New Year’s Resolution: Celebrate the Victories

new-years-resolution-appleI’m quite fond of the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I know all too well the significance of those words. I recall being someone who had always had a plan and clear set of goals but when chronic illness came into my life, I realized that my plans and my entire life would change. More than anything, I wish I had a clear strategy that I could look forward to but apparently the universe wants me to have faith rather than a set of plans. Knowing that, I recognize that my current focus should be to celebrate my victories — big and small — rather than dwelling on the change that chronic illness has thrust upon my life.

Celebrating Today

Celebrating today and being happy with what life has handed us is the only way to truly appreciate a life with and despite chronic illness. Celebrating our victories is often difficult with illness, especially if we take the position of trying to predict how treatments may affect us and feeling disappointed when the outcome isn’t positive. We are also busy focusing on other matters including our financial security and caring for our loved ones. Living with chronic illness is progressive similar to the disease itself. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves spending our entire lives going through periods of grief rather than celebrating our victories. For people who don’t live with chronic illness, simple things like taking a walk, spending quality time with family, and going to the gym are things taken for granted but for those of us living with chronic illness, we know that these victories are big. Therefore, it makes sense for us to celebrate our smallest and our biggest victories rather than dwelling on the obstacles that come our way.

Reflecting on the Past Year

Over four years of living with chronic illness, I have learned to celebrate my victories on a daily basis. Being able to quickly get ready in the morning and getting to work on time are just two examples of my daily victories. I know that being able to continue working a fulltime job and living with rheumatoid arthritis is a bigger victory and a reminder that I still have many daily victories ahead.

I have also learned how important my bigger victories are. I set three major goals last year that I wanted to accomplish in 2012 — first, to further my career; second, to strengthen my faith; and third, to focus on my health. While my goals seemed reasonable, I made the mistake of not having a plan or timeline in place. Further, even though I did take on my goals with strong determination, I encountered setback after setback. I wanted to believe that my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia (FM) were under control but I never had a plan in place if they were not. I soon found myself trying to get better rather than focusing on my goals. In fact, I spent most of the summer months dealing with infections and flare-ups. While this slowed down my progress, it did not change what I had already accomplished and what I would accomplish soon enough.

Reflecting on the past year, I realize I have two choices. I can either focus on my failures, thus while allowing them to magnify into thoughts about giving up, or I can focus on what is going right in my life and learn from what is not. Further, I have a choice to celebrate my smallest victories and I have a choice to see them as bigger than they really are because in the grand scheme theme of things, they truly are big victories. Because despite living with chronic illness, I am making a choice to live my life to the best of my ability while realizing that I am courageous enough to move forward despite the limitations that my diseases may pose.

Changed Perspectives on Victory

I came into 2012 with already changed perspectives on life because my emotional journey had already been achieved in years prior. In a period of four years, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and I entered a journey of anger and adjustment. I endured a tough financial circumstance that I worked to get past and I succeeded. I watched my brother fight cancer and lose that battle. I grieved his loss. And I struggled with the relationships in my life. While I endured and conquered in previous years, 2012 was the year I took a stronger approach to managing my diseases and my life. I made changes to my diet, became more active, lost weight, focused on my career and strengthened my faith. While I did not achieve the bigger goals I had planned, I know that I am headed in the right direction. Moreover, I am choosing to change my perspective on what victory means to me. Big or small — they are all victories and I should celebrate them.

Being open to a different perspective on how I celebrate and reflect upon my victories makes me better prepared for the obstacles that come my way. To be honest, the upcoming year scares me. This is because the longer I live with RA and FM, the more it feels like I am swimming too close to the tide and I just might give up. However, despite my failures and setbacks, I know that I have achieved a great deal and gained much insight and perspective along the way. I have made a choice to see beyond disappointment and look toward the future as I rejoice and reflect upon my victories.

Looking Toward a Another Year of Celebrating Victories

As I look forward to another year of celebrating victories, I want to continue what I have already started working on. I want to continue to focus on my career, my faith and my health. I also want to find ways to bring more meaning into my life.

I have thought about all the ways I can do to better my life emotionally and physically. I can do this is by choosing to live better in spite of my illness. I have set some new and more realistic goals myself. For 2013, I plan on:

  1. Laughing more. Most of us do not spend enough time laughing and having fun throughout our day. Watching a funny movie or playing a silly game with my kids can help me to relieve stress and to take my mind off symptoms. It will also make me a happy person all around.
  2. Reflecting. I plan on trying meditation, deep breathing and prayer to help me to achieve a better and more positive state of mind. I plan on reflecting on the plans I hope to accomplish and looking back to what I have already accomplished as motivation.
  3. Continuing a healthy lifestyle. I have already made the choice to eat healthy and I am going to instill better values in my children about healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle. Chronic illness may be a part of our lives but through better nutrition choices, it does not have to dominate it.
  4. Developing a strong sense of gratitude. Living with pain and illness can make it hard to be grateful. I am going to make a daily effort to think about all the things I am thankful for. I am going to celebrate all the things that make my life better.
  5. Giving more. I think that many of us spend so much time being preoccupied with what we are dealing with that we often forget what others are going through. Offering kindness and giving to others can really make us feel good about ourselves. Small acts such as offering assistance to an elderly neighbor and bringing soup to a sick friend can really make a difference in people’s lives. Living with chronic illness, I often hate to ask for help because I am afraid I won’t be able to return the favor but this can be is as simple as a small act. I am going to remind myself daily how importance kindness and giving is in 2013.
  6. Understanding my pain. Living with chronic pain is physically and emotionally draining. In the past, I have found myself stumped with it came to recognizing my pain, but I think it is time I make a choice to be aware of what I am feeling. I need to spend at least a few minutes a day acknowledging what I am feeling rather than trying to avoid it at all costs. The only way to move past my pain is to face it head on.
  7. Getting more active. I know how important physical activity is for people with living with arthritis. In the past, I have done gentle exercise such as stretching and walking but in 2013, I want to invest more time in being active. I am going to find an activity that is within my ability and I am going to participate every day. I am going to stop using how tired I am and that I am afraid of further pain as excuses to avoid exercise.

Choosing to Celebrate

No one knows what I have endured and accomplished in the past year better than I do. I have learned to recognize and celebrate every victory regardless of how big or small it is and in doing so, I have seen how brave and strong I can be. Looking toward a New Year, I am making a choice to acknowledge both my failures and my successes while celebrating and embracing my victories. I know that I can choose to focus on what I cannot do or on what I have failed to accomplish but I am making a choice to celebrate what I have accomplished thus far and what I will continue to achieve in the upcoming year.

Originally posted at Arthritis Connect.

Hurt Feelings on Health Social Networks

social-networkHealth support social networks can be a great resource for chronically ill people but they can also be a place of hurt feelings.  The internet has allowed the opportunity to be involved health support networks without leaving our homes.  Only on the World Wide Web can you wake up at 3 am dealing with pain and other symptoms and find someone else online who is awake for the same reason.

As noted, online health support networks also bring with them annoyances that we also find in face-to-face interaction.  Things can escalate further because people are not feeling well and temperamental.  In addition, people are more likely to hit the send button when they have something to say and there is no face-to-face interaction to consider.

Hurt feelings on health social networks are bound to happen.  How do you resolve these emotions of feeling hurt in your health support communities?

Some things to consider when you find yourself angry or feeling hurt while looking for online health support:

  • Step away from the computer.  When someone posts something we don’t like, we generally are tempted to type a rebuttal and the guess what, the faster you type, the more upset you will find yourself.  Sometimes, stepping away from your computer can also to cool down and also save you and others hurt feelings.
  • Apologize.  If you find that you are the one who has said something hurtful or inappropriate, acknowledge it and offer an apology rather than avoiding the person you have said it to and hope it just goes away.  The fact is it is very common for someone to say something without thinking when they are up late and dealing with pain, other symptoms, and depressed feelings.
  • Kindness.  Use kind words because you never know what kind of day someone is having.  They could be having a bad /painful day or a whole bunch of them.  Remind yourself that that your words in this type of setting are powerful because there are so many people dealing with sensitive issues and with rejection from family and friends.

How have you handled hurt feelings on health support networks? How to you keep your emotions in check so that you do not hurt the feelings of others?

My Story: Waging a War Against Self-Pity

First-Person Tips to Beat Negative Feelings about Living With Chronic Illness

My Story: Waging a War Against Self-Pity

Because I am an advocate, people often ask me if I went through the emotional tribulations that come with living with chronic illness and pain. They see someone who appears confident, someone who sees the glass half full rather than half empty.

For the most part, that’s true. But have I ever felt sorry for myself? Sure, I have. Have I ever felt like I wanted to give up? That I couldn’t win the fight? Of course, I did. I still do sometimes. I have just learned that making the choice to see the glass half full makes my life a whole lot easier.

Chronic illnesses like arthritis really have devastating effect on your self-esteem and overall well-being. Regardless of the levels of pain you’re in (big or small), the mental and emotional aspects of chronic illness are much more difficult. Chronic illness takes a lot away from you and it forces you to doubt yourself, makes you helpless and powerless and brings with it fears and anxieties.

Dealing with Self-Pity

I do remember feeling sorry for myself and, looking back, I am not sure I recognize that person. When my diagnosis came after a major flare-up (that lasted over six months), I was in no position to feel confident. I was in so much pain I didn’t think I could handle life. Self-doubt became my best friend.

I thought finally getting a diagnosis would bring a conclusion to what was happening in me, but I found that once I had a diagnosis, there were more questions than answers. I wanted peace and what I got was chaos.

That is not a part of my life I like to talk about, but I share it because it is part of my road to acceptance. Newly diagnosed patients (and even those with some experience) need justification that their feelings are normal and they want to know that something — anything — will get better.

Even someone like me, who appears to have it all together when it comes to living with chronic illness, doesn’t have full control. Just like everyone else, I dealt with bouts of sadness and depression. I hate what RA and fibro took from me. I hate that when I take the stairs I sometimes feel out of breath because pain keeps me from doing them often or being as active as I used to be. I hate all the odd symptoms that appear out of the blue and make me wonder what’s going on. I hate that I forget to mention them at a doctor visit and end up putting them off until next time. I also don’t want anyone to see me as a chronic complainer. Like the next person, I do have moments of self-doubt. So, yes, I do feel sorry for myself sometimes.

The Road to Acceptance

When a person is first diagnosed, they may struggle with the idea of acceptance. They see acceptance as somehow giving in to the disease or giving up. And they may wonder if they should give up. I remember telling myself that there is no use in fighting. I even remember wishing that I could just die than feel the way I did. No one ever told me I would get better — especially not my doctors. In fact, my first rheumatologist told me things would basically get worse for me and I should push aside any long term plans. That would be the rheumatologist I fired.

I think that when we are dealing with self-pity we don’t see how unattractive it is on us. We are too busy self-loathing to even notice. But others do notice. When someone is showing self-pity, what things do you notice about them? How about complaining, crabbiness and demand for attention and help? In addition to having an ugly side, self-pity leads to loneliness and sadness.

As I was dealing with two new diagnoses and pain and symptoms that were also new, my family did not enjoy my self-pity stage. In fact, what I thought was lack of support turned out to be a wakeup call. Now granted, not every member of my family was expressively and openly disapproving of my self-pity stage. My younger sister came to visit after my son was born and after that major flare up and took care of me and everything else I couldn’t take care of. She never once told me to get over what I was going through. But before she left to go home after my symptoms started to dissipate, she told me that she didn’t recognize me. I continued to think about those words in the days that followed.

The fact is I didn’t recognize myself. I had been through far worse than being chronically ill, so what was different? The difference is that I not only felt mentally weak, but also physically. I thought back to a time where I felt both and when I felt like I didn’t have anything left in me to keep going. I thought about my kids and if I was too busy feeling sorry for myself, who was feeling sorry for them? This was kind of like my epiphany or eureka moment.

My family did support me — they just didn’t support the person I had become. They knew that what I had become was self-destructive and they refused to support that. You want to talk about wake-up call! I had alienated my family at my own doing; I had a lot of bridges to rebuild and I did so with time. Additionally, I finally thought about what role chronic illness played in my life. After all, I was chronically ill, not terminally ill. I wasn’t handed a death sentence; I was handed a second chance.

Keep up the Fight

I know that feeling completely disillusioned after a chronic illness is part of the emotional process to acceptance, and it is something that comes and goes throughout our journeys. However, when we stop just trying to cope with our illness and begin to more fully understand it, we can make a choice to either deal with it bravely or let it crush our spirits. I know that chronic illness is devastating and the pain associated with it is pure torture. (Trust me, I know.) However, asking and seeking support is different than expecting it, complaining about it and demanding it.

So how does one keep up the fight? You take it one day at a time. You get up every morning hoping today is better. You don’t stay in bed and think hopeless thoughts. You live for today, you do what you can and you don’t allow yourself to worry about things getting worse. Be thankful for all the things you have rather than what you don’t have. Strive for the strength and courage to accept chronic illness with self-respect and humility. Take care of yourself and those who love you and support you. Enjoy the beauty of today and don’t spend your days worrying about tomorrow. This is all you can do and this is all any of us can do.

First Appeared at Arthritis Connect.