Archive for September, 2009

How to always get the understanding and compassion you need

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Today I’m going to share one of the strategies I give my clients with Crohn’s disease and other chronic illnesses to help them have much better lives. I also use this strategy myself – a lot.

Those of us with a chronic illness often find ourselves needing understanding and compassion. Sometimes we can get them from spouses, friends, and others. But there are times when those people aren’t able to give them to us. What can we do then? Before I answer that question I’m going to tell you a true story about what not to do:

A few years ago I was a volunteer host for an online Crohn’s and colitis support chat room. One day a man came into the chat room who was clearly very upset. Frank (as I’ll call him) had missed several days from work due to a flare-up of his Crohn’s disease. When he returned to work, his boss, who knew of his condition, didn’t express any concern or compassion for Frank at all. Instead, he chastised Frank for missing all those days of work.

That was hard on Frank, and he spent a lot of time in the chat room telling the rest of us how hurt and angry he was because of his boss’s uncaring behavior. He then came up with the idea of leaving his colonoscopy pictures on his boss’s desk – both as an act of retaliation and to have him see the error of his ways. I tried to tell Frank that that wasn’t a good idea, but he wasn’t listening all that well.

Clearly what Frank needed most was understanding and compassion. However, from the way he described the situation, the chance that he could get any from his boss ranged from slim to none. Instead of trying to get it from his boss, and feeling hurt and angry when he didn’t, what Frank needed to do was give himself the understanding and compassion he needed. And the same is true for us when we find ourselves with the same needs, and with spouses, partners, friends, colleagues, or bosses who for whatever the reason aren’t able to meet them.

It is ultimately is up to each of us to meet those needs for ourselves. This may seem difficult or even unnatural to do, but it doesn’t have to. Thinking about how we would treat someone we loved and cared about who wasn’t feeling well, such as a close friend, a spouse, or a child, and then treating ourselves the same way can go a long way to meeting our need for understanding and compassion.

A Really Good Reason to Take Care or Yourself

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Today I want to tell you how I think a verse from the New Testament applies to those of us with chronic illnesses. But before I do, let me say that it’s my intention that what I write about that verse is helpful to you whether or not you’re a Christian.

The verse is Matthew Chapter 25, verse 40. In the verses before that one, Jesus is talking to people who have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, and have visited the sick and those in prison. In verse 40 he tells them, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

What he is saying is that taking care of those in need, i.e., those who are going through hard times, is more than a good deed – it’s a sacred act.

I couldn’t agree more.

But I also think it applies to us. So I think taking care of ourselves when we’re going through hard times is just as much of a sacred act as is taking care of others when they’re in need.

If you disagree, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment explaining why. But if what I’ve said makes sense to you, then you have a really good reason to take care of yourself when you have aren’t feeling well – so please do!

On the other hand, if you don’t agree with what I’ve written, please leave a comment telling me why and I will respond to it.

I don’t believe in the word “incurable”

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

I don’t believe in the word incurable. I’ve even blacked it out of my dictionary. I want those of us with chronic illnesses to stop using it – and I especially want doctors to stop using it.

A few years ago, I read an article in an ezine about chronic illnesses in which a woman with lupus told how she asked her doctor if her condition would ever get better. She wrote that his reply, given with a sad look, was, “No I’m sorry, it won’t.” I got upset when I read that. I wanted to chastise both of them: the doctor for saying that, and the woman for believing him.

What doctors actually mean when they say an illness is incurable is that they haven’t found a cure for it – yet. But medical science is continually making advances which result in new, better, and more effective treatments for many diseases (I’m a beneficiary of medical science’s advances because infliximab, a new drug that was approved in the late 1990s, gave me my life back).

A doctor who says that a disease is incurable or that the patient’s symptoms will never get better is completely ignoring the very real possibility of a medical breakthrough. Also, although most doctors are reluctant to admit it, many of them have seen or know of one or more cases where patient’s symptoms got better or completely disappeared for reasons they couldn’t explain.

So like I said, I don’t believe in the word incurable. Even when my illness was at its worst, and I was so weak that I passed out from the exertion of taking a shower, I didn’t give up–although there were definitely times when I felt like doing so. Instead I did lots of research, and vowed that I would keep investigating and trying different standard and alternative treatments until I regained my health, no matter how long it took.

I’ll close by saying there are always ways you can improve your health and your life when you have a chronic illness. I wish you well on your journey to live your best possible life.

Keeping Hope Alive

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

When life is difficult, as it often is when we have a chronic illness, one of the most important things that helps us keep going is hope for a better future. But given the many challenges, hardships, and disappointments we face, hope like that can be hard to come by. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make hope for a better future real – and then keep it alive.

Before I share some of those things with you, I want to first repeat the same advice I’ve written in many of my other posts and that I repeatedly give to my clients: give yourself LOTS of compassion for having to live with your illness and its symptoms. From my many years of experience coaching people with chronic illnesses and having one myself, I know without a doubt that it is one of the best things those of us with chronic illnesses can do for ourselves. And the suggestions I’m going to give you for keeping hope alive will work much better if you give yourself lots of compassion first.

I want to say one more thing before I give you my suggestions: not only is keeping hope alive good for our emotional health, it’s good for our physical health as well. Here’s why: People who live and contend with the symptoms of a serious illness often become angry and depressed, and being angry and depressed weakens the immune system. A weakened immune system leaves them more susceptible to flares and to other diseases.

Clearly eliminating illness-related depression and anger is important for maintaining and improving our physical health. And finding real hope for a better future is one of the most effective ways to do that.

My first suggestion for finding real hope for a better future and keeping it alive is to make a list of the good times and the successes you’ve had since your diagnosis. Maybe you had an especially enjoyable time with friends last week, got a new job last month, got married recently, heard an uplifting sermon at church, had a son or daughter graduate from high school or college last summer, had a new grandchild, or just saw a beautiful sunset. Just like everyone else, those of us with chronic illnesses have our special times, but because of our daily pain and struggles we often quickly forget about them. So start writing them down, and reread your list frequently. Doing that will remind you of those experiences and the good feelings that came with them, and will help you realize that even though you have an illness, you are still going to have more of those successes and good times in the future.

My next suggestion for making hope for a better future real and keeping it alive is to look for ways to regain control in your life. One of the worst aspects of having a chronic illness is the loss of control of our bodies and our lives the illness brings about. We often aren’t able to eat what we want, go where we want, hold the job we want, or engage in the activities we want to. The list of the things we can’t do can goes on and on, and we can easily dwell on the control we’ve lost. To make hope for a better future real and keep it alive, we need to find ways to regain control. Fortunately, total control isn’t necessary. Coaching clients, as well as studies I’ve read, have shown me that a little can go a long way.

So I suggest that you choose one small area of your life and take a small step to improve it. The step can be as small as buying a house plant for your home, getting earplugs so you can sleep better, or calling friensd you haven’t talked to in a while, and reconnecting with them. After you’ve done that, decide on and take another step, then another, and another. As you do, your hope will keep growing, and so too will the quality of your life.

My last suggestion for making hope for a better future real is to get involved in something bigger than yourself. Many people with a chronic illness–and I speak from personal experience as well as from my experience coaching others–spend too much of their time thinking about their illness. Of course we need to think about how to best treat our illness and how to live the best life possible, but when we dwell on our symptoms and how hard our lives are, we make our lives more difficult than they already are.

Instead of dwelling on your symptoms, I suggest that you look for ways to make the world a better place. Find a cause that’s important to you, such as cleaning up the environment, teaching illiterate adults to read, or helping to raise money to find a cure for your illness. Then participate regularly in whatever cause you are able. When you do, you’ll spend much less time dwelling on your symptoms and how hard your life is, and you will find you’re more hopeful about the future, and on top of that you will be making the world a better place.

These are some of my suggestions for how to make hope for a better future real and keep it alive when you have a chronic illness. I would love to hear about any that have worked well for you.

Do You Think You Should Take Good Care of Yourself So You Can Take Better Care of Others?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Have you ever said or thought that you want to take better care of yourself so you can take better care of your family and other people you love? There have been many times when I’ve heard my clients and others with chronic illnesses say that, which is not surprising, because it’s become somewhat of an axiom in our culture. Well known life coach and author Cheryl Richardson states that “By taking care of ourselves, we can better care for those around us.”

My concern with the whole idea of taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others is that it implies that we need a justification for taking care of ourselves. We don’t. As a human being, you deserve the best care you can give yourself. You are no less deserving of that care if you don’t turn around and take care of or do good things for others.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think serving and doing good things for others is a good thing. It helps them and we feel better when we do. But when it comes to taking good care of ourselves, we don’t need any justification for doing that.

So please take very good care of yourself. You deserve it.

Another way to benefit if you’re in an online support group

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

In this post, I’m going to describe a very different way to benefit from participating in on online support group. But first I will say a few words about them for those who have never joined one.

They are great places to connect with others who understand what it’s like to have your illness because they have it too. And the groups are also a great place to support others and receive support in return.

To find support group, go to yahoogroups.com or groups.google.com. There are literally thousands of them.

If you are someone who already participates in online support groups, here is a new and very different way to benefit from them: go through your group’s message archives and read your old posts. Read them not as you normally read things you’ve written, but the way you would if someone else wrote them.

Read them with empathy and compassion. Let yourself be deeply touched by the writer’s words and try to imagine what he or she was feeling, when he or she wrote each post.

If you were hurting a lot physically or emotionally when you wrote those posts, reading them may bring tears to your eyes. If they do, give yourself a big, comforting and compassionate hug, and keep reading.

From my own and my clients’ experience, I know you will find reading your old posts with empathy and compassion to be very healing – healing that you deserve!