For many people it can be a mindset. It may be easier to allow yourself to continue in your familiar pattern (maybe a rut) even if that is not in your best interest, than to actually make changes. For most people, change — although inevitable — is difficult. Even if your status quo is not great, change can feel scary and overwhelming.
How many people decline to go out stating they will do those things when the weather breaks, or some such comment? I wish I had a dollar for every patient I have heard say that. I would be very wealthy. In my professional experience, the answer is that not very many actually do follow through with a commitment to change a behavior or a life situation unless nudged along with small steps. For every one of my patients who has cross country skied to an office appointment (in Pittsburgh!), there are probably six who have canceled. What motivates some people to keep moving forward and not let external factors hold them back?
The human brain is very complicated, but also predictable in many ways. When asked to make a prediction in court, psychologists cite the fact that they do not have a crystal ball. When asked for the best professional guess, the answer is generally that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. One does not have to have specialty training in neuropsychology to see patterns in people. This does not, however, mean that most people are rigid and cannot change.
A lot of people do not want (or perhaps have severe physical limitations that do not allow them) to get dirty and plant the seeds for a new garden. This could be because of physical limitations on exercise or the necessity of avoiding specific foods. Yet when presented with a beautiful blooming garden, most people do appreciate the colors, scents, and sheer beauty. Even one living and thriving plant can enhance personal moods and energy levels.
I vividly remember my second year of pemphigus, when I was still experiencing devastating symptoms. My own choices were to live and work to the fullest. I did not cancel my planned visit to see one of my closest friends in Europe. I did, however, request that rather than visiting my favorite Paris museum to view my favorite Monet paintings.
We actually drive to Giverny in France and visit Monet’s actual gardens. For some reason I found that being in an exquisitely beautiful location actually energized me and helped me to heal. I also found paintings and photos of flowers and trees healing, and I surrounded myself with them both at work and at home. Needless to say this was in addition to, not in lieu of, traditional medical treatments.
Taking care of your psychological health can sometimes be done with supportive family and friends at this critical juncture; however, this is an ideal time to at least get a psychological or other mental health evaluation. The feelings, thoughts, and sense of loss will likely not be at a healthy place at this time. Talking with a mental health professional, preferably one who understands the psychological aspects of chronic illness or pain, can often nip emotional problems or cognitive distortions in the bud.
Having one or several serious chronic illnesses does not mark the end of living a full life, but rather a new beginning. Planting seeds can be a positive beginning. Of course, seeds need to be cared for and nurtured, which is what people — especially those with pain and/or chronic illnesses — find necessary for their own healing process.
What if those closest to you are unable to handle illness, doctors or hospitals? They clearly will not be the people who attend necessary visits, labs, or treatments with you. You can look for support with others or through a separate, perhaps more formalized support group. However, those people previously closest to you may be able to help in other ways. They can grocery shop, make a bed, cook, clean up, fold laundry, or take out the garbage. The list of tasks to lighten a patient’s load is endless.
Nurturing oneself may mean cutting back on work hours, learning to schedule exercise or massage, eating healthier foods, or just dancing to music like there is no tomorrow! It also includes budgeting wisely — not just your money, but your valuable time and energy. How many times have you agreed to do something that you knew was not in your best interest? Perhaps you agreed so as to not let someone else down. If that person truly cares about you, he or she will understand. If offended, that person is probably best left in the dust. If you have great difficulty saying no ( otherwise known as “the disease to please”), try saying, “I don’t want to let you down and would love to be able to say ‘yes’ to your request, but ________.” It can come across more easily that way and also makes the statement more positive. Eventually, saying no when it’s appropriate becomes second nature.
Because I have several autoimmune illnesses, I have had to retrain people in many ways. For example, my husband no longer asks me if I want to take a walk or go to the museum, etc., but rather if I feel up to it. Just changing the way something is said or done can go a long way, and sometimes just one word can make an infinite difference.
I suggest if you’re seeking change or even a slight improvement on your emotional situation, that you think of yourself as newly alive — perhaps a flower bud. That bud needs to be watered, to get enough sunlight, to be in a temperature controlled environment, and to be nurtured in order to blossom. You have more control over this than you may have previously realized. You may have heard the saying about how when one door closes, another one opens. I absolutely believe this to be true. However, sometimes the hallways between the doors can be very dark. You may need a flashlight. Personally, I prefer scented candles! Figure out what is most important to you, and slowly but surely take those first small steps in this new and different way of being in the world. Growth does not only happen in spurts. ippf