Chronic Illness Articles

February 22, 2009

6 Tools for the Chronically Ill to Making Sensible Resolutions

arthealthywinterby Lisa Copen

Did you make resolutions for the New Year, positive that this would be the year that they would really happen?

– I’m going to lose that extra weight – I’ll really save some money this year – I’ll give people more grace – I will exercise on a regular schedule – I will start some good habits

We all start out with the best of intentions but as March 23rd rolls around we reflect on all the ways we’ve already let our goals slide. It’s easy to feel like we are letting ourselves and those we love down.

For most people, setting goals for the New Year is a regular part of life. Chronic pain sufferers, however, can find resolutions can be exasperating and nerve-racking. Our bodies and health, therefore our lives, are beyond our control the majority of the time. The idea of walking just a few blocks a day may seem reasonable at first, but the smallest change in our illness may quickly prevent us from even walking to the mailbox. Suddenly even the simplest of goals are out of the question.

The list of why we may “fail” at our resolutions even seems justified.

–> I’m going to exercise more . . . And then I have surgery and my illness is exasperated. Even my doctor said to take it easy and not overdo right now.

–> I’m going to get rid of those extra pounds . . . It seems every chronic pain medication I get has a list of side effects that say, “May cause weight gain.” May? They all do!

–> I’m going to start making wiser choices about money . . . Money? What money? I’m barely surviving on what I have!

So how do we move forward when everything seems stacked against us?

First, if you didn’t set any goals in January, give yourself a pat on the back. No universal rule has been broken that said you must start your New Year’s goals in January. The month of January is a time for recovery. You’re likely exhausted from the holidays, the travel, or visiting relatives. And most people with illness pack December’s calendar full of doctor’s appointments too, before their health insurance deductibles all start over in the new years. If you’ve managed to survive January without any colds or infections, you’re in the minority. And in most parts of the country the weather alone can make you feel disabled.

Secondly, make some changes without labeling anything a “resolution.” When you go to grab snacks at the store, get items with high fiber, soy, sugar-free, organic, or even those that have immune boosts. Check with a dietician about what some healthy choices would be, taking your illness into consideration. Little changes will eventually add up, and you can have the pleasure of knowing you are working towards your objective.

Thirdly, make a list of some of the things you value and want to strive for. Don’t just say you are going to “save some money” but instead, think about what you really want to save it for. Have you longed to visit a relative but you’ve not been able to afford an airline ticket to go visit? Though saving money to repair your car may not seem like a fun use of that saved money, surely you value your freedom to have your own transportation. Put your list on the refrigerator or your bathroom mirror so you can frequently recall just why it is you are sacrificing those large white chocolate mochas.

Fourthly, partner up with someone else who has a chronic illness where you can share your goals and how your illness impacts them. Illness adds a great deal of stress to our lives all the time. Any changes are intensified because our disease is so uncontrollable. It’s not helpful to have your healthy best-friend say, “Let’s just walk a half a mile today! A little pain means it is working those muscles!” A friend who can say, “I totally understand how hard it is when you’ve lost five pounds and then steroids put it back on in three days,” is a gift. You will be able to keep perspective on the situation. Chronic pain patients who join support groups often report a better quality of life.

Fifth, give yourself a break. Depression and chronic pain go together way too often. When you make a decision that is less than ideal, don’t sweat it! Don’t think of it as a failure, but rather just a less than perfect choice you made for that moment. You will have another sixty-something times in the next month to make the correct decision. Start out by just aiming for making the correct one more than half the time. Skipping that shopping spree or avoiding the drive-thru burger place is a step in the right direction.

Lastly, assign yourself a goal that is fun! We forget that not everything in our lives needs fixed. Sometimes we just need more joy. Mark your calendar for lunch with a friend every two weeks as a new habit. Surround yourself with people who are inspirational and who overcome the odds in their lives with enthusiasm. And don’t forget to reward yourself too. If you clean out your closet, working towards an ambition to get more organized, go buy a new chic hat that isn’t typically you.

If you have supportive friends and down-to-earth expectations, by the end of the year you will find that you are one of the few people who actually met some of those “resolutions.” And everyone has some of their goals that are left for next year’s calendar! So celebrate the fact that you have found some joy along the journey of reaching towards some new habits, despite living with illness.

This article is by Lisa Copen and can be reprinted at no cost, if you leave everything exactly “as is” including this footer. Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you sign up to receive HopeNotes, Rest Ministries weekly ezine. Also be sure to check out Hope Endures, Rest Ministries weekly radio program every Tues and Thurs and National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week.

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