Nobody loves being around someone who complains all the time. That's why this picture of my kitty makes me laugh, she was always willing to make her feelings and needs known. Sometimes she was quite demanding! Does that sound familiar at all?
This doesn't mean you must "suck it up" or deny how you feel. This means taking responsibility for our behavior, and not looking to others to make things better for us. The power is within us, if we learn how to be honest and gentle with ourselves.
"It is the ability to choose which makes us human." - - Madeleine L'Engle
Secret # 3
Be Honest and gentle with yourself!
The quote by Madeleine L'Engle hit home with me. So much about being chronically ill feels out of our control, but we still have choices, so choose wisely :
- Being honest with yourself isn't always easy. Sometimes it means admitting you can't do things you used to be able to. Other times it means admitting that if you tried harder you probably could do more. That's where the being gentle part comes in. This isn't about beating yourself up, it is about taking an honest appraisal of yourself. What things has illness changed? That's a big question because we tend to focus on the physical changes, but for now I am talking about the emotional ones. Are you less outgoing than you used to be because you don't have the energy to put yourself out there like you once did? If you have kids, do you find yourself feeling guilty for not being able to do all you would like with or for them?
- Now it gets even harder because you have to answer a question most of us would rather not - what are you avoiding or using the illness as an excuse to hide from? I know this question will rub some people the wrong way, especially because we have so many people blaming us or not believing we are ill when we really are. I am not trying to say that illness hasn't changed you or that it isn't real. I do know that if I am honest with myself though, there are times when it is easier to avoid something unpleasant and blame it on not feeling well, being too tired, etc. . . I don't do this consciously, so it is harder to catch it in the moment than other things. But if I really sit down and look at myself I know that some days, even though I really am tired and hurting, I could also push through a little bit. Maybe I don't because the thing I need to do isn't fun, or it's scary or I don't like the person involved. Whatever the case is, I need to be honest with myself.
- Once you've identified the real ways in which your life has been impacted by your illness as well as the ways you've perhaps hidden behind your illness to avoid something, you can start to make changes. Just knowing what you can and can't do is empowering. If you really are too tired or in too much pain then there is no reason for a guilt trip! If you are avoiding something, look at why and take steps to address the reasons behind it. I'll give an instance from my own life, I used to put off paying the bills. I'd say I don't feel up to it, and there was some truth in that, but the real reason was, it upset me. There was never enough money and it made me feel upset and scared. Once I realized that was how I really felt, I took steps to address the fear. Now my bills aren't late simply because I am afraid to face my feelings! I don't have more money - I just changed the way I was approaching the task. You can do this too, whatever the circumstance is.
- Now I want you to start thinking about the people and things in your life who make you feel good. These are your lifelines. We all need to feel needed and useful. We need to laugh and focus on things outside of the pain and fatigue. Start a list of things you love to do, people who always make you feel good to have around and things you feel passionately about. We are going to use this list to start finding ways to care for ourselves emotionally and bolster our health. The great thing is that we are in control of this!