Life can start to seem meaningless when your ability to achieve your goals is cruelly snatched away from you by chronic illness. We all need a sense of achievement and when viewed in terms of our pre-illness life, the limitations of our health can make that all seem impossible.
One way to work towards a more fulfilling life in spite of chronic illness is to restructure the way you think about goals and achievement. The way I found a new sense of achievement, was through deciding that I wasn’t going to let this illness get the better of me. My new goal, which wasn’t that different to my old one really, was to get the most out of my life. What was very different, was what that would mean in practice. I realised that in order to get the most out of life I would have to learn to manage the illness well. I would also have to find new ways of being happy and experiencing pleasure that weren’t based on being physically active. Achievement wasn’t going to be measured in terms of how far I could run, or how well I did my job, instead achievement meant getting through a day without overdoing it. Unless you have experienced this illness you will have no idea how tremendously hard that can be. I think we all deserve a massive pat on the back on the days we actually achieve this!
Having this illness sets us many challenges, and rising to them offers us many opportunities for achievement as long as we can value what we do. I’m very proud that I adapted to this illness and found new ways to be happy. I consider that to be a massive achievement. In fact I’m very proud that my adaptation was so successful the first time round that I got better completely. But these were big achievements that took place over years. We can be happier even today if we can value the tiny achievements that will add up and lead us to our bigger goals. We could not walk a mile without each one of the hundreds of step involved, so every single one of those hundreds of steps is extremely important and valuable.
For me the goal of managing this illness well has 3 parts: avoiding the things that can make me worse (especially overdoing things); staying happy and motivated; and giving my body the best possible chance of healing itself. So I make sure I value every tiny step I take towards these objectives, e.g. stopping writing when I notice it becoming an effort; eating a healthy salad or fresh soup for lunch; making contact with a friend. I do have other large goals too, like writing my self-help book and posting on this blog weekly. However putting my health first gives me a win-win way of looking at things. If I’m having a ‘not so good’ day and don’t manage to get as much writing done as I would like to do, I pat myself on the back for listening to my body and not doing it! I don’t always get to post this blog on a Friday as I’d like to. But when I don’t, I value myself for keeping within my limits and not pushing myself beyond the day’s capability. When I am well enough to post on a Friday, I get double achievement, that of posting the post and that of managing my illness well enough to be able to achieve what I set out to achieve!
This illness isn’t easy to live with. When we manage it well it’s a great achievement. In my opinion each small step that helps us stay as healthy as possible should be valued as highly as anything else we could do!
This post has been partly inspired by another post about health goals posted earlier this week by Sue Jackson on her ‘learning to live with CFS’ blog. I hope you’ll find that interesting too!