Archive for February, 2010

Give Your Partner What You Can – and Have Compassion for Yourself

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

I send out biweekly tips for how to have a better life when you have a chronic illness (if you would like to get them, you can sign up for them here). I sent the following tip about three months ago. If you’re curious about why I’m posting my tip to my blog, you can skip to the end to find out – but I encourage you to read it first.

I know, from coaching clients as well as from my own experience, that it’s not uncommon for those of us with chronic illnesses to feel guilty because of how much help we often need from our partners.  We may also feel guilty because we can’t help them nearly as much as we could when we were healthy, and we can’t do all the things with them that we formerly could. If you sometimes feel this kind of guild, here are some tips to help you lessen or eliminate it.

First, please give yourself lots of compassion. Have compassion for the part of yourself that needs help, but isn’t able to do as much for your partner as you want to because of your illness. Also have compassion for that part of yourself that feels guilty. They both deserve all the compassion you can give them, and lots of hugs too. I recommend that you give them at least three compassionate hugs a day.

Second, be sure to let your partner know how grateful you are for all the help he or she gives you. Everyone – including your partner – feels good when they do things that other people appreciate, so expressing your appreciation can more than offset the time and energy your puts into helping you.

And third, look for ways that you can give back your partner. Those ways can be as simple as giving your him or her a little more listening and understanding when they’ve had a hard day at work, renting a movie they’ve wanted to watch, or just rubbing their shoulders.

I hope you found this helpful. And now I see some shoulders nearby that could use some rubbing and a gentle massage.

This post is my entry in February’s Health Activist Blog Carnival. If you’re interested in participating too, you can read all about it here: http://blog.wegohealth.com/2010/02/introducing-health-activist-blog.html.

Is Having Hope Helpful?

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

About every other week I send a tip for how to have a better life when you have a chronic illness to the people in my list (if you would like to, you can sign up to get them here). In my last tip, I told my readers to imagine that their illness and symptoms were never going to get better – that they would be the same tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year as they are today. I then asked them what they would do, given that they weren’t going to get any better, to get the most they could out of life.

The reason I had my readers imagine that they were never going to get better is because – and I learned this both from my own life and from my clients – many people with chronic illnesses put off doing things they would like to do. They do that because they keep hoping they will get better, making doing those things will be a lot easier. So my tip was basically for people to stop hoping and start doing, and many people wrote to tell me they found it very helpful.

That tip not withstanding, I actually think that it’s a good thing for us to have hope. I think it’s good for us to read about people who have had miraculous recoveries from chronic illnesses (and there are many credible stories describing that). I think following the latest research about chronic illness treatments, whether stem cell technology, a new biologic, or a completely new breakthrough, can give us hope for a better future and help us get through bad flares and other difficult times.

I did both: when my symptoms were awful I read about people who had recovered from Crohn’s disease, and I followed the latest treatments for it. And both gave me badly needed hope when I was struggling to get through each day. So there’s no question in my mind that having hope can be very helpful.  But what I’ve also learned, which I pass on to my clients and will pass on to you, is that we will have better lives if we don’t let hope that our illness will get better in the future keep us from doing things that, even though they may be hard to do, will bring us enjoyment today.

Do Your Emotions Help or Hurt You as You Try to Live Your Best Possible Life?

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

I’ve known author and diabetes educator David Spero for several years, but I just recently discovered his diabetes self-management blog. I found his posts to be well written, and very helpful and informative – not just for people with diabetes, but for anyone with a chronic illness. And some of the posts were provocative.

In a post he titled “Do Your Emotions Help or Hurt You?,” David wrote about getting together with Mark, a friend of his who had AIDS and had nearly died from it but had regained his health and was doing well. David quoted something Mark said in their conversation, which was, “I learned not to pay attention to my emotions. I learned that emotions aren’t real. They’re just waves in your mind. They can get in the way of doing what you need to do. So if feelings can help me get from one place to another, I use them. If they’re in the way, I just let them go.”

David then described the ensuing discussion, in which he said that he trusted emotions more than thoughts and that we should put them to positive use, while Mark said that that if he kept going back to an emotion, like anger, that he was feeling, he would stay stuck.

David went on to say that he was beginning to think that Mark was right, that just as we are taught to notice thoughts and let them go while meditating, that we should just notice our emotions, try to understand what they are trying to tell us, and then let them go.

When I was growing up, there were far too many times when the painful and difficult emotions I felt were ignored, or if they weren’t ignored then I was often criticized for having them. That may be  at least part of the reason why I disagree with what Mark said, and why I don’t think David should have changed his view.

But Mark was right in realizing that it isn’t healthy to keep going back to an emotion. So what do we do? What I have discovered is that we need to acknowledge our difficult and painful emotions, and then let the part of ourselves that is having those emotions know that we have lots of empathy for it.

When we do that, that part of us knows it isn’t being dismissed or ignored. It feels reassured, and it lets go of the emotion without being forced to.

Having a chronic illness virtually always means experiencing difficult and painful emotions. I think they can be a big help in living your best possible life if you learn from them and have lots of empathy and compassion for yourself when you have them. What do you think?