become-ideal-self-with-chronic-illness

Become Your Ideal Self (Despite a Chronic Illness)

I have a bad habit of being repetitive and this blog is no exception. It’s not a bad habit as much as it’s ingrained from my years of teaching. I found that when I explained the same concept several different ways students had a higher chance of understanding and committing it to memory. It was important that they understood a fundamental point, so I wanted to do everything I could to help them. The same goes for this year’s blog theme: you’re here because you want to become your ideal self while dealing with a chronic illness, so I am going to hit similar concepts multiple times.

We have looped back around to working on becoming your ideal self, but this time we are hitting it with self-reflection in mind. I’ve broken down some key concepts I noticed in my own journey for today to help you work towards your personal goals. You’ll see a lot of repetition to previous blog posts and that’s intentional: we’ve been building on concepts this year to make the process easier to manage.

5 “Simple” Steps to Achieve Success

I dislike clickbait articles that say they can solve my problems if I follow specific steps. Life is never something that can break down in a series of steps. Sure, the steps can get you started, but it’s never that simple.

I am basically painting myself into a corner if you saw this particular section header.

The steps I am offering below aren’t actually simple, and they aren’t the limit. There are many, many other steps you’ll need to consider, but these steps are ones that are there to get you started. And when you are on your personal journey, you have to start somewhere.

So what are those steps?

  1. Selfishness
  2. Self-Reflect
  3. Self-Control
  4. Self-Compassion
  5. Self-Assess

Yes, there is a theme. It’s all about yourself. Because it’s a personal journey, it absolutely has to be about yourself.

You may have a wonderful support network, but even in your illness, you are alone. You are alone in your symptoms, you are alone in coping, you are alone in the management. You may have shoulders to cry on, but no one KNOWS your experience. No one KNOWS what you are going through because no one has the perspective you do.

Let’s break each step down a little bit further.

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self-compassion-and-starting-a-personal-growth-journey

Self-Compassion and Starting a Personal Growth Journey

A journey begins with a single step, so the first step is making small, manageable life changes. But all journeys have obstacles, especially at the beginning. This is why self-compassion and a personal growth journey work so well together. Self-compassion will help you manage those obstacles and keep you moving forward.

If you made New Year’s Resolutions it’s around this time you might start to feel the pinch and frustration of those resolutions. I wanted to provide some tips and encouragement to help keep you moving along.

At the Start of Your Journey

It’s important to view yourself at the start of every personal growth journey as inexperienced. This may be your second time wanting to get a better job, or dealing with toxic coworkers in a healthy way or even starting that hobby you’ve been too afraid to try. Regardless of what your goal is, it is important to remember that you are brand new to it, regardless of previous experience.

Remember, like your illness, these sorts of journeys vary from person-to-person. If it was easy for you to make these sorts of changes you would just do it without thinking. So while the same goal for someone else can happen for them without thinking, that goal may feel insurmountable to you; likewise, the same person may feel your mundane, no-big-deal task is too much to handle.

By viewing it as though it’s your first time down this road you won’t bring previous baggage with you. Previously, you applied to get that better job before but found that the market stymied your efforts. Instead of letting that discouragement inform your decision whether or not to apply to the job, leave that experience at the door and view yourself as taking this journey for the first time.

If you’ve ever done something competitive: sports or academics, try to remember how it was for you at the very beginning. Hard, right? I remember when I started running many years back how I could barely sustain a run for more than a minute. It was frustrating. But it took practice to build up and improve.

Every journey is always felt harder at the beginning.

Once you get past the hurdles and look back you may find yourself wondering why you thought it was hard. When I look back at where I was years ago, even as recently as last year when I restarted running, I am surprised at how far I’ve come along. Running a minute is no big deal for me now.

Doubt as an Obstacle

I think doubt tends to be our biggest obstacle at the start of the journey. Have you ever hiked a mountain, gotten to the base of the mountain had one of the two experiences: looking up and seeing how high the mountain is and how far you have to go; or not even seeing the mountain because you are far enough away from it that you can’t see your end goal?

Personal growth journeys function in the same way. Either you see how steep and how far away your goal is, or you are so far away that you can’t even begin to see the end of your journey.

It’s at these points that doubt can settle in and everything feels extremely overwhelming. Can I even make these changes? Will I even accomplish my goals? What happens if I fail? Why do I even think I can do this?

Doubt can stop any forward momentum. But what if you use self-compassion and turn that doubt into a motivator instead?

Doubt as a Motivator

I found that using doubt as a motivator helped me so much. When I started this journey to wellness over a year and a half ago, I thought to myself that this was going to be like every other writing-based endeavor I do. I will write my thoughts for a few months, get everything out and then go back to my life.

I found around November 2017 that my interest and motivation lagging in my blog. I only made three posts in total, which was a drastic drop from my normal three posts per week schedule. I started doubting my abilities after only blogging for a month and a half and resigned myself to another personal failure.

Mid-November 2017, I interacted with a person I’ve had a conflict with in the past. After this interaction, I had a lot of complicated feelings that left me frustrated, but in the more positive moments, I actually listened to what was said and more importantly what wasn’t said.

I saw that this person had a lot of self-doubts which drove our complicated interactions. These self-doubts were also preventing them from following their own dreams, dreams that overlapped my own. Unfortunately, their self-doubt and self-sabotage prevented them from pursuing their dreams beyond a certain point.

I saw this as a motivation to move forward.

I recognized the same obstacles in front of myself and was allowing them to block me too. December 2017 rolled around and I felt renewed because I didn’t let the doubt discourage me anymore. I wanted to use it to motivate me to continue forward and succeed.

I doubted I could maintain the blog and so I used that doubt to challenge myself to continue.

Doubt, when put into proper perspective, can be a great motivator.

Self-Compassion and Personal Growth

By using self-compassion, you’ll find success in your personal growth journey.

When those moments of doubt or any negative thoughts and emotions creep into your life: why am I struggling? Why is it so hard this time? I failed last time, I am going to fail this time… remember that this is a fresh journey for yourself.

Some things to help you with self-compassion:

  • Remembering the freshness of the journey, refocusing your thoughts that this is your first time through this journey and therefore wiping previous experiences away so they don’t color your memory, is an act of self-compassion.
  • Actively say to yourself that you are new to this, therefore must take it easy on yourself. If you accept that you are new to this personal growth journey, you will treat yourself as though you aren’t expected to be perfect.
  • Don’t expect to be perfect on this journey. When you are looking to only succeed and don’t embrace the possibility of failure, i.e. don’t get the first job you apply to, you will focus solely on that failure. Rather, look at the mini-failures as learning opportunities so you can know what to change for next time.
  • Turn perceived obstacles into motivators. I focused on doubt with this post, but there may be another personal obstacle that gets in your way: fear, self-sabotage, or comparison to others. Instead of focusing these on negative points that can help stop your efforts, focus on them as ways to push you forward. Afraid of failure? Push through that to prove to yourself that you won’t fail. Afraid of success? Break it down to small tasks so each small success will prepare you for a larger one.
  • Be gentle and acknowledge that you deserve to achieve this goal. If you want to be a less angry person, or able to ignore toxic people around you in the workplace, remind yourself that you deserve to achieve your goal. Anger can prevent you from growing and receiving new opportunities; toxic people can prevent you from feeling like you are able to go out for better opportunities. There is no reason why you cannot allow yourself to have positive things happen in your life, especially if its a goal you’ve created for yourself.

With a chronic illness, as I’ve said before, these sorts of journeys have a little extra challenge. On Wednesday, I will be discussing how to manage self-compassion while coping with a chronic illness.

Have a personal growth goal for your life? Why not start now with your goals, it doesn’t have to be January 1st. Join my newsletter for weekly posts about how to slowly achieve your long-term personal goals.


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Featured photo credit: Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash


identifying-chronic-illness-roadblocks

Identifying Chronic Illness Roadblocks

Each chronic illness is unique in its own way. If you have MS you know what to expect, but from MS case-to-MS case, what someone experiences is vastly different from someone else. This makes identifying chronic illness roadblocks particularly difficult if you are trying to figure out how to handle them.

I tend to be asymptomatic in a lot of health-related areas in my life. When I get optic neuritis, I get the vision blurring, but I don’t have any of the pain associated with it. Other people may get the vision and pain, while still others may just get the pain but no vision disruptions.

That’s why it’s important to focus on what happens to you in your situations, not what books or healthcare professionals say you should be experiencing.* Only you know yourself best, even if you haven’t taken the time to actively reflect on your illness.

Below are some questions you want to ask yourself and some tips on where to go depending on your responses. Use this post as an exercise in starting a plan for how to identify and manage your chronic illness roadblocks.

Identifying Life Goals

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ve been working on creating some goals for this year. We’ve established 5 major goals to complete for 2019: 1 long-term goal and 4 short-term ones. If you are here to make some changes while coping with a chronic illness, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is a specific goal I have in mind for myself?
  • How will this impact my life? How will it impact it for the better?
  • Is this a major life goal? (i.e. something that will alter my life path significantly)
  • Is this a minor life goal? (i.e. a small change I’ve wanted to make)
  • Is this goal related to my chronic illness and in what way?
  • How might this goal impact my illness postively or negatively?

Identifying Chronic Illness Roadblocks

Each chronic illness has its own set of complications that stick with us on a daily basis. It may be pain, numbness, fatigue, or some other invisible element that only serves to frustrate us. Take a moment to list out your daily symptoms when you are not experiencing an attack. Use the following ideas as prompts. You may need to take a few days being mindful of your schedule in order to accurately respond to the prompts:

  • My average energy level each day between 1 and 10 (“1” being no energy to “10” being on 5 cups of coffee) is:
  • My average pain level each day between 1 and 10 (“1” being no pain to “10” being necessary medical intervention) is:
  • What are my motor abilities on a good day? What are they on a mediocre day? What are they on a bad day (but not during an attack)?
  • How often do I have non-attack “low” days? (these may be days where one or more symptoms seem to be overwhelming)
  • How often do I have “high” days? (these will be days when your “spoon” or “matchbox” might be full)
  • Do my days have a cycle to them? Do I have more energy in the morning or in the afternoon?

Additionally, examine previous attacks brought on by your illness. Answer the following questions as honestly as possible. Contact your healthcare professional if you don’t remember or need clarification to get an accurate answer:

  • What attacks have I experienced in the past?
  • What happens in these attacks most of the time?
  • How long do they typically last?
  • How do I manage them alone? How do I manage them with my healthcare provider?
  • Do I know the source of these attacks? (i.e. if I am under a lot of personal stress am I more likely to experience an attack)
  • If I have a particularly bad attack, how disruptive to my life is it?

Make an active decision to chronicle your next attack. Write down the answers to the following points:

  • What happened just before it started
  • What was the first sign of the attack
  • How long did it go on for and what were the specific symptoms
  • What did you need to do to resolve it
  • What did you feel like after the attack (drained, relieved, etc.)
  • Is there a clear event that triggered it or a collection of factors

Making an effort to chronicle your future attacks will help you begin to recognize when you may be getting close to an attack and help you prevent it from starting or start the process of treating it.

I find that my L’Hermittes sign tends to appear when I am stressed out and goes away when I manage my personal stress levels. It’s a canary in the coal mine for me: if I don’t manage my L’Hermittes Sign and allow it to get more pronounced, then I may find myself in the middle of an even worse attack such as Optic Neuritis or lose limb functionality.

Plan to meet those goals

Once you’ve identified your goals and the chronic illness roadblocks (for “normal” days and attack days), it’s time to set up a plan on how to approach your goals. Look at the lists and examine any overlap or similarities in responses to the lists.

For example, in your personal goals, you may want to do more housework but found that on a normal, non-attack day you typically do not have enough energy by the afternoon.Therefore, you may want to schedule any housework you want to do in the mornings rather than putting it off until the afternoon.

Go through each goal and see how it might be impacted by your daily chronic illness symptoms. Then incorporate your attacks with your plans this year:

  • Do not be afraid of the schedule and to-do list. I realized in the months leading up to 2019 that I really needed to rely more on my planner and to-do lists in order to get everything done. My MS causes memory issues, so if something isn’t written down, it’s unlikely I will remember it.
  • Set up multiple goals that are situation specific. If you find that your attack leaves you bedridden for an indefinite period of time, set up a secondary goal that can be done while in bed. You may want to learn a hobby that allows you to work with your hands, or you might want to do more freelance work on your computer – have that goal take precedence when you are in the middle of an attack.
  • If you get tired at the beginning of the day no matter how well you space out your tasks, then front-load all your plans. Try to keep the amount to a reasonable number that you can achieve every day. Don’t plan for ten things if you can only reasonably complete four. This will prevent discouragement and give you a nice boost when you feel productive.
  • If you find that fatigue gets you and you absolutely must rest in order to continue forward, then plan in a daily nap at a specific time so you can help manage the rest of your day. If you are still working, try to schedule a break during this time to give yourself a few quiet moments.
  • If your attacks are ones that bring you to the hospital for a few days, pack a “go” bag ahead of time. Make sure to fill it with comfort and necessities, but also fill it with some of your smaller goals: easy to transport craft, a book you’ve wanted to read, some other project that you know you’ll be able to work on while recuperating. You won’t be scrambling looking for these items and it brings some control back into the situation.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on managing your roadblocks. The key is, if you plan to meet your goals, despite having the additional roadblocks, you’ll have more success.

Work with the illness, not against it

There is a temptation to either ignore or not factor in an illness when setting up goals. The issue with that is, while not acknowledging the illness might be for personal protection reasons, it’s setting yourself up for failure.

If I choose to ignore that fatigue is a problem for me, particularly after 1pm, then it is unlikely I am organizing my time wisely. If I want to successfully achieve my goals knowing that I need a nap around 1pm, then I will schedule only the important tasks before noon (to allow for some wiggle room). Any task completed after 1pm will be gravy and any task not completed after 1pm will be pushed off until tomorrow.

  • By identifying what is the source of your attacks, you can plan how to prevent or work towards preventing those attacks. It won’t be perfect or 100%, but it might help minimize the attack impact
  • Do not ignore the importance of the attacks. Many attacks can come out of the blue depending on your illness, but some are your body’s way of telling you something important. For me, it is telling me that I am pushing myself too hard and putting myself under unnecessary stress so I need to take a step back.
  • Do not look at an attack as a setback, but as an opportunity to reset and regroup. It might take you out of commission for several weeks or send you in the hospital, but this isn’t something that has to be negative, but turned into a positive: I need to rest and take care of myself, so let me do so in these moments.

Remember, being caring and loving to yourself should be behind all of your personal goals. If you want to make self-improvement goals, you are doing them from a place of wanting to love yourself.

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation

Figure out what motivates you. You might find that checking things off your to-do list motivates you to move forward. You’ve answered the questions why you want to make changes, find ways to actualize these changes in your mind.

If you want to keep sharp by doing some brain exercises, think about how nice it will be to be able to remember something without needing to write it down after doing exercises for a few months. If you want to find a new job because the current one is providing stress that exacerbates your attacks, then when you walk out of your interview should be a point of motivation.

Regardless of what it is that you want to do, maintain your motivation by seeing yourself where you want to be and the doing everything to get there. I found that beating my attacks back sooner than I did in the past as a form of motivation, which may work just as well for you too.

Keep moving forward

Attacks are going to happen. You will experience roadblocks. But how you manage the roadblocks will make all the difference. Always keep a plan in mind when identifying chronic illness roadblocks and making personal changes.

What keeps you moving forward? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


*I am not saying ignore or dismiss your healthcare professionals advice. I am. Please read my disclosure policy for more information.


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Featured photo credit:  Katie Moum on Unsplash


Self-Improvement and being a parent

Self-Improvement and Being a Parent

Type “parenting & self-improvement” in a search engine of choice and you’ll come up with thousands of blogs, articles, and studies on ways to improve your parenting. But what about a separation of the two concepts? Self-Improvement AND being a parent? That’s something I want to examine in today’s post.

For some, it’s because of our kids that we decide to take the time to become a better person. I know that’s what I did. I want to examine the importance of taking the time to focus on ourselves with the end-goal of becoming better parents. Any self-improvement we do for ourselves will help improve our abilities to be a parent for our children.

As I discussed last Monday about happiness, if you want to improve your parenting, consider making the end-goal not about your parenting but about yourself.

Make the Journey About Yourself

Type in “ways to improve parenting” and many of the sites to pop up are ways to be a more active listener, be patient, and take time to get to know your kids. All of these are fantastic suggestions, but hard to sustain if the work behind a lack of listening, patience, or communication isn’t addressed internally.

In this year of wellness, if you are a parent, make the journey about yourself first and not about improving your parenting.

If one of your goals (discussed in last week’s newsletter) this year is to improve parenting, this isn’t me saying you need to reconsider your goals. Rather, I am suggesting that you consider the reasons and alter your perspective before going any further.

If you focus too much on something that will deepen your frustration, if you find that you aren’t meeting your benchmarks, you will get frustrated. Frustration leads to discouragement and possibly giving up before achieving your goals.

Therefore, make this journey first about yourself and about your children second. If you’ve done air travel or seen it in a movie/TV – remember what the flight attendants always say: take care of your oxygen mask first before helping anyone else, specifically your children.

If you aren’t able to help yourself, it’s going to be very hard to help your kids. 

So if a goal is to be a more attentive parent, ask yourself what might be at the root of that? Make the answer to that question your goal for the year. Quick to snap at a child? Focus on your anger or negatively associated feelings with yourself instead of saying “raise my voice less towards my children.”

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