Reprinted with the kind permission of Lisa Copen
By Lisa Copen
“3-2-1 Happy New Year!” Is it? When that ball dropped in Times Square did you have some New Year’s resolutions all ready to start January second?
I’m going to lose that extra weight
I’ll really save some money this year
I’ll give people more grace
I will exercise on a regular schedule
I will start some good habits
We all start out with the best of intentions but as March 23rd rolls around we reflect on all the ways we’ve already let our goals slide. It’s easy to feel like we are letting ourselves and those we love down.
The concept of setting resolutions is worthy and helpful for most people. When you are chronically ill, however, resolutions can be wearisome and even scary. Most of the time our bodies and our health, therefore our lives, are out of our control. The effects of chronic pain can be devastating if you dwell on it. Though losing five pounds a month seems reasonable, a prescription of medication can quickly add on the pounds, despite our best dieting efforts. Even small goals seem hopeless.
The best explanations for not meeting our resolutions are quite reasonable.
I’m going to exercise more . . . The only real exercise my body can handle is getting into a pool and the water temperature is just too cold at the local indoor pool – - even my doctor says so
I’m going to lose some weight . . . The chronic pain medications I am on make it hard to even maintain my current weight, much less lose it. I’ve been to the dieticians and they just say “quit taking the prednisone” which the doctor says isn’t an option
I’m going to stop spending so much money . . . And then one emergency room visit sets you back two-thousand dollars
So what is the answer?
First, if you didn’t set any goals in January, give yourself a pat on the back. No universal rule has been broken that said you must start your New Year’s goals in January. The month of January is a time for recovery. You’re likely exhausted from the holidays, the travel, or visiting relatives. And most people with illness pack December’s calendar full of doctor’s appointments too, before their health insurance deductibles all start over in the new year. If you’ve managed to survive January without any colds or infections, you’re in the minority. And in most parts of the country the weather alone can make you feel disabled.
Secondly, make some changes without labeling anything a “resolution.” When you go to grab snacks at the store, get items with high fiber, soy, sugar-free, organic, or even those that have immune boosts. Check with a dietician about what some healthy choices would be, taking your illness into consideration. Little changes will eventually add up, and you can have the pleasure of knowing you are working towards your objective.
Thirdly, make a list of some of the things you value and want to strive for. Don’t just say you are going to “save some money” but instead, think about what you really want to save it for. Have you longed to visit a relative but you’ve not been able to afford an airline ticket to go visit? Though saving money to repair your car may not seem like a fun use of that saved money, surely you value your freedom to have your own transportation. Put your list on the refrigerator or your bathroom mirror so you can frequently recall just why it is you are sacrificing those large white chocolate mochas.
Fourthly, partner up with someone else who has a chronic illness where you can share your goals and how your illness impacts them. Illness adds a great deal of stress to our lives all the time. Any changes are intensified because our disease is so uncontrollable. It’s not helpful to have your healthy best-friend say, “Let’s just walk a half a mile today! A little pain means it is working those muscles!” A friend who can say, “I totally understand how hard it is when you’ve lost five pounds and then steroids put it back on in three days,” is a gift. You will be able to keep perspective on the situation. Chronic pain patients who join support groups often report a better quality of life.
Fifth, give yourself a break. Depression and chronic pain go together way too often. When you make a decision that is less than ideal, don’t sweat it! Don’t think of it as a failure, but rather just a less than perfect choice you made for that moment. You will have another sixty-something times in the next month to make the correct decision. Start out by just aiming for making the correct one more than half the time. Skipping that shopping spree or avoiding the drive-thru burger place is a step in the right direction.
Lastly, set goals that are fun too! Stress and illness is draining and not everything in our lives needs to be fixed. There is no better chronic pain relief than adding more joy to your life. Call people you’ve met in the past that you admire and ask them if they would have breakfast with you. Go to the movies each month. And when you meet a step towards your goal, such as cleaning out the closet to become more organized, reward yourself. Go buy a chic new hat that brings out the diva side of you that you’ve been hiding. Living with chronic pain means forcing yourself being silly sometimes.
By having levelheaded expectations about your goals in addition to some compassionate friends, you’ll likely discover that you are one of the few people who have reached a few of those New Year’s goals. And regardless of how many aspirations you didn’t reach, you will definitely have discovered how to live with more joy. You will feel less guilt about what you’ve not been able to do and instead, appreciate all that you are able to accomplish.