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Reading Self-Help Articles as a Woman With Chronic Health Challenges

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Sometimes I simply want to scream, or hide away in bed and never come out. Things just seem too big and overwhelming. And there are just too many things to deal with. I need to make the world small in order to figure out how to function again. In the last three months, I have let go of many of my self-care regimes, regrettably. On my continuum of health, I’ve definitely been on the sick end, the “it freaking sucks” end of the scale. Self-care has been reduced to the basics, and honestly, I have even been challenged on that front.

Don’t even ask me what I’ve eaten. In the midst of migraine symptom rampages, my diet can be simply chocolate, or doughnuts, or toast, or nothing. None of it that good. Sometimes the smell of vegetables, which I love, is just too much. And then to exercise or do daily chores? In the midst of feeling extreme fatigue every day I have sometimes had to choose between taking a shower and doing a yoga sequence. Sometimes out of sheer necessity to be presentable to the world, the shower wins out. Some days the shower has even seemed too daunting.

Then I look at my email. Or Facebook. There is a barrage of ways to better myself. Ten ways to be more focused. Twenty day challenge to tighter abs. Ten days to peace of mind. Thirty days to a clean house. Twenty-one days to a clean colon. Eighty-two days to shiny hair. Five steps to fitter quads. Eighteen meals to a healthy gut. And I think: 65 emails to make me awful about myself. Twenty-five ways to gain 20 new pounds on my butt. Five tips for hiding out from people. Honestly, self-help suggestions can be downright numbing.

Then I make my way through the bare minimum of the day. Decide if I really need to shower. Debate with myself about if it is too cold to leave the house. Eat. Or not. Work. Meds. Nap at mid-day (which I hate to admit that I need). A few errands. Dinner. Or not. Think about yoga. Consider the gym. Get under the electric blanket. Meditate for five minutes. In bed. Sitting up. And then stay there for the rest of the evening. It is only 7:30 p.m.

Repeat. This repeat button has been on for the last few months.

And then, this week, after coming out of my appointment where I was injected with some 30 shots in my head, neck and shoulders, I realized that for a long time I have been striving. I had been feeling pretty healthy, and I was getting caught up in striving. I wanted to be something, and achieve something and have some intangible “thing” that proves my worth. I can get on the striving bandwagon in the most beautiful and committed way, and I have really been there for the last year or so. But, my striving mode, also sits right next to my denial mode. And that sucks. Eventually.

Denial is a funny thing. It can be so subtle. And it can be such a tiny tiny light gray line between denying reality and that feeling of wallowing, or underestimating potential. There is this fear that if I really sit with who I really am, and where I really am, that I will be stuck or unable to see my potential. All of this, is just denial self-talk bullsh*t and the fear of being real. Seeing my reality is just that — recognizing my true and real challenges. And recognizing my true and real awesomeness. All of it. Seeing and sitting with my baseline, the good and the crap. Sometimes it can truly be low. Very low. In the freaking depths of hell. And still facing all of it is good.

“To regret one’s one experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life.” – Oscar Wilde

In the last year, I have kind of forgotten my baseline. It is pretty easy to get all high and mighty about striving when I deny the lengths I have to travel. And so in the last few months, the distance finally caught up to me. I forget to have compassion for myself, and that leads me to forget to have compassion for others. If I can’t face my own reality, how could I possibly have compassion for anyone else’s reality? And so thankfully, even though it hurts like a freaking ice pick in my eye, back to reality.

(Read more about my pain journey here.)

My self-help realities are no so lofty as I read in the self-help email lists, but they are real. And it’s freaking hard to admit that:

  • I am a woman who has a severe chronic health issue. I make no excuses for it, and I don’t whine about it, but it is real. And sometimes I prefer to try to forget or downplay it.
  • Some things cannot be solved. Accepting that is healing. And graceful. And real.
  • In order to live a full life I get treatment. Aggressive treatment. And sometimes it scares me. But still, it is self care.
  • My health is a cycle. Sometimes I feel worse, but that does not mean that I will never feel better.
  • Patience is part of being healthy. This is self-care.
  • I am learning to let go of striving to look and be a certain way. This does not mean I am lazy. This is a major lesson I am still learning. This is self-care.
  • I am a woman who loves to cook and appreciates healthy and beautiful food, even if I don’t always follow through.
  • I cannot predict or know the depth of my need to rest. I have had insomnia for years because of migraine, and it is feasible that my need to sleep is real, not a sign of laziness or lack of motivation. Not labeling my need for rest is self-care. Resting is self-care.

So thank you to all the self-help posts that inundate my email inbox. They remind me of my mental dialogue between reality and denial. They overwhelm me. But thank you for being my diversion, at least for a while, so I could find my way back to the real me. For holding a place while I found my way back to compassion. That is awesomeness.

And by the way, as a result of coming back to what’s real, I have scheduled myself for yoga classes everyday between Monday and the end of the month. That commits me to getting out of the house, being with people I love in my community, and moving in ways that are incredibly healthy for my body and mind. I have committed to this before when I was in a similar place of pain, and I know I can follow through, so here it goes again. Other than that, I will just keep eating cake, or chocolate or going to bed at 7:30 p.m. until it feels like the change has come. And it will.

Follow this journey on Chronic Yoga.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: January 25, 2017
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