By Adrienne Dellwo
When you have a chronic illness like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, you’ve got enough working against you. You don’t need to make things worse for yourself!
It’s hard not to. By society’s definition, something (other than illness) is “wrong” with anyone who isn’t go, go, go, full speed ahead, all the time. We’re expected to work long hours at stressful jobs, be amazing parents, have a perfectly clean house and keep up with the Joneses.
If you can’t, you must be horribly flawed!
Getting out of that mindset is difficult, but it’s something that can really benefit us and help us improve. It takes work, though.
What to Stop Doing to Yourself
The first step is recognizing the things you do in pursuit of this idealized picture of who you’re “supposed” to be. Here are 10 damaging things to watch out for:
Overdoing it. Pacing is essential for us; we’ll only get worse if we do more than our bodies can handle.
Criticizing yourself. You know better than anyone that you really are sick, so give yourself a break already! When you catch yourself, try replacing the critical message with something like, “I’m doing the best I can and that’s all I can do.” (It sounds corny, but it works.)
Blaming yourself. It’s not like you asked for a chronic, debilitating illness to come along and knock you right out of your life. No matter what some people may say, your illness is not your fault!
Believing other people’s negative opinions. It’s always going to hurt when someone says you’re “lazy” or “crazy” or “worthless,” but you can’t afford to believe them. Someone who keeps going, the best they can, through adversity is stronger and more capable than most. That’s what you need to remember.
Having unrealistic positive expectations. We tend to put all of our hope and faith in whatever treatment we’re trying. All that does is set us up for a major disappointment when we’re not suddenly cured. Approach treatments with the attitude that any improvement is a success, and remember that we generally need to use multiple treatments to truly make progress.
Having unrealistic negative expectations. On the flip side of the coin, trying treatment after treatment without success can make you feel like nothing’s going to help at all, ever. That can prevent you from trying new treatments that might work, and it can also cause a reverse —placebo effect — it won’t work because you expect it not to.
Putting yourself last. A lot of us are willing to put all our energy into the people around us, our jobs, our responsibilities … only to have nothing left for ourselves. It doesn’t work. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you’ll have less and less to give until there’s nothing left— because you’ll keep getting sicker. Taking care of yourself is survival, not selfishness.
Giving up too soon. When you try a new treatment or lifestyle change, it can take time for the effect to be felt. If you give up too soon, you can really miss out on long-term benefits. Give your body time to adjust to the change.
Letting stress overwhelm your life. Our lives are full of stressors, and being sick only adds to them. The problem is, stress just makes our symptoms worse. Find ways to reduce or manage your stress so it doesn’t keep driving you into the ground.
Asking why. We all want to know why we’re sick. Is it genetics? Your diet? Vaccines? Pesticides? Infection? Some sort of punishment? Why did it strike you and not the millions of other people? This line of questioning can lead to a downward spiral of self-blame, guilty feelings and increased stress. Instead of “Why,” we need to ask, “What’s going on in my body?” That’s the question that can uncover the causes of symptom clusters and lead to treatments.
By identifying the things you do and focusing on breaking those bad habits, you may be able to feel better emotionally and physically. If you feel overwhelmed, take one item at a time.