What Self-Discipline Means When You're Chronically Ill

​I love a good meme as much as the next person. Most are encouraging, cute, funny, or even a bit irreverent. I spend way too much time scrolling through Facebook looking for a good chuckle!

But one came across my page today that really caught me off guard. It said, “You won’t always be motivated; that’s why you have to be disciplined.”

​Now part of me says yes, that’s true. I’m rarely motivated to take my meds or to rest when I’d rather be out with friends. Those things definitely take discipline.

But then I heard those old guilt messages coming back:

“There’s really nothing wrong with me.”

“I just need to tough it out.”

“Nobody really wants to go to work – they just have more discipline than you.”

“You’re just lazy.”

And that old bristly feeling came back. If you’ve read this far, then you know the feeling. I call it the “never-good-enough demon.”

A lot has changed since my illness started 25 years ago. I was the typical type A 20-something. Working extra hours, late evenings out with friends, then early mornings for a run or gym workout before heading to work. Tired? No problem – sleep is overrated and boring. I was in it for the excitement. But then life came to a grinding halt when I hit 30. I tried the “self discipline” route for a while and it just didn’t work. In fact, the more I pushed my body, the sicker I got. I felt like a failure, like I just wasn’t trying hard enough.

I’ve spent many years feeling like I just needed to try harder. I’ve been so hard on myself. I’ve hated my body for not being able to handle a “normal” life. I’ve compared myself to those around me and found that I failed miserably to live up to those standards. I’ve pushed my body beyond what I should have, then gotten livid at it when it just couldn’t keep going. I’ve even tried to make deals with my body. I’ve hated my body and wanted to trade it in for a new, working model.

It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve been able to make peace with my body and my limitations. Not that my health has gotten better, but I’ve figured out how to manage my expectations and my situation – and to find joy in unexpected places. I no longer compare myself to other people and their life. I am able to take into account my diagnoses, how I happen to be doing today, and my priorities and values in order to determine what self-discipline means to me.

And oddly enough, today discipline means not doing the big house cleaning that I had originally planned for my day, but instead taking some time for a slow quiet walk because of my headache. I enjoyed driving my daughter to work and my son to his appointment, so I had some good relationship time with people who matter to me. It’s not how I originally saw my day going, but I’m feeling very successful and disciplined because I know that I chose the activities that mean the most to me. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

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