Archive for August, 2009

A Special Kind of Love

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

When you were sick as a child, I hope you were taken care of as well as I was when I got sick. I have fond memories of those days. They were very special because I got to stay home from school, lie on the couch in the living room, and read or watch TV as much as I wanted (game shows were my favorite). But what really made those days special was all the extra TLC my mother would give me  (TLC, as I’m sure you know, stands for tender loving care). She would bring me ice cream or chicken soup when I was hungry, something to drink when I was thirsty, and cover me with a blanket to keep me warm. And she would put her hand lovingly on my forehead to check my temperature and to let me know how much she cared about me and that she wanted me to feel better.

It took me many, many years as an adult to learn that whenever I got sick, I could give myself the same kind of TLC my mother gave me as a child. I went through serious illnesses like mononucleosis, many painful medical procedures, three surgeries, and my first 10 years of having Crohn’s disease without that knowledge. Obviously I survived, but I’ve often wondered how.

Taking care of myself  – when I’m sick or when my Crohn’s disease  is active – the way my mother took care of me when I was sick as a child is not a panacea. It doesn’t make everything “all better.” But I have no doubt that it has significantly lessened the duration of my illnesses and flares and it has greatly improved the quality of my life.

What about you? If you had the same positive experience of being taken care of when you were sick as a child as I did, I encourage you to give yourself that same kind of care whenever you need it. If you didn’t get that kind of care, please give yourself extra compassion today because you didn’t get it as a child, and then, every time you need it, give yourself the special kind of love that children – and adults too – deserve when they’re sick.

How to Have a Meaningful Life When You Have a Chronic Illness

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

It usually seems to be the case that having a chronic illness diminishes our lives. From traveling to eating to working and playing, we feel limited by how much and for how long we can do the things we want to do. However, it is very possible – and it can be incredibly satisfying – to use our illnesses as a way to add to our lives, by making them more meaningful. In working with people with chronic illnesses for many years, I have observed that many of them already do that, and I’ve had the rewarding privilege of helping others do the same. In this article, I’m going to share with you some ways people with chronic illnesses have found to have more meaningful lives because of – rather than in spite of – having a chronic illness, and I’m also going to share my thoughts and suggestions for how you can do the same.

A couple of things many of my clients did that made their lives more meaningful were to be much more appreciative and grateful for their friends and family than they were before they became ill, and to take advantage of their illness-caused slower walking and moving through life speed to really appreciate the natural beauty around them – beauty they often hadn’t noticed before. If you are doing either or both of these, great! If not, what would your life be like if you did?

A simple but effective way to use your chronic illness to have a meaningful life is to just live the best you can. I don’t think most of us are aware of how much we can and do inspire others when we do that. Maybe it’s really hard for us to get out of bed and do all the things we need to do to take care of ourselves, our families, and get through each day, but we do so as well as we can without thinking that it’s anything special. But those who know how hard we struggle will often see what we do as an inspiring demonstration of courage and fortitude.

I’ve seen this in my brother’s marriage. His wife has multiple sclerosis and is in pain a lot of the time. It’s a major effort for her to get out of bed every day, but in spite of that she almost always has a cheerful disposition and a positive outlook on life – and because of that my brother refers to her as his heroine.

I also saw this kind of demonstration of courage and fortitude in a client I had several years ago, although at first he didn’t see it. He was worried that, because of his illness related limitations, he was being a poor father figure role model for his two young sons. He wanted to show them that a father is the breadwinner, that he helps around the house, and that he spends a lot of quality time playing and doing other things with his sons. But because of his illness, he couldn’t work and couldn’t spend much playtime or other time with his sons. There’s no question that his sons missed out on some quality father son time with their dad. But that fact notwithstanding, they saw their seriously ill father doing his best to be the best father he could be and living his life as well as he possibly could. By doing that, he was an excellent role model for them and I’m sure had a very positive impact on them as well.

My next suggestion for having a meaningful life when you have a chronic illness is to find ways to help others who also have chronic illnesses. One way to do that is to go to chronic illness support groups. Obviously the vast majority of people who go to support groups, both the live and online ones, do so to receive support. But you can go to them for a different reason: to share what you’ve learned about how to live the best life you can with others who want and need that knowledge. The people you help will almost always be very grateful and you will feel good for the difference you make in their lives.

Before I invite you to decide on how you will use your illness to bring more meaning into your life, I want to tell you about Zolisa, a woman who called me from London several years ago and told me her story. Zolisa, who acquired AIDS from her ex-husband, was an immigrant from South Africa.  In her culture, women were expected to acquiesce to their husbands’ demands for sex, even if doing so put their own health and lives at risk. Zolisa knew that she was not alone; she knew that other women who were also immigrants from South Africa were still following the established custom of acquiescing to their husbands. She decided that she had to do something to stop these women from becoming infected with AIDS, so she made it her mission to empower them to stand up to and say no to their husbands. She told me that doing that was very meaningful for her. In fact, it became so meaningful that she told me that even if it were possible for her to turn back the clock and to have never gotten AIDS in the first place, she would not do that.

Now it’s your turn. I invite you now to think about what you’ve learned from having your illness, what aspects of life are important to you, and with those in mind, decide on the best way for you to use your illness to bring more meaning into your life.

I’m So Sorry

Friday, August 14th, 2009

In this post I want to tell you three of the most important words I’ve learned in my life. Those words are: I’m so sorry.

You may be wondering or guessing why I think those words are so important. The answer  is that I have learned how to live very well in spite of having a serious chronic illness (Crohn’s disease) and learning about those words – and how to use them – has been a major reason why. They helped me when my symptoms were severe, and I’m convinced that they’ve helped me keep my illness in remission. Also, like many others with a chronic illness, I’ve suffered from depression, and those words have been miraculous in helping me heal from it. And when I’ve taught my clients and others with chronic illnesses those words, and then told them how to use them, they’ve helped them greatly too.

So how did those words do that, and how can they help you? After all, they are very ordinary words and you’ve probably said them many times. So had I. But they didn’t help me with my illness until I discovered who to say them to, and how to say them.

What I discovered, after struggling for many years, was that the person I needed to say them to was me. While I had family and friends who cared about me deeply, that wasn’t enough. I saw that there was a part of me that needed to know that I cared about him, that I was really sorry he was in so much physical and emotional pain, and that I wanted the best for him.

The other part of my discovery process was really seeing, for the first time, the tremendous amount of physical and emotional pain I was in. I had become pretty good at minimizing and even denying it, and a part of me wanted to keep doing that. But the pain became so great and had such a big negative impact on my life that I knew that continuing to deny it was no longer an option.

So I told the person in the mirror how sorry I was that he had so much pain and I hugged myself several times a day. And over time, the emotional pain lifted and my Crohn’s disease went into remission.

Let me say here that my discovery about those three words was not a magic cure for my illness. I did extensive research into standard and alternative medicine from the day I was diagnosed. I found the treatments that worked best for me and benefited greatly from them. But I truly believe that my discovery of how to use those three words is what has made it possible for me to keep my illness in remission without drugs.

So what about you? Are you trying to minimize or deny your physical or emotional pain? Is there a part of you that is yearning to hear the words I’m so sorry from you? If there is, I hope you’ll say them with lots of kindness, compassion, and understanding, and give yourself lots and lots of hugs. And after you’ve done those things for a couple of weeks, I would love for you to come back here and to leave a comment about how well they worked.

Best wishes,

Tom

Do you resist exercising?

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Many people with chronic illnesses resist exercising. I say that because many of my clients have struggled with that problem, and I don’t think they’re at all unusual in that regard. Heck, I’ve read that many healthy people also avoid exercising.

The suggestion I give to my clients and use myself is this: DON’T commit to exercising!

Instead, commit to getting ready to exercise. Put on your walking shoes if you walk, or your running shoes and running shorts if you run, or your workout clothes if you go to the gym. Once you’ve done that, you have honored your commitment – and you get to decide whether or not to actually exercise.

If you’re like  my clients, you’ll find that it’s easy to follow through on getting ready. You’ll also find that even if you decide not to the first couple of times, before long you’ll decide that since you’ve gone to the trouble of getting ready to excercise, you might as well go ahead and do it.

Chronic Illness and Depression

Friday, August 7th, 2009

I had an initial coaching session recently with a man who said he was a little depressed and wanted to be happier. Bruce, as I’ll call him, was 38 years old and he has had ulcerative colitis, a chronic and often severe inflammation of the colon, since he was 15. Given that he had been sick for 23 years, it wasn’t surprising to me that he was depressed.

However, Bruce had a better life than most of the people I work with. He had a supportive wife and two young children whom he loved, and he had a well paying job that he enjoyed a lot that he was able to do well in spite of his illness. I guessed that there were other factors besides his illness that were contributing to his depression, so I asked Bruce a few questions about different areas of his life, including his childhood. Without hesitation, but in a detached way, Bruce told me that his father was killed in an accident before he was born.

As he told me his story, I got a strong sense that a lot of Bruce’s depression came from his early childhood. It would sure be understandable if it did. Most families look forward to the birth of a baby, but Bruce’s mother was overwhelmed and grieving from the loss of her husband. Life must have been very hard for both of them.

I would have liked to help Bruce heal the depression he had because of his illness and his childhood, and possibly other factors as well. I think it’s very likely that his ulcerative colitis symptoms would have improved a lot with coaching. But Bruce decided not to hire me at this time. I hope that sooner rather than later he gets the help he needs so that he can have the happiness he wants.

What To Do When It Hurts To Play With and Even Hold Your Children – Part 2

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

In my last post I shared with you the suggestions I had given to a woman with two young children who, because of her illness often feels shock waves of pain throughout her body when her children touch her ( here’s the link to that post). Donna recently replied to my email and told me more about her situation.

She said that her daughter (she has a boy and a girl) has a serious, painful medical condition and may need major surgery. On top of that, Donna recently injured her back at work and she and her family are facing the possibility that her husband’s job may be eliminated. But she made it clear that what was upsetting her the most was the fact that physical contact with her children, contact that she wanted to have and knew they needed, caused her tremendous pain.

After reading Donna’s email, I had a couple of additional suggestions that I shared with her. I told her that it was clear to me that she was a very caring and compassionate mother who would do anything she could for her daughter. Then I said that given that she was very compassionate, I wanted her to look in the mirror and have lots and lots of compassion for the person she saw, since that person is someone’s daughter and she needs and deserves much compassion.

I also told Donna that for what she did for her children everyday in spite of her own illness and pain, she deserved a Medal of Valor. I said that maybe her husband would get her one if she showed him my email, but if not, she should get one for herself. Then once she got it, she should hang it on the wall so that she doesn’t forget what a heroine she really is.

If she follows my suggestion, and I hope she does, I’m going to ask her to send me a picture of her medal so I can add it to this post.