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How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Less Intimidating When You’re Chronically Ill

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When you have a chronic illness, New Year’s resolutions can be somewhat intimidating. There are many health-orientated resolutions or goals you might want to attain but seem too large to overcome. The guilt of not succeeding can make a person not even want to attempt the process at all.

However, when you look at your well-being as a whole, there may be small goals worth adding to your life that can make a significant difference. Each small goal you attain adds up and improves your overall well-being. We can even break up larger resolutions into smaller manageable goals.  

Or we can avoid them altogether due to the innate stress of them and that’s fine, too. If we feel stressed with all the things we should be doing, ought to be doing and can’t do, maybe it’s time to reflect on how to tackle just one thing — with no specific goal for the future in mind. After all, we do many things for our health as it is. There is no reason to insist upon adding one more goal at the beginning of the year if it causes unwanted stress.

We all know there are a vast amount of health-orientated goals for us to choose from. When it comes to a New Year’s resolution, however, this is a very specific goal you want to achieve over the year. So of the vast array of health goals, pick one precise thing you think will improve your overall well-being in some way. Look at the ways you can achieve this goal and how you want to begin. Remember every improvement is meaningful.

There are different areas where you can choose goals to improve your well-being:

Lifestyle changes: This can include things like improving sleep quality, changing diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, meditation and mental health.

Life engagement: This includes increasing social interactions, hobbies, employment and financial wellness or volunteering.

I know we would all like to “decrease stress,” but that makes for a poor resolution because multiple factors need to change that when you’re chronically ill. Things you might want to consider are working on your diet (small changes even) and working on your sleep routine and exercise (small amounts at first, going at your own pace). Or conversely, adding in the things that help combat stress such as relaxation techniques, meditation, social interaction or that well-needed downtime you don’t think you deserve. All of those are separate goals.

It’s important to understand that we can’t do everything at once without feeling overwhelmed. And not everything is achieved quickly. So keep it simple, sweetie (KISS).

If you have a broad goal, plan it out. You can say I want to improve my stress levels. And in an effort to do so I am going to a) Pick up meditation for three months and after that becomes a habit add in b) Exercise, starting slowly and increasing at my own pace.

A resolution can have smaller goals within it that you can do throughout the year to attain your larger goal. The key is to not do it all at once and overwhelm yourself. You do it bit by bit and add more in as you go along. Throw in rewards for achieving each step and reminders about the next step. If it feels too much, back up to the first step and just continue on until you feel you can progress once more.

Never compare your health to others and choose goals you believe will benefit your well-being as you are now. Never let people say you must make big lifestyle changes when smaller goals may improve your thinking, your mental and emotional well-being. Goals, such as socializing more, can have a vast impact on our emotional health for example. And decreasing that sense of isolation some of us get burdened with is pretty important.

Make a list of long-term and short-term goals you want to achieve and brainstorm some methods you would use to get you there in a journal. Then make a copy of that list and put it somewhere where you’ll see it as a reminder. Review these goals during the winter, spring, summer and fall. You may have achieved short-term ones, some may be habit by then and some may need to be removed or modified if they’re not working for you. For example, a goal of exercise may have to be modified if you thought you could do more than you actually could manage. So modify the activity to walking. Write in a journal or blog about how you’re doing with them, what progress you are making and what benefits you get from it.

Try to have defined timelines for short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals can be one to six months, and the long-term ones can be a year or more.

When I get asked what my resolution is, I say it’s to improve my health. Because that’s always the name of the game. I narrow it down to specific, achievable goals. They’re never too broad or undefined. They need to be achievable.

We also need to know if we have a problem with a goal, it’s not us. The goal just needs to be modified for us. I used to have a goal to exercise every day. I can’t do it. I need a recovery day. Therefore, it’s now every second day. Except, of course, on bad pain days.

For the chronically ill, New Year’s resolutions are simply a time to re-assess our goals for the year. It’s a time to take a look at the goals we have and whether they’re working or need to be changed. It’s a time to create new short-term and long-term goals.

There’s no room for guilt — just trial and error and modifying and changing goals. So this year, think about a goal for your health. Break it down. And think about the ways to achieve that. Re-assess it in four months and see if it needs to be modified. If you’re doing well, reward yourself in some way that acknowledges the effort.

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My Only Resolution This Year as a Person With Chronic Illness

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I’m only making one resolution this year. I am not the type to jump into New Year’s resolutions.

I remember in grade school we would make resolution lists. We would post them around the room on colorful paper and sometimes with a picture on the list. They were made in earnest, but looking back, these resolutions can seem silly to some. Turn in assignments on time, keep my desk clean, be nice to my siblings, clean my room. For me, these are things I still have not managed to master. My workstation is constantly a mess; at 31, I still call my siblings names; and my room looks like my closet exploded. I could continue to have the same resolutions, year after year, and hope for progress, or I could be kind to myself. That’s my only New Year’s resolution this year — to be kind to myself.

We all could use a little more kindness.

We have so many demands put on us — some external, like job obligations, taking care of daily tasks, and others internal, often quests for what we consider to be perfection. We make our lists of things to fix, don’t end up fixing them, and then feel bad about ourselves. Then we repeat this the next year with the same result.

What would happen if we were just nicer to ourselves? What if we said we wanted to be happy instead of perfect? We could give ourselves permission to try to be the best we could be each and every day and then actually accept all we have done as an accomplishment instead of looking at what we didn’t do. We could just be kind to ourselves.

My Resolution Plan

I plan to be kind to myself this next year and the years to follow. Kind to my body by listening to its signals. I will stop when I am in pain and move when my body craves movement. I will give my body good foods that help it work to its best ability. At the end of the day, I will be OK with what I accomplished and congratulate myself for surviving one more day.

I will be kind to my mind. I will not tell myself about everything I am unable to do — instead I will congratulate my mind for what it has accomplished. I will reward it with great books and beautiful music. I will have deep and meaningful conversations with friends, and I will give my mind the necessary time to be still.

Most importantly, I know I will fail in the traditional sense, and that is OK. As much as we hate to admit it, being kind can be hard, especially when it comes to ourselves. I am not going to be perfect at this kindness business, and that is going to piss of my inner perfectionist.

But my goal starting now is to tell that perfectionist to shove it and be kind to myself instead.

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Why New Year’s Resolutions Are a Different Story When You’re Chronically Ill

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Well, we’re less than a week away from New Year’s Eve. For many, this means that it’s time to finalize those New Year’s resolutions. You know, things that we want to do or not do in 2017.

I don’t usually officially declare my resolutions, but I’ve made them, practical or otherwise. I’ve realized recently that resolutions are a different story entirely when you’re chronically ill.

Many people resolve to eat healthier, lose weight or exercise more in the new year. I personally have tried these as New Year’s resolutions, but it’s hard to stick to something when your health and your body’s reaction to food are totally out of your control.

Because a lot of my medical issues are gastrointestinal, my diet changes a lot. This means that my weight fluctuates, as does my stamina and ability to exercise.

While I would love to say that in 2017 I will commit to a regular fitness program and eat a certain way, right now all I can hope for is some exercise and a normal diet. Right now, as I’m recovering from surgery on my esophagus, I’m still eating small amounts and getting used to the foods that I used to not be able to eat.

Last year, I made the most ridiculous resolution of all: I said that 2016 would be my year without hospital stays or ER visits. Of course, I can’t control that at all, and I ended spending quite a bit of time in the hospital anyway. Sure enough, I had to go to the ER in the beginning of January, and last week I had another ER trip, with more visits, procedures and a major surgery in the middle.

So instead of being hospital-free this year, I started and ended the year in my least favorite place. But you know what? I’ve learned I really can’t control any of that. But one resolution I can make is to be OK with the things I can control.

I also want to resolve to focus more on self-care. It may seem unnecessary when you’re spending so much time worrying about and tending to your body due to illness. But I mean self-care beyond keeping up with medications and doctor’s visits. I mean taking time to nap, paint my nails, have tea, watch Netflix in bed and not feel guilty about any of it.

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Why I'll Choose Hope Again in the New Year as a Person With a Chronic Illness

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Another year is drawing to a close. For me, like many others, this year has had its fair share of disappointments.

I thought 2016 would be the year I got my life back on track. It was a year where I took difficult decisions to try and get my chronic illness under control. I reluctantly reduced my hours at work and started a new treatment. I was expecting to see an improvement by Christmas. If I’m honest, I was already making plans for what I might do in the New Year with my new-found energy.

But the reality is the improvement thus far has been so fractional I’ve barely noticed it. I’m faced with the disappointment of another year with the uncertainty of an illness that I still struggle to understand and manage. All the hope and aspirations I went into 2016 with feel naive and foolish now.

Disappointment can be crushing. It leaves behind its own scars on our hearts. Scars that make us reluctant to hope again, unwilling to open our vulnerable hearts to the possibility of further pain. Our instinct is to harden our hearts, to build walls around those vulnerable parts of ourselves and lower our expectations.

If we don’t hope for better things, then we can’t be disappointed again. If we expect only more trials and difficulties, then we won’t be let down. It feels safer not to choose hope.

At this dawn of another year, it would be all too easy to cross it off already. To abandon all my dreams and hopes here, accepting they have no place in this new life.

But I can’t live this life without hope.

The kind of hope I need isn’t ignorant of the hard realities of chronic illness. I know that no amount of hope will make this new year trouble-free. There will be hard days ahead, days that will take more than hope to get through.

But I have to keep trusting that even on the difficult days there can be golden moments that make the struggle worth it. I have to keep remembering that I am and always will be more than an illness. I have to believe that some of my dreams for the future can still be fulfilled.

Hope reminds me that while the past is now set in stone, the future hasn’t been written yet. I cannot control what comes to pass. But I can choose the way I approach it.

I will choose hope again in the new year. Maybe I will be disappointed again, but I think it will be worth the risk.

Follow this journey on Hope Whispers.

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One of the Hardest Health Decisions I’ve Had to Make

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I remember asking, and then begging, my parents to let me get a job. I promised to keep my room clean and my grades up, to ride my bike and not ask for rides and to set my alarm and get myself up on time. I made so many promises and begged just to be able to apply for that job because a job meant freedom for me.

My family struggled financially growing up, but we just about always had what we needed thanks to help from other family members. And my mom would do just about anything she could to get us our wants when she was able.

When I was 12, my parents were in a car accident. A drunk driver hit them driving the wrong way on the freeway. A two-income household turned into zero income and a ton of debt.

I got the job and I loved working. And I loved earning money. I worked at a small family-owned farm market with some awesome people who taught me so many invaluable life lessons, and the money meant I could buy the things I thought would make me happy: clothes, makeup, new purses. It meant that I didn’t have to look poor.

I worked there all through high school and into college. From that point forward, I was never without a job, and I often had multiple jobs, even when I was in school. I loved the interaction and feeling like I was accomplishing something. I felt like I was working my way up and out of where I came from.

Then in 2009, I was without a job for the first time in my adult life. I was 24. This was also my first medical leave and the beginning of what has become a long journey of being chronically ill.

At the time, I was working for a company that provided residential services for individuals with developmental disabilities. I remember starting to feel tired and run down more often and thought I was just working too much. Then one day I woke up, got out of bed and fell over. This was the beginning of many doctor’s appointments and symptoms, and I was eventually being diagnosed with narcolepsy, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

I was off work for a total of 10 months and every minute of it was like torture to me. I hated not being able to work, not being able to support myself and feeling useless and without a sense of purpose. My situation and being diagnosed with some pretty serious illnesses led to a major depressive episode. When I did go back to work, I started off part-time, quickly ended up working two jobs and promised myself I would never be off work again. Now that I had answers, I thought I could manage my health and build my career.

I kept working over the next few years, but managing my health wasn’t as easy as I had imagined it to be. I was able to avoid extended medical leaves, especially for few surgeries. I tried to be strategic with vacation and sick days, so I could rest and take care of myself while still working. When my job as a manager with another company working with people with disabilities became too much because I was on-call a lot, I found a job in a medical clinic without an on-call responsibility. I was determined to do whatever I could to keep working this time.

In November 2015, I came down with what I thought was just a case of pink eye. Boy, was I wrong. I had uveitis and optic neuritis, which caused a temporarily loss of vision in one eye and was off work for six weeks.

Again, I found myself in a situation where I felt I couldn’t continue at my job. This time, it was because of stress and fatigue. It was becoming harder and harder for me to stay healthy with the level of stress at that job. So while I was off, I found a job working from home (another adaptation to try to stay in the workforce).

I worked at home job for a few months before I became sick again. This time, I had kidney stones that would require invasive surgery, and once again I was unable to work, even though I had been working from home. Even still, I was planning on going back after surgery. But two surgeries turned into six, and due to extended healing time and continuous flares from other pre-existing conditions, it’s now December and I haven’t been back, nor do I plan to.

Deciding not to go back to work permanently was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life, and it was not made lightly. It meant more than just not working. It meant giving up the security of a paycheck and dealing with the feelings of being inadequate and being unable to support myself.

I’ve felt shame and guilt. I’ve grieved over losing my capability to produce and the last source of socialization with my working peers. It has added stressors over money, has had an effect on my mental health and self-worth and has made me cry more time than I can count. But in the end, I have to come to accept that this choice is the best one for my overall health.

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5 Groups of People I Trust to Support Me Throughout My Illnesses

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Before I realized I was sick and not getting any better, I was a teacher. I would always do a protective behaviors lesson with my class on the last day of school. I wanted to make sure my students knew they could talk to someone about their issues no matter how bad it seemed. I asked students to identify five people that they could go to for help. These people all had one thing in common: They were people who could be trusted and be depended on.

I created many personal safety networks of my own during demonstrations to my classes and was always careful to draw attention to my selective criteria and reasoning for each person. Can I easily assess them? Do I feel safe with them? Do I feel like they listen to me? 

It’s only after years of battling with chronic illness that I have actually really thought about my own personal safety network. As much as I was telling my students they had the right to be listened to and feel safe, I realized I also had that same right.

1. Family.

The very first group on my network was obvious. Family members are always my number one supporters, and they’re also can be a devil’s advocate when needed. They’re the first to notice when things aren’t OK and also the first to give me a much-needed push when I’ve given up. 

My mom, grandmother and husband have dropped everything to rush me to the hospital numerous times, and they’re experts at not showing me how worried they really are. But they can also get upset at me when I’m not trying my best to look after myself, and they give me reasons to get out of the house so I’m not spending days on end alone with my cat.

I thank them for encouraging me to get help for my obsessive tendencies when I was a teenager, for finding a doctor who would take my pelvic pain issues seriously (and go on to diagnose and treat me for endometriosis) and for pushing me to find answers why I was experiencing stroke-like symptoms at only 29. They’re the ones who will ask doctors questions I forget to ask (or don’t want to ask), and they ask me how I am feeling numerous times a day.

I know it must be hard for my family members to see me so sick, and I know sometimes it must just be easier for them to just pretend that I’m not, but they don’t and for that I say thank you.

2. Old friends.

I’ve heard many stories about people who are chronically ill losing people in their life after their diagnosis. It can be hard to keep friends when you constantly need to cancel plans last minute, aren’t able to be there for people when you want to be and no longer seem to have the same values and attitudes that you use to have. You see, being chronically ill changes you. Like any major life change in life, people seem to get left behind in the transition. This can be upsetting, especially when you’re so desperately tying to hang on to the life you use to have.

I’ve been lucky that many of my old friendships have actually strengthened. I’m sure there have been many times some friends have sighed audibly when I told them we couldn’t meet at the last minute. But they never tell me that they felt inconvenienced and still make an effort to make me feel like I’m a part of their lives.

I am so incredibly blessed to have a tight group of friends who always text to see how I am, pop in with surprises when I’ve had an especially tough week and, most importantly, treat me just the same as they always have and make sure my health is still being maintained.

Thank you to all my old friends.

3. New friends.

Being diagnosed with any disease, let alone a rare one, can be isolating. It’s hard to not have your health issues overtake your life, and it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who has some experience with what you’re going through. 

This is why my number one recommendation for anyone who is newly diagnosed with a disease or illness is to look for support groups in your own local area or online. I’m so lucky to have found a wonderful online community to support my myasthenia gravis journey, and I find so much comfort in being able to know that advice and comfort is only a short message away no matter what time of the night or day it may be. 

Thank you to all of my new friends for your strength, courage and knowledge.

4. Medical team.

You need a medical team you can trust, otherwise a life with chronic illness is going to be incredibly difficult, overwhelming and frustrating.

I’m lucky to have finally found an amazing medical team who I completely trust, and I know they want what’s best for me. They don’t look at me as a textbook case. They see me as a person with a multitude of autoimmune diseases and mental health issues. Most importantly, they look at me as a person, not just my illnesses.

This, however, hasn’t always been the case. I had a doctor who told me I was just a girl who “couldn’t handle pain” after giving myself a concussion from passing out and smashing my head on the ground from endometriosis-related pain.

Thank goodness that’s in the past, and I now have an incredible medical team who gives me all the time of day I need, calls me to check up on me weekly and gives me options, not dead ends.

5. Yourself!

If you don’t have yourself as your biggest motivator and supporter, then your journey to self-improvement and recovery is only going to get so far. 

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