What to do when a health issue strikes at the most inconvenient time

What to do when a health issue strikes at the most inconvenient time

It sucks when a health issue strikes at the most inconvenient time. You’re busy, you got a life, work to do, people to see, family to take care, fun to have. And a health issue can stop everything. Or maybe not stop everything, but it can take up time and energy you would much rather be doing something else with.

Back in June I wrote about getting a diagnosis of arthritis in my hip, how that felt like a loss to me and moving on from feeling sad and bleh about it.

More has happened since then

In relation to my hip. And my breast.

All whilst trying to sort out our temporary accommodation, moving house, starting a full house refurbishment, organising and running a family weekend for children affected by rare neurological inflammatory conditions and their families, coaching, facilitating, trying to keep up the exercise (did not succeed at that), friend’s 50th birthday celebration in Majorca (that was nice), etc., etc.

Basically, during my busiest period of the year. Most inconvenient.

But health issues wait for no one and nothing

When a health issue strikes, it just strikes. That’s it. It won’t wait for you to finish that really interesting project, or have that party, or go on that holiday, or even have your baby. Health issues are genuinely non-discriminatory like that.

A picture of a couple discussion what they are doing on the weekend and their schedules. There are little green and red shapes near the woman's hip and breast. They are impending health issues she knows nothing about because they haven't yet manifested themselves or they are just a niggle. The point here is that health issues wait for no one and nothing. When a health issue strikes, it is going to strike.

So what do you do when a health issue strikes?

I came up with ten things you can do which will help. And I was using them myself last month.

Lesson One – You get on with it

This one we learn pretty quickly. We can’t do much about the fact that the health issue has happened. So we have to get on with it. And for many of us, that feels like the best and often times the only option.

Sometimes the other option of doing nothing can lead to death, ongoing disability or a feeling of powerlessness. So doing nothing doesn’t feel like an option. We want to live and live as well as we can.

Lesson two – It’s ok to get upset

I did about my hip. When I got back from Majorca, I had an appointment with the consultant. That was needed as the diagnosis was severe progressive osteoarthritis in my right hip.

Admission here: I did not mention the severe and progressive bits in June’s blog. Just felt too dramatic to me at the time in the context of how my hip affects my life. But I’m mentioning it now because I think I was downplaying things at the time.

The consultant’s verdict – It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s a question of ‘when’ a hip replacement needs to happen.

I’m not even 50. I feel too young to have a hip replacement.

But health issues don’t discriminate based on age either. Or gender. I shed some tears.

And it’s important that if you are upset, to express your upset-ness in a way that works for you. I wrote about this not long ago.

When a health issue strikes, it’s just gonna strike

Two days after hearing that verdict, I went to the GP regarding a pain I had been having in my right armpit for the past three months.

I know, I know. I should have gone sooner. But between everything happening and focusing on my hip, I didn’t have the capacity to deal with that too.

But whilst in Majorca, I was having discharge from my right breast. (Sorry if this is too much info.) My body was speaking to me. When I called to make the appointment with the GP, one just happened to be available that afternoon. I felt lucky.

The GP did a breast examination and referred me to the local breast clinic.

The breast clinic called me four days later on the Monday morning saying they had scheduled me for the coming Friday, but someone had cancelled and an appointment was available in two hours. Was I free to come? I felt lucky again. The universe was sending me a message.

I made myself free. And off to the hospital I went. Packing a soft easy-to-wear bra just in case.

When a health issue strikes. I was wondering if that was happening when I had to go to the breast clinic for pain. And one did. They had to do a biopsy and after that it's always good to wear a soft bra after it.

This is how the breast clinic works

Regarding preliminary scanning that is. I was in this clinic last year being scanned and biopsied so I got to know the routine.

I saw the nurse practitioner who took my history, details of my issue and did a breast examination. A sample was taken of the discharge.

Then I had the mammogram. It’s like having your boob squashed in a machine. Am Ample of Bosom so there’s a lot to squash. But it is necessary squashing because it helps to tell you if something is amiss.

Picture of a woman having a mammogram. When a health issue strikes you may have to have medical procedures that hurt and can be embarrassing. But they can be lifesaving.

Lesson Three – Humour can help you get on with it

It helps me.

If they see something amiss in your mammogram results, you get called back for an ultrasound.

I was called back for an ultrasound.

‘You’ll be ok Barbara, you’ll be ok. You can do this.’ I kept telling myself, to reassure myself.

Lesson Four – Find 101 ways to reassure yourself

At least 101. Maybe more. Because you’re going to need it to get through scans, biopsies, treatment, rehabilitation, and life itself.

How do you reassure yourself when the going gets tough in relation to your #health issue? #seriousillness #chronicillness Click To Tweet

The consultant radiologist scanned me as they found an ‘indeterminant area’. You got to love the language they use. As I enjoy language, am pretty good with it, and good at asking questions too, I launched into curiosity question-mode.

‘So, tell me, what exactly is an indeterminant area?’

And using my best probing question approach to get info.

But those consultants are pretty good at remaining evasive. And they need to be. They have to get samples of what is going on and get those tested before they can definitively determine what that ‘indeterminant area’ actually is. They don’t want to worry patients unnecessarily or tell them the wrong thing either.

But she did use the word ‘lesion’ and of course I pounced with a probing question to try and find out a little more about this lesion.

Lesson Five – A breast biopsy is MUCH better than a lumbar puncture

So I had a biopsy. My sense that I had better bring my soft bra just in case was a good one.

I chose not to watch because it was just all a bit close. And I was grateful I knew what to expect this time around. This was my second biopsy on my right breast in two years. The universe is trying to tell me something I think.

I chatted to the consultant and nurse a bit and the consultant remarked on how well I was doing. I responded, ‘This biopsy is MUCH better than a lumbar puncture, trust me.’ But this is just my opinion based on my experience and there are people who may feel a breast biopsy is the worst procedure.

Lumbar punctures are awful procedures. When I had one done when in the acute phase of Transverse Myelitis, it took three attempts to get a sample of my cerebral spinal fluid that didn’t have blood in it and they had to get a bigger needle. It was weirdly painful, and I had a hangover headache for a week afterwards.

That finished, I was bandaged up, put the soft bra on and went to see the nurse practitioner. She explained that they would hope to know by the following week at the latest what was going on and they would either call me with the results or make an appointment.

That is code for, ‘If it’s good news, we will call you. If not so good news, we’ll make an appointment to see you.’

They’re quick to get you seen, efficient, professional, and kind. Kudos to the Sir William Rouse Unit at Kingston Hospital.

Lesson Six – You focus on what you can control

Scans and procedures done, it’s a case of waiting for the results.

It’s like living in a no-man’s land. You don’t know what will be or happen so you don’t know what to do now and how to prepare. Living with the not knowing in that interim time is not easy.

It’s not uncommon to feel you are not in control, but actually you can focus on what you can control in the here and now. I reminded myself of that. I couldn’t control that I was having pain in my armpit and breast nor that I was having breast discharge. I couldn’t control what the diagnosis was going to be. But I could do something about the here and now.

And I reminded myself of that. It’s one of the ways I reassure myself. (Lesson 4) So I consciously focused my energies on my work and the many other day to day stuff that was happening.

When you feel like you’re not in control due to a health issue, stop, bring yourself into the hear-and-now, breathe and remind yourself of what you can do in the here-and-now and focus on that #takecontrol #seriousillness Click To Tweet

Lesson Seven – Get help. Receive help

Despite being matter of fact about it all, I did shed tears. (Lesson 2) And speak to my therapist about it. I have a weekly therapy appointment so I used that to get and receive help. I received cuddles from my husband.

This is really important. Our society unfortunately prizes doing everything yourself. When a health issue strikes, sometimes being able to do everything yourself is not possible. You may need help with the kids, making meals, keeping yourself relatively sane. Receiving help doesn’t mean you are ‘less than’. It actually helps you to get things done and continue living your life.

A side benefit of all this is if you have the right people helping you, i.e. they want to help you and have the capability to help you, it benefits them as much as it benefits you. Win-win.

When a health issue strikes it is important to get help. The Willingness and Capability Matrix helps you to choose the people who can help. If they have low or no capability or aren't willing, find other people to help you if you can. If they are very willing but not very capable, think about the tasks they can help you with. If they are very capable but not willing to help you, think about when you ask for their help. And if they are very capable and willing, then ask for their help.

Lesson Eight – Prioritise what you’ve got on

Sometimes when a health issue strikes, you may be too unwell to do much or you can do most things but not some things. And you may have more appointments than usual. (Had three in one week for three different things.)

So prioritise what you can and need to do. If you can’t do it because physically you are unable to, get help if you need to. Otherwise, it will have to wait.

If it’s something you need to do, like look after your children or do a piece of work because it puts food on the table (to feed yourself and said children), do what you can. It doesn’t have to be to your usual standards.

Make sure not to overdo things. Doing less does not make you less than as a person.

Lesson 9 – Do nice things for you

Take a warm relaxing bath. Or chat with a friend. Read a book you’ve been wanting to. Light a candle. Make yourself a posh coffee or tea. Give yourself time and do nothing.

These are the little things that can be 5 minutes or 60 minutes. It doesn’t matter how long they are. The key thing is you are doing something you want for you.

Lesson 10 – Figure out what the universe is trying to tell you and do something about it.

One thing that repeatedly comes to me is taking time out for me by doing a body meditation. When I’ve done this, I have felt amazing benefits. I need to do more of it.

The other thing that comes up is inflammation. I notice I tend to get health issues that end in -itis, which means inflammation. Transverse Myelitis. Arthritis. What is it about inflammation and my body? 

Those two things have occurred to me so far. It may take a bit of time to figure this out and that is ok.

What is it like for you when a health issue strikes?

How did you handle it? What worked for you? Or if you are in the midst of it, what kind of support would help you?

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

How to move on from being depressed about your illness

How to move on from being depressed about your illness

Learning to move on from being depressed about your illness is not a small project. It can feel nigh on impossible. You may feel stuck and sad more than you feel happy, and you wonder if you will ever feel better about yourself, your body and your life.

If this helps, it is normal to feel this way. Your feelings are a documented part of the change process a person goes through particularly after an unwanted change such as a serious illness or injury, relationship breakdown, death of a loved one, etc. (Kubler-Ross, 1969).

You have to rebuild your life and reinvent yourself. And as I’ve said before, no one gives you a manual in hospital on how to do that. But it is possible to do and to look forward to the future again. So I’ll share an important step to help you do that.

A picture of a woman sitting down and crying. She has a serious health issue and is thinking, "Things will never be the same! What does my future hold?" It is normal to feel a lot of sadness when dealing with a challenging health issue. It can feel hard to move on from being depressed about your illness or injury.

But before I share that, I want to share something else

I am writing this blog for me too. As a reminder. We all need a reminder of what we know from time to time.

I received a diagnosis I was hoping not to get – osteoarthritis in my right hip. I was hoping for bursitis but no. The doctor says I’m so young to have this level of arthritis.

I’ve also had arthritis in my knees for 6+ years now. Over the years I’ve had to stop doing a variety of activities I enjoyed due to it. Sports requiring multi-directional movement. Then running. Six years ago the doctors advised me not to go on 10-12 mile walks even.

The arthritis is not life changing but I do find the issue challenging. The arthritis explains the chronic pain I’ve had in my hip for the past year. My walking has gone downhill. Some days I wonder if I need to use a walking stick.

What will I have to give up next? I feel sad about this. But I notice that having to give up something is an assumption on my part. I may not have to give up anything.

The future is also uncertain regarding my hip and mobility. In the meantime, I am holding on to the fact that I can still exercise and do my physiotherapy and I am very grateful for that.

Picture of exercise equipment including a yoga mat, resistance bands, weights, a stepper, foam roller and Fit with Frank online bootcamp videos. Exercise and physiotherapy can help you move on from the depression about your illness or injury.

The first step you can take to move on from being depressed about your illness

This isn’t the smallest step so this blog only focuses on this step. I am starting with it because it is such an important step. It is the game changer I have seen again and again with clients and in support groups.

Acknowledge what has happened to you.

Tell your story in your words of the illness or injury you had/have. What happened to you, what was the timeline, what the medical professionals said, what were people’s reactions, what has changed, and what has your recovery and rehabilitation been like so far.

Talk about the downright ugly, the bad and even the good. Don’t forget the good parts. They are important too. Someone may have shown kindness to you or you had good treatment for example.

When I sat ‘tell your story’, you can do that in a number of different ways. Write it down. Talk to someone. Draw it. Paint it. Dance it. Run it. Whatever medium you use to tell your story is fine. Try several different mediums if you wish. Do what works for you.

An important early step of moving on from being depressed about living with a challenging #health issue is to acknowledge what has happened to you including the downright ugly, bad and even the good bits. It’s important you tell… Click To Tweet

But acknowledgement can be hard

I want to be up front about this. There’s no point in hiding information.

Acknowledgement is hard because you are facing up to the reality of your situation. And chances are, you don’t like your new reality. It may bring up a lot of emotions which feel difficult. And in our society we stigmatise the difficult emotions. The stigma reads:

Difficult emotions are bad so they don’t help and therefore must be ignored, denied and/or pushed away.

But society is lying

The difficult emotions have their place. In the case of a life-changing illness or injury or even a challenging health issue, these emotions are often associated with what you have lost. And not just what you have lost already, which is in the past, but also what you had hoped and expected to be part of your future. Carrying a lot of loss is not easy.

You end up going through a grieving process. So these difficult emotions are part of being human. They are also a documented part of the change process people go through when they are dealing with loss. For more information about this, check out Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work on acceptance here.

Kubler-Ross identified this change process when talking to people dying from a health issue and their loved ones. Although she did this work in the context of death and dying, it is applicable to challenging health issues, relationship breakdown and more as the common theme is loss.

No wonder it can feel so hard to move on from being depressed about your illness or injury.

It can be hard to move on from being depressed about your illness or injury as you can be carrying a lot of loss. This picture shows a woman carrying various historical and anticipated losses. Past losses she is holding are loss of job, health issue, loss of parent and other losses. Anticipated losses due to her health issue include her dreams, expectations and hopes. She has dropped the ball 'my hopes'. She just has too much to carry.

This is what will help

Let yourself feel the difficult emotions. Grieve for what you have lost. State how you feel in relation to your new reality and what you have lost.

I feel sad about…

I can no longer do… and I feel… about that.

I am afraid of these emotions.

And if you need to cry, do that. Let yourself mourn. You may wish to do this on your own or with someone else. And you can do this through talking, writing, making art, walking, running, whatever.

You’re not being difficult for letting yourself spend time with these emotions. And it’s ok to be afraid of them. Our fear can come up because we have not spent much time with such emotions in the past and so it can feel all new and not a nice kind of new either.

Ignore the people who say you are being too negative and have to be positive. Their definition of the word positive most likely subscribes to the societal stigma that only being positive will aid your recovery. I want to offer a different definition of being positive but that is a blog for another day.

The difficult emotions are actually needed to help you move on from being depressed about your illness or injury.

Letting yourself feel the difficult emotions in relation to your or a loved one’s #seriousillness #seriousinjury is actually needed to help you move on from being depressed about it Click To Tweet

Acknowledgement is this weird sort of paradox

You have to go through the swamp of difficult emotions to lessen their impact. When you have done that, you find over time these emotions visit less. They may still visit on anniversaries. Or when you experience something else that is difficult or are reminded of something you used to do.

But the difficult emotions don’t stay as long. Because you have gotten familiar with them. They aren’t as scary. You’ve let them express themselves. You’ve learned to visit with them to identify what they need. Many times, those parts of you just want a listening ear. To be heard, recognised and validated.

Spending time with your difficult emotions is key to help you move on from being depressed about your illness. Doing this helps them feel much less scary because you become more familiar with them. This picture shows a woman welcoming Depression and Sadness for a visit. Depression is saying, "We're here for our visit. And Sadness is going to need tissues." Sadness is of course crying and tears are forming a puddle around his feet. Sadness is saying, "I need a tissue." The woman responds, "I can only do 15 minutes today. I'm meeting friends for lunch."

This frees up your energy so you can move on from being depressed about your illness

Rather than using all of your energy to focus on what and who you no longer are and to avoid the swamp of difficult emotions, your energy is freed up to explore who you want to become, what you can do and what you want to do. You move into an exploratory and experimental phase where you start to look for and try out possibilities for yourself.

A friend who experienced a serious illness resulting in an organ transplant had to adapt to the illness’s impact on her body. She had to make some lifestyle changes. In some cases, she had to find new friends. She had to find a new sport she could do. She described this process as reinventing herself.

So the process of acknowledgement is not easy. How long it will take you, I do not know. It is different for every person. But it is so freeing. It helps you to move on from being depressed about your illness, injury or other health issue to rediscovering and reinventing yourself.

To move on from being depressed about your illness or injury is a journey. The picture shows a woman's former life where it is sunny and flowers are growing. There is the bridge of illness and injury and there is a gate across it on which is written 'No go area'. So you can't cross the bridge back to your old life. You can only go through the swamp of unfamiliar emotions. A woman has come out the other side and she is building a brick path. It is her path of wellness. She is saying, "My path is looking nice! I'll continue working on it tomorrow." The sun is starting to come out of some storm clouds.

What’s it like for you?

What helped you to move on from being depressed about your illness or injury? And if you could give the earlier version of you advice, what would you say? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to deal with the issues raised in this blog, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Know of someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

Reference

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969) On Death and Dying, UK: Tavistock Publications Ltd.

What is the impact of anxiety like and how to manage it

What is the impact of anxiety like and how to manage it

The impact of anxiety – What is this like for you? Are you aware of when and how anxiety shows up in your life? How it slides into the driving seat in charge of your choices and actions? Do you know when it all started?

Many people have talked to me about the increase in anxiety after experiencing a serious health issue. A health issue tends to shatter our perception that we are totally in control – we realise we don’t have as much control as we thought. That and the resulting impact of not knowing what to do in this new place of not being well nor how long we will have to dwell there, anxiety can happen. In many cases, anxiety may have also predated the health issue but wasn’t as noticeable before the health issue’s onset.

The picture shows two people in a car. The license plate says 'self-care'. The woman in the passenger seat is saying, 'But I want to exercise and look after myself.' The person who is driving, which is anxiety, is saying, 'No you can't! You must do what I want! Now let me drive!' This picture demonstrates the impact of anxiety when it is in the driving seat of a part of your life. The anxiety can take over and drive your actions.

I was reminded of the impact of anxiety the other week

Most mornings I do my exercise and physiotherapy first. That way it gets done. But I noticed myself thinking in a loop-like fashion, ‘I have so much to do! I don’t have time to exercise! I need to get to work!’ It was a very familiar feeling.

Anxiety and its impact has been a part of my life but became much more noticeable after having Transverse Myelitis 10+ years ago. The kind of anxiety I am talking about here is the anxiety that is in the driving seat in some areas of your life but not in every aspect of your life. It’s not pleasant and it can be frustrating.

But it’s also not severely debilitating, it’s not a clinical diagnosis of anxiety nor does it cause you to disassociate or lose yourself. If the anxiety you feel does cause you to do that, then please obtain the support of a person who is qualified to work with that such as a clinical or counselling psychologist or psychotherapist.

The anxiety I was feeling is the kind that slides into the driving seat in some parts of my life particularly when I want to do something for myself. The impact of anxiety is that my self-care plummets.

My plants are like a barometer. I usually am taking care of them well when I am caring for myself well. What’s your barometer for knowing when you are caring for yourself well or not? #wellness #selfcare Click To Tweet

So this is what I did when I noticed my loop-like thinking. I took apart my approach and share it with you here to help you manage the impact of anxiety.

What the impact of anxiety is like

Back to that morning. I was sitting there just about to start my workout and the thoughts were going around and around in my head about not having enough time to work out and wanting to get to work at my computer.

A very busy period is starting for me where I will have two big projects happening and other smaller ones going on in the background. Four of them will be happening at the same time. (Trust me, this wasn’t planned.) This will last through mid-June, quiet down for a week, and then things will get busy again through mid-July.

The next thing I noticed was giving myself the suggestion to start work, I could do my exercise and physiotherapy in the early afternoon as a break.

I realised that I would probably end up not working out if I did that. Because that is what has often happened in the past.

Then I made myself do what I have my clients do.

I made myself notice what the anxiety was like

I sat still and just felt what the impact of the anxiety was like in my body. I felt the sensations in my body. From the waist up I was shaking a bit. I noticed I turned my head around to the right looking behind me. As if I was looking out for someone. I felt a little scared.

I was curious about me wanting to turn to the right and look behind me so I did that again. I noticed I still felt scared. And kind of young. Suddenly a childhood memory came up of my father telling me to get to work.

My internal response to this all was, ‘I must get the work done. I don’t want to get in trouble.’

Rocket science doesn’t need to tell me when and where my anxiety started. And it’s interesting how it is still present to some degree 40 years on and how it can drive my actions if I let it.

A picture of a woman considering the impact of anxiety in her life. She is remembering back to 40 years ago when she was a child. Her father is being very stern with her telling her to do her chores. She is looking up at him and thinking, 'I'm scared. I had better work.' In the present day, the woman is having a light bulb moment and is thinking, 'Hmm. That was then. This is now. I don't have to work all the time!' This demonstrates how our early experiences can influence our actions in the present. They can be the source of our anxieties. But you can lessen the impact of anxiety in your life today.

What I learned about the impact of anxiety on me

Two things were going on for me. The first trigger was the busy period and wondering how I would fit everything in. The next trigger was the loop-like thinking.

In this context I felt the anxiety as an internal shaking in me. (How you experience anxiety may be different.)

It was the movement of turning to look over my right shoulder and noticing I felt scared and young which really struck me. That and the childhood memory of my father telling me to get to work. He was an authoritarian father. He had a rota of chores for us to do and kept us busy doing them. As a young child, he more often barked commands and demands than words of warmth and gentleness. (He was dealing with his own anxiety but that is a story for another day. But interesting to note how anxiety can be passed on in families.)

This historical context turned out to be important

I’ll explain more about that in a bit.

My response to ‘get the work done’ felt familiar. It’s a common response when I feel I have a lot going on, conflicting demands and desires, and not a lot of time to do everything I want to do. I may want to workout and do other things to look after myself and my wellness but historically work would win out. That would calm the anxiety.

That nearly happened the other morning. Anxiety was sliding into the driving seat pushing me to work rather than self-care. Notice the black and white choice I was giving myself: work or self-care. I wasn’t allowing myself to have both or another option. That can happen when we feel stress due to anxiety, we give ourselves either-or choices.

The picture shows two boxes one with the word either in it and the other box with the word or in it. This demonstrates that when we feel stressed and experiencing the impact of anxiety, we often give ourselves an either-or choice. What is recommended is to take a step back and give yourself more than two choices. This is demonstrated in the rest of the pic which shows either in one box, or in another box and a second or in another box.

I told myself I would be fine, work will be there and it was ok to do my exercise and physiotherapy first. Which I proceeded to do.

What was the purpose of my anxiety?

What purpose does any #anxiety you feel serve? #seriousillness #mentalhealth #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek Click To Tweet

I went over this in a coaching session and learned that the purpose of the anxiety wasn’t necessarily all bad. It enabled me to have inner motivation to work and get a job done and strong focus on the task at hand.

However, the focus is so strong it means I get absorbed in the task or project and hours can go by without me drinking water, eating, going to the loo or taking a break. Self-care slides right off the agenda.

But I also said to my coach the anxiety no longer has a purpose. The context has changed. My father is no longer with us. My mother lives in the USA. I have no parents telling me what to do. I am my own parent now. I don’t have any parents to please. I only have to please myself. The historical context is no longer relevant. But I had been responding as if it was.

Much of the stress we experience can be due to blindly following outdated strategies. My strategy of ‘getting the work done’ had a purpose at one stage of my life, it served its role. But now it’s time to update the strategy. Here is how to do that when anxiety is trying to be in the driving seat of parts of your life.

How to manage the impact of anxiety

If the anxiety feels scary for you to deal with, please only do this with someone you trust, preferably a trained professional.

As you do this exercise, hold on to something that reminds you of the here and now. This helps to keep you anchored in the present.

Dealing with low-level anxiety that gets in the driving seat of parts of your life? Want to learn how to manage it better? Click here to learn how #anxiety #seriousillness #chronicillness Click To Tweet

1. Learn your trigger(s).

There may be more than one. They may follow each other in a sequence or not. You will need to slow yourself down to do this. Sit for a time and take yourself step-by-step through what happened when you last noticed your anxiety. If you can do this as the anxiety appears, that’s a good time to do it too.

2. Really notice how anxiety affects you physically.

How does anxiety appear in your body? Spend time with it. And as you spend time feeling the sensations, gently remind yourself you do not have to unpack and live in the anxiety. You’re just visiting with it for a short while. Set a timer for 2-3 minutes if this helps you.

3. Notice what thoughts you have.

Write them down even. Doing that helps you keep one step removed from them so you don’t unpack and live in them.

4. Notice if you feel a compulsion to move.

And notice what that movement is like. Are you wanting to move away from something, reach or move towards something, turn and look for someone? It could be anything. Repeat the movement if it helps you to get a sense of what that movement is about.

5. Notice any feelings associated with the movement.

Are you feeling surprised, scared, numb, excited, young, weaker, something else?

Observing #anxiety to understand its different components – the triggers, feelings, thoughts, any historical memories that come up, its purpose – can help to understand its role in your life and whether that role is still relevant… Click To Tweet

6. Notice if any historical memories come up for you.

Make sure you are holding on to your here-and-now item. Remind yourself you are in the present.

The historical memories I am referring to here are often not pleasant but they do not cause you to disassociate from yourself or to lose yourself in them. As you think of these memories, you realise you are still in the present and you can move on from thinking about them to focusing on something else.

But if you have a sense that something big is going to come up for you, that the historical memory was very traumatic for you and you do not feel ready to look at it yet, that’s ok. Stop and don’t continue with this exercise.

When it comes to dealing with anxiety due to very traumatic episodes in your life, I highly recommend you work with a psychotherapist or psychologist who is experienced in working with such traumas.

The historical memories can be from any period in your life. If other people are involved, notice what they are saying and doing if anything. And what you are saying and doing in return. Also notice how you are feeling about it all. This is about noticing the historical context of what may have kick started the anxiety.

7. Evaluate what is different about your current life as compared to your history.

How is your life currently different from the historical context? Who is no longer present in your life? Or they may be present but you don’t see them as often. What have you learned about yourself in the intervening years that contradicts whatever it was you thought about yourself in that historical context? What are your skills and strengths? Who else is in your life now who supports you to make the choices you want to be making?

This is key. Knowing the differences between your life then and now allows you to explain and reassure yourself that doing something different will turn out ok. This can help to quiet the anxiety a bit so you can get on with making different choices.

8. Develop a way to reassure yourself to calm the anxiety

Now that you know what is so different about your present life as compared to your history, develop a way to reassure yourself in those moments when anxiety wants to take over.

For me I have a conversation with myself. That morning I explained to myself that my father was no longer here to bark orders at me and it was more than ok to do things differently. I might not get as much work done but that wasn’t the point. The world was not going to end and my self-care is super important.  I proceeded to do my exercise and physiotherapy. I still felt some anxiety but it eventually went away.

How you reassure yourself is unique to you. You may wish to journal your thoughts, draw, do another activity, whatever.

9. Keep practicing

You have to keep practicing making the choices you want for yourself rather than let anxiety dictate them for you. Don’t worry about perfection. Good enough is fine. You will respond as per the old strategy at times. That happens. It still happens with me from time to time. I even still feel the anxiety a little when I make the choices I want for myself. But the impact of anxiety does lessen.

10. Shower yourself in self-compassion

The reason you go back to old ways and still feel some of the anxiety when you make different choices is because you’re changing something that has probably been around for a few decades. So be gentle with yourself. Shower yourself in self-compassion.

This picture shows the 10 things you can do to manage the impact of anxiety in your life. It requires you to slow down and really notice. 1) Learn your triggers. 2) Notice how anxiety affects you physically. 3) Notice what thoughts you have. 4) Notice if you feel a compulsion to move. 5) Notice any feelings associated with the movement. 6) Do any historical memories come up for you? 7) Evaluate how your present life is different from your history. 8) Develop a way to reassure yourself to calm the anxiety when it appears. 9) Keep practicing reassuring yourself and making new choices. 10) Shower yourself in self-compassion.

What’s the impact of anxiety like for you?

When and how do you experience anxiety? And what has helped you to manage it? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to manage an even transform the impact of anxiety, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

How to know if you are wasting your precious energy

How to know if you are wasting your precious energy

Do you feel like you’re wasting your precious energy? You’re living with a serious health issue or a loved one is so you have that to deal with. And life continues to happen, throwing curve balls your way. You’re trying to deal with it all and feeling pretty stressed out about it.

Stress can be exhausting. You have to manage your energy levels as it is and there isn’t a lot of spare energy. You may be wondering how you can make sure you’re not wasting your precious energy.

Picture of a person sitting down and catching the curve balls that life throws at them. They are holding three balls in one arm and on them is written, shit happens, stress and no time for you. They have another bigger ball in their other hand and on it is written bigger curve ball. Life is throwing them an even bigger curve ball and the person is saying, "I can't hold that! I don't have the energy!' The caption reads: How do you ensure you're not wasting your precious energy? If you're not sure, get in touch with Return to Wellness and we can help make sure you don't.

That’s a valid and important wondering. And I have a very handy model to share with you to help you make sure you’re not wasting your precious energy. I’ve been sharing it with carers lately and they have found it really useful. I reckon you will too.

How to make sure you’re not wasting your precious energy

#stress can be exhausting. When you live with a #health issue, managing your energy levels is really important. You don’t have spare to waste. Read here about how not to waste your precious energy #fatigue #spoonie #chronicillness Click To Tweet

When you are dealing with a situation that feels stressful, there are three things you need to consider about the situation to ensure you’re not wasting your precious energy.

  • What is in your direct control?
  • What are those things or people you can influence? You can’t directly control them, but you may be able to influence it in some way.
  • What is it about the situation that you cannot control or influence? You just cannot make any sort of change?

It’s all about what you can control and influence and what you can’t

When you have identified what you can control or influence, then you can plan what to do next.

For those items, situations or people you cannot control or influence, you may be concerned about it, and you have to find a way of not wasting your precious energy on it.

This is a picture of a model by Stephen Covey from his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). It has three cocentric circles. The middle circle says Direct Control and this is about focusing your energies on what is in your direct control. The next circle says Influence. This is about focusing your energies on what you can influence. The outer circle says Concern. These are situations, people and concepts we cannot control or influence. We may be concerned about it, but focusing our energies on these things won't get us anywhere. So we have to let go of them. The point of this model is to focus on what is in your direct control and influence and to let go of what you cannot. This will help you ensure you're not wasting your precious energy.

This model is from the work of Stephen Covey and he describes it in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I highly recommend the book. It describes what are life skills that we all need.

This model encourages to focus on what you can control and influence and to let go of what you cannot. Covey talks about increasing your sphere of direct control and influence and minimising your sphere of concern. The sphere of concern are those things in your life you cannot change so you don’t want to expend your energy on them.

So how do you know what you can control and influence and what you can’t?

I’ll demonstrate this by giving you some examples.

Example 1 – Your financial wellbeing

Let’s start with the economy. The economy feels like some vast abstract concept but we know its importance to the financial wellbeing of our nation and even our own personal financial wellbeing. But we can’t control it. We may wonder if we can even influence it.

One way we can influence the economy is through our vote for public officials and politicians. We can vote for those whom we feel may make the best choices for our nation’s economy and our financial wellbeing.

The direct control we have is of our personal finances. So we cannot control the economy directly, but we can control creating a budget, choosing what to spend our money on, savings, investing, applying for benefits, etc.

Example 2 – The doctor with zero bedside manner

This is a scenario many of us will have dealt with. The doctor with a zero bedside manner who speaks to you as if you were a child and they, they are the great god of medicine.

Where you place yourself in relation to doctors can impact whether or not you are wasting your precious energy. There is a doctor standing on a pedestal saying, 'I am THE expert! Listen to me! Do as I say!' On the pedestal is written 'Great God of Medicine.' A woman is standing looking up at the doctor, frowning an thinking, 'Am I meant to bow? I don't like how this doctor speaks to me.'

You cannot control how the doctor will speak to you. That is in your sphere of concern. That may feel disappointing, but don’t go wasting your precious energy on trying to control a person. Because you can’t.

You can influence the doctor by how you speak to him/her. That is in your sphere of influence. What you say and how you say it may influence them, it may cause them to change their approach in communicating with you. But it also may not. Definitely have a go at influencing, just be aware that it isn’t a 100% guarantee to get you what you want.

What you can directly control is

  • what you tell the doctor
  • the tone of voice you choose to use, and, very importantly,
  • how you choose to respond to what the doctor says and how they say it

When interacting with doctors and #healthcare professionals, what you can directly control is what you tell them, the tone of voice you choose to use and, very importantly, how you choose to respond to what they say and how they… Click To Tweet

Here’s a hint regarding the doctor with zero bedside manner

Check your mental image and thoughts of such doctors. Do you see them on a pedestal, greater than you because of their education and profession? Do you have the expectation that they will sort you out and maybe even cure you? God-like?

Remember, they have to go to the toilet too. They are human, like you. They have mental health, like you.

So make that mental image of two equals meeting to resolve the same issue, which is getting the best for you and your health. Two equals who each have a different role and each bring a different set of skills to the table. Both roles are valid. And both sets of skills are necessary for getting the best for you and your health.

Example 3 – Controlling your health

It’s a frustrating, scary and a very real realisation that we cannot control 100% whether we got cancer, an auto-immune condition, a neurological illness or something else. We got it. We have to deal with it. The fact that we got it is in our area of concern from a control perspective.

This is a picture of a model by Stephen Covey from his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). It has three cocentric circles. The middle circle says Direct Control and this is about focusing your energies on what is in your direct control. The next circle says Influence. This is about focusing your energies on what you can influence. The outer circle says Concern. These are situations, people and concepts we cannot control or influence. We may be concerned about it, but focusing our energies on these things won't get us anywhere. So we have to let go of them. The point of this model is to focus on what is in your direct control and influence and to let go of what you cannot. In this picture there is also a line going from the centre of the middle circle to the outer circle. Where the line starts in the very middle circle it says 'you have control'. Where the line ends at the end of the circle of concern, it says 'you don't have control or influence'. You can think of this model as a scale. As you move further away from the centre of the circle of direct control, you have less control and influence. This will help you ensure you're not wasting your precious energy.

What we can do is influence our health through our lifestyle choices in what we eat, drink, exercise we take, and how we deal with the impact of the health issue.

Our choices and the responsibility we take for our choices are in our direct control. 

Your energy is precious

You or a loved one are probably in a place where you have to pace your energy due to physical and/or cognitive fatigue. As you pace your physical and mental energy, you have to pace your heart and soul energy too. You can’t keep wasting your heart and soul energy on people and things where it won’t make any difference. This model by Stephen Covey helps you to make sure you’re not wasting your precious energy.

The woman is standing and smiling saying, 'I now know what I can control and influence. I feel so much better!' There are three circles in front of her. One has concern written on it, another has influence written on it and the third has direct control written on it. In the circle of concern she has placed 'an even bigger curve ball' that life has thrown at her and a ball with 'shit happens' written on it. She learned that she cannot control or influence these two items so she is no longer focusing her energy on them. In the circle of influence, she has placed the ball 'bigger curve ball' in it. She knows she cannot directly control this situation, but she recognises how she can influence it. In the circle of direct control she has placed two balls. One says 'I can manage stress' and the other says 'time for me'. These are two things she learned she can directly control.

What’s it like for you?

In which areas do you spend a lot of your energy? In your sphere of concern, influence or direct control? Which situations do you find it easy to stand in your sphere of direct control? And which situations do you default to expending energy in your sphere of concern? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar). 

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to take control and positively influence that you typically find stressful, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

When is being defined by your disability a good thing?

When is being defined by your disability a good thing?

When is being defined by your disability a good thing? Is it a good thing to be defined by your disability? Or not? You may have a disability and think, ’Yes, I have a disability.’ But you may not consider yourself disabled.

I’ve been discussing these questions recently with people and have also come across them in the press.

They are not questions for which a straightforward answer is easy. Identity and disability are complex topics. You can write a book on it. So I will only scratch the surface in this blog.

What I do is share real life examples of how people view their disability. And from that the three things which can influence your thinking about being defined by your disability (or not).

When is being defined by your #disability a good thing? Is it ever a good thing? Tell a friend

‘I have a disability, but I don’t consider myself disabled.’

I heard this a month ago at a bladder and bowel support group I attend. The person who said it has a colostomy bag. (I have this person’s permission to mention what they said in this blog.) A colostomy bag collects a person’s poo because they are unable to pass it through the rest of their intestines and then out their rectum (for any number of reasons).

Looking at this person you would not know they have a colostomy bag. They go to work, see their friends, enjoy their hobbies, etc, etc. They are living their life. They just empty their waste through a bag, that’s all.

My other half also says he doesn’t consider himself to have a disability – he has diabetes and is insulin dependent. Looking at my husband, you wouldn’t know he has diabetes. He works full-time, enjoys his hobbies, etc. However, I know the changes he has had to make and they have not always been easy for him.

I often hear from people whose disabilities are not readily visible

Like having a colostomy bag or diabetes. Some of these people are able to continue their lives from an outsider’s perspective nearly the same as before the disability’s onset.

But also, if someone has depression or bi-polar disorder, they go to work, have a family, go out with their friends, smile and laugh, have hobbies. For people who experience depression, they may not experience it all of the time. Bi-polar can also fluctuate and at times the person may be going through a period where they don’t experience the depressive or manic phases.

In the above examples, the disability can be invisible or just not visually prominent at times and the person may not think of themselves as disabled. They are getting on with their lives and dealing ably with the impact of their disability.

I have a disability but I don’t consider myself disabled.’ – I’ve heard this a fair number of times from people with a #disability and write about it here. Tell a friend

But what about disabilities that are visible?

Society’s view of disability has traditionally been that a disability is visible, i.e. a person using a wheelchair or other aids for example. The disability has to be visible for a person to be considered disabled. (But that is an older view of disability which is changing.) So you would think a person can’t help being defined by their disability, right?

A picture of four people representing society point at a man using sticks to walk. The four people are saying, "You have a disability, you are disabled." The man is saying, "Uhm, I have a disability but I don't think of myself as disabled." The pic also contains the questions: When is being defined by your disability a good thing? And who is doing the defining?

You may become known as the person ‘in the wheelchair’ or who ‘has a blade’, or ‘uses a stick’ and/or a scooter. You yourself know that you are different from many of the people around you. That difference stands out and it is often the first thing people see and often react to.

Ellen Blunsdon, a student in Edinburgh, noticed people were looking at her more and she got more comments from the public when she started to use her walking stick routinely.

Maybe you don’t mind being defined by your disability in this way

I have heard people say, ‘My wheelchair is a part of me, it’s an extension of my body.’ In Ellen’s case, she loves her six walking sticks because she sees them as an extension of her body and something she can express her identity with.

I have also heard people say that their disability has played in a role in shaping the person they are today and has provided the opportunities to do things they enjoy in their life.

I remember meeting a guy who described the day he sustained a spinal cord injury (due to a car crash) as his birthday. He also said that he would not go back to his previous life.

Or the disability is seen as a bad and unfortunate thing to have happened but not the end of the world. For example, Kristina Vogel, the cyclist who sustained a spinal cord injury in 2018 in a cycling accident and is now wheelchair dependent said in this BBC article, “I still love my life. So nothing changed, really. Just how I move. I’m going to do a lot of things in my wheelchair. It’s different, but it’s still my life…”

Kristina Vogel’s gives a matter-of-fact description of her situation. I have heard many people who use wheelchairs say that all that has changed is how they get around and do some activities. Like Kristina, they now use wheels rather than their legs. For them, the rest of their life is similar to as it was before: they go to work, love, laugh, cook, have hobbies, etc.

They’ve adapted to regain their abilities to do the things they want in life. And they’ve found new ways to be able. So saying they are ‘disabled’ feels a misnomer. I feel they have ‘re-enabled’ themselves. They too are getting on with their lives and dealing ably with the impact of the changes to their body.

The pic shows three people with various disabilities and it's about them regaining abilities and regaining new ones after the onset of a disability. The man in the wheelchair is saying, "I've taken up painting as a hobby and I have my first exhibition." The woman who uses sticks is saying, "I still work as an engineer." A younger woman is saying, "I've managed to go to university even though I have chronic fatigue syndrome. I won't finish uni with my friends but I will finish."

Or you may mind being defined by your disability

You may wish people would see past your wheelchair, prosthetic, blindness, deafness, diabetes and see you for who you are as a person, your sense of humour, your skills, your achievements, likes and dislikes.

Or you worry about ‘coming out’ with your disability, concerned that people you have known for a very long time may treat you differently, as in the case of the student Ellen mentioned previously.

Or you mind being defined by your disability but you’re aware of the benefits and opportunities it has brought you

Billy Monger’s story demonstrates this point. He was rising up the ranks in the motor racing world when he lost his legs in an accident on the track in 2017. The racing world rallied around him to help and he ‘found himself transformed from just another driver on the rise, to a symbol of triumph over adversity’.

But ‘Billy wants to be known as a racing driver and “not the guy who drives with no legs”’.

‘“Before the accident, I was desperate to get my name out there. Now, everyone knows who I am, but in my head, it’s not for the right reasons,” he says.’

‘He’s conflicted because, in some ways, Billy knows he needs the spotlight now more than ever’ to move ahead in motor racing. His accident and consequent disability has given him the spotlight he needed.

Not only can you have the conflict of recognising the good things that happened and opportunities that have come your way due to your disability, but you also want to be recognised for yourself and your abilities regardless of the disability.

You can also have another conflict like Billy said in the article, and I’ve heard from others – In some circumstances they would go back to their old life if they could. You may feel the same.

This is what could be influencing your thinking about being defined by your disability

Writing the above, three things occurred to me which could potentially influence your thinking around being defined by your disability. And this is by no means an exhaustive list.

  1. What we as a society have associated with the meaning of ‘disability’ and ‘disabled’.
  2. There’s a theme in everything I have written of what other people think and how they respond to disability.
  3. Feeling that one is ‘disabled’ is a very subjective experience. And so it will differ from individual to individual.

I could go into what the law considers to be a disability as per the Equality Act but to keep this blog from getting even longer, I have chosen not to address that. Suffice it to say that if your impairment is considered a disability under the Equality Act, you have an extra layer of protection in the workplace. This is when it may be open about your disability. For guidance on the Equality Act, this is also a useful document.

A man who uses sticks to walk is sitting on an ottoman holding a book titled 'About Disability' and thinking the following: I'm ok with the term disability. I do have a disability, but I still have many capabilities. So I'm not sure I'm disabled. But other people think I'm disabled. It's frustrating when they think I've lost all my abilities. What do we mean by being disabled?" The caption has the question: How do you think about being defined by your disability?

What we as a society have associated with the meaning of ‘disability’ and ‘disabled’

When you look at the word ‘disabled’, there are two parts ‘dis-abled’. And it’s the meaning of the prefix ‘dis’ which sets the tone for the meaning of the word ‘disabled’.

According to the Oxford dictionary, the prefix ‘dis’ can give a word

  • the opposite meaning, e.g. like and dislike
  • express negation, e.g. disadvantage
  • denote reversal or absence of an action or state, e.g. disaffirm
  • denote removal of something, e.g. disbar
  • express completeness or intensification of an unpleasant or unattractive action, e.g. disgruntled

Dictionary.com also defines ‘dis’ as having a ‘privative, negative or reversing force’.

I had to look up ‘privative’ and according to the Oxford Dictionary, it means ‘marked by the absence or loss of some quality or attribute that is normally present’. Dictionary.com refers to privative as ‘causing, or tending to cause, deprivation; consisting in or characterised by the taking away, loss, or lack of something; indicating negation or absence’.

A disability in the context of our bodies means that we don’t have (from birth) or lost some functionality whether that is physical and/or mental.

There are two parts to the word ‘disabled’ – 'dis' and 'abled'. The prefix ‘dis’ means loss, deprivation, negation, absence. No wonder people say, ‘I have a #disability but don’t consider myself #disabled.’ Who wants such… Tell a friend

But given the meaning of ‘dis’ has negative connotations, a sense of negativity has been associated with disability

That it’s negative to lose functionality. It may very well be, don’t get me wrong. In general, we don’t like losing stuff. But also, when we lose functionality, we are then different from the majority of people around us. And society doesn’t always deal well with difference.

This negativity is often inherent in the everyday language people use to describe disability. For examples of this, read the article about Ellen where there are assumptions that disability is associated with not looking pretty or older age. There is also the issue that if you have a physical disability, people will assume you can’t speak for yourself or are also impacted mentally.

Most people don’t want something negative associated with themselves and their abilities. So it’s understandable that someone who has a disability may not consider themselves disabled.

People often don’t want negativity associated with their disability. Take Billy Monger mentioned above. He wants to be known for his skills first, not his disability. First and foremost, he is a human being with a career path, hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes, etc. He just happens to move around differently.

So I come back to the point I made earlier about ‘disabled’ not being quite right when people have adapted how they approach every-day activities and found new ways of being able.

What other people think and how they respond to disability

As in Ellen’s story, sometimes Joe and Jane Public can do an excellent job of sometimes inadvertently, but also overtly, disabling the person with the disability. This often happens by what they do and say, and the assumptions which underpin what they say.

For example, being told you’re inspirational for doing something normal like going shopping in your wheelchair can be frustrating. You may have worked hard to return to the every-day normal activity of shopping so you could live an independent life like everyone else around you.

What is different about you is pointed out to you and you are fully aware of this difference. But the underlying assumptions of what people say can be patronising and disabling. Take the common saying:

“I think you’re inspirational for doing your food shopping!”

The possible assumptions could be:

  • “Poor you! It must be awful to have to use a wheelchair/stick!” – This comes across as patronising. It can also be a subtle way of the speaker saying, ‘You are worse off than me.’ One person is greater, one person is less than.
  • “Wouldn’t it be easier for you to have it delivered?” – This could be a subtle discount of the person’s abilities to do their own shopping in a wheelchair.
  • “I could never do that. That must be so hard. I find it amazing you can.” – If you ever become injured or ill which causes a disability, you may need to find a way yourself.

But you can have the opposite experience as in Billy’s story where people rally around you and support you to return to as full and active life. And people treat you the same as any other person.

Feeling that one is ‘disabled’ is a very subjective experience

Every person is different. You may mind being defined by your disability, or you may not.

You may define another person by their disability, but they may not do that for themselves.

You may not mind being defined by your disability, but you may very much mind the impact of having a disability means for getting out and about and contributing in our society as Hannah Cockroft points out so well in this video. Our built environment is certainly not accessible to everyone no matter the disability they have.

You may not want to be defined by your disability but appreciate what you’ve learned or gained as a result of your life post illness or injury which now defines you.

You may or may not mind being defined by your disability but you wouldn’t hesitate to return to your life pre-disability if you could.

So when is being defined by your disability a good thing?

It depends. There can be so many responses to this. It’s not an either-or issue. There is no right or wrong way to be. Whether or not you feel defined by your disability and whether that is a good thing or not is a very individual experience.

The picture contains a box on the left which has Good in it and a box on the right which has Not Good in it. There are nine boxes in between and they are various shades of grey. Among the boxes is written: All the shades of grey and contradictions. And the caption says, 'Being defined by your disability can be all of this.' There is a man sitting on the Not Good box saying, "See me for me." There's a woman with mobility sticks standing under the Good box saying, "It helps when a shop or venue is accessible."

What’s it like for you?

What do you consider to be a disability or when someone is disabled? If you have a disability, how do you feel about being defined by your disability? Or a loved one being defined by their disability? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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Know of someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

How to love your body with illness or injury

How to love your body with illness or injury

How do you love your body with illness or injury? How do you learn to love it again? So much about your body has changed, this can feel like a really hard task. You may have loved what your body enabled you to do previously and/or how you looked.

I feel it’s important to learn how to love your body with illness or injury again. It’s the only body you have. And you have it for the rest of your life. I’m not saying this will be a quick and easy journey for you. We are all different. But who knows, maybe it will be.

Where #bodyimage, #illness or #injury and society’s expectations and stigmas collide can be a potentially destructive place. Read about that here and what you can do to ensure it isn’t. Tell a Friend

Three things made me think of this recently. My own journey back to regular exercise. Through that I was hearing how people speak about their bodies and I felt sad with what I was hearing. And an article I read about weight loss and chronic illness.

Before I go any further, I want to say that this is a really big topic and I am only addressing it from one small angle on this occasion. I may come back to this topic from another angle in the future.

Learning to love your body with illness or injury is determined by body image (before and after the illness or injury), the impact of the illness or injury, and society's expectations and stigmas. It can be a potentially destructive mix. The picture shoes these three concepts as a Venn diagram.

How to love your body with illness or injury

That journey to fall back in love with ourselves and our bodies after a serious illness or injury or alongside a chronic illness has so many parts to it and can take time.

For a time we may be angry with our bodies for betraying us. I see this a lot in cases of cancer and auto-immune conditions where people were leading healthy lives before the illness arrived. Or we are mourning the loss of a part of our bodies due to cancer or injury for example.

We learn to adapt so we can return to favourite or new activities, return to work, and re-engage with our life. But having to adapt may bring its own frustrations as we are reminded of what we can no longer do as easily as we once did.

Having to adapt how we use our bodies so we can re-engage with our lives may bring its own frustrations. We are reminded of what we can no longer do as easily as we once did. #seriousillness #seriousinjury #bodyimage Tell a Friend

Eventually, we hopefully find a way to live in our changed bodies peacefully with a recognition of and appreciation for what it can do. Of course, we may experience setbacks if we experience a flare-up and become ill or injured again. But sometimes these setbacks are due to what people say and do to us. And it can be very hurtful on the being on the receiving end of that.

So what can you do?

There are two things you can do help yourself on your journey to love your changed body with illness or injury

And a lot of what I say here is equally applicable to people who do not have any major health issues. To men as well as women.

Listen to how you speak about your body

Do you say anything like the following?

Oh, my thunder thighs! I hate how they look!

Geez, I suffer from kankle syndrome!

My boobs are too small/big/droopy.

I’ve got man boobs. I’m not man enough.

Why can’t I be slim like her?

I hate how my chin isn’t well defined.

I hate how this bit of my body no longer works.

Oh, this grey hair! I can’t look old!

It’s very common to hear the above. Lots of people say these kind of things. It’s so normal. But should it be?

Listen to the language you use about yourself. Sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves. In what feels to be not a particularly helpful way.

We speak badly about a part of our body -->
We know that part of our body is with us forever -->
We feel worse because we have to deal with it.

I wonder, how does talking this way about yourself help you?

It can be a vicious cycle that repeats. Do you really need to be doing that to yourself?

The picture shows a woman looking into a mirror thinking, "Useless weak left leg." It then shows her saying, "Every day I have to deal with this useless weak left leg." And then it shows her thinking, "This sucks. I'll never have long and lean leg." The woman is in a vicious cycle of body image, the impact of her illness (or injury) and trying to meet society's expectations of having long and lean legs. This makes it hard to love your body with illness.

I have even heard this from staff in clothing shops and stylists, ‘You want to cover up/disguise/distract from this bit of yourself.’ And they talk about our ‘bad bits’.

Can we just love ourselves and our bodies as is?

How about substituting the ‘I don’t like’ with ‘I am grateful’?

You know that gap in your thighs we women are ‘supposed’ to have? I’ll never have that. I’ve got big thighs. My shoulders are sloping. I’ve got big boobs too. Slim ankles? Nope. Don’t have that either. I have chronic pain and a loss of sensory awareness in my hands so it makes it harder to do finer things like doing up my bra and putting in earrings. Otherwise, my hands work ok.

And you know what. I’m ok with all that. It’s my body. I can walk. Not great sometimes due to arthritis and poor walking habits due to old knees injuries (which I’m working on changing through physiotherapy). I can exercise. I can kayak. I can cook. My ankles, knees, thighs, hands and shoulders all enable me to do that. I enjoy those activities. I am grateful.

That is the key point around listening to how we speak about our bodies. Changing that ‘I don’t like’ or even hate relationship with parts of your bodies to one of gratefulness for what those parts of your body enable you to do.

The ‘I don’t like’ or even hate relationships with parts of our body often originate in society’s standards for health and beauty. So on to my next point.

The ‘I don’t like’ or even hate relationships with parts of our body often originate in society’s standards for #health and beauty. #bodyimage #seriousillness #seriousinjury Tell a Friend

Be mindful of how society’s standards of health and beauty for men and women do not help

Society standards are not very forgiving. Companies constantly push an ideal body shape for men and women, beauty standards and products at us to encourage us conform to these standards. Bu the standards can be difficult or even impossible for some of us to obtain. And the time it takes out of our schedules to meet those standards!

For example, a couple of years ago Avon had this campaign about ‘getting rid of your morning face’ by using their make-up of course. In a sense, we were being told our morning face is tired looking, that that isn’t good and we should not be looking like that, but hey, Avon can fix that with their products.

Barbara Babcock with no make-up. Learn to love your body with illness or injury.

I felt sad when I saw that commercial. I love seeing my face in the morning! I don’t care how tired I look. I smile at myself in the mirror because I think that is a great way to start my day. So I tweeted my lovely morning face with no make-up to Avon.

It can also be difficult to maintain these standards too. It may not be cheap money-wise. We also age. Our skin will change, our boobs may sag, our tummies may not be as tight, our hair goes grey, and more. That’s a normal process and we all go through it. But Western society has taught us that it’s not natural and we should fight it every step of the way. At what point in our lives can we just be at peace with our bodies?

A serious illness or injury can make it even more difficult to live with society’s standards

This article about how body and weight shaming negatively impacts women living with chronic illness poignantly demonstrates this.

Weight loss can be glorified at a time when it should be raising alarm bells. But society’s standards are even dictating how medical and healthcare professionals approach weight loss and treat people who may weigh more than is desired for their body shape/age. From reading this article, you get the sense the medical and healthcare professionals weren’t making the connection between weight gain or loss with the health issue.

Your energy may not be well spent on conforming to society’s standards

I am not saying don’t ever wear make-up, colour your hair, enjoy fashion, see a stylist, etc. You may enjoy experimenting with hair colour, make-up, and fashion because it helps you express a part of yourself. Or you follow a diet and/or exercise plan to lose weight because it would be the right thing for you to do for your health and wellness.

I’m cautioning against blind acceptance and following of society’s standards for beauty and what it considers healthy. Because it may not be what is right for you and so may not help you love your body with illness or injury. Also, if you have limited energy due to being in a caring/supporting role or the illness/injury you have, you’ve got to spend that energy wisely.

So double check if what you are doing is healthy for you, your body and your sense of wellness. And if you are embarking on making changes in your diet or exercise be sure to get the ok from a suitably qualified professional, such as a GP or nutritionist. Just to make sure the changes you want to make and how you want to make them are healthy for you, won’t adversley impact on medication dosages, etc.

Pic of two tips on developing a balanced body image so you can love your body with illness or injury. Tip 1: Spend time getting to know the body part you don't like. What does it enable you to do in your life? (even if it functions differently from before) Does it enable you to do necessary activities and activities you enjoy? Practice saying, "I am grateful you help me do XYZ." Tip 2: Consume society's standards mindfully. Pick and choose what works for you and your health and sense of wellness. To ensure you expend your energy wisely and productive for you.

What’s it like for you?

How do you love your body with illness or injury? How has the relationship with your body changed? What has helped you or would help to develop a good enough relationship with your body? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to develop a new relationship with your body, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

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