Archive for May, 2009

A Million Dollars Worth of Ideas to Make Your Life a Lot Better

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

This post was inspired by a woman in an online support group that I participate in.  Carol (not her real name) wrote to say she needed to vent because her house had become a mess. Because of a flare, she wasn’t able to keep up with the housework, and her husband played computer games instead of helping out (he had been choosing computer games over helping with housework for several years). The first idea that came to my mind was that  they should find a marriage counselor, although I don’t know their  relationship issues so I don’t know if that would help.

But here’s an idea that I think would help. Maybe it will also help you, with whatever illness related problems you are facing. Imagine that I have a million dollars to give away. To win that money, all you need to do is think of  good ideas  to make your life better. For every one you think of, I will give you $50,000. Just one small catch: the ideas can’t cost more to implement than you can afford right now. Even with that restriction, I bet that you could win a lot of money from me – very likely the entire $1,000,000.

I think you’ll agree that in the sitation I just described, you would think of many ideas to make your life with a chronic illness better – and if you agree, then we both know that you can come up with many good ideas for improving your life. I encourage you to give this game a try, because even though the prize money is imaginary, the improvement in your life that you will experience will be very real.

If Carol gives this a try and shares her results, which I hope she does, I’ll let you know how she does.

Imagining what it’s like to have your illness

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

In my post last week, I suggested that you use Bill Clinton’s campaign phrase “I feel your pain” for yourself, by saying it to yourself in the mirror. People have asked me questions about that post, so I want to elaborate on what I wrote. But first I’m going to share a couple of things about what’s been going on for me, one of them frightening and the other fun.

I live in Goleta, California, which is only a few miles from Santa Barbara. As you may know from watching the news recently, we’ve just had another bad fire – our fourth in less than two years. I was out of town the night that, as the firefighters put it, all hell broke loose. And I’ve been very fortunate because people in the area where I live did not have to evacuate, although we were told to be prepared to do so. I have a lot of empathy for those who did have to evacuate, and my prayers go to the 80 families who lost their homes.

In spite of being relatively safe myself, I found that I was much more stressed than I would have expected. After getting off the phone with someone who faced the real possibility of losing her home, I started missing exits while driving. It took me a while to connect my difficulty driving with that phone call. But now that I have, I think that many of us are very likely more stressed than we realize by our fears about what may happen to us. When our performance is less than we think it should be, stress or fear from an unidentified source may very well be the reason why.

On a much more positive note, last Sunday I took a very enjoyable trip to San Luis Obispo, which is about 120 miles north of here. I took it because I’m training to be a National Park Service volunteer guide on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. From the train we saw a deer, several dolphins, and dozens of pelicans flying in formation close to the train. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Getting back to my post about saying to yourself “I feel your pain,” one woman said she had tried talking to herself in the mirror, but it didn’t work no matter how long she spent doing it. I’m pretty sure I know why. Although she told herself, “I feel your pain,” I don’t think she really let her pain in and felt it. Doing that is the most important part of the exercise.

Here’s another way to look at it: Let’s say that a good friend was just diagnosed with cancer. The first step in supporting and being there for them would be to put yourself in their place and imagine, as well as you could, what it would feel like to have the same thing happen to you. We normally do this automatically. If we didn’t, the empathy and compassion we felt for our friend would be very shallow.

In the same way, what I’m suggesting is to put yourself in your own place and imagine, as well as you can, what it would be like to have your illness. I know this sounds paradoxical and strange, because you really do have that illness. But if you’re like most people, even though you do have it, you often don’t let yourself fully feel what having it is like.

When you do let yourself fully feel what it’s like to have your illness–and the reason I keep making this suggestion and ones like it–is because once you do, you will naturally and without thinking about it be kinder and gentler to yourself. And that’s what I want for you.

Is Your Life Better Than You Realize?

Monday, May 11th, 2009

A while back, I had a client whose arthritis was so bad she couldn’t walk. Many tasks, from cleaning her apartment to buying groceries and cooking meals, were very hard for Maria to do. On top of that she was in a lot of pain.

On the other hand, Maria had lots of friends whose company she enjoyed and with whom she got together on a regular basis. In addition, she was building a business making things she loved, and she had just taken up painting and was enjoying it very much.

In one of our coaching sessions, Maria was feeling very negative and told me that she hated her life. It was obvious to me that that wasn’t true, so I responded by telling her that she didn’t hate her life – that what she hated was her illness and her symptoms. Maria replied that my observation was correct. Then, without glossing over her painful symptoms or pretending they didn’t exist, she was able to acknowledge the many things and people in her life that she enjoyed and that gave her pleasure. And doing that made her much more able to get through her hard times and difficult days, and have a much better life overall.

I’ll conclude by saying that I know that for some of you reading this, right now there are very few if any things in your life that you enjoy. In that case, I think you will find some of my previous posts helpful, and I will give you more helpful suggestions in the future. And you can always contact me for a no cost consultation.

But if you are one of the many people with a chronic illness who focus and dwell on their symptoms and pain (which I even did myself at one time)  and overlook the positive aspects of their lives, then I invite you to fully acknowledge all the people you connect with and the things you do that you love and enjoy. I know you’ll be glad you did.

Bill Clinton said it

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

There is a phrase Bill Clinton is known for – a phrase that helped him get elected in 1992. He first said it to an unemployed man at a town hall meeting, and then repeated it in other situations during his campaign. The phrase I’m referring to is: “I feel your pain,” and it can help you feel better.

I know that many of you are in pain. Some of you are in a lot of pain. I have a suggestion for you that has helped my clients, and I’m confident it will help you too: say Clinton’s famous phrase out loud, in the bathroom, to your own reflection in the mirror. Say it at least once, and preferably several times, each day. And when you do, say it because you mean it, and not because you want to be elected President  🙂   (my attempt at humor notwithstanding, it’s really important that when you tell yourself that you feel your pain, you really mean it).

If you’re curious about why I give this suggestion to my clients with chronic illnesses and am giving it to you now, here’s the reason: I’ve learned that people with chronic illnesses often don’t let themselves feel or acknowledge their pain. And when they don’t, they are much less likely to treat themselves with gentleness and understanding or give themselves the compassion they need and deserve.

I know from my years of coaching that giving yourself compassion and understanding–which starts with feeling your own pain–is one of the most important things you can do for yourself to have a better life. I hope you’ll try it and see for yourself.

Don’t be a Tough Guy or Gal

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Last week a woman in an online illness support group that I participate in–I’ll call her Ellen–shared with the group that her hair had fallen out and then had grown back in, but it now looked weird. Ellen wrote that she was sad because she used to have very pretty hair. Then she said she knew it was dumb to fret over hair.

I responded by saying that it was not at all dumb for her to fret about her hair or to be sad that it looked weird. I suggested that she give herself lots of compassion for what she had gone through and the sadness she felt. She wrote again and said that she had gone to a chronic pain management program, and in it was told not to complain about anything, including pain. She was also told that expressing  negative feelings to ourselves or others is harmful, and to always realize things could be worse.

Since I didn’t attend that chronic pain management course myself, I only have the information about it that Ellen provided to go on. I know it’s not helpful to complain about things. But it seems to me that the people who taught that course were misguided in saying that expressing  negative feelings to ourselves or others is harmful.

What you and I need to do to successfully manage both physical and emotional pain is to fully acknowledge it, including how much it hurts and all the difficulties it causes in our lives. Then the next step is for us to give ourselves as much compassion as we possibly can for our pain and all those difficulties we’ve been experiencing. I have found, with both my clients and myself, that trying to tough it out and ignore pain only works for a limited period of time. Eventually the pain becomes so severe or causes problems so serious that they can’t be ignored. So the best way to manage pain and have lives  we truly love in spite of it is the way I’ve described.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post, and what has worked best for you.

Feeling wonderful in spite of having a chronic illness

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Today I’m going to share with you what I found to be a profound lesson. It comes from a true story told by Jack Zufelt, a seminar leader and author (his website is Jack told about saying to the 400 or so people in his seminar that if they identified their core values, they would “unleash the conquering force within” and could do anything they wanted.  One man–I’ll call him Bill–raised his hand to say that he didn’t think that was true.

It turned out that Bill was in a wheelchair. Jack asked Bill to interact with him,  so he was lifted by four men, wheelchair and all, onto the stage.

When Jack asked Bill what he wanted to do most, Bill responded that he wanted to play professional football, but that he would never be able to do that. When asked why he wanted to do that, Bill started to get choked up. He told about being a star quarterback in high school who broke all the school records. He told about getting written up in the local newspaper. He told about being popular with girls. He said that he had been offered several scholarships to college, had chosen one, had broken the previous records as a quarterback there and had gotten even more media attention. He told Jack and the other participants how good and special he felt from all that attention. Not surprisingly, he was scouted by the pros, and was on the path to a very successful career in professional football. Then one awful day, he was in an accident that left him a paraplegic, and the path suddenly reached a dead end.

Jack then asked Bill something Bill didn’t expect. His question was, “what if I could show you how to experience all of those feelings again, only this time without a football?” Bill had never thought about that before. It was clear that the idea made a light bulb go off inside his head, and he left the seminar a changed person.

About six months later, Jack saw Bill’s picture on the cover of Parade magazine (Parade is a supplement to the Sunday edition of newspapers around the country). He was rappelling down a cliff with four healthy people!

In spite of his devastating accident, Bill had found a way to have the special feelings he had gotten from being a football star.  Now, you probably weren’t a football star before you became ill, but I’m sure there were things you could and did do that had you feeling really, really good. In light of Bill’s story, my question to you is, what can you do today and and going forward to recreate those feelings?