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Making Realistic Resolutions for My New Year With Chronic Illness

I’ve always hated the concept of New Year’s resolutions, and yet I feel compelled to make them. It’s something about the frenzy of the holidays, the knowledge that sugar is going to make up a large part of my diet, that my fatigue will flatten me as soon as I allow myself to slow down, and the fact that all that busy-ness will suddenly stop and leave a gap that pulls me towards making a fresh start. That pause in routine, that inward breath, compels me to think about choices and consider new plans.

Of course, chronic illness makes this all a little more interesting. I would love my resolutions to be about getting that new job, traveling somewhere exotic, maybe start hiking the Bruce Trail, but my goals need to be a little more quiet, stately. Every idea is framed with “if I can manage it,” “we’ll see how this goes” and “if nothing else catastrophic happens.”

So the resolutions need to be small and meaningful. Hopeful but realistic.

Of course, diet is always the first thing. But for those of us who are sick, this takes on a whole new dimension. There is a world of diet advice out there and each one assures you that it is truly going to turn around your life and make your weird symptoms disappear. I have fibromyalgia, primarily. It’s one of the mysterious diseases that doctors don’t really understand. They’ve decided it’s real (Oh my, thank you for the recognition that I am not faking the killer pain in my completely healthy feet, the crushing fatigue, the back pain that shifts from point to point). They figure it’s neurological, but don’t seem to really get much beyond that. So no, Nancy, gluten-free is not going to cure me, paleo will not magically make my pain go away and there is no weird allergy causing my discomfort.

However, I have decided to accept help and advice when it is being offered to me. One of the services my health team provides is a pharmacist who has some background as a dietician who is willing to help me set up a keto-inspired meal plan to potentially help with some of my inflammatory symptoms. While I don’t believe a keto diet is the answer to my prayers, I do know that my diet has been crap and that the more fatigued I get, the worse my diet is getting. I believe eating better will help me feel better, so I will gladly accept her advice. Hopefully, we can find ways to make a diet that will work for my weird stomach and that I will be able to manage with my fatigue. So there are two resolutions: Accepting help where it’s offered and improving my diet within the boundaries my life creates.

Secondary to my diet is the usual “living my best life” kind of thing. As a chronically ill person, my goals need to be small and achievable. I struggle hugely with this because being sick is incredibly boring. It truly is not lying about on my chaise eating bon-bons. I’m constantly trying to come up with inventive ways to fill my time, even maybe make a little cash. So to start this new year, I’m thinking very small. Planning my day so self-care is the most important component and then working on activities and hobbies to add color to my days. I’m experimenting with a wide variety of activities to see what I can manage, what I enjoy and working them into my daily routines. I’m hoping experimentation and structure will help keep the depression that is the companion of my chronic illness at bay.

If these goals sound wishy-washy or ill-defined, they are. I find that it’s a necessity of illness to not be dogmatic. It’s easy to say “I’ll do yoga four times a week” until your back decides that “gentle yoga” was way too aggressive and goes into spasm. Every decision, every change, must be done slowly and carefully. Backtracking can’t be seen as a negative, but as a necessary readjustment to better suit your body’s needs. And this may need to be done weekly or even daily as your body changes or flares. All of these resolutions need to be done with gentleness and consideration of your physical needs.

So, onwards to a new decade — filled with the hopefulness that taking care of something with tenderness brings. Even if that something is me.

Getty image by Boonyachoat.