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When Your 'Healthy' Alter Ego Starts Taking Over

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How often do you tell yourself, “I should be doing such and such” or “I’d better do this or that?”

We all do it. It’s like we are programmed from birth to constantly have a catalogue of “should do, must do, better do,” all filed in the front of our minds for easy reach.

I’m as guilty as the next person. Even though my body can hardly do anything, I still give myself those messages. It’s ludicrous.

Chronic and rare illness means you have something that is ongoing. It’s life-changing. It may be life-changing to varying degrees for each of us — but you can guarantee, in the majority of cases, how you used to live is no longer going to be possible.

Yet, despite this knowledge, we still allow ourselves to be drawn into a conversation with our healthy alter ego that goes something like this:

“I’ll just do that extra load of washing today. Come on, just push through.”

“Oh, I can easily have my friends visit for morning tea and squeeze in my blood tests in the afternoon. No worries at all.”

When we were able-bodied and healthy, tiredness was probably the worst we had to contend with. That’s not the case anymore.

Chronic illness comes with chronic restrictions. It’s as simple as that.

In the written form, that sentence sounds so logical and simple, but to change a life-long behavior of pushing through is incredibly difficult.

So why don’t we just listen to our bodies and change our behavior? Listening to our bodies when chronically ill, means we need to accept we are not capable of doing what we used to do. No one wants to admit defeat. We all want to feel empowered, successful and free.

Ironically, if we do accept our disease and the restraints it places on us, we will eventually feel that sense of control we are seeking.

While we continually give ourselves denial messages of “just push through, I’ll be fine,” we are increasing the restraints our disease is trying to inflict. We are letting our bodies struggle more than necessary. If you stop and think about it, that doesn’t really make much sense.

We end up in a vicious cycle of more pain, tiredness and other worsening symptoms. All of which remove more and more control over our daily lives.

So how can we help ourselves?

Our bodies give us key messages every day. Pain and fatigue are the two key indicators, in my opinion, we need to watch out for. When they present and begin to increase, it’s time to listen, stop, review and adjust.

Let’s look at each of those categories a little closer.

1. Listen. My pain is constant, but it does have varying levels. I have base pain, intermediate pain and severe pain.

At my base level, I can function around the home doing a little cleaning, making cups of tea, doing admin work, writing and managing my forum. I can also go out for an hour for a coffee with my husband once during the week and I can more easily get to medical appointments, etc. At this level I must have morning and afternoon sessions of lying flat on the bed, and I can’t be on my legs for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

At my intermediate level, I need to reduce my cleaning tasks, avoid sitting at my computer to do admin tasks, and increase my laying down sessions from 30 to 60 minutes. I can still manage my online forum and write while resting. I can only be on my legs for 10 minutes at a time.

At my severe pain level, I need to rest for the majority of the day. I can look after my basic hygiene. I might be able to write a little while resting, but interacting and managing my forum is more difficult.

I have learned (the hard way) to listen when my body gives me the warning signs I’ve moved from basic, to intermediate, to my severe pain activity level.

2. Stop. I’m sure most of us with chronic illness do listen to our bodies, but listening without taking some kind of action isn’t going to help us take control.

Stopping is the first action required. What I mean by stopping is just taking a little time to sit, so you can work out what’s going on and what you need to do about it.

A good “stopping action” is to put the kettle on and make a cup of tea or coffee. Take a much needed breather.

3. Review. Once you’ve stopped for a moment and are sitting down sipping that relaxing “cuppa,” it’s time to review.

Ask yourself some key questions at this point:

  • What just happened to make you stop?
  • How did/do you feel?
  • Are you overdoing it?
  • Can you reschedule your day?
  • Is what you were doing really necessary? (Be very honest here.)
  • If you take a longer rest period will that help you recover quicker?
  • Are your increase in symptoms due to overdoing it or do you need to seek medical advice?
  • Are you telling yourself “I should be doing ‘xyz’?”
  • Can you tell yourself “No, I shouldn’t?”
  • Do you want to feel more in control of your disease?

4. Adjust. We can listen, stop and review as much as we like, but unless we adjust our activities nothing will change.

Once you’ve gone through the review process, take action straight away based on your answers to the key questions.

I can almost guarantee you will feel immediate relief in terms of well-being. You will feel like you are back in the driver’s seat. Yes, your disease has placed restrictions on you. Yes, you are in pain or dealing with other kinds of symptoms — but you have taken control.

By listening, stopping, reviewing, and adjusting, you have improved your situation. In fact, you have probably ensured that activities you want or need to do later in the week, will actually have a good chance of happening.

So next time you find yourself talking to your healthy alter ego and you hear the words, “I should, I better, I have to,” remember there is only one response.

It’s the response that puts you back in control. The response that is full of wisdom and will empower you. It’s the response that will ensure you will be successful in living well with your chronic or rare illness.

The response to “I should do… ” is simple. Maybe it’s “No, I really shouldn’t.”

Originally published: July 11, 2018
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