Posts Tagged ‘symptoms’

How “watching” a movie can help you live a better life

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

I’m sure you’ve noticed that as you watch a movie, you find yourself caring about the protagonist because of the hardships she (or he) goes through. And you identify with her struggles, disappointments, and pain, and silently root for her to overcome her challenges, fulfill her mission, and realize her (or his) dreams.

The challenge of living with a serious chronic illness is at least as hard as the difficulties and obstacles the main characters in most movies have to overcome. If you were to watch a movie where the protagonist had to deal with symptoms like yours and do all the things you do to take care of yourself and the others in your life, I’m sure you would have a lot of empathy and want the best outcome possible for him or her – just as you would for the main character of a good movie.

In a very real sense, you are the leading character in a movie: your life. You do face major challenges because of your illness and symptoms. So I encourage you to care about and have at least as much empathy for yourself as you would for the actor or actress who portrayed a character like you in a movie. Not only do you deserve it, but when you do that, you will start to feel a lot better.

But there is something else besides learning to care more about and have more empathy for yourself that you can learn by imagining watching a movie about your life.

Here it is: When we watch a movie, we usually know more about what is going on than the main character does.

Because of that, there have been many times when I have known that the things he (or she) is saying and the actions he is taking will get him into trouble. I have wanted to tell him to stop and say or do something else. But of course, there has never been a time when the protagonist in a movie has been able to hear me.

But imagining watching a movie of our life is different. Doing that gives us a different perspective of our life, and often more wisdom, than our normal perspective and the wisdom we have as we live it. And we can use that perspective and wisdom to tell the main character what the best thing he or she can do to manage illness symptoms and live a much better life.

To summarize, what I am suggesting is that you imagine you are watching a movie of your life. You can imagine watching yourself as the main character, or you can imagine another actor playing that role. The movie has just gotten to today, and as a viewer of the movie, you have a sense of the best thing the actor can do next. And knowing that, you follow your own wisdom.

This technique works well because when we are able to detach ourselves from our situation, we can see options and ways to take care of ourselves and deal with our challenges that we can’t see otherwise.

Best wishes as you watch your own “movie” and have a much better life.

You Truly Need Gentleness and Compassion–from Yourself

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

If you have read more than a few of my posts, you know that I frequently recommend that you be gentle and compassionate with yourself when you are experiencing painful symptoms or having a hard time because of your illness. I do that because I have seen, again and again, how people’s lives change significantly– and often dramatically– for the better when they do.

I have also seen, again and again, that many people have a hard time being gentle and compassionate with themselves. But that isn’t all that surprising, because few if any of us were taught to do that by our parents, teachers, or mentors. I sure wasn’t.

However, it is definitely possible to learn how to be that way with ourselves. I have, and so have the many people I’ve taught.

Some of those I taught learned how to be gentle and compassionate with themselves when I asked them how they would feel and what they would do for someone they cared about who had the same illness and the same symptoms and pain they did – and then asked them to have the same feelings for themselves. Others understood the concept when I asked them what they would do if they found a helpless injured bird. For those clients who were especially hard on and critical of themselves for not being able to do all the things they could before they became ill, I asked them if they would criticize the bird for not being able to fly. Their answer, of course, was always no, and they usually realized that their criticism of themselves was not justified or called for. Still others learned to be gentle and compassionate with themselves when I had them imagine how they would feel if their beloved dog or cat got injured, and then had them imagine how the animal would feel when it got the compassion and reassurance they would automatically and spontaneously give it.

Clients who were directly involved in helping people in difficult situations make their lives better often had very dramatic “aha’s” when they suddenly realized that they could give themselves the same gentle, compassionate caring they were giving others.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I have seen many, many people with chronic illnesses experience significant and often dramatic improvements in the quality of their lives when they give themselves gentleness and understanding. Here’s what a client with recently wrote about giving herself compassion and how it helped her: (Note: the hard work she refers to is giving herself compassion. It can be hard to do at first, but the results make the effort very worthwhile.)

“My coaching sessions with Tom over the last several weeks have brought me a level of peace, understanding and acceptance about living with a chronic illness that I never envisioned was possible. His masterful approach to helping you to extend the compassion to yourself that you would extend to a treasured friend experiencing similar challenges is brilliant and effective. You do the hard work, gently and compassionately guided by Tom, and before you know it you have opened yourself up to see beyond your condition to all that you still have to offer. For the first time in a very long time, I look forward to each day with joyful expectations.”

Somerset, NJ

Because of the difference it will make in your life, I encourage you to give yourself all the compassion you possibly can. And if you are one of those who have a hard time doing that, I hope you will take a good look both inside yourself and in the mirror, and realize that you truly deserve lots and lots of compassion.

Doing Different Things to Try to Get Well

Monday, April 30th, 2012

When we have a chronic illness, we often try every thing we can think of to get better. Unfortunately, some of the things we try provide little or no improvement. For example, I went on a very strict and difficult to follow diet for almost a year. Some of my Crohn’s disease symptoms quickly and miraculously went away, only to come back a few weeks later even though I continued to adhere to the diet.

Other things we try can and sometimes do provide really good results. A client with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) whom I’ll call Dave went on a special diet for two years. On top of that, he did yoga for one and a half to two hours a day.

His efforts paid off: on a scale of 1 to 10, his health went from a 5 to an 8 and his energy went from a 5 to a 9! He felt great about what he had accomplished, and justifiably so.

However, doing yoga every day took up an awful lot of his free time. And preparing the food for his diet also took a lot of time and took a lot of work as well. So much that he became resentful and angry because of all the time he needed to spend to stay healthy and stopped doing yoga and following the special diet. Predictably, his health and energy levels went back to 5’s.

It’s easy to see why Dave would feel resentful about his situation. But at the same time, he actually had a choice about whether or not to do those things and how much time to spend doing them. To help him see that choice, I asked if it would make sense for him to establish a three weeks on, one week off schedule. We both knew that his symptoms would probably get worse during his week off, but then they would get better again when he resumed his yoga and diet regimen.

From my question, Dave realized that his regimen didn’t need to be all or nothing, and that it was completely up to him to decide how much time and effort to devote to it. That realization dramatically reduced the stress he was experiencing and the resentment and anger he was feeling.

As I write this, he is still deciding what to do. When he makes his decision, I know it will be the right one for him.

One final comment: Dave is taking responsibility for his health, which is what I strongly encourage everyone to do. But I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting or recommending that change the amount of medications you’re taking or do anything that is against your doctor’s orders. You should discuss all changes like that with your doctor first.

Life is a Team Sport. How’s Your Team Doing?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I think life is a team sport. But not in the way you may think I mean: I’m not talking about being a team player at work. Nor am I talking about looking at your family as a team, or anything like that.

The team I’m talking about is all your different personalities.

All of us have several personalities. I have one who is fearful, one who is determined, one who is compassionate, one who is a procrastinator, and several more besides. Whatever yours are, you have several of them too. And if you’re like me – and I bet you are, you feel really good about some of those personalities, while there are others you would like to get rid of.

But we can’t get rid of them. Like them or not, the personalities we don’t like are just as much a part of us as are the ones that we do like.

As you now know, when I said at the beginning of this post that life is a team sport, the team I was referring to was the team of personalities each of us has. And in the same ways that a football team (or any other sports team) won’t do well if the team members are fighting or arguing among themselves, we won’t do well in life if our team members are fighting or arguing among themselves. So the only way your team is going to win lots of games is if they learn to play well together.

Carrying the analogy a little further, the way for them to learn to play well together is to make sure they have a good coach: you! And as their coach, you want to make sure they each know that winning games – and the game of life – is what really matters. And you want to make sure they know that getting upset or angry at each other has a negative impact on the team. You also want to find out what each team member’s strengths are, and assign positions based on those strengths. And when I say that, I’m including those team members who have an illness and symptoms. From what they’ve gone through, they have wisdom and knowledge the other team members don’t have.

This post is actually very personal. I have some personalities I think are wonderful and that I’m very grateful to have. But I also have a couple of personalities, one in particular, that I’ve struggled with for years and that have sabotaged me more times than I can count. When I finally realized that they were with me to stay and that I couldn’t get rid of them, and that we (all my personalities) are all in this together, my life got a whole lot better. And I started winning a lot more games.

I bet that you and your team can win a lot more games too!


Tom Robinson, who has Crohn’s disease himself, helps people with chronic illnesses feel a whole lot better, and then he helps them find inspiring dreams – and achieve them!

Are you doing the best you can with what you’ve got?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Having a chronic illness sucks. I wish you didn’t have one (or more than one, if that’s the case) and I wish I didn’t have one. If I could wave a wand and cure people’s chronic illnesses, I would do it – now.

However, that said, I have learned, both from coaching people with dozens of different illnesses for the last nine years and from having one myself, what affects how well we feel that I want to share with you. What I’ve learned is that how well we feel when we have a chronic illness doesn’t just depend on how bad our symptoms are on a particular day. There is another factor that has a big effect on how well we feel  – sometimes more of an effect than anything else. That factor is our sense of how well we are doing meeting our life and illness challenges.

I want to be really clear here: I’m not saying that we need to do an excellent job meeting our life and illness challenges to feel good about ourselves and life. We don’t. Common sense tells us that how well we do meeting those challenges will depend on how much fatigue we have, how much pain we’re in, and many other things.

But the closer you come to doing the best you can meeting your challenges, and the closer I come to doing the best I can meeting mine, the better we’ll feel.

I first learned about this concept in a two-year masters in management program I went through in the mid 90’s when I was working for a high technology company in Silicon Valley. One of the program’s best instructors told us that one of the two things employees need to know to feel good about working for a company is that it—and everyone in it—is doing the best they can with what they’ve got*. From coaching people with chronic illnesses and from living with one myself, I’ve learned that the same concept that applies to employees in a company also applies to us.

Are you doing the best you can with what you’ve got? If not, what can you do so you are?


Tom Robinson, who has Crohn’s disease himself, helps people with chronic illnesses feel a whole lot better, and then he helps them find inspiring dreams – and achieve them!

*For those who are interested, the other thing Dr. Schmidt told us that employees need to feel good about working for a company is that “We’re all in this together.” In other words, both sacrifices and rewards are shared by everyone.

Are You Trying to Get Your Own Attention and Love?

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Are you trying to get your own attention and love? I spent longer than I like to admit trying to get mine.

What happened was that I found myself spending far more time than I should have playing computer games when I had several very important things to do and deadlines that were fast approaching to meet. I kept trying to do the writing and other important paperwork that needed to be done, but no matter how hard I tried I would soon take a break to play “just one game,” which would turn into another and another and another. As you maybe can imagine, I was very upset and depressed over my behavior and my inability to do the things that were most important to me.

After throwing up my hands in near total despair, I decided to take a much deeper look at why I was procrastinating so much. And I decided to consciously intend to keep looking deeper while I slept that night. What I realized when I woke up the next morning was that there was a part of me that didn’t trust the part that was “giving the orders.”  That part didn’t feel like he was loved, and so he refused to do what he was told.

So, just like I let people in my life that I care about know that I love them, I let him know that I loved him more than words can describe. And once he knew that, he stopped his acting out.

What about you? Are there things you are doing that are counter-productive, including behaviors that are making your illness symptoms worse rather than better, that may actually be a part of yourself asking you for love and attention? I encourage you to look deeply within for the answer, and then give yourself the attention and love you need – and deserve!

Tom Robinson – Life Coach for People with Chronic Illnesses   408-398-9422

Are You Earning Your Own Trust (and Why You Should if You’re Not)?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

To live the best life you possibly can, you need to take care of yourself well. And doing that is especially important when you have a serious chronic illness. But you’re human, and there are times when you can’t take care of yourself the way you know you should.

When that happens, it’s important to quickly notice and acknowledge that you’ve fallen short, and to start taking care of yourself well again. Doing that is important for two reasons. The first is the obvious one: when you don’t take care of yourself, i.e., when you don’t get the rest you need, when you eat foods that aren’t good for you, etc., your illness, your symptoms, and the quality of your life will keep getting worse.

The second reason it’s important to start taking good care of yourself again right away is not as obvious, but it is equally important. It’s this: every time you do something that takes care of you, you are earning and keeping your trust in yourself. But every time you do something that doesn’t take care of you, you may lose your trust in yourself.

If you’re wondering why having trust in yourself matters and why it’s important to earn it and keep it, just ask yourself the following questions: If you have a boss that you don’t trust, how dedicated will you be to him or her? How much will you do for a friend who has lost or betrayed your trust? What effect does it have on your relationship if your partner does something to lose your trust?

I have no doubt your answers to those questions would be very different if your boss, your friend, and your partner had, rather than having lost your trust, had kept it. You probably would go the extra mile for your boss, would be there for your friend, and would do anything and everything you could for your partner.

The same principle—that we give much more of ourselves to people who have earned and keep earning our trust than we give to those who lose and betray it—also applies to the way we are with ourselves. When we repeatedly do things that don’t take care of ourselves, we stop trusting ourselves. And as a result, we do even less for ourselves. It gets to be a vicious cycle. On the other hand, when we make the effort to take care of ourselves, we earn our own trust, and are likely to continue.

I invite you to ask yourself what you can do each day to build your trust in yourself – and keep it.

If you like this post and found it helpful, I invite you to sign up for my free How to Have a Better Life When You Have a Chronic Illness tips here.

Look for the good things in your life, but do this first

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

As I’ve written in several other blog posts, I follow and participate in several online support groups for people with chronic illnesses. In a group for people with Crohn’s disease, a woman – I’ll call her Kathy – recently wrote to say how upset and stressed she was because the drug her doctor had prescribed two weeks earlier hadn’t helped her symptoms – symptoms that included going to the bathroom up to 20 times a day.

A man I’ll call Gary responded. He shared with the group what had worked for him, and what hadn’t, when he had been in a similar situation. He wrote that he reminded himself that feeling down and sorry for himself always makes him feel a lot worse. So instead of doing that, he thought about all the things he loves about life, including his friends and family, and all the things that are important to him. Then he told himself that he had the inner strength to face and handle his pain and symptoms one day—and sometimes one hour—at a time, and he resolved not to let them beat him.

I think Gary gave Kathy very good advice. But I think it would have been even better if he had told her to first give herself lots of compassion and understanding. In the same way a parent – especially a mother – comforts her child when he or she is sick or in pain, Kathy can comfort herself. When I do that for myself first, I am much more able to follow Gary’s good advice and think about all the things I love about life. I have no doubt that Kathy will have the same result: if she first gives herself lots of compassion, she will find it much easier to find her inner strength and focus on the good things in her life.

My next Coaching/Support Group for People with Chronic Illnesses will start on Wednesday, June 30th. For more information, go to Coaching/Support Group Information.

Do you have TLCC Deficiency Syndrome? Here’s how to treat it

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

You won’t find TLCC Deficiency Syndrome in a medical dictionary, but in my many years of coaching people with chronic illnesses I’ve found that it describes what many of them have. TLC, of course, is an acronym for “tender loving care,” and the last “C” is for compassion, so TLCC Deficiency Syndrome is the condition of lacking the needed tender loving care and compassion that people with chronic illnesses often experience.

Many things can cause TLCC Deficiency Syndrome. Some of the most common are new symptoms or a worsening of symptoms that are already present. I’ve observed that when people have flares or develop new symptoms, they usually get the treatments they need to combat those flares and new symptoms, but they often ignore the need for extra TLCC that almost always accompanies them. I’ve also often seen people’s families and friends provide lots of logistical support, such as rides to doctor visits, advice, etc. in those situations, but overlook or not fully recognize the need for extra TLCC their friend or family member has. As a result, the TLCC Deficiency Syndrome goes untreated.

So what do you do if you have TLCC Deficiency Syndrome? First, let your friends, family, and others in your support network know that you need more TLCC, and ask if they would be willing to give it to you. Chances are good that many of them will.

However, there will inevitably be times when you are suffering from a TLCC deficiency, but your friends and family aren’t able to give you the TLCC you need. When that happens, it’s up to you to give yourself the extra tender loving care and compassion that you need and deserve!

Here’s how: First let in and acknowledge to yourself how unpleasant and painful living with the symptoms of your illness has become. Now you may find doing that to be difficult and uncomfortable. However, the discomfort won’t last long and your TLCC Deficiency Syndrome treatment will be much more.

Once you’ve accomplished the step of letting in and acknowledging how painful your symptoms have become, then complete your treatment by giving yourself the same compassion you would give to someone you feel close to and care about, such as a child, a spouse or partner, or a dear friend. When you do, I’m certain that you’ll feel much, much better. Not only that, but you may find, as I and many of my clients have, that the treatments you’re undergoing for your illness become more effective.

Tom Robinson – Life Coach for People with chronic illnesses

How to Deal With Others When You Have a Chronic Illness

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

When someone wanted coaching sessions with me, I used to send them a questionnaire to fill out before the session. In it, I asked how they felt supported by their family and friends, and then I ask how they felt unsupported by those same people. From the large collection of answers I received over many years of coaching people with chronic illnesses, I learned what they want but don’t get from others, and I learned about the relationship challenges and difficulties people with serious chronic illnesses have. In this post, I’m going to share that knowledge with you. Then I’m going to describe some strategies and methods you can use to get support from the people in your life and have the kind of relationship you want with them.

The first thing I learned is that, more than anything else, there is one thing those of us with chronic illnesses are not getting from other people that we really want: understanding We want others to know how hard it is for us, both physically and emotionally, to live with a chronic illness. It’s not surprising to me that not getting the understanding we want is such a common problem,  because I don’t think it is possible for a person who has never had a chronic illness to truly know what living with one is like.

That said, it is almost always possible to get more understanding from others than we currently do. The best way to do that, in my experience, is to avoid complaining about not being understood and to not criticize the other person for not giving us the understanding we want. Instead, what works best is to tell him or her how important being understood is for us and how appreciative we are when they try to give us understanding. Then, to help the other person better understand our symptoms and pain, it can be very helpful to describe them by comparing them to pain the other person has experienced, such as a kidney stone, or pain they can imagine, such as having a root canal without anesthesia.

Another thing I learned from people’s answers to my questions is that many of us with chronic illnesses have family members and friends who either don’t believe we’re as sick as we say we are, think our problems are in our heads, or think we are sick by choice as a way to avoid having to do things like housework and going to social events.

There are several possible strategies and methods for dealing with that kind of situation. Which ones to use depends on who it is that doesn’t believe you, and how important he or she is to you. If the person is a distant relative or a casual friend, you may choose to just avoid interacting with them. But avoidance is not a good strategy if the person who doesn’t believe you is a good friend, a parent, or your spouse.

Before I give you a specific method to use to resolve or at least improve the problem I’ve just described, I strongly recommend that you give yourself extra compassion for the emotional pain that having someone important to you disbelieve the severity of your illness inevitably causes. If you’ve read my other posts, you know that giving yourself lots of self-compassion is something I recommend often, because I strongly believe it is very helpful for those of us with chronic illnesses.

Depending on whom it is who doesn’t believe you, the history of your relationship with that person, and other factors, there are several possible methods you can use to improve or resolve the situation. One that often works well is the following: Instead of trying to convince the other person that what you’ve told them about your illness and its symptoms is true, accept the fact that they don’t believe you and let them know that you’ve done that. Then politely ask them if they would be willing to imagine what it would feel like to have a chronic illness, tell someone important to them about it, and not be believed. If they do, and chances are good that they will, you will at least have gotten some understanding from them that you didn’t have before, and it’s likely that they will start to let in and acknowledge the reality of your illness and its symptoms.

The next thing I learned from my respondents’ answers was actually a confirmation of something I already knew from my own experience as a person with a serious chronic illness: people often ignore or tune you out when you tell them about your ongoing struggles. Some respondents said their friends did more than ignore them; they abandoned them. When people in your life do any of those things, I again recommend (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) that you give yourself lots of compassion. I frequently ask my clients to tape reminders to do that to their bathroom mirrors or suggest that they wear rubber bands around their wrists to help them remember to give themselves extra compassion.

In addition to ensuring that you’re getting extra doses of compassion, there are some other things you can do when people tune you out. One is to make it a point to temporarily set aside your illness symptoms and problems when you meet your friends, and ask them, in a way that shows them you really mean it, how they are doing, what their concerns are and what successes they’ve had. When you consistently do that, you will usually find that they will show you the same concern and give you the same support in return.

Another thing you can do when friends tune you out or when they abandon you is to find and make friends with people who have the same illness you do. You can do that face to face in support groups, by phone in telephone support groups, and via computer in online support groups. Most major cities have support groups for the more common chronic illnesses. If there isn’t one for your illness and if you’re willing to do so, there’s a good chance you can start one by first connecting with other interested people through the websites and The advantage of the telephone and online support groups is that you can participate without leaving your home, so you don’t need to be concerned about mobility issues and other challenges that might make it difficult to attend an in person meeting. The website yahoogroups is a good starting place for looking for an online support group, as there are groups for almost any illness you can think of.

I titled this post “How to Deal With Others When You Have a Chronic Illness,” but it’s also about how you can get your need for understanding and support from others met. I hope the suggestions I’ve shared with you help you do that.


I help people with chronic illnesses (I have Crohn’s disease myself) meet their many challenges and then find and follow a path to happiness and fulfillment.

Get my free report, Has Living with a Chronic Illness Worn You Down? Learn How to Outsmart Your Illness and Have a Much Better Life.