4 New Year’s Resolutions for People With Chronic Illnesses
As we move rapidly through the winter holidays and towards 2017, many of us will be contemplating the widely enacted and rarely kept New Year’s resolution. While some people eschew the idea of changing their ways on an arbitrarily chosen day of the year, it seems like most people relish the idea of a fresh start and a blank page in the book of life. They see it as something we rarely, if ever, truly get: a do-over.
As a chronically ill person, many of the standard New Year’s resolutions mean little to me. Doing extra healthy meal prep a week in advance takes way more spoons than I have on the average Sunday afternoon, and chronic pain is fairly prohibitive when it comes to keeping a regular gym schedule.
So instead of the usual standbys, I’ve thought of a few New Year’s resolutions for the chronically ill, chronically pained person.
1. Be kinder to yourself.
It sounds so easy, but it can be so difficult. People with chronic illnesses can struggle immensely with self-love. We expect ourselves to be able to do all the same things as healthy, able-bodied people, and when we can’t, we berate ourselves for it. You’re weak. You’re lazy. You’re a failure. We often speak to ourselves in ways we would never let another person to speak to us or to a person we love. So use that as your rule of thumb. Listen to that little voice in your head, and if you wouldn’t let someone say that to a person you love, don’t allow yourself to keep perpetuating that negative self-talk.
2. Forgive (but don’t excuse) hurtful words and actions.
Sometimes, out of ignorance or malice, other people say and do harmful things in regards to our chronic illnesses. They might make harmful comments about your illness or exclude you from events because they assume you’ll “flake.” Or in the case of invisible illnesses, they don’t believe you’re sick at all. Forgive them. Forgiveness is essential to our emotional health and well-being. Holding onto grudges against those who harm us doesn’t do anything for us; it doesn’t change their behavior, and it doesn’t actually make us feel any better.
Forgiveness isn’t excusing the other person’s behavior, either. We shouldn’t excuse it. We should have open, honest conversations about why what they said was hurtful and problematic and help them understand the situation better so they can stop hurting us. Forgiveness is about giving ourselves permission to let go of past pain and move forward without that emotional weight tied around our necks. Forgiveness is, in fact, mostly for the heart of the injured party, not the perpetrator of harm.
3. Use spoons in the healthiest way possible.
Most of us with chronic illnesses aren’t going to start getting up at “dark o’clock” to go running before work. But we can make small, gradual changes to our habits to use our daily spoon allotment in the healthiest way possible. We can choose, for example, to buy healthier frozen dinners with more wholesome ingredients or to pick healthier snacks like berries and bananas over potato chips. We can start doing more exercise in whatever way is feasible for us. Some people might be able to take up walking for 10 minutes a day or lift small free weights. Consult your doctor or physical therapist and see what kind of healthy adjustments you can feasibly make in your daily life and direct your spoons towards those endeavors.
4. Let go of guilt, and if someone in your life is guilting you, let go of them.
Having a chronic illness isn’t your fault. Sometimes having to back out of engagements isn’t your fault. Needing disability accommodations isn’t your fault. You didn’t ask for this. You aren’t faking it. There’s nothing to feel bad about, so let that guilt go. Do what you can do, and when you can’t, let it be.
And if you have someone in your life who is constantly guilt-tripping you about your illness, let them go. You don’t need that in your life, and if you have had a conversation with them about how their guilt-tripping behavior is toxic and they still do it anyway, then removing them from your life may be in order. Guilt never helped a single sick person get better.
I hope you all have a wonderful, fruitful and “spoon-ful” 2017.
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