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
Most of us have at least reflected on a list of aspirations to accomplish but then March 23rd rolls around and we feel like a failure. Some of the goals we haven't done a single thing about but feel guilty.
The concept of setting resolutions is worthy and helpful for most people. When you are chronically ill, however, resolutions can be wearisome and even scary. Most of the time our bodies and our health, therefore our lives, are out of our control. The effects of chronic pain can be devastating I you dwell on it. Though losing five pounds a month seems reasonable, a prescription of medication can quickly add on the pounds, despite our best dieting efforts. Even small goals seem hopeless.
The rationale behind why we don't meet our goals is very reasonable.
--> I'm going to exercise more . . . And then the town closes down the only indoor pool for winter construction
--> I'm going to lose some weight . . . But a simple trip over a curb turns into a broken bone and then the doctor puts you on steroids. Soon you just want to maintain your weight and not gain even more.
--> I'm going to start making wiser choices about money . . . Money? What money? I'm barely surviving on what I have!
So what is the answer?
First, if January passed you by and you didn't make any resolutions, congratulate yourself! You've not broken any universal rule that say all new habits must begin January 2nd. January is a time for recovery: recovery from holidays, visiting relatives, travel, and maybe all those medical visits you packed into December before your health insurance deductibles start over in the New Year. If you've been able to get through the whole month of January without an infection, cold, or the flu, count your blessings. And in most parts of the USA, freezing conditions make us often just go into hibernation.
Secondly, make a few simple changes and don't label "resolutions." When you make your visit to Starbucks ask for the "sugar-free vanilla, breve, misto." (That's coffee with steamed half-and-half, with a touch of vanilla. It has fewer carbs, no sugar.) Rather than splurging on the "muffin" covered in chocolate chips have the sugar-free banana walnut cake (Trust me on this. . .heavenly!) Talk to a dietician about what habits you could start that would make a difference in the long run.
Thirdly, make a list of things that are important to you. Rather than saying, "I'm going to make wiser choices about money." Write down what it is that you desire. Have you wanted to go see a local Broadway show for years, but have never been able to afford the $50 ticket? Is your car running on bolts and old tires? How much would you need to fix it or replace it? Surely you value the freedom having your own transportation gives you. By taking some time to write down what is important to you, and stick them on the bathroom mirror as a reminder, it will give you some motivation when you are making those small little choices each day.
Fourthly, find a friend who has an illness who will unite in supporting you with your goals and you hers. Stress management helps illness and a healthy friend who says, "Well, you're never going to lose any weight until you join me at the gym. They have a new boot camp special that would be perfect for you!" will quickly leave you depressed and disheartened. Chronic pain and depression often go hand in hand. Our health is so out of our control that it's important to have someone who can help you see what goals are reasonable and which ones are a bit irrational under the circumstances.
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, set goals that are fun too! Stress and illness is draining and not everything in our lives needs to be fixed. There is no better chronic pain relief than adding more joy to your life. Call people you've met in the past that you admire and ask them if they would have breakfast with you. Go to the movies each month. And when you meet a step towards your goal, such as cleaning out the closet to become more organized, reward yourself. Go buy a chic new hat that brings out the diva side of you that you've been hiding. Living with chronic pain means forcing yourself being silly sometimes.
By having levelheaded expectations about your goals in addition to some compassionate friends, you'll likely discover that you are one of the few people who have reached a few of those New Year's goals. And regardless of how many aspirations you didn't reach, you will definitely have discovered how to live with more joy. You will feel less guilt about what you've not been able to do and instead, appreciate all that you are able to accomplish.
If you lead a support group or are considering it, don't miss Lisa Copen's new book, http://StartAnIllnessSupportGroup.com for your ministry needs. Over 300 pages with step-by-step instructions on how to write a vision statement, promotion and attendance and much more!
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