Archive for October, 2009

Do You Feel Like You’re a Burden to Others?

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

When we have a chronic illness, it’s easy and very common to feel that we’re a burden to our partners and our families. We often need them to do many things for us that partners and family members of healthy people don’t need to do. At the same time, there are often things we can’t do with them that they and we wish we could do. So it’s no surprise that many of us feel like we’re a burden to others.

The good news is that there are several things you can do to counteract that feeling. The first is to frequently let others know how much you appreciate all the things they do for you. We can get caught up in our symptoms and pain and forget to do that, but when we remember, it makes a big difference for them because they know that they’re not being taken for granted. From time to time, you can show your partner or spouse that you are especially grateful for their help by getting a little gift or card and hiding it someplace where it will surprise them, like in a sock or lingerie drawer. You can do similar things for others who help you (although you may need to find a different hiding place 🙂 ).

Another thing you can do to counteract feeling like you’re a burden is to make sure you don’t dwell so much on your illness and symptoms that you ignore the other people in your life. Even though you may not be able to participate in all the activities with them that you and they wish you could, your caring, support and encouragement – including support and encouragement for them to balance taking care of you with taking care of themselves – can make a tremendous difference in their lives.

I wrote in this previous post about finding meaning in your life when you have a chronic illness. Doing that may not lessen the physical needs that you depend on others to meet, but can help you feel less emotionally dependent on them, which can also help counteract the feeling of being a burden.

Here’s one final suggestion: It really is a privilege for us as human beings to be able to serve others. Doing so fulfills us like nothing else can. So even though taking care of you and your needs may not be easy for your partner or spouse, family, and friends, they definitely get value from doing it.

Something to do for yourself when you’re hurting

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

I’ve written many times about the benefits of being compassionate with yourself when you’re sick or not feeling well. While I haven’t written about it before, I also recommend that you do the same thing for any part or parts of your body that are hurting or not functioning the way they are supposed to.

When something hurts, like an inflamed joint or a head or stomach that aches, most people focus on it, wonder how long it will last and if it will ever get better, and worry about how they will do all their tasks and chores and get through the day with the pain they’re experiencing.

Until a few years ago, I did the same. But since then I’ve learned that both I and the part of me that hurts feel much better when I give it care and compassion. I do that by focusing my attention on my ailing body part, and then feeling compassion for it. I also gently and lovingly stroke it, or if it’s my stomach or something else I can’t stroke directly, I caress the skin that’s right above it. And if I’m hurting all over, I’ll give myself a compassionate hug.

In my experience, doing this doesn’t always make all the pain go away, but it virtually always lessens it. And besides having less pain, I also feel more peaceful afterward.

A little while ago I came across some fascinating corroboration of my results. In his book Quantum Healing, Deepak Chopra describes an experiment at Ohio University, in which rabbits were fed a very high cholesterol diet so their arteries would become blocked. The researchers were puzzled because one group of rabbits had 60 percent fewer symptoms than all the other groups. When they investigated further, they discovered that the anomaly was due to the fact that the student who was feeding those rabbits liked to fondle and pet them, so he held each rabbit lovingly for a few minutes before he gave it its food.

I hope you will give compassion and TLC to yourself whenever and wherever you hurt. And given the results of that rabbit experiment, you may want to also do so before each meal.

When you get angry, be gentle and understanding – with yourself

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I decided on today’s topic because of a conversation that took place recently in one of the online support groups I belong to. A woman I’ll call Carolyn wrote about her long, ongoing struggle to try to get disability insurance. She said she was very angry because she was being treated unfairly by the disability insurance system, especially compared to a relative of hers who was getting a much quicker response.

I don’t know Carolyn, but from what she shared about herself it seems clear to me that she qualifies for and should get disability insurance. I can easily empathize with her, not only because of her struggle to get the insurance, but because she lives in constant pain and shouldn’t have to go through all that additional stress. The fact that it’s well known that valid claims are routinely denied, especially the first time they are made, doesn’t make Carolyn’s-or anyone’s–experience of trying to get disability insurance any less trying and stressful.

Carolyn was denied not just once, but twice, so her anger is completely understandable and very probably justifiable as well. But I hope she follows it up with a lot of gentleness and compassion for herself (and I let her know that). When we get angry when we feel like we’ve been treated badly or unfairly, we often don’t realize that underneath that anger is a lot of emotional pain. And just as we give those we care about compassion when they have been emotionally hurt and are in emotional pain, we can do the same for ourselves.

Another person in the group told Carolyn to try to stay positive. That sounds good, but when we’re going through a hard time, neither I nor people I’ve talked about it with have been able do that for very long. And not only is giving ourselves compassion is much easier to do than staying positive, but it heals the emotional pain rather than just covering it up.

A Special Kind of Love – Part 2

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Back in August I wrote a post I titled A Special Kind of Love, in which I described the special ways my mother took care of me during those times when I was sick as a child, and how as an adult I eventually learned to take care of myself the same way. Today I want to tell you another story about a mother’s love for her child.

A while back I was coaching a woman – I’ll call her Wendy – who was struggling with ulcerative colitis. I wanted Wendy to see that she needed and deserved lots of understanding and compassion from herself. Wendy is married and has a very young son. Like most mothers, she would do anything for her son to help him be happy and healthy.

Knowing that, I asked Wendy to imagine that her son had grown up and was in college. I also asked her to imagine that he was struggling with ulcerative colitis. After she took a minute and did that, I asked her what she would say and do. She said that she would hug her son and tell him that she would always love him, that she would always be there for him, and that she would do whatever it took to help and support him so that he could live well.

Hopefully Wendy’s son will never develop ulcerative colitis. But since Wendy has it and is struggling with the symptoms and challenges of living with it, she needs all the understanding, compassion, and support she can get. From her answer to my hypothetical question, Wendy realized much more than she did before that she has lots of understanding and compassion to give. I strongly encouraged her to give them to herself, because she needs and deserves them. And if you have a serious chronic illness, I strongly encourage you to do the same for yourself. You deserve it!

Do you take better care of your pet than you do of yourself?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

I have found, in my years as a chronic illness coach, that many people take better care of their pets than they do of themselves. For example, if their dog hurts its paw, most people will reassure it and sometimes even kiss the paw to “make it all better.” But if they stub their toe, they rarely give themselves any compassion and they often tell themselves how clumsy they are. And I know people who will take their pet to the vet when it’s in pain or if it needs a checkup, but minimize their own symptoms and pain, and not get any treatment for them.

Now, I have nothing against people taking care of their pets – quite the opposite. I love my dog and I don’t hesitate to take her to the vet whenever I think she needs to be seen. But you and I are at least as deserving of care and compassion as our dogs or cats are.

Here’s another way of looking at this issue: How would you feel if your spouse (or partner if you’re not married) always made sure your pet got the care it needed when it was hurt or sick, but ignored you when you needed care? I’m sure you would be angry and upset, and rightfully so.

If you take care of your pet when it’s not feeling well, but don’t take care of yourself when you’re not, you are essentially doing the same thing as your spouse was in the hypothetical situation I just described. Also, if you give your pet compassion and care but neglect yourself, you are sending yourself a message that you are not worthy of care and compassion. That message is not true, so don’t send it. Give yourself as much care and compassion as possible. You deserve it!