Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

How to not be miserable when you have a chronic illness

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Here is something I have learned from being a life coach for people with chronic illnesses that may surprise you: How happy or miserable you are does not depend on how serious your illness is or how painful or debilitating your symptoms are.

Now, I’m not saying that there is no correlation between your illness and your happiness. Most people who have chronic illnesses have good days and bad days, and we usually feel better on our good days than we do on our bad ones. But I have known many people with relatively minor symptoms who are very miserable, and have also known many people with very serious symptoms and illnesses—sometimes even terminal ones—who are not at all miserable, and many times are actually very happy.

If whether a person is happy or miserable does not depend on how bad their illness is, then what does it depend on?

I could write a book about that to add to the many that have already been written. But what I will say here is this: how we feel often depends on how we feel about how we feel. Okay, I bet you’re either thinking that doesn’t make sense, or at the least wondering what I mean.

Here’s what I mean: when we are happy, we are also happy that we are happy. That’s because when we were growing up, we felt happy when we were loved, we felt happy when we were rewarded for doing something well (like getting an A on a test), we were happy when we got presents, etc. So in our minds, happiness has a lot of positive associations.

On the other hand, we felt unhappy or miserable growing up when we were criticized or punished for doing something our parents thought was wrong, for falling short of their expectations (getting an F instead of an A), feeling like we were different and weren’t accepted by others, etc. Because of that, feeling unhappy or miserable has lots of negative associations.

When we feel unhappy or miserable, we don’t remember those negative associations. But they are there. And there is a part of our mind that thinks that being unhappy means the same things it did when we were growing up: we’re not okay, we’re not good enough, we’re different and not acceptable, etc. And so we become even more unhappy and even more miserable than we already were.

But the truth is that being unhappy and miserable does not mean those things it meant when we were growing up. We can be unhappy because a friend canceled a lunch, because we overcooked our dinner, because we got stuck in traffic, etc. None of those reasons mean that we are bad or not okay.

We can be unhappy and miserable for all those reasons and many more. But if we realize that those feelings don’t mean what they meant when we were growing up, we can allow ourselves to just have them without feeling bad for having them. And when we do that, we will feel a whole lot better.

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.