When You Feel Like A Failure
Chronic illnesses like Lyme disease can cause a lack of energy and generalized weakness, which can prevent you from accomplishing all the things that you used to be able to do. Before too long, it can make you feel like a complete failure.
Here are a few practical suggestions to set yourself up for success:
1. Adjust your expectations so they that they reflect your abilities. Consider that you may have expectations of yourself that others do not. For instance, you may feel that you have to cook a hot meal from scratch every night because your mother did it, but your spouse may not expect that, if things were different in his family as he was growing up. Make things easier on yourself on the days that you don’t fell well by getting take-out or letting the kids make something simple. Cook when you feel well enough to do it, and don’t heap guilt on yourself for not cooking on the nights you just can’t.
2. Educate your family and friends about your abilities, and especially your pain level. Tell them how you feel in terms that they can understand. Use the 1-10 number system to communicate how much pain you feel. This kind of system works well because it lets them know what to expect from you each day.
3. Ask for help. There is nothing wrong with the spouse and kids helping with chores, dinner, and laundry! Make a “to-do” list for each person, so responsibilities are more evenly distributed, especially if you work outside the home.
4. Plan rest into your schedule, including short naps, days off, and recovery time for when you have to push through. Be realistic about your abilities or lack thereof.
5. Try not to “push through” on a regular basis. This is when you force yourself to keep going despite red flags that you are doing too much. These red flags may come from your own body, your spouse, your friends, or even your kids if they see you over-doing it. Listen to those red flags! Pushing through is sometimes necessary for emergencies and unexpected responsibilities, but doing this on a regular basis will backfire and require more recovery time than normal.
6. Make a “daily tasks” schedule for yourself that is realistic. Only put a couple chores/activities on each day’s schedule. Put a star by the most important task, and a notation for one that can be pushed to the next day if necessary. If you tend to over-schedule yourself, be purposeful about putting fewer activities on the list that you think you can accomplish. Something always comes up to complicate your plans, so plan for mishaps and unexpected things, especially if you have small children. Put naps, days off, and recovery days on the schedule, too. Also, include time for self-care activities, like exercise.
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7. It is amazing how doing just a few small things each day will make you feel more on top of your game. Loading the dishwasher, doing one load of laundry, and making the bed every day will help you feel more “caught up” and productive. Work in 15-minute time increments so that you don’t over-do it and end up more exhausted than when you started. Take 15-minute breaks between these timed tasks (or more if you need it). After several 15-minute task sets are done, with rest periods in between, you will find that you actually have gotten some tasks scratched off your to-do list without feeling terribly bad in the process.
8. Cut things out of your schedule that you don’t truly enjoy, especially if they are not important. Doing things you don’t want to do are part of normal adult life, but doing too much of these things on a regular basis will steal your joy. Determine what is really important to you, and focus your energy there.
9. Plan fun activities, especially if you have kids. Nurture the relationships that are most important to you. Don’t forget date nights and alone time with your spouse. It doesn’t take long for relationships to deteriorate when they are neglected.
10. Try to organize and streamline as much as possible. Do your grocery shopping online, and make use of the pick-up or delivery option if your local store offers this. File your emails and important papers as soon as you see them. Take care of school papers, phone calls, etc. as soon as you become aware them. Try not to let things pile up, as those piles tend to add up and become large and overwhelming very quickly.
11. If you do find that you are continually unable to accomplish certain tasks, analyze ways that you might be setting yourself up for failure. Are you putting too many tasks on your daily to-do list or not allowing yourself enough rest to keep going? Or do you need to stop trying to accomplish something that is no longer realistic for your current abilities? Accepting your limitations is a big part of adjusting to the realities of chronic illness. Let go of those things that are no longer realistic. As you do this, you will find that you have more energy for the things that are truly important to you.
12. When you do “drop a ball,” apologize for it (if necessary), and forgive yourself. The ability to extend grace and forgive yourself, are two extremely important life skills to put into practice when you feel like a failure. Think of how you might tell your best friend or child about the importance of being able to accept their limitations and extend forgiveness to themselves when they fail. It is crucial for you to be able to do the same for yourself. Failure is a part of life, so don’t be devastated when it happens. Disappointment in yourself when you fail is understandable, but when it overpowers your ability to move forward, it is important to learn to let go of that disappointment and extend grace to yourself.
As you incorporate some of these ideas into your life, you will be setting yourself up for success instead of failure. Don’t expect yourself to always succeed, though, as that is just not possible. Think of your life in terms of a journey, not a pass/fail test. Living with an attitude of grace toward yourself and others will help you enjoy the journey more, even in the midst of the difficulties this life brings.
Laurie Miller is an author wife, mom, registered nurse, and patient with chronic illness. She enjoys spending time with family, reading, and blogging at godlivingwithchronicillness.com. Join her at www.facebook.com/godlivinggirls for an upcoming women’s online study on “Finding Joy and Purpose in Chronic Illness” starting Feb 1, 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to join.