I’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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.