By Julie Holliday
Managing a chronic illness well is a full time job. There are so many things that we can do that might result in a little more energy or a little less pain that sometimes we can find ourselves spending all of what we’ve got on the hope of a better tomorrow.
My original success in beating ME/CFS was based on learning how important it is to make the most of the present moment. Of course, if we take this to an extreme, we can easily find ourselves throwing caution to the wind and doing things that we enjoy even though we know we’ll suffer for it later. What we need is balance: a balance between the energy and attention we focus on the things that promise a better tomorrow and the energy and attention we spend on finding ways to enjoy life as it is now.
Being happy despite chronic illness isn’t easy; there are complex skills involved that in healthy life we are rarely pushed to learn. We need to learn to recognise and value small achievements, appreciate the little things in life, embrace gratitude, be present in the here and now, find new ways of looking at the things that regularly get us down and befriend unpleasant emotions. We need to be able to accept ourselves, develop compassion for ourselves, accept help and know that we are deserving and know that we are enough. We need to find new lower energy ways of expressing our love and kindness, lower energy ways of having a fulfilling social life and lower energy ways of having fun and finding laughter.
Many of these happiness skills could serve everybody equally well, illness or not, but with full health it’s easier to rely on the pleasure of highlights and not have to bother learning complex new skills. When chronic illness hits we are faced with the unpleasant fact that we can no longer enjoy those highlights, so we can either wallow in the misery of the injustice of our situation, or we can learn how to make the best of it.
For those of us who were achievement orientated in our previous life, our natural inclination is to apply our determination to do whatever it takes to get better. However, instead of making the most of a bad situation, we’re just pushing to reach a new situation. If we focus all our attention on being better, our day to day experience is one of burden and disappointment.
I do believe that it’s important to invest in things that will give our body the best chance possible to heal itself, but progress will be slow and if we don’t learn how to enjoy the here and now as it is, we are condemning ourselves to a life of misery. And when we are miserable, motivation soon takes a hit, and it becomes hard to keep our health promotion practices going!
Let me tell you a secret…. By focusing on here and now happiness, we are, in fact, investing in a better future at the same time! The happier and more relaxed we are, the less of our energy will be wasted on tension and stress, and the more of our bodies resources will be sent towards repair and healing. Learning how to be happy in the here and now is probably the best investment you can make for a better future!
Julie Holliday, ProHealth's Inspirational Editor, is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people take back control from energy-limiting chronic illness to live a more relaxed, balanced and fulfilling life. Julie loves spending time in nature, growing her own vegetables and spends as much of her day as possible in a comfortable pair of yoga pants. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.