Striving for Balance in the New Year With Chronic Illness
I know it’s cliche to do a post on New Year’s resolutions – like many people, I typically make a half-assed resolution I’ve given up on by March. But while New Year’s resolutions tend to get a bad rep, I do think that taking stock of the last year of your life and looking forward at how you can make things better in the next year is usually a pretty good thing. Even if that introspection only lasts you ’til spring, some work is better than none at all.
So what am I focusing on in 2018? Little things, like taking up kickboxing and recruiting friends to help me canvass for midterm elections. But also big things – my big, overarching resolution for the year to come is to strike a balance.
I spent pretty much all of 2016 very sick. Bed-bound sick. Steroids sick. Just-trying-to-make-it-through-the-day sick. In order to come to terms with that lifestyle, I steadily built up a very low-key routine. The excitement of my days was what smoothie I made, or what book I was reading, or what color I painted my nails. It was getting a bed-desk that allowed me to do work while laying down with a heating pad. It was a nice FaceTime with my sister and her dog, or my mom stopping by to take me to breakfast.
So when 2017 rolled around and my symptoms were starting to be semi-regulated, I decided I wanted to say “yes” to everything I possibly could. I wanted to be a normal 20-something again. I wanted to go out with my friends, and sign up for a personal trainer, and drink a bunch of vodka, and travel across the Atlantic. But at a certain point I began to worry that I wasn’t saying “yes” because I actually wanted to – I was saying yes because I was afraid of wasting valuable “healthy” time.
Needless to say, going from zero to 60 gave me serious mental whiplash. My illness was forcing me to live in a purely reactionary state – I was either laying low because I was ill and I had to, or going all out because I was feeling better and felt like I couldn’t waste it. That kind of mindset leaves little room for balance.
But that’s what chronic illness does to your way of thinking. When I’m well, I feel like a little kid in a candy store who needs to snatch everything up before I get caught. I need to do all the things and have all the experiences before a new flare comes and forces me back into early nights and slow weekends. But what that lifestyle has taught me this year is that living like that just isn’t me. The activities I associated with being in a flare – staying in to watch a movie, or write, or meditate – are things I wholeheartedly enjoy and want to do more of, even when I’m well enough to do something “more exciting.” Even if that means giving up some of the nights out I was trying to snatch up. When you’re sick and living with limited energy, life is not a dash to experience everything you possibly can – it’s about prioritizing experiences that are important to you and taking the time to savor them.
So the goal? The resolution? Do more things that make me happy, whether that’s a wild adventure or just a board game night. Don’t be too focused on saying “yes” to every single invitation, but also know when to push myself to try something fun. Make time for both sides of me – the introvert who wants to stay in and bake, and the extrovert who wants to put on some tall boots and dance to Kesha. Channel my inner-Yoda and find balance in the Force that is my life. Because flare-ups of my illness will come and go, but if I can foster a steadfast sense of self that lives outside of those circumstances, I can tackle it all in stride.
This post originally appeared on Sicker Than Your Average.
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