We live in a society that teaches us that unless we are pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone, constantly striving to do more, we are not embracing life or living to our full potential.
But how does this expectation affect people whose lives are already filled with the daily challenges that accompany a chronic illness like ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) ?
Pushing Past the Limits When You Have a Chronic Illness
I decided to take a few minutes to contemplate the reasoning behind my need to push myself. Why do I feel unworthy if I’m not constantly striving to better myself? Where does this compulsion to challenge my limitations, at the cost of my health, come from?
A recent conversation with a friend came to mind:
A good friend of mine was telling me about two job offers she had. She felt the need to justify the decision she had made. One job was very similar to the work she had been doing for years, and she’s damn good at her job. The other was more challenging and would take her outside her comfort zone. Neither job was better or worse than the other. This is what she said about her decision; “I know I took the easy road, but…”
She said it in a negative way, like she had to justify not pushing herself beyond what she felt comfortable with. But why should she, or any of us for that matter, feel guilty about making a decision that makes our lives a little easier? Why should we feel the need to constantly challenge ourselves to prove our self-worth? Who dictated that life had to be so tough?
The truth is society expects us to constantly challenge ourselves. We are bombarded by this message on a daily basis. We are encouraged to constantly push ourselves beyond our comfort zone; and we are made to feel like we are wasting our life, or just plain lazy, if we don’t conform.
These messages are hard enough to deal with for the healthy, but when you live with chronic illness or mental ill-health they can be even more damaging.
When I was received an ME/CFS diagnosis , after being unwell for many years, I still felt unable to rest and give my body the time it needed to heal. I felt like I had to push myself to prove I was worthy––to strive to achieve the most from every day. Looking back, I can see how this pushing and striving caused my health to continue to deteriorate even after diagnosis.
The Unhealthy Messages
Exactly what messages are we being encouraged to conform to? Here are a few motivational quotes I found online. There are hundreds more I could have included.
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- Do one thing everyday that scares you
- If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you
- Great things never came from comfort zones
- The harder you work for something, the greater you feel when you achieve it
- Scared?, good. We don’t grow when we stay inside our comfort zone
- You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days you feel good
- Become the hardest working person you know
- Life begins at the end of your comfort zone
- Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage
- Push yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you
- Don’t take the easy road
But These messages can be damaging to someone living with a chronic illness. And, people with chronic illness often live within a carefully orchestrated routine; a routine we have created for ourselves that allows us to function without aggravating our symptoms  too much. It allows us to live within our limitations. This routine may be considered our “comfort zone.”
But it’s quite common amongst spoonies that every once in a while we challenge our limitations. It’s like we forget how bad things get when we do too much. Or we feel guilty about not doing more, and the pressure gets too much––pushed along by society’s expectations and the messages we’re being force fed.
Constantly being bombarded by these messages can be damaging to us, both mentally and physically. We can feel like a failure when we can’t meet up to society’s expectations, but pushing leads to a worsening of our symptoms and takes precious time away from our ME/CFS treatments .
What’s so wrong with the “easy road” or living in our “comfort zone”? Why should we have to constantly push ourselves? Why do we have to take the hard route in life? Haven’t we got enough to deal with? And who decided life had to be so tough? Who says we constantly have to push to prove ourselves as worthy?
Rather than constantly pushing ourselves, can we not just accept how things are right now––how we are, right now?
Constructive Motivational Quotes for People with ME/CFS
Instead of these often damaging messages, I propose an approach that embraces chronic life with all its challenges. Here are a few of my favourite quotes;
- Relax. You are enough. You do enough
- Life is too short to spend it at war with yourself
- Resting when tired isn’t lazy, it’s self-care
- Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is rest
- Just take it one day at a time
- If your compassion does not include yourself then it is incomplete
- Your self-worth is not measured by your productivity
- Forward is still forward, no matter how slow
- Breathe extra deep, let go, and just live right now in the moment.
- In a society that profits from your self doubt, loving yourself is a rebellious act.
- Don’t feel guilty for doing what’s best for you.
- Just breathe. You don’t have to figure it all out today
It’s Ok to Live Within Your Comfort Zone
The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past few years, is to respect my body rather than fight it. To accept my limitations rather than push my body beyond its limits. To acknowledge that my self–worth is not determined by my productivity. That it’s perfectly ok, and beneficial for my health, to live within my comfort zone. It was only when I accepted this new message, that my health started to improve.
Of course it’s beneficial to set goals. Setting and achieving these goals can give us purpose and the sense of accomplishment––but not at the detriment of our health.
So please try not be pressured by these often damaging messages. You don’t have to be constantly pushing yourself to prove your self–worth. You have enough to contend with. You don’t have to be challenging yourself everyday, finding enjoyment and happiness is much more important. Whatever message society is sending us, I’m here to say: Life doesn’t have to be this tough. Go easy on yourself. Whatever you do today, let it be enough.
Jo Moss is a 43 year old ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Mental health awareness campaigner. She has battled with poor health all her life but has learnt a lot along the way. She uses her blog ‘A Journey through the Fog’  to try to help others who are also suffering and to raise awareness of invisible illnesses. She writes about all aspects of her health and aims to give practical advice about coping with a chronic illness, based on her own experiences. You can follow Jo on Facebook , Twitter  and Instagram .