gratitude-for-yourself

Gratitude for Yourself

For the past two Novembers, I’ve spent the month examining gratitude in different ways. I am going to shake things up a bit by talking about gratitude in July. Why? Because it’s important to be grateful for yourself no matter the time of year.

If you don’t know where to begin when trying to love yourself more, try starting with gratitude. I find it’s easier to acknowledge what we are grateful for than what we might like about ourselves. For instance, saying, “I am grateful I can walk today,” might be easier to acknowledge than, “I love how I feel when I buy a stranger coffee.”

It might just be me, but if you struggle to love yourself, give gratitude a try.

What are you Grateful For?

Do you have any ideas about what you might be grateful for in yourself?

If you don’t, that’s okay, we’ll start off simple. Consider that you are alive, it might not be quite what you want, chronic illness or pain, but you are breathing. For each breath you draw, you are given an opportunity. You have unrealized, untapped potential.

I understand it’s trite to start with that, but I think when dealing with a chronic illness, we often forget that life can be worth living and that we should be grateful that we can experience life at this moment, such that it is.

Imagine dealing with your illness fifty years ago. Try one hundred. Now five hundred years. Suddenly, those week-long hospital visits seem less awful because we’re lucky enough to have them. This isn’t minimizing your experience, it’s putting it into perspective.

We live in a time, with medicine being as advanced as it is, that we can be alive. While my MS may not have slowed me down fifty years ago, there’s a chance I’d be blind, lame, and possibly erratic from the brain damage brought on by untreated exacerbations any time earlier than 1919.

Sure, it would be nice to be alive when all chronic illness is cured, so I never had to deal with my MS, but I’ve grown so much because of my illness. I am grateful for my life and to be alive right now. When I say that, I can feel a sense of love flow within for myself.

If that’s too much for you, or you can’t get past the hokey-ness of it all, which I understand, consider something you can do. Maybe it’s a talent you hide from the world, like realistic cat doodles. Or maybe it’s something people know about, your ability to craft a beautiful project without a plan or pattern.

Find something special about yourself that you may overlook, and express a moment of gratitude for it.

Why Gratitude is so Important

Science backs up the importance of expressing gratitude.

In short: we become more open to others and opportunities; we can improve our physical health; it helps us with emotional regulation; it increases our empathy and lowers aggression; we can sleep better when we’re grateful; it improves our self-esteem; and it reduces stress while building up our mental fortitude.

Several of these points are significant in the daily management of a chronic illness: improving our physical, mental, and emotional health; increasing our empathy; helping with sleep; and lowering our stress.

It helps us accept what we cannot control, and give us peace in the face of the uncertain nature of chronic illness. Gratitude, no matter the form it takes, can ease our suffering.

While gratitude will not cure our illness, it might help us with managing it. It’s holistic in nature and complementary treatment to the prescribed drug regimen you have with your healthcare team.

Best part? It’s free.

Gratitude in a Chronic Illness

Practicing gratitude while coping with a chronic illness is a puzzler. How do we engage with a practice of appreciating life when we see others surpass us in health? So many times I feel passed by from peers who have heaps of energy and drive that I struggle with daily.

Knowing that my MS has no specific trajectory also adds to the stress. While it shouldn’t progress to SPMS any time soon, what if it does? And when it does, what then? It’s hard to be grateful when there is so much uncertainty.

As mentioned above, there is a chance to be grateful despite our illness. We are fortunate enough to be alive when medicine can help us, either in managing the illness or make us comfortable.

Another perspective to take is that our illnesses allow us to have a clearer perspective of the world. We are aware of our limitations in ways that others might not be, and we know how far we can push ourselves. We’ve had our dose of adversity, things that used to bother us, might not anymore.

We can view each day without an exacerbation as a gift, something to be celebrated because we know what it looks like when we can’t walk or get out of bed. When we have an exacerbation, we can look at it not as a setback, but as our body telling us we need to slow down and take care of ourselves.

Exacerbations can provide us with the opportunity to try something new, like painting or reading a book or binge-watching a show we’ve been meaning to view. It sucks, for sure, but our gratitude for the slowdown can allow us to see the silver lining while dealing with the symptoms.

It’s important to take this perspective when it comes to our chronic illness: I cannot control it beyond my management regimen. Everyone, healthy or ill, has uncertainty in their lives. Everyone. I have the added benefit of the chronic illness, but it does not differentiate me from others as much as I think. Finding gratitude is not ignoring the illness but accepting that it will not be going away any time soon.

Finally, ask yourself this: if I cannot change my life with the illness, what can I change? The answer is your perspective by being grateful for what you do have and what you can do.


Like this post? Make sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform and show some love by sharing it. Links found below.

Featured photo credit: Canva

Advertisements

being-honest-with-yourself-and-chronic-illness

Being Honest with Yourself and Your Chronic Illness

Self-reflection is worthless if you can’t be honest with your self. Speaking from personal experience, both through observing others and myself, humans are good at over-inflating their sense of importance and perception, and that rarely matches with reality. Add in chronic illness and it widens the gap between perception and reality: it’s easy to not be honest with yourself and how your chronic illness impacts your life. This gap can prevent you from making important life changes.

How so?

There are two ways it will go if you aren’t honest with yourself: one, you set your sights on something without considering your illness and your symptoms will prevent you from achieving that goal; and two, you don’t think you can do something because of your illness and it stops you from trying.

Growing up I had a family member who leaned into their illnesses (some real, many manufactured) to keep themselves from ever achieving their goals. They would get so close and then self-sabotage. Often the excuse was, “I can’t do x because my illness is preventing me from doing so.” Yet, they would be outside pulling weeds for hours at a time with no physical complaints.

They may have been honest with themselves about what they were capable of and weren’t honest with us. That’s a separate issue altogether.

I sincerely believe this family member, if they weren’t honest with themselves, would have taken over a chunk New England with their business. They had so much ambition, energy, and drive that they were the only one preventing themselves from seeing personal success.

It’s important to sit down and be honest with what your abilities are, what they really are, to see what you can do. If you aren’t honest, you will only find yourself discouraged and get in the way of your own success.

Start with Honesty

In the late ’70s/early ’80s, singer Charlene sang about a woman lamenting about the decisions she made in her life. After experiencing life in ways we only dream of, the “speaker” realizes too late that she never experienced the life she truly wanted. “I’ve Never Been to Me,” is one of those sappy songs from a different era (and is rather problematic for a modern audience), but I think the message stands. It’s wonderful to have a “perfect” life on the outside but if you aren’t honest with what you want, you will never find meaningful success.

Admittedly, it’s one of those easy-listening ballads that is very much an emotional guilty pleasure.

We can fantasize about the perfect life because it’s what we think we want, but it may not be what we need. There are things that we think we want in our life, things we think will make us happy – they will be our paradise, and perhaps if we get them, we will be satisfied.

And for a lucky few, that may bring about satisfaction. Winning the lottery may solve our money problems, but there usually is a whole host of other issues that pop up we don’t think about that spoils our happiness. What if our paradise is something more ordinary that we aren’t willing to admit to ourselves? That’s where you have to get to a place of personal honesty with yourself.

The Problematic Lie

Have you ever tried to lose weight through counting calories?

How successful were you? If you found success immediately, you may not be able to identify with what I am about to tell you. If you weren’t successful, you already know where this is going.

Even to this day, I struggle to lose weight via rigorous calorie counting. The idea is this: I am given a set amount of calories I can consume in a day. That number can go up if I exercise or stay the same if I do not. This set of calories will be just enough to keep my body sustained and healthy but allow it to lose weight over a specific period of time.

Simple, right?

Well, if you are like me, no. It isn’t simple and this is why: I lie. I lie to my calorie counting apps and more importantly, I lie to myself.

I will fudge the numbers a bit. I may count one less strawberry or inaccurate “estimate” my food amounts. I may overestimate the exact amount of exercise I do. And what happens when I do this? I don’t lose weight.

Why? Because I am lying to myself about what I am doing. Sometimes it’s intentional and other times it was to justify that extra late night sweet. But when I actually became honest with myself and what I was doing, I found I lost the weight.

This is just a lengthy way of saying, if you are lying to yourself about what you can and can’t do, i.e. I can’t do something because of x, then you are only hurting yourself. Or if you think you can do something, but you haven’t really self-assessed, you’ll only get frustrated.

Lying to yourself is problematic and will lead to you not finding success in what you want to do for personal wellness.

Being Honest with Yourself and Your Chronic Illness

The short answer to this post is: be honest with yourself. Be frank with your chronic illness. Be straightforward with your abilities. And finally, be realistic with your personal goals.

Yes, your illness may have taken away your mobility. You may not be spry like you once were. But has it completely prevented you from trying something new? Have you had to learn how to adjust to manage the illness? So why not adjust to try some dream of yours.

I’ve said this at least one other time on the blog: I wanted to be a writer since I was a child. I wanted to write fiction novels like Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, so when Ash pointed out that I was writing for a living I didn’t believe him. I assumed my MS would prevent me from putting a cohesive novel together, but he was right. I’ve achieved my childhood dream, it just did not take the form I expected.

Who is to say that I don’t eventually write a fiction novel of sorts?

The point is, my MS did not prevent me from achieving my dreams. I had to be honest with what I was able to do and what I did to find success in some capacity.

If you’ve been easily discouraged in your goals or found that you never complete your resolutions, consider taking a few moments to ask yourself: have I been honest with myself and my abilities? Have the goals I created unreasonable for me to attain at this point (if ever)? Have I used my illness as an excuse to prevent me from making some type of change? Why is that?

Just take a few moments to sit down and see what answers you come up with, then loop back around to my self-reflection posts from last week. See what answers you come up with and where they might take you.


Like this post? Make sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform and show some love by sharing it. Links found below.

Featured photo credit: Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash


self-reflection-with-chronic-illness

Self-Reflection with a Chronic Illness

My self-reflection journey had two significant steps: step one, reflecting on life immediately after receiving my diagnosis; and step two, reflecting on life after Jai’s birth. You could say that I am in the middle of step three because self-reflection with a chronic illness is a lifelong exercise. I am a firm believer that self-reflection should be a lifelong practice regardless of your health. It keeps us moving forward and prevents becoming stagnant.

Today’s post is about the answers I came up with when I looked at my life just after my diagnosis up until now. Like with Monday’s post, I will end with some questions to ask about your current situation.

Post-Diagnosis; Pre-Health Minded

I have discussed this period of my life a few times on the blog.

After my diagnosis, I was in not in a healthy emotional place. I grieved the loss of my “old life,” such that it was. I tried to process the physical betrayal I felt, the uncertainty of my future, and why I felt like life just hated me. Despite that, or perhaps to help cope with it, I did self-reflect a little bit about my life and MS.

A thought I kept coming back to was my mortality and what that might look like. While MS is unique to everyone, the only example I had in my life was Annette Funicello. I swore that my health trajectory would take me to a place where I would be trapped in my body like her. I told those close to me that I was convinced my RRMS would progress to SPMS by the time I was forty, just eight years away at the time.

I was in a weird space of fighting the progression of my disease, but also just accepting what was happening. Part of my anger and self-loathing I had at the time led me to just want to give in and let MS kill me. But I also wanted to fight MS and get healthier. Torn between the two extremes I got stuck in a holding pattern for several years.

I did make an effort, if you could call it that, by speaking with my neurologist about disease management through healthy living, but I didn’t make any of the changes I told him I would. Thankfully, he was patient with me to wait until I was ready to get onto a drug regimen to manage my MS.

Once on Copaxone and later Tecfidera, I managed my flare-ups. Any exacerbations I got tended to be mild compared to the ones I got off medication. I was still super stressed, not exercising, not eating well, and not feeling good. The medication worked overtime.

2014. Hampstead Heath, London, UK. I was on Copaxone at the time, but unmotivated to take care of myself. I tried several months before to live “healthy” for a while, but failed to actually do anything.
Read More

difficulties-in-self-reflection

The Difficulties in Self-Reflection

A wellness journey is no different from a physical one: the path will get difficult, overgrown, washed out, detoured, and sometimes disappear. Through perseverance, we find the path again or overcome the difficulties encountered in the journey. Self-reflection functions as rocky terrain: it requires heavy emotional lifting that bogs you down and hinders forward movement. If you are training yourself to meet your personal goals, the resistence builds you up to tackles the next stage in your life’s journey.

It’s April, and you may have dropped any idea of completing your New Year’s Resolutions but know that you can still make those goals. The “New Year” is just a date, and it’s always a good time to get started on your life goals. For the sake of your own wellbeing, consider taking the next couple of weeks (in blog posts) to self-reflect even if you’ve decided to completely reject your goals.

What’s Ahead: the Difficulties in Self-Reflection

What should you expect in the next two weeks of posts?

I will be using the lens of self-reflection to review three parts of my life: pre-diagnosis, during the diagnosis process, and post-diagnosis. Within these posts, I will provide exercises for you to reflect on the same moments you encountered in your journey.

The goal will be to see where you were, where you are, and where you are going in your life as it is. Think of it as the famous Christmas story: we’ll be visiting three “ghosts” in our lives to see how we can change our current life’s trajectory.

The tough part is the level of honesty required. When self-reflecting, it’s easy to rationalize certain thoughts and behaviors rather than being honest.

I am not able to get a certain task done because I am too overwhelmed. My illness prevents me from achieving a professional goal. When I am in a better emotional place, I can finally learn that hobby I’m interested in.

The truth is this: you have to be honest about why you are not getting a task done and why you feel overwhelmed. Is it because you don’t actually want to get it done or completing the job makes you feel worse than avoiding it? Is your illness actually preventing you from achieving your professional goal or are you using it as an excuse to justify mediocre work?

I know that sounds harsh, but the truth we avoid is the one that holds us back from achieving our goals. With the next set of posts, I will ask you to be honest with yourself, so let us acknoledge the frustrating nature of self-reflection.

Remember Self-Compassion

Back in February, I discussed the importance of self-compassion. As you reflect, remember to be compassionate with yourself as you begin to uncover your truth.

A quick refresher: self-compassion is being kind to yourself in the same way you would be sympathetic to a friend or loved one. Imagine a friend approaches you with the same fears, concerns, and scenarios you are experiencing. What comfort or advice would you provide them? Take that same advice and apply it to yourself.

Remember to take it easy on yourself, be kind when you hit a roadblock, but find a healthy and workable detour.

Taking a Much Needed Break

While we will be moving forward with working towards our goals, be okay with needing to take a step back. If you need to take a break, there is nothing wrong with giving yourself the time. The process it took to get to your current state didn’t happen overnight, nor will the process to get out of it.

Engage with self-care, go out and do something for yourself. Take yourself out on a date. Honor what your mind and body tell you. Just remember to re-engage with the wellness process, even if you don’t want to. There’s a difference between taking a break and avoiding the issue altogether.

Self-reflection is like any sort of physical exercise. Sometimes you have to push a little harder when it hurts in order to achieve your desired results. Like with exercise, be sure to do it in a safe manner to prevent causing harm.

Consider Outside Help

Because I am not a medical professional, any advice I give in my posts may not fit you. Consider reaching to an outside source if you think your self-reflection will take you down a problematic emotional path. Sometimes the things we discover ourselves are upsetting, or memories/emotions come up that are too much to handle alone.

If you aren’t in therapy but think you need the outside help, consider finding someone. There are many options available, including reputable apps, so finding the right fit is easier no matter the location. While I haven’t tried one for myself, these are ideal if your chronic illness affects your mobility.

If you don’t think therapy will work for you, but you have someone in your life whom you can speak with, approach them to see if they would be willing to help as you self-reflect.

Asking for help is not a weakness, it’s recognizing the current life-load temporarily requires a helping hand. We are social creatures, so doubtless you will find someone who wants to help see you through this journey.

If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my weekly newsletter so you can get more information on this year’s wellness journey.


Like this post? Make sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform and show some love by sharing it. Links found below.

Featured photo credit: Canva.com


stress-and-ms

Stress and MS



Stress and MS.

These two go hand-in-hand. Without one, you wouldn’t get the other. Stress is a universal problem, something everyone deals with at some point in their life. Sometimes it is good, it motivates us to push through a problem for a solution. Other times it can hinder us and negatively impact our health.

I’ve talked about stress multiple times on the blog, but I knew that for MS Awareness month it deserved its own post. Stress plays such a big role in coping with MS, that for some of us, it induce our initial symptoms.

What is Stress?

Experts talk about stress on the morning talk shows. We complain to friends about it. Universally, we know and understand stress. But physiologically, what is stress and how does it affect someone who isn’t suffering from MS?

Stress is the body’s response to changes in mental, emotional, or physical changes. While the body is designed to handle stress, too much can trigger a negative physical reaction. If enduring a period of long and extreme stress, you are more likely to get sick. Your body starts to work against itself: ulcers, headaches, depression, anxiety/panic attacks to name some conditions induced by stress.

But it’s not always a bad thing.

Stress as a Positive

I firmly believe in good and bad stress. I thrive on positive stress: working on an important personal project and working up to the deadline to complete it.

Stress is one of the main drivers to get me to write as much as I do for the blog. It keeps me on track and keeps me posting.

I find that it’s such a major motivator in my life: I am freaking out to complete something, but I feel so productive once it’s accomplished. Turns out that “good” stress is a thing: it’s also known as eustress. Eustress we know we can handle and it’s usually short-term. It’s not necessarily easy to handle, but it’s manageable and can be used to drive us forward.

It’s what helps make an effort towards self-improvement.

Stress as a Negative

When we think about stress, it’s usually negative. It’s what causes us to freeze and feel burnt out. It’s hard to work through and can leave us feeling tense and angry.

This sort of stress is the kind that shortens your lifespan. It’s the kind that you have very little control over. When life throws hurdle after hurdle at you, and there’s no way to get out from underneath it, it’s this form of “distress” we experience.

This distress is where morning shows stake their segments upon. We buy books, browse blogs, pin ideas, and take classes all trying to cope with the distress we experience. We want to get rid of it because of how uncomfortable and miserable it makes us feel.

Unfortunately, we have very little control over when it ends and what it does in our lives.

Stress and MS

I spoke with my neurologist a year or so into my diagnosis and mentioned a potentially stressful situation. I asked him about how this situation would impact my health and my MS.

“Negatively,” was his response, “ask [those involved] to knock it off and do you want a prescription to give them?”

We had a good laugh over the absurdity of doing such a thing, but it got me to thinking. I was still in the middle of a stressful situation with graduate school and I wondered if it was contributing to some of the “secondary” MS symptoms I experienced: memory fog and fatigue.

I was not wrong: stress does lead to flare-ups. Curious enough, having MS (or any chronic illness) can cause stress too. It turns into a vicious cycle: you worry about the disease, the disease acts up, which stresses you out even more.

Exacerbations Induced by Stress

This study, published in 2004, looked at all the studies associated with MS, stress, and exacerbations over the period of thirty-eight years. They found a connection between stress that increases the chances of exacerbations with those diagnosed with MS.

If you have MS and found that your exacerbations or just your normal symptoms get worse when coping with a stressful situation, you aren’t imagining it. I personally found relief in knowing that managing my stress was a way to lower my chances of getting an exacerbation.

I understand that I am in a unique position to be able to manage my disease to lower my chances of an exacerbation. Not all people with MS are able to do so, if at all. There are days where stress gets close to causing an exacerbation, but I am able to recognize what is happening to help slow everything down to avoid it.

The Emotional Toll

Anecdotally, I can say for certain that extremely stressful situations, particularly relating to my personal life, increases my chances of getting an exacerbation. I was shocked at how quickly a flare-up appeared when I was in the middle of an extremely stressful moment and my arm started to go numb. Normally, I wake up with the exacerbation. It doesn’t literally happen before my eyes.

Thankfully, when I resolved the situation, the numbness went away within a day.

What’s most annoying about stress is that I have to plan my life around it. I have to take it into consideration when making major decisions. Will this freak me out? Will this bring on an exacerbation?

As I mentioned in my posts about toxic relationships, I’ve had to learn to be okay with cutting toxic people out of my life because of the problems the relationship induces. It’s discouraging when I have to manage relationships for my MS because there’s always this fear of lacking compassion on my part.

I’ve had to learn how to deal with feeling selfish which is always an uncomfortable place to be in.

Managing my stress is emotionally draining and stressful in itself. Later this week, I will discuss how exactly I manage it. Hint: self-compassion is involved along with learning to no longer care.


Like this post? Make sure to follow me on your favorite social media platform and show some love by sharing it. Links found below.

Featured photo credit: Leah Kelley from Pexels