Importance of Self-Improvement and Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness & the Importance of Self-Improvement

Why is it important to consider self-improvement if you have a chronic illness?

There’s no real easy answer because everyone’s situation is different. For some, every day is a chore to get out of bed and just manage the disease. The thought of making positive changes in life is a luxury.  Wrapping one’s head around life-changes can be overwhelming because life-changes implies big goals and grand changes.

But, what if I said it didn’t need to be? That perhaps we are all too focused on the implied definition of self-improvement rather than its actual definition? A definition that simply means making personal changes.

That’s what this year is about: acknowledging that taking the time to make minor changes in a positive direction is just as meaningful in the desire to self-improve as making the bigger ones.

Today, let’s reshape our definition of what is self-improvement into something more manageable. More meaningful and more personal.

Altering Our Impressions

In the Western world, self-improvement or self-help is heavily marketed to consumers. If you had a TV as a child, you’ve grown up knowing that around this time of year commercials promoting diets and weight-loss supplements increase.  Read magazines? Ads and articles abound about the various ways to improve your life.

Daily, there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways for the industry to pull you in and want to make changes so you can “live your best life.

Many of these offers come with the caveat: “you can only make these improvements if you buy x,y, z book.” Which leads to a near $10 billion industry.

Does that make self-help/self-improvement a scam? Not necessarily, but you have to be mindful of who you turn to for help. There are scammers that peddle modern-day snake oil and scientifically unsound therapies, but there are plenty of legitimate options to guide a user through the process.

That said, self-help is an industry. Therefore it’s in the industry’s best interest to keep consumers coming back month-after-month; year-after-year. If it feels like self-improvement goals always seem so big, i.e. “I want to lose 50 pounds in six months!” or “I am going to do something new and exciting every day this year!” that’s because there’s this nebulous goal-making process that does very little to encourage participants into smaller and more manageable goals.

There are some programs that encourage breaking goals down into more manageable chunks, but unfortunately, they aren’t as loud as a reality star on TV telling you to buy their product for massive weight-loss. Or the social media influencer who shows off how perfectly they are meeting their self-improvement goals.

If you have a chronic illness, seeing these examples can be extremely discouraging. If getting any form of exercise is a struggle due to mobility issues, watching someone on social media demonstrate “8 easy exercises to tighten that butt” is not appealing nor realistic. Sure, I might want a nice butt, but none of those exercises are doable.

Where might there be motivation to make any changes if your body is already working against you?

This is why looking for the more realistic programs is important. But, the realistic programs get lost in the social media cacophony which leads to the impression that only big changes can be made when we want to commit to self-improvement.

Goals do not need to be huge, they can be as small as taking one step-a-day, or eating 50 calories less, or even saying one positive affirmation to ourselves when we wake up. Goal creation is about starting the process towards self-improvement and allowing it to build on itself. Forward momentum will move you towards greater personal success as time goes by.

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2019: A Year of Self-Improvement

In 2018, I did some reflection on the importance of self-improvement with a chronic illness. It’s something I wanted to do prior to my diagnosis: live my best life and become the person I imagined I would be when I was fifteen. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get side-tracked in my twenties and it took my diagnosis and becoming a mother to finally realize that I needed to make changes.

Taking the steps toward self-improvement while managing a chronic illness can be overwhelming. Knowing where to begin and what to do was discouraging. Looking around online, I saw wellness challenges, but rarely geared towards someone with a chronic illness

These “regular” challenges were great for someone who didn’t have to fight fatigue, numbness, and the depression that came from coping with an illness. It was hard to make the logical leap to tailor them to my needs. It felt overwhelming to even attempt to do so.

That’s why I wanted to take the opportunity of the new year to create a self-improvement challenge geared specifically for people with a chronic illness. You don’t have to have a chronic illness to join, so if you are just looking to make some small changes in your life at a stress-free pace, this challenge should work nicely for you.

New Year; New You

I always love the new year because it gives me an opportunity, mentally speaking, to view my slate to be clean. To riff on an Anne Shirley’s quote: the new year is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.

Many of us make resolutions and vows of how we plan to approach the coming year, though I am notoriously bad about waiting until today to come up with any thoughts on the matter. I decided that I would be more proactive in 2019, so I created a challenge that I would be willing to undertake and share it with my readers.

As you make changes, big & small, so will I. We’ll take this year as an opportunity to improve ourselves together.

The Challenge: Self-Improvement with a Chronic Illness

Dealing with MS and any chronic illness can lead a person to feel stuck and unable to make any meaningful forms of self-improvement. I know that not long after my diagnosis I was dealing with a lot of heavy emotions that I froze for a few years. But deep down I wanted to make some personal improvement changes, though I didn’t know where to begin.

This wellness challenge works within that specific framework: I want to make changes, I am not sure “how to” or “where to” start, but what I am currently doing isn’t working.

For 2019, I am challenging readers to make the self-improvement changes they’ve always wanted to do but were either afraid to start or didn’t know how to start due to a chronic illness.

What the Challenge is…

This Challenge is a gentle way to work on self-improvement no matter the situation. All the mental and emotional exercises, thoughts, anecdotes, and research will be arranged for the user to make meaningful life changes, rather than a quick fix. This challenge also is:

  • judgment-free.
  • accessible no matter your level of fitness, physical abilities, state of your illness, and financial situation. If you want to make changes, you can.
  • free. You will not be paying for any aspect to participate.
  • focused on making positive changes.
  • support-based. There will be a corresponding Facebook group where you can talk directly to me and others participating in the challenge.
  • a chance to make the changes you’ve wanted to make no matter what they are.
  • drop-in/drop-out. If you only want to do a quick short-term goal, we will be working in 3-month chunks of time. If you are coming to this challenge later in the year, then you’ll be able to get a couple of goals done before the end of 2019.

I will provide the framework needed to start you on your journey. This framework will contain the tools you need to easily personalize your own journey to wellness. 

What the Challenge isn’t…

This isn’t a weight-loss challenge. This isn’t a healthy eating challenge. If you want to lose weight or eat healthy, you are welcome to make that your final goal but do not feel like it is the only path to self-improvement. This challenge also isn’t:

  • about making you feel bad about yourself or your goals. Everyone is unique and beautiful and any positive life-change is a good life change.
  • expecting you to follow everything by the letter. I do recommend following as closely as you can, but it’s meant to help you in the best possible way. Only you know yourself best.
  • requiring big life-goal changes. There will be several short-term goals and one long-term goal, but all goals can be as big or as little as you need them to be for the year.
  • going to be easy. While we will be focusing on a gentle approach to each week, there will be moments towards deep, meaningful changes that may be unpleasant to reflect on. You are encouraged to go at the pace best suited to your needs.

As stated, this challenge won’t be easy at times (but why call it a challenge if it was?).  There may be times where you want to give up, but I am going to encourage you to keep going because by December you can reflect over this year with pride.

Making the Most of the Challenge

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up for the weekly newsletter. This is where you will get the weekly challenge updates, writing prompts, free printables, special offers, and all sorts of exciting information I want to share with you, my reader. 

I am reverting back to my 3-day-a-week blog posts, but you’ll only have access to my third post through newsletter subscription, so make sure you sign up so you don’t miss a single post from me.

MS Mommy Blog this Year

You may have noticed that the blog switched from MS//Mommy to MS Mommy Blog. With the new year comes a new look and some slight re-branding. The blog has a new logo and set up, so please check it out if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet.

Looking forward to taking this exciting new journey with you!


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Self-Generosity

This post was originally published in December 2017.


At this time of year, life can get overwhelming. There are social, familial, and professional obligations that all demand our full attention. While these demands don’t go away, they do seem more urgent at the end of the calendar year.

It is easy to get caught up in these demands and struggle to prioritize them (and sometimes they don’t allow for reasonable prioritization). It leaves a person feeling frazzled, burnt out, and hating the holiday season.

That isn’t the case for everyone, but I am sure we’ve all had moments in life where we would like to skip straight to January 2nd and move on with our lives.

We’ve run into others who feel this way: try going into a mall around this time of year. I’ll just leave it at that.

Piling on top of the usual life demands are calls for generosity from various organizations at the end of the year. Commercials are filled with pathos-based appeals to get the viewer to donate to various causes. Religious leaders ask their people to open up their wallets and give money, toys, or time to those who are less fortunate. Stories of tragic events lead to calls for donations of food, items, and blood. Passive social pressures increase: social media pages are flooded with posts from others announcing their generosity.

It gets extremely overwhelming.

The issue is, that when we think about the term “generosity” we think about it as giving to others. But look at the definition of the word:

Generosity
nounplural generosities.

1. readiness or liberality in giving.
2. freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.

3. a generous act:
   We thanked him for his many generosities.

4. largeness or fullness; amplitude.

Dictionary.com

Nowhere in the definition does it specifically define generosity as an act we give to others. It is an act of giving and love, but with no defined recipient.

When we get caught up in the minutiae we completely forget about the importance of taking care of ourselves. We are told that we should be generous with our time and care for others, but it’s extremely hard to care about another person if we don’t take care of ourselves.

If we care for our own needs first we can be more effective for others. And when everything becomes too overwhelming, we might be able to see through it with less stress and frustration.

The Importance of Self-Care

I saw this quote posted on a friend’s Facebook wall and it was the foundation for this post. I kept the original formatting:

self care isn’t always lush bath bombs and $20 face masks. sometimes, it’s going to bed at 8pm or letting go of a bad friend. it’s forgiving yourself for not meeting your impossible standards & understanding u are worth it. self care isn’t always luxury, but a mean for survival

Cheerful Nihilism

Self-care quotes, personal revelations about self-care, articles expounding self-care all make the rounds on a fairly frequent basis. Some of them connect with us and others we either ignore or go, “yeah, if only it was that easy.”

All the wisdom in the world about self-care/self-generosity does not mean anything if it doesn’t connect with you. And let’s be blunt about the quotes/revelations/articles: they aren’t saying anything new. It’s all steeped in common sense.

We just need them to remind us every so often.

I am not an expert that can espouse pearls of wisdom of how to better take care of yourself, but I do recommend that you be more generous to yourself. Allow yourself to be more selfish.

But this isn’t the same when we think about being selfish. This is a loving selfishness.

Recognize that you need to take care of yourself before you can care for others. The Mayo Clinic recommends that caregivers take care of themselves first before they take care of others. They acknowledge that a person must be selfish if they are going to be an effective long-term caregiver.

Everyone is a caregiver. For some, it’s for another person; for everyone, it’s themselves. We all must care for ourselves.

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Illness as a Positive

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


Having a chronic illness is no fun.

I know that’s a bit of a shocker for anyone reading this, especially if you have a chronic illness/disability. That said, having a chronic illness did bring about a positive change in my life: I think it forced me to rethink my life and my health and make important changes.

I am not about to turn this post into inspiration porn (don’t worry, that link is safe for work), but I do want to express gratitude for the wake-up call my MS gave me. I call it my “rock bottom” because it forced me to make some decisions about the direction I wanted to take physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do, however, wish it hadn’t taken a chronic illness diagnosis to make these changes

I would be more than happy to give back my illness and keep all the healthy changes if given a chance. 

Prior to the Diagnosis

To understand why I am grateful for my current health, it’s best to compare it to where I was physically prior to my diagnosis.

I’ve hinted at my state in previous posts throughout the blog, but I never fully discussed my mental and physical state. Partially because it was never necessary to the post, but mostly because I was ashamed of where I was at in life.

I was delusional about my physical health. It’s easy to see that on the other side, but living in the middle of it I thought I was healthy. I would eat vegan, run, do yoga, try to meditate when the time would allow, but essentially go through the motions of what I thought was healthy living.

And then I would wonder why I wasn’t losing weight. I justified it by saying this to myself repeatedly:

Ah, that’s just muscle being put on. Muscle weighs more than fat.

I am just stressed out right now, so once I get beyond this period, I will be fine. I need to eat like this because it’s how I am coping with my stress.

Apparently, my 5’3″ body is meant to be 160 pounds. Since I can’t lose the weight, that must be my natural set point.

I also didn’t feel better, I was just grumpier for waking up earlier and sweating a bunch with little to no payoff.

Let me be clear and say that weight is not the absolute indicator of health: athletes can be considered overweight and be at peak physical fitness. A person can be a normal weight and be coping with an illness of sorts. Weight can be a symptom of a bigger problem and it can also cause other issues, but looking at weight for whether a person is healthy or not shouldn’t be the only factor. It is just one of the factors.

Through most of my adult life, I was carrying around an additional 20-30 pounds. This extra weight played a negative role in my overall activity level, my mood, my energy levels, and my depression. I firmly believe that these factors exacerbated my MS symptoms. There were days where I would come home after teaching and fall asleep for hours until Ash got home, wherein he’d have to make or order us dinner.

It was always a slog to get any important work done for school and professionally speaking.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had very little motivation to make any positive changes in my life. I would do it in spurts, but those would fade out when I didn’t see immediate results. I had nothing truly motivating me beyond “this is what our culture tells me to do.” It wasn’t enough and therefore I couldn’t stay motivated to continue.

I figured I could never get into peak physical and emotional condition because I just couldn’t. No other reason other than that: I just was not able to be healthy.

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A Month of Gratitude

With Halloween behind us, it’s time to look ahead to Thanksgiving and the whole upcoming holiday season. On Thanksgiving, while I don’t spend a lot of time meditating on things that I am thankful for, I do try to spend a few moments remembering the purpose of the day and express gratitude internally towards my situation. I recognize that I have a lot to be grateful for and I probably don’t spend enough time appreciating all of those elements in my life.

I decided that rather than spend the month discussing things to do around the home and things to do with children for the Thanksgiving holiday, I would use each post to explore some element in my life that I have gratitude. I may have consciously acknowledged this gratitude in the past (internally or externally) or this might be my first time really exploring the topic on a concious-level. It will make for an interesting series of posts that will range from superficial stuff to more complex parts of my life.

The purpose of this month-long exercise will be to increase my awareness for all the stuff in my life that I am and should be grateful about. By doing this, I will be more present in my own life (rather than focusing on the past or what might happen in the future), see increased health benefits, and increase my level of compassion for myself and others. Read about the researched benefits of gratitude here.

I think this will also help get me more into the holiday season as well: these last few years I’ve found it rather difficult to feel gratitude or want to celebrate despite having Jai in my life. I have worked hard this past year to take steps towards self-improvement, so spending some time focusing on the changes I’ve made and appreciating everything about the changes and my life is important to continue forward.

With each post, I will invite readers to take a few moments to find their own elements of gratitude in the same area of their life and either share it in the comments or share it with whoever should hear it.

It will be an interesting journey for November to be sure.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton