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Belief, Positivity, and Chronic Illness

“Embrace the power of positive thinking!” We hear that all the time when we endure a health crisis, a rut, or embark on a wellness journey. We are told if we want to change our mindset or become healthier, we need to shift our thinking to be positive. It’s something I frequently promote on the blog. But that isn’t possible with a chronic illness. Sometimes we need a little extra help.

Can positive thinking help you manage your illness? What if you are feeling particularly low on positivity?

This is where a higher power or greater cause can step in to help. Belief comes from the same place in our brains, whether it’s religious or not. Having strong beliefs, no matter the source, helps us create a sense of community and support when we find others who are similar. Prayer or meditative practices can help quell darker emotions that arise in illness.

Depending on your perspective and your practices, it’s effortless to slip in positive thinking. You just have to use what you already know to work with you, rather than against you.

Positivity, Meditation, and Prayer

Nature works against us when we want to sit down and focus on the positive. Geared towards survival, we get caught in the negativity to help keep us safe. Yet, negative thinking causes so much mental and physical harm. We no longer need it to survive, yet it still follows us around.

Belief can help us ward off negative thoughts. If you have a higher power, you can engage in your practices to find comfort in the routine and tradition. If you don’t have a higher power, you can participate in relaxation/self-care exercises to help set your mind at ease.

Regardless of your background, when you want to start engaging in positive thinking, there are tools available to you. If you are religious, look into your texts, and any devotionals explicitly created for comfort. If you aren’t religious, there are a lot of secular and science-based books available to get you started.

Seek out someone more knowledgeable too: a leader in your community, life coach, or counselor. They can give you text, tools, and mantras equivalent to meditation or prayer.

Prayer, or self-reflection, help bring comfort to the practitioners. It can take the edge off of emotions, help you collect your thoughts, and self-soothe. Most importantly, it can give us a break we need to refocus our thoughts to be objective. While coping with a chronic illness, we sometimes sink into darkness and crisis. Prayer/meditation grants our brains the break we need to help see beyond the darkness.

If you have a higher power, you might hear them speak to you with words of comfort. If you don’t, you might gain a similar moment of peace while meditating. These practices serve as a wonderful means to distract us from our despair.

Is it Helpful?

Finding a sense of direction within your personal philosophy should always be helpful. Your belief system (of any kind) needs to bring you comfort, not additional stress. If you find that you aren’t getting the support you need, figure out what’s going on. You may need to re-examine your beliefs to see why it’s not fulfilling your needs.

When you are in a time of personal crisis, such as a diagnosis or exacerbation, you want something to draw your strength upon.

I found as I grew older that the philosophy I used as a child no longer worked or brought me comfort. It only brought anger and resentment. I needed to look elsewhere to draw support as I dealt with my MS and settled on one that I dabbled in since I was a teenager. It took me a long time to feel okay with this switch, but it was more important to care for my mental health than anything else.

If your philosophy works for you and brings you comfort, continue to find ways to keep it working for you. If not, then speak with someone objective: they might be able to healthfully redirect you to materials to help you reaffirm your beliefs. Examination and reflection is essential no matter your faith, or non-belief.

Keep trudging forward as you deal with your illness and continue to draw sources of strength close to you as a means of help.


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Featured photo credit: Canva

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Learning to Manage Expectations

Learn to manage your expectations.

It’s one of the first things your healthcare specialist says to you after receiving your diagnosis. While my neurologist never explicitly said it to me, it’s implied. Granted, they have high expectations for my wellness, often higher than I had for myself. But when I was in the hospital, pre-diagnosis, that was one of the first things the hospital neurologist said to me in response to my health concerns.

Whether it’s been said or not, it’s something we learn quickly with a chronic illness. We must manage our expectations because we have no choice.

For many of us, we have the following expectations in life: we’ll be healthy, achieve personally, and go far professionally. Often these expectations get scrapped in favor of coping with a chronic illness diagnosis. We might have pain to manage that prevents certain exercises. Our fatigue gets to be too much that we cannot do the same personal tasks we once did. Or our workplace can only accommodate our illness so much before we see colleagues surpassing us.

The expectations we once had slip away and we feel nothing but discouragement. But do we have to let those expectations go?

John Gary Bishop says in Unf*ck Yourself that we should “expect nothing, but accept everything.” It’s perhaps the healthier way to approach the “manage your expectations” conversation. We should scrap all the expectations we have for ourselves and accept whatever life sends our way with an open mind.

This refers to the positive and negative expectations we place upon ourselves.

Why We Set Expectations

Why do we even set expectations in the first place?

In childhood, expectations are placed upon us and for us. Parents might expect us to take on a level of responsibility around the house, or they might share their desire to see us succeed when we become adults. We extrapolate this external expectation and internalize it for what we think we’re capable of doing. Expectations drive our dreams and our desire for achievements.

But rarely are limits placed on these expectations, and as a child, why should it be limited? We imagine being firefighters, doctors, and presidents as our career goals, not wanting to pick between the three. We expected to achieve anything, especially when told we can be whatever we want when we grow up.

Illness or not, we learn quickly that there are limits to our expectations. Not all of us will get into an Ivy League school. We will have to choose between a firefighter, doctor, and president for a career, if only to pick one to focus on at a time.

Life will not work out the way we expected. And then we get our diagnosis.

The Problem with Expectations

The obvious problem with expectations, at least at first, is that we are often unprepared for the letdown. When we don’t achieve the way we expected, it can feel like a failure. For some, that can lead us to shutdown and get stuck.

When we set expectations early in life and achieve them, it’s often viewed as a good thing. Rightly so, you set a path for yourself and achieved your goal. Rich Karlgaard writes about the problematic relationship Western culture has with early bloomers in his book Late Bloomers. Western culture is so hyper-obsessed with the Mark Zuckerbergs, Elizabeth Holmes, and Malala Yousafzais, that it overlooks those who quietly grind away to achieve their success later in life (30s and beyond).

Because there’s an intense expectation for early success, often when we leave high school or college without making some “30 under 30” list, there’s a feeling of panic. This can bring our personal expectations down, or cause us to stall out for a few years.

This is one problem with societal expectations: we misplace expectations on people who may not be emotionally mature to handle the pressure (for reference: Elizabeth Holmes, Martin Shkreli). When young people are pushed to succeed early, they forget that a window does not close as soon as they turn twenty-five. That window for success stays open their entire lives.

If you are alive, you still have the chance to bloom and succeed.

The second problem referenced in Karlgaard’s book is that early bloomers do not know how to handle failure in the same way late bloomers do. When you are a late bloomer, you get used to “failure;” you get used viewing it not as a failure but as a learning experience. Late bloomers are better equipped with managing their expectations.

Learning to Manage Expectations

In life, there are two sets of expectations: “positive” and “negative” ones. This is a false binary, but I am going to use it for clarity sake. Positive expectations are the goals we set for ourselves that we want to achieve. Negative expectations are the times we don’t believe we can achieve it.

At the time we receive our diagnosis, we might drop our positive expectations: career, family, personal goals; and replace them with negative expectations: lack of mobility, exacerbations, and limitations.

For example: before my diagnosis, I intended to become a University professor. After my diagnosis, I dragged my feet because I assumed I wouldn’t be able to handle the rigorous testing due to memory issues. I replaced a positive expectation, “career goals,” with a negative one, “my memory prevents me from achieving.”

If you are like me, a late-bloomer, hopefully you know how to handle disappointment and also view perceived failures as learning experiences. Transfer that awareness to how you view your illness: manage your expectations away from the negative reasoning of “I can’t do this,” to positive “why not try it anyway?”

Often after a diagnosis, we work our way through grieving for our health. It’s a healthy and necessary process, but sometimes we decide to get stuck on the negative thinking. It’s easy to look at all we think we can’t do, rather than focus on what we can do.

But you might surprise yourself if you take a moment to release the expectations you place on yourself. Yes, you may be struggling to walk or get out of bed today because you physically cannot do so, but does that mean you should indulge in the negative expectations of what you can’t do?

No.

There was a time after my diagnosis where I didn’t think I could run or do anything active due to numbness and fatigue. I was in a negative expectation mindset. I actively decided to remove all expectations on myself and said, I can do something. It won’t look the same as a person without an autoimmune diagnosis, but it will be something.

The moment I removed all my expectations (negative and positive), I found I was able to achieve.

I actually found I went farther than before my diagnosis because I removed all expectations I placed upon myself and my abilities. Even when I was “healthy” I had numerous expectations that prevented me from achieving.

This is because when we manage our expectations by removing them, we remove the mental obstacles that prevent us from attempting in the first place. We go out and attempt to achieve without thinking about the limitations we might have. We may still stumble, but it isn’t a failure as much as it’s a learning experience.

If you were an early bloomer, this is your opportunity to bloom once again. Or, as it is in my case, my chance to bloom later in life.


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Self-Compassion and Chronic Illness

I’ve spoken about self-compassion on the MS Mommy Blog before and what a positive impact it’s had for me as a personal coping tool. When I first read Dr. Kristen Neff’s book, Self- Compassion, I fell in love with the concept as a life philosophy. I recognized that self-compassion and chronic illness go hand-in-hand, and should be recommended by our healthcare professionals as part of our disease management regimen. It’s easy for us to get self-critical when trying to manage our illness that we don’t remember that part of our care should be loving ourselves no matter how “broken” we might feel.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is exactly what it sounds like: taking compassion (i.e. understanding and empathy) and turning it inward. Practicing compassion for ourselves is the first step of successfully being compassionate towards others. If we can love and care for ourselves, we are able to extend that love to others in our life.

Self-compassion is about forgiving ourselves even when we don’t need to: sometimes we take on responsibilities when it’s not warranted. I know I’ve mentally beat myself up over perceived missteps and learned to “forgive” myself so I could move forward mentally and emotionally.

As humans, we suffer. It might as well be the third absolute truth of life: death, taxes, and suffering.

So when we engage in compassion, we are recognizing the suffering and do what we can to help mitigate it for others. Sometimes helping others who are suffering dampens our own suffering, but the caretaker tends to be the one in most need of care.

Treat Ourselves as We’d Treat Others

There’s the golden rule we’re taught as children: treat others as you would want them to treat us. I think we forget that if we don’t’ treat ourselves well, how can we expect others to treat us well?

I know that if I don’t think very highly of myself, I  prone to let others take advantage and bully me. I feel like I deserve it, even if it makes me angry and I lash out in response. Once I began to say to myself: “no, I don’t deserve this treatment,” I found that the negative relationships went away.

And I felt better about myself for it.

Meaningful life changes come when we acknowledge our own importance in the world, something that is hard to do if we’re conditioned to feel unimportant. When we treat ourselves well,  we’ll be able to treat others well.

Tell yourself that you are worthy of your love and see how that alters your perspective.

Self-Compassion and Chronic Illness

So what does self-compassion have to do with chronic illness?

As I’ve previously mentioned in the blog, it’s easy to beat ourselves up and feel massive amounts of disappointment over something we cannot control: our health. Refocusing our anger and frustration to loving and caring for ourselves when we cannot control the situation is a better use of our emotional energy.

If your chronic illness is like mine, undue emotional stress, especially when controllable, leads to attacks. Rather than engaging in the behaviors that put me at risk for an attack, I reject the desire to blame myself and choose to love myself is a means of managing my disease.

An Invaluable Tool for Life

If you don’t have a chronic illness impacting your day-to-day life, engaging in self-compassion is a wonderful way to healthfully handle all that life throws at you. I have found that it’s a tool I wish I used more prior to my diagnosis. My overall satisfaction level with my life is up, which is something I could not say seven years ago.

Looking forward this month, the blog will discuss more in-depth the importance of self-compassion, ways to remember to use it, and reviewing the book Dr. Kristen Neff’s book that started me on this journey.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


Final Thoughts: Home Life and Early Childhood Education

August was a fun and interesting month.

I did a lot of heavy lifting this month with my writing: talking about toxic friendships and how I dealt with them, and the importance of teaching toddler’s life lessons. I am ready for a three day weekend after all this writing!

I enjoyed the research I did for literacy and reading Peter Gray’s book Free to LearnI hope if you haven’t had a chance to yet, that you can check out the printables I made for cleaning and scheduling. I still need to make some tweaks to my daily schedule, but I am almost to a great place in my personal productivity.

I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful weekend and here’s to the first month of the fall, September! Can you smell the pumpkin spice already?


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Featured illustration credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Cleaning & Schedule Printables

Wrapping up this week on schedules, I wanted to share some printables I created for our household to help effectively manage our time. I threw in an extra bonus printable for the bloggers among us: how I try to schedule my blog work.

Cleaning Printables

Read the corresponding post here.

Daily Cleaning Schedule: There are tasks that need to be completed all the time, so I broke it down so there would be a room/cleaning task to be completed each day of the week. This prevents spending all day cleaning the entire house but maintains the house a little at a time. For example: every Monday, I clean the kitchen in the afternoon, so I wrote it down in the corresponding spot.

Monthly Cleaning Schedule: Just like the “Daily Cleaning Schedule” there are certain tasks that need to be completed throughout the month, but not every week. I scheduled a deeper clean of the bathroom every second Sunday of the month for example (versus a quick wipe-down of the high-traffic areas).

Month-to-Month Cleaning Schedule: This is where I get a little over-planning: I break down the tasks that need to happen each month throughout the year. These are more general nature, but I like reminders that every March and October there’s a local electronics recycling drop off one day on the weekend. By placing this reminder in the corresponding month, it allows me to check to find the actual date. I also put down what decorations I want to put up and when I want to take them down for the household.

Daily Schedule Printables

Read the corresponding post here.

Daily Agenda (Personal): I broke it down with the top priorities for the day and kept a loose agenda rather than writing out all the times (some days there just isn’t much to do). I also provided a space for tasks that carried over from the day before, additional to-do’s, and a “to buy” list because I am always needing to remember to purchase something.

Daily Blog Schedule: This is only one page in my expansive printable I created for my daily blog schedule. I will probably devote a whole post to this printable some time in the future, but I wanted to share a general page for those looking to start organizing their blogging. I try to put in the daily reminders/to-dos along with collaborative workspace. The schedule has a dual work area for blocking out time to work on the blog next to personal activities/requirements.

Please let me know what you think about these printables in the comments below. If you choose to use them, make sure to credit me and do not redistribute without my permission. Contact me here if you would like to make a request.


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