’s what I’ve learned: It probably doesn’t matter.
If you’ve got some inner work that needs doing to reduce your suffering and grow yourself into the person you really know you are – then do that work. Find the right therapist or coach or journaling routine and get crackin’. Getting straight and real with yourself – learning to ask yourself the hard questions and hear the truth – can’t help but support your efforts to take responsibility for your life going forward.
And in the meantime, start doing what it takes to re-claim your life so you’re reaping what you want to reap from your brief experience on this planet. There are a thousand things you can do that are probably more helpful than worrying about finding that Gordian knot in your psyche that, “If I only unraveled it all would be okay”.
I’m not saying that revealing some emotional block won’t miraculously cure you. But I wouldn’t wait to start taking good care of yourself – doing those things you know will be good for you independent of your health conditions. Eat well. Sleep well. Move well. Set some boundaries and ask for help. Frankly, if you’re blaming yourself for causing your own illness, seems to me these kinds of responsible actions would be an antidote to that lingering doubt (and shame?) as well.
My point? Even if you did get yourself into this, there’s still only you to get yourself out. What’s YOUR next step? ~Z
In Part I, I briefly explored that how we advocate for ourselves is as important as whether or not we do.
This is yet another knot in the bundle of paradoxes of living with chronic conditions – a situation where we have special needs but still want to consider ourselves equals to those without those same needs (and be treated as such).
For most of us, there’s some inner work required – around practicing and learning how not to feel guilty or ashamed for your situation and the impacts on others. These feelings are obstacles to believing you deserve what you need. They can sometimes even be blocks to knowingwhat you need. So check in with yourself around this. Can you say to yourself “I’m sick/ill/in pain etc.” and not feel yourself start to shrink? If not, then neither can anyone else.
And the BIG skill is learning to ask cleanly for what you want without any attachment to or judgment of the outcome. Because even though as a human being, you are deserving of support, that’s not the same as being entitled to everything you want. When we come from a place of entitlement, we’re not coming from our most mature self, and we’re likely not making any friends either.
You’re not entitled to be pissed off at everyone who can’t anticipate your needs 100% of the time. You ARE entitled to ask for everything you deserve and need as a human being. And doing that from a place of confidence without shame or victimhood is more likely to get you the respect (and perhaps that nap) that you deserve… ~Z
If you’ve even grazed the surface of self-help or get-better literature or media, you’ve heard some version of “Positive thinking will bring you health and happiness”.
Maybe. But maybe not. Turns out there’s a catch: A study done in 2009 discovered that, for people who are already feeling good about themselves (i.e. high self-esteem) it does seem to help. But, for those of us with a more negative ongoing judgment about ourselves (i.e. low self-esteem), overly positive thoughts actually make us worse.
Why? If you say to yourself “I am 100% healthy”, or “I will cure my cancer by the end of the year” or any number of 100% absolute positive affirmations, the contradictions or possible obstacles to that statement may come flooding in, taking your mood and your hope in the opposite direction. It’s too unreal and unlike the truth you’re living right now.
In her book Chronic Resilience, Danae Horn speaks of “honest thinking”. Her conclusion of this phenomena is, “You can’t lie to yourself to feel better”. My understanding of good self esteem is a realistic appraisal of strengths and weaknesses, abilities and disabilities. Lying doesn’t seem to fit there, does it?
Life is not all good or all bad – your circumstances are not 100% positive or negative. So try out some aspirations that are doable and some self-talk that is honest. Tell yourself the truth and COMMIT to the next realistic goal or step – e.g. “I’ve been taking my meds and eating well, but not getting enough sleep. So, I will get more sleep tonight” or this week, or whatever… PICK ONE THING RIGHT NOW BEFORE READING FURTHER!
You can handle the truth. Your body already is anyway – might as well let your mind catch up… ~Z
All of this self-help stuff is about learning to get through challenges, rather than making them vanish. And while everyone can count on more challenges of one sort or another, WE have the advantage of familiarity with what are challenges are about and how they are going to look and feel. We can anticipate our responses that hinder rather than help.
So start preparing now for the next gauntlet the universe is going to throw down.
Question: Are you aware of the unkind things you say to yourself, or are they happening under your radar?
Practice listening. Ask yourself whether you’d say these things to a good friend? Would a good friend nag you about all the ways you’ve messed up or how lazy or stupid you are? What would you do for a friend in your situation? I hope he or she would point out the things you can do rather than everything you’ve already messed up.
Dealing with ongoing health issues is a marathon that keeps on going. We need all the support and kindness and friendship we can get.
Challenge: Become increasingly aware of the actual words your unfriendly voice says to you during difficult times. Get the words for the judgments and criticisms and blaming and nagging. Ask what a good friend might be saying or doing instead. Ask yourself daily what you’d like from a friend and if you can, give yourself that.
You’re in this for the long haul. They call it that for a reason… ~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