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Managing a Setback – Don’t Be A Bully

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I’m just starting to come out of a fairly substantial crash – again! Although I’m usually pretty good now at staying within my energy envelope, I allowed myself to get complacent about my recent high energy levels and then a couple of unexpected events piled on top of a difficult time hormonally and BOOM! Or should I say BUST!

Like anybody with an illness like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia or Lyme disease, I’m rather familiar with this kind of setback. Over many years of experience with ME/CFS, I’ve developed a comfortable and effective strategy for dealing with it:

  • I let go of everything that I can and imagine myself as being “off sick.” This isn’t everyday chronic illness; it’s an acute episode and needs to be treated differently from the everyday.
  • I rest as much as I can.
  • I accept the low mood that always accompanies this kind of crash, putting it down to changes in brain chemistry. I do my best to avoid finding any other meaning for these low feelings. I let go of any comparisons that crop up into my head and repeat the mantra, “It is as it is.” I let go of any thoughts about what this crash might mean for the future, telling myself I’m too foggy and skewed to make any objective computations; there’s no point in thinking about things until the skewy fog clears.
  • I allow myself to let go of any self-help activities if the only way I can consider doing them is by beating myself up with a stick. I make a decision  to treat myself with kindness; even if I can’t feel that kindness, I know what it looks like, so I do it.
  • I do my best to make myself as comfortable as possible while I wait for the worst to pass.
  • I trust that the worst will pass and a time will come when I have enough energy to easily start investing in things that will move me forward again.

But even when I know that this is a really effective strategy and that I’ve employed it to good effect over and over again, I still get inundated with the nagging doubts!

“Wouldn’t it be better for you if you did a bit of yoga now?”

“Don’t you think you should set your alarm? It will help you regulate your sleep pattern.”

“What if you’re making yourself worse by not moving around enough?”

“Maybe a short walk is just what you need right now.”

Now, all those thoughts can be really helpful when I’m not in a crash, but the feeling of being bullied in the midst of a crash is not helpful. When I sense that what’s being suggested is the last thing I feel like doing right now and instead recognize the pressure I feel as a result of these thoughts, I realize I am being a bully – to myself.

When I recognize my reluctance to cede to this pressurized self-bullying, I remind myself that there is no point in just fighting back. That kind of resistance simply brings more tension into my body – an extra load for it to deal with. First of all, I have to accept and understand that these thoughts are trying to help. It’s understandable to worry about whether we’re doing the right thing for our health when we’ve never been given the formula! Chronic illness, particularly its acute flares, sucks! It’s understandable that we have a strong drive to move away from it. It’s understandable to feel worried about whether or not we’re doing the right thing.

Once I’ve shown myself acceptance and compassion for the drive that is pressuring me, I remind myself that pressure isn’t helpful right now, that in order to get to a place where I have enough energy to invest in self-help, what I most need is to let go of all demands and find a state of peace in which my energy can be directed towards healing. Without the compassionate acknowledgement that the pressured voice is trying help, I just get drawn into an energy draining internal battle:

“You should be doing yoga; no, you need peaceful rest; but yoga will help; but I don’t feel like it; but you’ll never move forward if you don’t invest in it; but I’ve got nothing to invest…”

When I can step back and acknowledge that the pressure is trying to help, I can address it gently: “I know it’s difficult to know what’s best and I know you’re trying to help, but I’m going to choose to trust that by letting go and allowing myself to be at peace with not ‘doing,’ I’ll save the energy that gets wasted being in tension and get to the point when I have that energy to invest sooner.”

Having a strategy for coping with a setback helps, but it’s so important to remember the importance of acceptance and self-compassion to help that strategy run smoothly!

This article was first published on ProHealth.com on April 30, 2018 and was updated on July 7, 2021.


Julie Holliday is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people overcome their challenges and live a great life despite chronic illness. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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By ProHealth-Editor

Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE, the very first full-color, glossy magazine devoted to FM and other invisible illnesses. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, and then for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network.To learn more about Karen, see “Meet Karen Lee Richards.”

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One thought on “Managing a Setback – Don’t Be A Bully”

  1. HEDGEHUGS says:

    brilliantly put –even after 18 years I still need to tell myself and hear this all the time — and am in the middle of a setback right now after a virus and this article is so to the point and has practical pointers in how to handle a relapse –thank you —

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