Tag Archive | limitations

To: Chronically Ill at Christmas Love: Peace

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As the holiday week began in earnest last night (for both Christmas and Hannukah), I send extra love to my friends with chronic illness. As one friend recently reminded me, constantly fighting this sh*t is HARD!

Which made me think… at least 15% of society does not get any holiday time-off. Yet friends and family, and lets face it, ourselves, have pretty high expectations of our energy and ability to engage in all the same activities we used to do, pre-illness.

Living with chronic illness is a FULL TIME JOB. No holidays “off,” no vacation or calling in a “me-day” on accumulated sick days, no summer vacation, no breaks for our birthdays.

I certainly don’t mean to be morbid! I am just standing in solidarity with my chronically ill brothers and sisters. Because we still try to put on our Santa hats and reindeer bells and look festive on the outside while we feel awful inside. Our hearts want to receive each and every hug, but our bodies pray for not another pain-full squeeze.

For me, my body tenses up. Its almost like an unnecessary fight or flight reaction. So that I many times don’t feel the overwhelming fatigue and pain until I sit down at home post and my body desperately goes into spasm.

So please remember this holiday:

We may need to be selective about how many events we go to in order to conserve and stretch out our energy reserves (our “spoons”).

* We may skip the more crowded events in exchange for more intimate gatherings. Large groups can by over-stimulating and overwhelming and very fatiguing.

* Our schedules may seem unconventional. This year for example, I did church on Christmas Eve with my family, and then we’re not exchanging presents until the 28th. My husband and I cap off the holiday week with celebrating Our Christmas on New Year’s Eve and Day. Its not like I can go out on the town to ring in the New Year anymore!

* The hardest limitation I’ve had to enforce, is cutting out friend activities: Friendsgiving, White Elephant and Secret Santa, Cookie Exchanges, … In exchange for being able to participate in family celebrations.

It has taken me many, many years to come to this balance. And I still struggle with missing out, and even worse, disappointing those I love.

Family and friends can be so incredibly understanding and supportive. As long as I explain the place I am coming from. And the very few that don’t, aren’t worth any of your energy.

Am I miffed at my illness. Hell, yeah! It’s a freakin’ 24/7 job. I can’t take my body off, like a scuba suit, and set it in the corner for even a 5 min. break!

Do I feel melancholy? You bet! I miss walking through cities and malls to look at the holiday displays with Christmas music floating all around me; joining the local town Christmas strolls and tree lightings.

BUT I REFUSE TO LET MY DISEASE TAKE ANY MORE OF MY LIFE! I love Christmas! So I’m not going to compare what I can or cannot do. I am going to appreaciate the beauty of every moment I AM well enough to experience. No matter how small. We have been given one special gift through illness, to recoginize hidden hope and miracles that others miss.

So to my over 15% of FaceBook friends (that I know of) with daily chronic illness, you are not alone! We celebrate  together!!

And to our friends and family, thank you for you understanding, your patience (especially when we’re running late or cancel last minute), for your gentle hugs, and comfiest chairs. We feel grateful for every moment we get to spend with you!

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May I Decide For You?

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Why do we profess to know what’s best for others? Especially loved ones? Is it because we think we know them intimately more than they even know themselves? This is something that often happens with those battling chronic illness and daily limitations.

Our loved ones, out of fear of pushing us too far (IE: making us “sicker”), make decisions based on our well-being without ever consulting us. Many times, these decisions are made behind closed minds, during the pre-conversation/contemplation phase and we never even know different possibilities existed. And because they are never presented to us, we are never given the opportunity to make our own choices (and, yes, even mistakes).

The decision has already been made for us, under the guise of “loving-kindness.” I know that I have been on the receiving end of this kind of decision making multiple times, especially from my husband. My most recent example occurred in an interaction with a dear friend:

Over the last couple years, I have been mentoring this friend. I was, from the beginning, clear and honest about my physical time limitations but committed to communicating in alternative ways; and asked that if our relationship agreement ever stopped working because of these restrictive parameters, she not hesitate to approach me about her changing needs. We went into the partnership with what I thought was an equal agreement. Then, just a few days back, she abruptly let me know that our arrangement was no longer working and she had already found another mentor.

As much as I respect her needs, I was taken aback by the one-sided decision making. When pressed, she explained that she honors the physical place that I am in and would never want to put un-due pressure on me. So she found someone more “well-bodied” and flexible with their schedule. She thought she was coming from a place of loving-kindness.

But, in fact, she took equality right out of our equation. Out of concern for pressuring me, she took away my opportunity to know and express what is right for me. To check in with my own body and decide whether I could do more to meet her needs or not.

What was removed from our relationship was trust in the other person to know themselves, and respect for whatever decision they make. Regardless of our own opinion.

Let me highlight some ways we all do this in relationships:
– Our partner gets anxious in social situations, so we avoid telling them about upcoming engagements until the last minute, so they don’t unduly fret.
– Our parent worries when we travel, so we hide trips from them until we get home, as not to overly stress them.
– We have friends who have chosen to no longer drink, so we don’t invite them to events where there will be a lot of “celebrating,” so they won’t be tempted.
– A co-worker tends to react strongly when asked to do a project, so instead of giving them the chance to process and respond, we just do everything ourselves to avoid a possible conflict.

We tell ourselves “loving-kindness” stories: “I don’t want this (person I care for) to feel bad/sad/disappointed/stressed/worried…” We’ve already analyzed the situation in our heads, come to the conclusion of how the choice will negatively affect the other person, how they will respond, and what we will do to avoid this.

But, remember, when you make a choice for a loved one, you are no longer looking at them as an equal.

Those of us with chronic illness often struggle with feelings of being “less-than” (as many well-bodied folks do, too!). We already have to limit so many facets of our daily lives. But, we can still make conscious, thoughtful decisions for ourselves.

Doesn’t every adult want to be perceived as trustworthy of their own truth?

And the thing is. . .

We very well may make poor decisions! We may over-commit which over-taxes our bodies or minds.

BUT… that’s how we learn. How much is too much. And how much is just right.

If the right to make our own choices is removed, we are never able to find the balance on our own.

One of the worst things, is discovering after the fact that you could have been a participant in the decision making process, and that was taken away from you. It’s way worse to learn later that a group of friends went out dancing but didn’t invite you only because they didn’t want you to feel bad because your body is ill-equipped to dance right now. A much better scenario is to be given that choice and decide whether you want to sit and watch at the club or if it’s better to stay home, but it sure felt nice to be including in the invite!

So, next time you find yourself making a pre-emptive decision for another out of loving-kindness, try for a different approach:
– Tell that person about the choice and kindly express your concerns for their well-being.
– Let them know you trust them to make the right decision for themselves in that moment.
– Remind them that you’ll support whatever choice they make; and will give them the respect of keeping lines of communication and gentle observation open.

In all interactions, remember that a partnership means that each party is on equal ground.

Toeing The Elusive Line of Life

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I am always trying to pin down that elusive line between doing too much and not engaging enough.  Dancing just over the edge into the land of “I am going to enjoy this adventure today even though I will ‘pay’ for it later” and standing at safe distance back, “forgoing opportunities for the sake of protecting my body from the ‘over-do’.”

To me this line is LIFE.

And I am not ready to give up on life yet; to fade into the background, observing others from behind my own personal protective observation glass.

Yes, this option ensures a more stable physical state of being. But it doesn’t guarantee it. I am just as likely to experience an unexpected (I was going to say “unplanned for,” but aren’t they all?!) flare of my physical symptoms after days resting “safely” on my couch.

And there is always one thing that suffers from my hesitancy to participate… my emotional well-being.

So it all comes down to another elusive concept: BALANCE.

I don’t think this is a plight just of the chronically ill.  We may suffer more serious consequences for misjudging our abilities to participate, but I know just as many well-bodied friends who also struggle with this.  Their “price” may just look different: stress, fatigue, or loss of time.

As I tiptoe around my Line of Life, I am getting better acquainted with my limits. For me, I know I will pay a steep price, so I weigh my options and choose the ones that are the most appealing and unique. 

I now pause before I make any commitment (I used to “over-commit” to everything for fear of saying no, only to have to constantly cancel at the last minute, frustrating everyone).

I check in with myself- mind, body and spirit.  I take my own set of vitals, so to speak.

And, no matter what my decision is, I try to clearly communicate with the invitee. I think the guidelines I have set up for myself can be applied to a wide range of situations and people.

It usually comes down to three categories:

  1. “I’m sorry, I have to decline this time. But please don’t let this keep you from asking me in the future [big fear=being “forgotten”].  My physical well- or unwell-being is constantly fluctuating.” (insert your limits: time; commitments; family obligations; job stress; etc.).
  2. “If it’s okay, I am going to have to wait and decide nearer to or on the day of.  I’m just not sure how I’ll be feeling from day to day right now and I don’t want to over-commit.”
  3. OR: “I would love to accept! I am planning on being able to participate but if my body takes a down-turn, I may have to change plans at the last minute.  Are you okay with that?”

I have discovered that the honest approach best serves myself and others. Most of us want to “people please” and in doing so can create an environment of always saying “yes,” leading to feelings of stress and resentment later or a constant cycle of saying yes and then having to change our minds/plans.

By giving people an open look into your life, you are showing trust in the relationship.  As well, I try to always give people the option of letting me know if last-minute changes are uncomfortable for them.  Of course I wish everyone could be supremely flexible to my needs. But some cannot. And this is all part of accepting both my and others’ limitations.

You’ll also begin to discover the friends who truly do understand and are willing to adjust the typical “friendship guidelines” to maintain a relationship with you and those that are just “good time friends.” And that’s okay.

The week-end before last was one of those “seize the moment” opportunities for me.  A friend spontaneously invited me on Thursday to accompany her to Pittsburgh, PA for a one-of-a-kind puppet play by Heather Henson (Jim’s daughter- yes, The Muppets’ Jim!). Now, this was a huge risk for me. It was for just one night and would require a minimum drive of 6 hours both ways. Two “no-no’s” in my typical Boundary Box. But sometimes boundaries are meant to be broken, and this was one of those times.

Not only was it an amazing adventure and bonding experience with a dear girlfriend, it provided me a chance to be honest about my chronic illness in a way I have not before.  Traveling that close with some requires intimacy and vulnerability. And I was proud of myself for not hiding behind the mask of, “I’m okay.”

She knew I had to make many rest and stretch stops.  She saw my feet and ankles swell to the size of Nerf balls. She observed my nightly ritual of 20+ medications. She listened to me when I explained the complexity and history of my disease. She witnessed the “sudden coming” of a severe migraine. She saw me grow breathless because of my pericarditis (fluid around the heart) and the necessity of many “sit and rest” periods as we trekked around the city.

She saw the all of me. And she embraced and accepted me as I am.

Yes, I’m paying the steep price of admission still now 7 days post, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing about this experience. Can I always make this choice? No. But I am also not going to let my fears get in the way of considering similar spontaneous opportunities in the future. I used to always live my life this way… seizing crazy last-minute excursions left and right. And I forgot how much I love that.

I forgot what it is like to not only dip my toe over the edge into the Waters of Life, but to plunge head first into the icy chill of the thrill only to come up breathless by embracing the All of Life.

Where are you making choices in your life that serve not only your physical and mental needs, but also your spiritual and emotional needs? Perhaps you aren’t shying away from “frivolous experiences” because of the limitations of an illness, but because you are overwhelmed and stressed by the sheer complexity of living and balancing life, work and family.

Where and when can you throw caution to the wind, even for just an hour, and do something just for the sake of doing it?

Go on… life’s waiting for you!

Finding New Avenues of Joy: What’s Your Machu Picchu?

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Finding new avenues of joy… several months ago I randomly (perhaps not so “random” after all!) had the T.V. on during a Good Morning America segment on the NFL player, Steve Gleason.  He’s a New Orleans Saints’ hero whose life has changed, all because of the devastating disease, ALS (Lou Gherig’s).  Yet, he does not view his life as a devastation… when told he needed to “prepare himself to die,” his first and only thought was, “I am going to prepare to live!”

Although it has been 6 months since I first viewed this stunning story, it has never strayed far from my thoughts.  I’ve wanted to share it with others, but until today, have not been able to “find” it on the internet.  For a while, I thought perhaps it had been one vivid, prophetic dream!

Then I awoke this morning thinking of “bucket lists,” and once again, the empowering tale of this man came to mind.  I began my futile searching again, but this time I must have strung together the right combination of words, because it appeared at the very top of my search results.  I have faith that there is a reason today was the day I finally re-discovered this tale of strength, perseverance, and above all, JOY.

The idea of creating an annual “Bucket List” has been tumbling around my daily thoughts.  Not sure if I wanted to jump on this trendy bandwagon, I have resisted this idea.  Yet, there is something so appealing about following others yearly journeys as they check things off their bucket list.  As I read others, I am surprised and, admittedly, intimidated by the audacity of their goals.  My mind immediately goes to all the reasons why this will not work for me… all my limitations: not enough money, not enough time, not enough physical well-being, on and on and on!

I think, why set myself up for failure?  But then there is that little intuitive voice that never steers me wrong saying, “why not set yourself up for success?  Each bucket list is a personal endeavor; it can be shaped to fit my unique set of circumstances, needs, and dreams.  By setting goals, I will be more apt to make a game-plan to make them happen.  By writing down my annual hopes and dreams, I will be setting my intention with the Universe.

And so I’ve begun to toy with what my 2014 Bucket List will look like.  For example, I have a deep desire to dance once again.  It would be unrealistic for me to set a goal of dancing the Suite of the Sugar Plum Fairy en pointe, like I did when I was 18, healthy and fit!  But, I am graced with living in a community that encourages creativity in people of all ages and abilities.  Dance studios and open-classes have exploded over the last few years, now including an abundance of opportunities for the community to engage in a wide variety of dance styles, at all levels.  I’ve begun by getting out and experiencing these offerings as a patron.  And I have been proud to support and celebrate these burgeoning endeavors.

But now it’s time for me to get off my audience seat and onto the stage.  But, what does this mean for me?  I am not blind to my limitations, but I am not going to let those stop me either!  As Steve Gleason so eloquently puts it in this interview…

“I now search for new avenues of joy.  With each loss, [I] have worked to find a beautiful replacement.”

And my dance replacement looks something this… finding a way to move my body in a fluid and free-form motion.  I am drawn to Carribean danceCaribbean styles, where the dancers of all ages, sizes, shapes and abilities are smiling from ear to ear as they engage the music fully.  There is a freedom and openness to this style that is very appealing to me. And, Volia!… I have the first item on my bucket list!

This is the beauty of creating this list annually.  Now that I have set this goal (my intention), I am already developing a plan of action in my head. First step?: researching studios and open-dance nights.  And that’s all I have to worry about for now… just taking that first step.  Taking the risk to say, “I am worth it.”

I will not allow my physical limitations to limit my ability to experience joy!  My Bucket List may look a helluva lot different than the ones floating around the web.  But, I choose to use those as inspiration… not as a point of comparison and feeling “less than.”

machu picchu steve gleasonIf anything, the most intimidating “list” I’ve seen is Steve’s.  Once his diagnosis was delivered, he made the conscious choice to always have something to look forward to.  His most recent goal and accomplishment?.. climbing to the top of Machu Picchu!!  How on earth does someone without the use of their physical body climb Machu Picchu, you ask?  He does not do it alone!!!  And, to me, that is one of the best legacies he can pass on to others.  Not only that he “chooses to focus on the beauty of now,” but that he relies on the love and support of others to achieve his goals.

My Bucket List is not going to be a singular endeavor.  The goals and dreams will come from my inner soul, but the steps to achieving them will be paved by the love of my friends and family.

I would like to offer the same gift back to you: to be your support and cheerleader in any way needed as you create and then implement your 2014 Bucket List!  In the coming weeks, I will slowly unveil my own list as it evolves.  And I hope you will take the journey with me as I check off the items in the coming year.

Please share your bucket wishes, too.  For inspiration comes from without.  And without all of you, I would be lost.

I encourage you to take just 5 minutes of your time to watch the GMA interview with Steve Gleason.  I dare you not cry. I dare you not to smile. I dare you not to come away inspired!

http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/steve-gleason-embraces-challenges-lou-gehrigs-disease-battle-121402622.html

Staying Angry at My Chronic Illness: I’m the One Who Gets Burned

buddha-quotes-sayings-quote-deep-anger-wisdom Am I angry at my illness?  This was a question recently posed by a friend who remarked, “I know I would if I were you.”  And it’s given me pause.  I certainly have been angry at my illness in the past, or more accurately, at the doctors who ineptly handled my illness resulting in near-death effects.  Holding on to the resentment aimed at these negligent doctors gave me a false sense of power in a situation where I was entirely powerless.  If I could focus my energy on them; I wouldn’t have to face the reality of my physical unwell-being.

When I sit quietly with this question today, I stay deeply aware of all the emotional currents running beneath the surface.   And none of them resonate with anger; not any more.  Is that even possible?, I wonder.  Yet, it is.  Time heals; if you let it.  Somewhere during my medical journey, I realized the only one I was hurting by holding onto this red hot coal of anger was me.  I waited years to lob that coal at the ones I resented.  In the end I was left standing with the hot coal in my hand; the only one burned by this “righteous fury.”  I got tired of burning myself.  I finally had the insight to see that by holding onto this on-going anger, I thought I was giving myself back power.  But in truth, I was giving these doctors the power, by constantly bringing their negative energy into my life over and over again.

Anger and resentments are tricky things.  Many of us are afraid to let go of anger, because then it will signify that the other side has “won.”  That you are giving in.  But, it’s the exact opposite.  Just because you forgive, doesn’t mean you forget.  We often associate the word “forgive” with excusing someone for their behavior or mistake.  And this can be true.  But, in this circumstance, forgive falls under the alternate definition: “to stop being angry about or resenting somebody or somebody’s behavior” (Encarta Dictionary).  That’s all.  I decided to stop being angry; to put down the hot coal and start living my own life again.  I have not forgotten what the doctors did; I could never forget that.  But, by forgiving, this experience became an extremely unpleasant memory.  It taught me how not to act in the future.  In this case, I no longer implicitly trust doctors just because they have a medical degree on the wall.  If they are not responding to the needs of my body, I go elsewhere.  Because that’s the key, it is my body.  Therefore I am the only one truly qualified to know when something is awry with it.  In this case, by processing my anger into forgiveness, I’ve gained valuable tools in which to address my physical needs.  If I was putting all my energy and effort into hating these people, I would miss the experiences that are happening in the now.love-quotes-026

Holding onto to anger is living in the past.  I have already lost chunks of my life to illness, I am not about to sacrifice anymore by reliving the resentment I feel at my physical condition.  That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated with my body and its limitations (see yesterday’s post as a fine example of this!).  I just choose to fully embrace these feelings when they come, validate myself, share them with others, and then let them go.  For me, dwelling in a place of anger only creates a septic environment filled with fear.

So what is the opposite of living a life of anger?  It’s living a life of acceptance.  Again, acceptance doesn’t mean that I have to feel joyful about my situation, it just means that I have come to terms with life’s circumstances; it’s “the realization of a fact or truth and the process of coming to terms with it” (Encarta Dictionary).  The truth is I have a chronic illness; actually several chronic illness.  They are all autoimmune in nature; my body has decided that my organs, cells, blood vessels, bones, and connective tissues are the enemy and will attack them at no cost.  Those are the facts.  It is also my truth that my disease cannot “attack” my spirit unless I let it.  I choose to accept the facts of my situation and to live in what I know to be true.  Holding onto to anger at my body only creates another invasive disease.  It makes me stay stuck in the past, in the “what if’s” and “if onlys.”  If only my life had turned out differently.  Well, it didn’t.  So instead of constantly fuming over my situation and asking (wailing), “Why me?!,”  I’ve decided to bury my anger, plant a garden of acceptance, love and hope and face each day with “What’s next.”  These are my circumstances; it’s up to me what I do with them!

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