When you live with chronic illness, you become familiar with frustration, pain, fear, worry, and feeling vulnerable. It’s easy to get bogged down with these feelings, but it’s not a good place to be. How do I get out of it or prevent it from happening in the first place?
When I cultivate the following 5 attitudes, these practices keep despairing emotions from taking over. The more I practice these outlooks, the more resilient I become.
Acceptance does not mean giving up. It means I accept where I am today and I focus on doing what I can do. When I accept where I am today and make the most of it, I can stop despair from getting to me. Acceptance is acknowledging the pain and then taking active steps to alleviate or distract myself from some of it (such as, listening to a deep relaxation CD, or listening to some favorite music).
I have a plan of action that I follow every day for self-care. I have contingencies built in to that plan to accommodate days with high fatigue or high pain. This helps prevent me from getting frustrated that I can’t do my “usual” exercise or activities.
Acceptance is letting go of my old life, and mapping out a new one. When I accept that chronic illness is here to stay, this allows me live with it the best I can.
It is easy for me to have compassion and understanding towards others. Towards myself, self-judgment used to be my knee-jerk reaction. With practice, I have learned to have compassion for myself; this helps me relax and accept my situation. When self-judgment does arise, or regret, or second-guessing the past which makes me feel small and not good enough, compassion reminds me I am human and I am doing the best I know how to live each day.
Today I practice doing self-care lovingly, rather than with complaint, anger, or judgment. Today I accept who I am and my body-mind is where it’s at on the health-illness spectrum. I accept who I am today and treat myself with compassion.
When complaints, fear, and envy muddle my mind and drag me down into a funk, gratitude helps me focus on all that is going well in my life. Gratitude helps me let go of feeling self-pity, or “why me?”
Within the first few years of the onset of pain and loss of some mobility, I would get so sad and frustrated seeing people my age, or worse--people 10 and 20 years older than me--walking, hiking, and traveling with ease. Once I accepted my situation, and showed myself compassion to take care of my needs, and live within my limits, I could focus on being grateful for the things I can do.
I am grateful to be able to walk a quarter mile one day, and maybe one mile another day. My limit is about a mile and an half before a flare-up in my feet sets in, but I am grateful to be able to walk in the woods again! I have found several flat trails near where I live where I can still enjoy the outdoors and different scenery. I’m grateful I haven’t had to use a wheelchair in over 4 years. I’m grateful for so many things today.
When fear wants to take me away into the future, mindfulness brings me back to today and to this moment. This moment. Is my life. Today.
A friend of mine shared a phrase with me that he finds helpful when agitated: “Where are my feet?” This simple sentence helps me to stop my racing and worrying mind, and focus on the present moment. Often when I do this, I realize that this moment where I am right now is peaceful. It helps get me out of scenario-izing my fears of the future, or longing for the past when my physical capabilities used to be “normal.”
In spite of the daily aches and pains, emotional ups and downs, I keep going one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. I try to create my best possible life under the circumstances.
When medical paperwork piles up and fatigue is ever-present, I break things down to priorities, and then do one task per day, if necessary. Eventually it all gets done, until the next cycle of medical appointments.
When I am fatigued and can’t do my usual exercise one day, I have a fallback exercise routine I use that is gentle and goes through the body’s full range-of motion for each joint. This minimal movement is enough to relieve stiffness and prevent my muscles from becoming tight and painful later.
These qualities help me become more resilient to life's ups and downs. To live each day to the fullest, with or without chronic illness (but especially with). Today my idea of a full life is to appreciate each moment--from the warmth of a cat sitting on my lap, to watching the morning mists float across the valley floor, to hearing the first sounds of a thrush on an early spring morning. A full life is a life of moments noticed and appreciated.
Cultivating acceptance, compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, and perseverance in daily life creates a foundation of resiliency.