“When I get better….” I used to catch myself starting with this phrase a couple years ago. Too sick to work fulltime, too weak to go to the gym, too much brain fog to visit, too many medical appointments to organize, too many pain attacks to attempt past hobbies, too little money, too little energy…. I let the extremes of the illness and stressors cloud my judgement. I kept thinking the elusive “someday” would come soon and with it 100% energy and wellness. I would not do anything but take pills and inject IVs while saying, “When I get better I am going to hike through Scotland. When I get better I am going to run a 5km race. When I get better I am going to teach fulltime. When I get better I will rejoin the band. When I get better I will get my Masters.”
Caught in the trap of “When I get better” can lead to very unpleasant days. Thankfully, early on in my illness I started watching Joyce Meyer. The morning show title was perfect, and absolutely needed, a message in itself: “Enjoying Everyday Life.” Hmmmmm…. can I enjoy this painful, exhausting, everyday life? Is there joy and creativity and inspiration in the average day? With a change in perspective and attitude my everyday does run over with joy. Yes, I can enjoy everyday living. No more “When I get better…” Instead of dwelling on all that is lost and all I am incapable of I find new insight, new hobbies, and even new appreciation for my surroundings. Here are four steps that led me to abundant living and enjoying my everyday life.
- Do What You Can, And Forget About What You Can’t
Yes, grieving and mourning is part of chronic illness. But after a time of saying goodbye one must put on the new self, taking off the sackcloth and ashes. The old life is dead. Some people get it all back, but for most of us, we need a new normal. I no longer waste days lamenting not being able to jog or lift weights, work full-time to earn a living, or attend every social gathering. I focus on what I can do. I can enjoy walking and exploring the badlands most days. I can research and write. I can do some volunteer work from home. I can tend to my houseplants and enjoy their beauty. I can teach one junior high class each morning. I can have coffee with a friend once or twice a week. I have the time to notice simple, small things. I have the time to problem solve. I can email people when conversing on the phone proves too difficult due to brain fog. I have tried new hobbies, everything from sketching to poetry to cooking. Not all of them worked out but I found ones I do enjoy. No more dwelling on the past person, find something you can do today, and enjoy it.
- Help Someone Else
This is what helps me the most. Getting over myself. If I sit at home and dwell on my aches and pains my world becomes very small and my soul very isolated. But when I reach out and ask how others are, new opportunities open. I may not be able to physically help someone every day. There are times I can shovel a walk or mow the lawn or babysit, but mostly I can be a listening ear. I can visit a lonely senior. I can help solve a problem. I can provide some medical advice. On my “good” days I can plan fundraisers and events to benefit others. On my “bad” days I may only be able to find others on social media who are struggling and offer support via blogging, DMing, or emailing. But each day I find one person to help. Even just getting my mind off my problems for one hour can completely change the day. WARNING: Do not become a slave, do not allow yourself to become vulnerable, do not burn out or skip treatments to help others. I am not talking about saving everybody. You can definitely overdo it and burn out. Analyze each case and determine if helping in some way can benefit the person and yourself. Do not go to extremes. Just simple acts of kindness you are capable of.
- Take It Down A Notch
I am a pretty all or nothing person. This one is difficult for me. Innately I want to run every organization, plan every task, save every person, and do the most intense treatments without breaks no matter how much damage it does. Although more balanced now, I once in a while go over the edge. But I have learned that being and staying part of a group is only possible if I am not president, not on the board, not signing up for every event. Perhaps I am just a member who can attend the odd meeting and do tasks from home, like emailing newsletters or advertising on social media.
Instead of saying, “When I get better I am going to get my Masters” I take it down a notch and say, “I am going to the library to find books and articles on civilian life in Germany post World War II.” I can then spend a couple hours each day, for a year or more, making my own “program” from which to learn. Perhaps I will enroll in one online course and enjoy that instead of taking on a full Masters program that I am physically incapable of completing.
You can still pursue goals, but alter them to a realistic level and enjoy them in smaller steps. My condition won’t allow me to jog but I can walk. I could just say, “When I get better I will train.
I could sit on the couch all day mad that I no longer can enter races. Instead, I let go of the anger and I take the goal down a notch. I can’t run but I can walk my dog, breathe the fresh air, and explore a new trail each week.
- Get Rid of The Guilt!
When I get better I am going to work fulltime again. When I get better I will go on a holiday. When I get better I will take up painting again. If I go on a holiday now people will think I am not that sick. I feel guilty if I waste money on a hobby when we have medical bills to pay… and so on. Ugh! It is not my fault I got sick. It is not my job to wallow and despair. I am allowed to smile and laugh and enjoy my life. Where is it written that sick people are not allowed to find joy in their situations, are not allowed to attend concerts on a “good” day, are not allowed to go on a holiday????? Please forgive yourself for being sick. Forgive yourself for needing assistance. Forgive yourself for no longer earning a living or being the perfect spouse. You have value and deserve to enjoy your life. You need not dwell on all the problems and wear sackcloth. I still struggle with simple things like getting my hair styled. Why should I get a cut and colour when I don’t get out much? Why should I go on a holiday when I don’t work? Ugh…..let it go people!
Anyone self-centered or ignorant enough to fault you for wearing lipstick to get groceries or going with your spouse to Hawaii for a week can likely never be educated on the issue. Some people have no idea what it is like to face chronic illness and ongoing treatments every day. They lack the sensitivity to understand that we actually need a getaway more than ever, and warm humid climates ease the symptoms. And for you guys and girls who like to dress nicely and do your hair just to feel human and confident for a day, good for you! Do not give anyone the time of day who says, “You don’t look sick” or “Oh, glad to see you are better!” Just keep on keeping on…
Remember, you can enjoy your life in the place you are right now. Joyce Meyer says something that boosts my faith life and did help to totally erase some misleading religious beliefs I had, “Jesus came that you might enjoy your life.” Wow! I am meant to be happy, see beauty, and even laugh. No more waiting for a good day. I find the good in each day. Even the darkest ones have the odd beam of sunshine or blinking stars.