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Managing a Setback – Don’t Be A Bully

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:

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 [1], Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter [2] and Facebook [3].