Even in the best of times it can be difficult to live with an attitude of gratitude. We can take so many things in our lives for granted; being able to get up pain free every morning, contributing our knowledge at work, simply getting dressed and ready to leave the house. When a life altering condition appears on the scene gratitude is not the typical response. After being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition with no known cure , I was in panic mode. I had no idea what would lie ahead for me; could I keep working, rais e my son or even hav e a life of any kind? The condition worsened and I had to leave my full time work as a Senior Event and Communications Coordinator at Arizona State University after 11 years of service. I had to go on disability, get state assistance and learn how to speak up for myself with doctors and insurance companies. Not an easy task when you’re spirally into a depression.
It wasn’t an easy road but it is a manageable one if you can learn to concentrate on one small step at a time. First, get into the care of a physician and specialists who are well trained and knowledgeable about your condition. Don’t ever let a medical professional try to demean you or make you think you’re crazy for feeling the way you do. They aren’t the doctor for you – keep searching. You need supportive advocate s for your health and they are out there in the form of physicians, family, support groups and friends. Talk to friends and family about what is going on with you physically and emotionally. If they can’t understand or are unable to support you then you may need to explain to them that although you care for them very much, you will not be relying on them for support during this time in your life. And from that point on you can talk to them about anything, except your condition, which may mean you don’t speak to them very frequently but this is about taking care of you not them.
Support groups are another wonderful place to look for like minded and understanding individuals who are going through the same or similar issues as yourself. Now, to clarify, by support group I am not referring to a group of individuals with the same conditions who sit around once a week and complain about each and every thing that has gone wrong with them or their lives. Yes, venting has its time and place but a support group should do just that SUPPORT. Offer books that are well written , tips for staying positive, references for doctors and other therapies that could help and a safe place to discuss your feelings and challenges with those who will support you and encourage you to keep going. Many support groups will also allow your family or friends to come with you so they can ask questions and gain some knowledge on what it means to have a pain condition.
Building your support system is the most important thing you can do. We all need to surround ourselves with loving and supportive individuals and keep any others at a distance . This is a time for guilt free selfishness. Our job is to practice extreme self-care ; how else can we ever be there for others if we are not able to take care of ourselves.
Once your support system is established and you have knowledgeable doctors working with you, the next step involves reinventing your daily life. What should your new daily routine involve? We need to figure out how our days will be, what kind of support will be needed with tasks we didn’t need assistance with in the past. Our lives have changed so it’s natural that our routines will change with it. Educating ourselves on our needs and physical limitations is important. Physical and emotional therapies should be included in our daily routines. For Fibromyalgia patients yoga and gardening are very good for both physical and emotional therapy. Meditation is also a valuable tool. It can be difficult for many people to meditate, especially when their lives have been turned upside down and depression is so close to us. But meditation comes in many forms. There is the typical form of sitting or lying down and quietly meditating but there are also guided meditations, moving meditations and deep relaxing meditations like Yoga Ni dra . So don’t be discouraged if one form doesn’t feel right to you. Just try another until you find the way that works best for you.
All of the steps listed above will help lead you to the next step; learning to live with gratitude in sickness. It can be extremely challenging to find anything to be grateful for when our health feels like it is no longer within our control to change and improve. All of the previous steps enable you to appreciate what you have in a positive light. I’ve listened to and watched others with similar pain conditions complain and live in constant depression over what they consider their ‘lot in life’. They allow their conditions to fester and worsen over time. I know, I’ve been there myself. What I’ve learned through this journey , I do have control over my life and my body. My mind, my ability to recognize my emotions and reach for better feeling thoughts, is the strongest and most important ability I hold within myself. I have complete control, nothing can take that control away from me unless I let it.
One of the hardest challenges we all seem to face, whether we are in perfect health or not, is in taking responsibility for our emotions. It is so much easier to just put the blame on someone or something else. We give our power away to everyone who upsets us. It becomes even more challenging as our health declines. But what we should actively work on each day is realizing and accepting the fact that no matter what others are doing around us, we can live with joy, with appreciation and with gratitude in our lives. By turning away from what we do not want and spending our time with recognizing all the good that we have we actually begin increasing our ability to change our lives, to change our health.
This can seem like an impossible feat in the beginning. It involves being honest with yourself and others, setting up boundaries and sticking to them, actively practicing extreme self-care each and every day. All of this is possible, its that it can be uncomfortable at first because we are not accustomed to thinking of ourselves first. We aren’t accustomed to being brutally honest with ourselves about what we really do want and need, and then expressing those needs. It can be frightening at first but I can guarantee that it gets easier, even enjoyable once you get the hang of it. And I can tell you all from personal experience that once you start putting out there what you want, once you take responsibility for your emotions, this is the place where miracles can and do happen.
This is why the first steps are so crucial to reaching this point. Gratitude does not come easily to those in pain – period. That’s why we need our support system’s in place, we need to have a list to go to for inspiration and support.
Some steps to get you started:
Write out a gratitude list (and continue to add to it). Put it up somewhere that you can see it every day. Keep a copy with you at all times. If you start to feel negative, take it out, take a deep breath and read your list to remind you of what you do have that’s good in your life.
Make a list of any friends, family or support group members who you can call when you need to talk. Only list those who will be kind, supportive and encouraging.
Keep the number of your doctor, therapist or counselor handy in case you need to make an appointment, and find out about emergency procedures their office may have if you need to speak to or see someone immediately.
Declutter your home to declutter your mind. The more ‘stuff’ that is packed in around us physically the more anxious, depressed and stressed we feel. All of these emotions lead to increased pain. Start in one corner of a room if you need to, just do your best to simplify your life. We can breath easier when our homes, or place of solace and peace, is in order.
Delegate . Find friends, family, support group members and/or other organizations that can assist you with small things like cleaning the house, walking the dog, helping you with shopping or budgeting. If you have children hopefully you have someone who can help with getting the kids to school and babysitting when you really need help. You need to lighten your load and stop expecting so much from yourself. If there is someone else on this planet who can do the job, see if you can delegate it.
It is so important to work towards releasing what you can, simplifying your home and life and establishing your support system in order to reach your goal of gratitude. It may feel like a million miles away but it doesn’t need to. Our minds have far more ability to change our health around than any medication can. Physicians do studies constantly on the placebo affect with various medications and with a multitude of conditions and ailments . Study after studies shows that those with a positive attitude, a healthy support system and a strong belief in what ever unknown pill they are being given, are able to heal themselves. Pain conditions are one of the ailments that show significant findings in regards to lowering pain levels by having a more positive outlook and keeping to a healthy lifestyle.
I’ve heard the same complaints over and over again from fellow pain sufferers that this is all we have. Our lives will never get better. The doctors will never believe me or figure this out. I’ve been in the lonely place of feeling this worn out, this overwhelmed and this hopeless. I know first hand that we don’t have a magic switch we can hit to feel better. Take baby steps, one day at a time and eventually you can and will get there. This I can promise.