Some years ago, I was invited to join a group of nurses and other people looking at the problems of living with chronic illness. It was an 8-week course covering a wide range of diseases such as asthma, arthritis, diabetes, depression and cardiac issues, to name a few. At the time I had arthritis in my hands which made my job in aged care rather difficult.
The term chronic illness is, as it suggests, an ongoing illness. There have been major advancements and theories which have been researched, tried and tested and in many cases found to be very helpful. Diet and exercise still play an important role in maintaining a good quality of life within the boundaries of chronic illness and, in fact, life in general. I believe most of us will find our own coping mechanism to get us through the day. Some resort to medication others yoga, meditation, special diets, exercise or all of the above and if that works for you, go for it.
However, I ask myself, is that it? I think not! As I see it, while these are external self- help factors, the real help comes from within ourselves. Let me explain.
We need to be able to find that core inner strength which each of us have. In the past three years my wellbeing has been challenged on no less than five occasions. Right from the start, I made the decision to take a positive tack which not only helped me, but also my family who were on this journey with me.
I established two coping mechanisms, humour and prayer. Having a strong faith meant that my God was already on hand. He was there on my good days and on my bad days and believe me there were a few of those. My rather wicked sense of humour, which I inherited from my mum, also held me in good stead.
In time I realised I had tapped into my inner strength. I had looked within myself and found an inner peace. What a revelation! It helped me to make sense of so many things I was experiencing.
As an example, I looked at fear. My take on fear is that it is when we face something which is alien to us. Facing major surgery is scary at the best of times, so what to do? I started asking questions and armed myself with as much information as the surgeon was able to give me. She laughingly said it was a shame I had to sleep through it all as I would have found it interesting! For me, all that knowledge somehow fragmented the fear and made it easier to face … “You’re going to do what while I am asleep?”
Vulnerability is that feeling we have when we need to ask for some extra TLC. I have discovered that finding that strength to ask for what I need has deepened my faith and I have found that peace which does pass all understanding, and this has kept me positive and focused.
I have also been humbled by the outpouring of love and support from my family and friends, particularly new friends I have made through this shared journey. I feel loved and valued as a whole person and the wonderful thing is that the more I reach out with love, the more I seem to gather in. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing! Acknowledging and accepting external help complements the discovery of my inner self. I still have days where the Pollyanna Glad Game gets shelved, but that’s okay. I also allow myself on occasions to be teary, frustrated, angry or scared. That’s when I find a warm safe place and just BE. I may shed a few tears, or sit and pray. My mantra for these times is. God whatever happens today You and I will deal with it.
So, what about the days when you just want to pull the doona over your head and cancel the day. I don’t have a problem with that, but consider how much better your Self would feel if at the end of that day you had achieved even one thing. Write to a friend or just sit in the garden and be. If you can put value in those days then they are not lost, and you will feel better.
Fatigue is one of the most debilitating side effects of the condition, the treatment, or both. While it is a physical thing, it has the potential to become a mental issue as well. Have you noticed that when you are at a low ebb all sorts of emotions come to the surface: anger, frustration, uselessness, hopelessness, and I’m sure you can add to the list? Allow yourself to feel anger at what is happening to your body, feel the frustration at not being able to do the things you want to or think you should. Then let them go, don’t hang on to them. But as for hopelessness and uselessness, no, that’s a pressure we put on ourselves and if you were to ask your family or friends, they would say you are a worthwhile and valued person.
It took me a while to realise that by going deep within myself I was able to rationalise my feelings and by doing so I was empowering myself to deal with them, and hence create those coping mechanisms, which is what this is all about.
Of course, I haven’t found all the answers yet, I still have FUDS (fed up days). But I am learning to be guided by my feelings when it comes to resting. So, when I am feeling legless, I can say “okay body I’m listening.” I find that after a nap, hugs from the beloved and wise words from the girls, I am back on track.
To put it all together, here’s a short summary:
- Love who you are
- Listen to your body
- Be gentle with yourself
- Value yourself as the amazing person you are
- Put value in your day
The bits and pieces I have lost on this journey don’t define who I am. I am still all woman! Life is so precious, be bold and live each day with love and optimism. I hope that you find something in this to help brighten your days. Just remember, it’s the quality that makes your day.
Evelyn W., Australia.
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