There are so many things that make chronic illness tough. The pain, the exhaustion, brain fog. They’re just a few of the physical symptoms that make daily tasks challenging. Then there are the mental frustrations that go along with having these conditions. Being left behind when everyone is moving on with their lives can lead to feelings of defeat. You become angry at yourself and resentful of others.
What has changed for you since being diagnosed? One thing that has drastically changed for me is my level of independence. I enjoyed being able to do things whenever I wanted. Now on symptomatic days, I need assistance getting up to go to the bathroom. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling ashamed that I can no longer complete simple tasks and I regret taking my body for granted in the past.
There are still moments when I look at someone else and wish I was progressing as fast as them. It can be hard to explain to someone why you are not reaching milestones at “normal” stages in your life. This creates a sense of hopelessness. It has taken me several years to be at peace with my progress slowing down.
A diagnosis of a chronic illness does not mean that our goals have to take a backseat. We all have the ability to reach our goals, but we first need to adjust our mindset and stop being too tough on ourselves.
Here are three things you need to remember when you’re feeling stuck –
1. Everyone is running their own race.
I recently finished another semester of college. Unfortunately, I experienced a few obstacles and was not able to graduate this year. All of my friends have graduated and are starting their placements. I’m so happy for them, yet I can’t help but wonder where I would be if I didn’t have a chronic illness. Maybe you’re struggling to keep up with your peers in college too. Or perhaps obstacles are preventing you from reaching your personal or career goals.
You may feel like a bystander, watching your friends and family members easily achieve the same goals or milestones that you’ve been working so hard to reach. What makes it more deflating is that they’re moving on to the next goal without hesitating. Keep in mind that how fast or slow it takes someone to get to a destination is all dependent on circumstances. Move slow and steady. Chronic illness doesn’t mean that you are incapable of ever reaching your goals and completing the race.
2. Move at your own pace.
Stretching yourself too far in a short amount of time can end in hospitalisation. It’s hard not to want to push yourself when you feel like you’re already behind everyone else. You feel like you’re running out of time and may have an urge to grit through the pain and exhaustion to meet your goals quicker. But remember, your goals will take longer to reach if you overextend yourself and end up in a flare that lasts for months. Sit down and set your goals and your timeframes. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty and don’t compare your timelines to others. Progress can be challenging with chronic illness. Celebrate every small accomplishment.
3. Don’t get stuck in a cycle of disappointment, resentment and anger.
When I was first diagnosed, I spent a lot of time resenting people and reflecting on what I could no longer do. I used to get angry at myself. Why couldn’t I do something as simple as taking a shower, walk up some stairs, or open a door?
Here is the best advice my husband has given me when I find myself in these situations. Stop judging yourself according to the standards of people that have the complete ability over their bodies. They don’t have the same physical limitations compared to someone with chronic illness. They are not spending time in rehab or having to spend days, weeks or months in bed, recovering from a flare. Your body is working harder than theirs to reach that goal.
The more time spent in this negative cycle, the harder it will be to get out and move forward. Instead, of ruminating on what you can’t do, focus on what you can get done. It might require a bit of rehab, or extra pre-planning beforehand. Create mini-steps to move towards the larger goal. Crossing off one task a week or a month is still progress.
In the last few years, I’ve had to shift my mindset completely. Taking precautions to avoid burn out was crucial.
Even though people are moving on, it doesn’t mean that I’m not moving forward also. It might be at a slower pace, but eventually, I’ll get there too.
Have you experienced any setbacks? How are you reaching your goals? I’d love to hear your plans in the comments below.