Reflections on the illness mindset and the power of our words
Several times this week I heard people use the phrase ‘illness mindset’. I also had some coaching with a law of attraction coach, who pointed out to me how unhelpful it is to use the words ‘I can’t’. Now, at first, I was really frustrated because how do I get people to understand what I’m living with without using those words? But on further reflection I realised that I really don’t want to be giving my body the ‘I can’t’ message. Nor do I want to be reinforcing the ‘limited energy illness state’ with any language about limits.
However, experience tells me that not being careful with energy use can be really dangerous. Even that sentence, though, can be construed as giving myself an unhelpful message in the mind/body/spirit sense. Every time we tell ourselves we need to be careful, are we giving our cells an unhelpful message?
Before I go on, I just want to reaffirm that I am in no way implying that ME/CFS isn’t a real physical illness or that it’s all in the mind or a psychological issue. However, I do believe that there is a mind/ body connection and I want to give my wellbeing the best possible chance by harnessing that connection in the best way that I can.
Thinking about how I could replace the words ‘I can’t’, I decided that it could use the words ‘It wouldn’t be wise for me now’. It was pointed out to me that this is still predictive so doesn’t solve the issue altogether. The only way to avoid thoughts and words that might reinforce an illness state is to keep your mind completely out of the future and listen to your body’s wisdom on a moment-to-moment basis. That is my underlying approach to wellbeing: staying present and listening to my body. But how many of us are able to do that every minute of the day?
For example, as I write this blog post, I’m enjoying myself in the moment but I’m not paying particular attention to my body. Unless I set my timer, I won’t know to stop until my body screams a loud message, and I realise I’m struggling to put a sentence together, by which time, I’ve probably used too much energy.
Without being able to stay present to our body every moment of the day, we need to find strategies that help us stay within our energy envelope. We need to call on our wisdom and understanding of how the illness affects us. So how do we do that without propagating an illness mindset?
Along with the ‘it wouldn’t be wise for me right now’ statements I’ve decided to aim for a ‘My energy improves when I am careful’ mindset. This allows me to consider my need to stay safe from the risks of overdoing it, whist giving my body a positive message that my energy is expected to improve. For example, instead of saying ‘I can’t walk more than 500m’ I can say ‘My energy improves when I walk less than 500m’.
I find that in my day-to-day life, I don’t use unhelpful thoughts or words very often, but they tend to come up most when I meet new people and I want them to understand my life in some way. I’ve decided that in general, I’m going to aim to avoid those explanations altogether unless directly asked and see if I can express myself without referring to any limits.
Are you using any language that gives your body the message to keep propagating the illness state? What words could you use instead?