Archive for July, 2009

What To Do When It Hurts To Play With and Even Hold Your Children

Friday, July 31st, 2009

A woman in an online chronic illness support group I belong to recently wrote about her difficult situation with her two small children, who are one and three. Donna, as I’ll call her, said she has a hard time letting them jump and even sit on her, because the moment they touch her she feels shock waves of pain throughout her body. She also said she doesn’t want her illness to affect them and that she doesn’t let them see any pain on her face because she doesn’t want them to think she doesn’t love them.

My heart goes out to Donna. I know I would have had a really hard time adjusting to not being able to play with my son when he was a baby and a toddler.

I wrote to Donna and shared a few thoughts with her. I said that I thought that in spite of her not wanting her illness to affect her children, it already had and would continue to do so. Then I said that the important question was not whether her illness affected them, but whether it was in positive or negative way.

The potential negative affect of our illnesses on our children can be minimized if we let them know that we’re going to have good days and bad days, but that we love them no matter what kind of a day we’re having – and then find some way, even if it’s just a kiss on their foreheads, to show it.

I also told Donna that when children can be told and understand that not they, but an illness, is the cause of her pain, then I think that overall it’s a good thing to not hide it from them. I don’t think that’s a black or white decision when they’re really young, but as they get older, seeing a mother (or father) take care of both herself (or himself) and them teaches children that they can take care of themselves as well as others, and that it’s important to do so.

It’s important to keep letting our children know we love them, but if our illness keeps us from showing that love the way we want to, we can always find other ways.

Being Grateful for Our Body Parts and Organs That Work Just Fine

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

I’m sure you’ve been told to be grateful for what you have. It’s a good thing to do: A study by Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis showed that gratitude improves both physical and emotional health. But what are we supposed to be grateful for when we have a chronic illness?

Here’s a suggestion: No matter how sick we are, all of us have organs and body parts that work exactly the way they’re supposed to. And for most of us, there are a lot more parts that work just fine than there are parts that don’t. In spite of that, we usually focus and dwell on the parts that aren’t working.

As you know if you’ve read my other posts, I’m a strong believer in having compassion for yourself. So in this case what I recommend is that yyou give the parts of you that are not working well, and very possibly in pain, lots of compassion and love. Not only do they deserve it, but giving it to them is very healing.

Then be grateful for all the parts of you that do work, think about all the other people, pets, and things in your life that you’re also grateful for, and have the best day you possibly can.

Who Do You Support and Encourage?

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Earlier this year I coached a young man who had chronic fatigue syndrome and some other health challenges that made his life very difficult. But he wasn’t a complainer and he did his best to get through each day.

As I got to know him, I learned that he was single and that he got tremendous satisfaction from working with at risk youths. He gave those kids lots and lots of love and support, including encouragement when they needed it and hugs when they needed them. Greg, as I’ll call him, was clearly a very caring young man.

I told Greg that I knew someone who could really use the love and support that he knew how to give. Out of curiosity and because he gets so much satisfaction helping others, Greg wanted to know who that person was. So I started describing him. I told Greg that the man I was talking about was a very giving person and very supportive of others and that he was in his late 20’s, and I provided some other information about him as well.

When I told Greg the person I was referring to had some serious health challenges, he realized I was talking about him. In an aha! moment, he also realized that he had been giving way more support and care to his at risk youth than he had to himself, that he wasn’t getting nearly as much support and care as he needed and that he could give them to himself as well as to at risk youth. And he started and continues to do that. How about you?

Are you treating yourself as if you matter?

Monday, July 20th, 2009

During my many years as a life coach for people with chronic illnesses, I’ve met many people who thought that ignoring their illness-related pain was their best option. I don’t agree.

I think you will understand why if you think about a child who tells her mother that her knee hurts. If the mother tells her that she’s too busy to do anything about it, not only is the pain going to continue until the knee recovers on its own–if it does, but the child gets the message loud and clear that she is not important. If her needs continue to be ignored, she will eventually conclude that she must not be important and her needs must not matter.

In a similar way, if you ignore your illness-related pain, you are sending yourself a message that you’re not important. Even if you consciously try to reject that message, your subconscious mind will hear it and let it in. So it’s important that you don’t  ignore your pain.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you should run to a doctor every time your little toe hurts. But  a good parent determines if her child’s knee or toe needs to be seen by a doctor or just given a kiss, and she doesn’t ignore or be dismissive of her child in either situation. Instead she  expresses her love and caring. I encourage you to be that same kind of caring parent to yourself whenever you experience illness-related pain.

Take Time to Listen…. to Yourself

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

When we have a chronic illness, it often seems like the voice inside our head never stops talking about how bad our illness, our symptoms, and our lives are. And the more it talks, the worse we feel.

Many knowledgeable people recommend “quieting our minds,” but that can be a lot easier said than done. I have a different recommendation: listen – and I mean really listen – to the voice.I think that one of the reasons the voice inside our heads keeps talking is because while we hear it, we don’t really listen to it.

There is a style of listening that couples are taught to use when they find themselves arguing a lot. It consists of listening, reflecting, validating, and empathizing. Let me briefly explain the last three steps. Reflecting means restating what the other person said so they know you heard them correctly. Validating means that you first understand why the other person feels the way they do, and you let them know you understand. And empathizing, or course, means to let them know you feel empathy for whatever pain and sadness they feel.

The idea may seem unusual and even weird, but we can use that same style of listening with the voice in our head when it keeps telling us how bad our lives are because of our chronic illness: Listen to the voice, reflect back to the voice what it said, let it know you really understand why it feels the way it does, and let it know you feel empathy for it. For obvious reasons, the last three steps should be done silently if you are in public. :)

If you do this when the voice in your head keeps telling you over and over how bad your illness and your life are, I’m confident that the voice will sooner or later – and probably sooner -  stop telling you those things. It may stay quiet for awhile, or it may start talking about something else. But now you know something to do if it does.

What To Do When You Just Can’t Do It All

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Over the years that I’ve coached people with chronic illnesses, more than one person has told me that they just can’t do everything they’re supposed to. Usually it’s a woman who will tell me that, probably because more women than men are afflicted with several of the more common chronic illnesses, and because in a typical family, women have more responsibilities than men do.

A typical story one of these women will tell me is that because of all she has to do for her medical care, taking care of their children, doing the shopping and errands, cooking for her family, etc., etc., and because of the fatigue and other symptoms she suffers from, she can’t keep up with the housework. Then she’ll say she feels even more stressed than she already was because she feels like she’s not doing everything she “should” and because she finds living in a messy house stressful.

Obviously she could ask other family members for more help, but she will typically say that doesn’t work. There are ways to make asking more likely to be successful, but I’m going to leave that discussion for another post.

I wish that there was a website that sold magic wands that really worked, so that these women (and occasionally men) could quickly and easily clean their houses and do everything else that needed doing, but unfortunately, no such website exists. And I don’t have any magic words of advice that will make their situations all better. But I think that people in stressful situations like the one I’ve described will find the posts titled “Acknowledging That Things Suck Can be a Good Thing“Bill Clinton said it,” and “A Million Dollars Worth of Ideas to Make Your Life a Lot Better” helpful.

Another way for finding the best solution for a difficult situation or problem is to write about it in the third person. In other words, if Mary has chronic fatigue and her house has become a mess–at least by her standards, she would write “Mary has been feeling very stressed because she’s exhausted and hasn’t had the time or the energy to clean the bathroom in three weeks.” She would continue to describe her situation in the third person, rather than writing “I’ve been feeling very because I’m exhausted and I haven’t had the time or the energy to clean the bathroom in three weeks.”

The reason writing in the third person in this way is helpful is because it depersonalizes our story and allows us to detach from it. Once we do that, we are usually able to see changes we can make and things we can do to improve our situation that we couldn’t see before. We are much more likely to see activities we can easily give up, ways to combine errands or other possible solutions.

I hope you find this idea helpful. There are other steps a person in the situation I’ve described can take to lessen their stress and improve their sense of wellbeing. I’ll write about them in another post.