“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” —Victor Frankl
I’m not sure what has changed in the past few days, but I feel like I’ve gone from a mental space of worry to one of relative peacefulness and acceptance. It doesn’t feel like anything has changed inside of me; in fact, I feel just as lousy as I did last week—the usual MTX gripes and joint pain along with a bonus infection. But something has definitely shifted.
This blog was written as part of the Chronic Babe blog carnival on new years resolutions.
As I think I’ve said before, I’m not really one for new years resolutions. I tend to save my personal resolutions for my birthday, and my professional/academic resolutions for the beginning of the school year. For me, those times feel more natural for goal-setting and making changes. Plus, January and February have always been the most depressing months of the year for me—the holiday decorations are down, it’s dark, cold, and wet, the second semester is dragging along—not exactly the best time to start lecturing myself about all my perceived problems and failings.
About a month ago I read Neil Fiore’s book The Now Habit which is all about breaking the procrastination cycle (ironically—and perhaps unsurprisingly—I was reading a book on procrastination in order to avoid grading papers). Someone had recommended it to me and it seemed like it might have some useful tools for helping get my dissertation written. It’s pop psychology, so don’t expect any elaborate, grand-unified-theory explanations. But I found his observations and solutions for negative self-talk really helpful.
Basically Fiore suggests that instead of approaching the tasks that one dislikes (or that feel challenging and/or threatening) as things that one “should” do— un-enjoyable activities require chiding and self-punishment to complete—one can instead use language like “I will begin X project today [or tomorrow, or on a specific day] and work on it for X amount of time.” By simply resolving to start (or continue) a project, and then following through, one must take responsibility for doing just that. This also helps to overcome the initial inertia that often causes procrastinators to obsess and make themselves miserable over a task or project and then only start it at the very last possible minute (this describes my relationship to grading papers perfectly). Fiore’s argument is that this small change in language (and the behavior it leads to) can release one from a great deal of guilt and misery, freeing up time to do enjoyable things without a black cloud of “shoulds” hanging over one’s head.
What, you might be asking, does this have to do with chronic illness or new years resolutions? I find that I often chide myself for not being more productive on my bad days, making those days even worse. Rather than treating my tired, aching self like a petulant child, I will try to speak to myself more kindly, as I would any ill person I encountered, taking my own pain seriously.
So my only resolution for the new year is to continue finding ways of being kinder to myself, a resolution I originally made when I turned 30. For me, this means learning coping strategies that allow me to enjoy my good days more; treating myself with the same kindness that I treat others, rather than holding myself to an impossible ideal; avoiding toxic and disrespectful people, especially in my personal life; and accepting that some days will be better than others, but having faith that the good days will come, just not always when I expect them. I will determine what I want and need, and try to ignore the disapproving voice that lectures me about what I should or shouldn’t be doing.
Living with chronic illness is no picnic, and I think sometimes the worst thing we can do is think about all the things we’d like to change about ourselves, rather than all the positive qualities we already have. Most of us are incredibly caring and empathetic people, we just sometimes forget to extend that care and acceptance to ourselves. Breathe. Sleep. Love. The rest will work itself out.
Hello blog, sorry I’ve been away. Life got in the way and suddenly it’s three weeks later with no updates. I was busy teaching while you were just lounging around the pool, I’m sure. Or whatever it is that blogs do when they’re not being attended by their creators.
I spent the last three weeks teaching in a program for gifted teens. It was both amazing and exhausting. And reminded me why I don’t teach middle school or high school during the rest of the year. Most teenage boys have so little impulse control it’s comical.
In some ways, it was good for me to keep busy. My uncle died suddenly of a heart attack a few weeks ago, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about living purposefully and not taking anything for granted. On the one hand, I think being chronically ill makes me more aware and more appreciative of everything that’s going on in my life, but there are some times when it just feels like I’m enduring my life until something changes. Granted, when it comes to my health, I don’t always have the power to change it, or the change will come slowly, if at all. (I’ve been through enough cognitive behavioral therapy to be convinced of the power of positive thinking, but there are limits to what the human body can do and feel in any given situation). What I need to avoid is taking that sort of “endurance” mentality and applying it to other things that are within my power to change. I don’t have to spend time with people I dislike, or who make me feel less-than. I don’t have to make and honor commitments that other people try to pressure me to make when my gut tells me “no.”
In other news, this relentless heat (and its accompanying $180 power bill) does not make me happy. I can’t remember the last day it didn’t hit the low 90s. While my arthritis tends to do better in the heat, nothing else does. Well, no chillblains either, but there’s plenty more to worry about. I’ve been coating myself in sunscreen every day before I leave the house, but even that doesn’t seem to be enough to keep me from reacting to casual sun exposure (driving to work, walking from one building to another). I have a lovely rash all over my chest and shoulders that looks like acne. I almost wish it were acne– at least then it might respond to something other than steroids.