Right around this time of year, it’s customary to start sharing our resolutions for the New Year; those things that we’ve been wanting to accomplish but have not done so far. In this blog post, as 2012 comes to a close, I’m not going to be sharing any new resolutions. Instead, I am going to affirm the things that have worked for me so well, up until now.
This isn’t just some trendy term from the Harvard Business Review. For me, it’s become an integral part of my life, and has actually become somewhat of a miracle worker. You see, most of us are familiar with the aspect of disappointment that results from not having achieved what we had hoped to, but I think what exactly we hope for is a part of the equation that often goes less unnoticed. Now, I’m certainly not advocating for losing hope or for lowering one’s expectations…in fact, what I would advise is the exact opposite. It is absolutely essential, however, to not only set realistic expectations, but to set expectations which are in line with one’s own capabilities. If I wake up thinking I’m going to accomplish ten things on my to-do list, chances are I’m going to be disappointed. While it might be possible to accomplish five to seven things, I’m probably going to finish in a worst state than which I started. Figuring out the two or three things I want to do, and doing them well, it going to increase my chances of being able to do the same tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and so on. (And on those days when my list of accomplishments is limited to getting out of bed, taking a bath, grooming myself, and getting back in bed, I do indeed feel a sense of complete success. What’s the use of burdening myself with thoughts of failure?)
Think Before You React
Writing this blog has exposed me to a wide range of different ways of thinking, which I absolutely love. It has also brought me into contact with some individuals who, for one reason or another, vehemently disagree with the way I cope with my rheumatoid arthritis, and who feel the need to tell me as much in words that are not always kind, respectful, or polite. As a normal human being, I must admit that these messages sometimes make me feel defensive; they sometimes make me feel like I personally am being attacked. After a long discussion with my dental hygienist last week (I love that I have ended up with so many multi-functional healthcare professionals in my life!), I finally came to accept (even though many friends have told me the same over the past few years) that such messages had nothing to do with me, and had everything to do with the person on the other end. So I’ve promised myself that anytime I receive such a message in the future, in addition to following the non-engagement policy that has served me so well to date, I will not only not internalize the unhappiness that is being transmitted in such messages, but I will externalize positive energy, in the hopes that *all* of us find peace in the challenges we encounter.
Help Yourself By Helping Others
I always grew up being told that no matter how little we might have, we always had more than many others. As such, we needed to learn how to share, and how to help others. Now that I live in one of the poorest countries of South America, this lesson continues to be driven home. While I’m relatively poor compared to my friends and family in the United States and other parts of the worlds, I’m considered by many to be well-off here where I live. (It’s part of this dichotomy that can be confusing at times; while I am unable to afford healthcare in the U.S. I am able to afford 100% out-of-pocket private healthcare here.) My intent, however, is not to focus on the financial aspect of helping others (even though I have been the recipient of such help many times, and can attest to the huge difference it can to a person who is being forced to decide between medicines, utilities, and groceries). Helping someone else just makes you feel good, and who wouldn’t want that? Most importantly, helping others helps stop in its tracks any feelings of victim-hood. It also does double-duty, as when I am down in the ruts, helping others serves as a reminder of how much I can actually help myself.
Don’t Try To Control That Which Is Outside Of Your Control
(Don’t you just love how some of the most life-transforming beliefs are so simple, yet so absolutely difficult to fully accept and achieve?) Years ago, when I was not keeping up with the challenges of living with rheumatoid arthritis, a close family member would repeatedly tell me: you may not be able to control your pain, but you can control how you react to it. This was not something that I was told just one time, or even a dozen of times. It was something that I heard over and over and over again. With time, it slowly started to sink in, until it eventually became one of the first thoughts that would enter my mind during times of crisis. (Thus pushing aside thoughts such as I can’t deal with this anymore, or what will I do if the pain gets worse?) These words continue to remind me that no matter how much pain I might be in, no matter how upside-down (throw in a few more dimensions and then you might be able to really understand what it feels like) my world might seem at times, one thing will continue to remain unchanged: I am in control of my thoughts. And being in control of my thoughts, especially during times of crisis, is a true gift that I can apply to so many aspects of my life beyond just the chronic illness.
Just as every day is a new opportunity to learn how to best move through this journey called life, so to is every new flare a chance to figure out how to better cope with the pain and disability. Adopting this attitude also goes a long way in removing the fear that I thought was inherent in my future with rheumatoid arthritis. I no longer dread the next flare, the next morning that I’m stuck in bed and cannot even roll over, or the next time that I am completely unable to use my hands. I can’t necessarily claim that I will ever look forward to such items, but I can say that I really do look forward to the opportunity to learn something new when I find myself in one of these situations. I have found that as my rheumatoid arthritis continues to progress, such a way of thinking is absolutely critical. Yes, the pain and the disability continue to present greater challenges…but I am confident that by continuing to build upon what I already have learned, I will continue to be able to meet the challenges that are placed in my path.
Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful 2013!
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!