2018: A Year to Cultivate Resilience

Again, we have just bared witness as tour diaries turned the page over into a brand new year.  And as such, we begin to reflect on the previous year and make plans for the next.  With the best intentions, people make resolutions only to break them before the end of January.

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When living with a chronic illness, however, life becomes unpredictable.  Every day we wake up, never knowing how our bodies are going to behave that minute, hour or day.  We never know how we are going to feel one minute to the next.

As a result, making resolutions to us seems to be futile. How can we make realistic and achievable resolutions when our lives are so uncertain, and our bodies unreliable? By doing so, are we setting ourselves up for possible failure by making unrealistic expectations?

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Last year, therefore, instead of making such demands on my life, which due to my fragile body I may not be able to accomplish, I come up with a ‘theme’ for the year ahead.  One word that reflects how I wish to live my life and be a reflection of the type of person I want to become.  The chosen word is said to be a compass to help direct us to make smart decisions as well as a guide to the best way to live life day-to-day.

It is now my third year in choosing a word of the year.  In 2016 my chosen word was hope, and my word for 2017 was grace

I had been having a hard time, however, of choosing a word to help direct how I wanted me and my life to become.  Inspiration came this morning when the weakness in the legs consumed me and was unable to get out of bed.  It is unfortunately not an uncommon experience for me, and such ‘attacks’ have even known to last all day.  The strength and function of my legs returned a couple of hours later and was able to get out of bed.  Then Eureka, the word came to me – resilience. 

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Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.”  It is a quality in which a person rather than letting failure or obstacles defeat them, they find a way to overcome such stumbling blocks and rise from the ashes.  When living with a chronic illness, resilience is also about learning to recognise and accept that life with an illness is much like riding a rollercoaster, with many ups and downs.   Secondly, it is about learning coping strategies to acquire the strength and ability to take the ride. Then, an action plan can be put in place to help ourselves better cope with the challenges caused by chronic illness.

Some say that resilience is a quality that I possess in great supply.  These people see a person who despite everything a neurological condition throws at her, she still manages to get up and get on with life.  But, then again I don’t have much choice.

But emotionally when dealing with setbacks and the upheaval of coping when the symptoms are at its worse, then I somewhat of a mess!  The negativity and upset that it causes impacts on my internal dialogue, my behaviours and my self-worth, and leaves me feeling depleted and flat.  So, resilience is my word for the year as I want to learn to be more conscious of how life with this neurological condition is impacting me and to decide how I want to react.

Emotionally, I want to be able to bounce back quickly after confronting such debilitating symptoms. To not dwell on the negative and instead more productive ways to cope when these do occur.

I am starting my journey to resilience by keeping a ‘joy jar.’

Every day it is going to be my mission to write something that gave me joy, or that something that I managed to accomplish despite the limitations that the neurological condition places on my everyday life.  I can look back on these little notes of joy, positivity and encouragement on the awful days and allow myself to remember everything that I able to do instead of focusing on what I cannot or no longer able to do.

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Wish me luck on my journey of discovering resilience!

What is going to be your ‘one word’ of the year?

2017: A Year for Grace

2017 is, many would argue is finally upon us.

It is the time for new calendars, new diaries, and for many the promise of a fresh start as if January 1st provides a clean slate, erasing all of our past mistakes and bad habits.  As if the turn of a date on a calendar assures us that we will become entirely new and improved people.

 

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Welcome, 2017!

 

It is also the year when lots of people make ambitious and unrealistic new year’s resolutions which will inevitably be broken before the beginning of February.

For those of us living with chronic illness, however, making new such resolutions can be especially difficult as, well, our lives are completely unpredictable.  We wake each day not knowing how we are going to feel that day, or what we will be physically able or unable to do.  One day we can be living a seemingly normal life, running around doing chores whereas we can be in the midst of a flare the next, the only thoughts being how to survive getting through the day.  Some days we are able to live whereas others are about just existing.

 

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It’s the time for making new promises to ourselves to make us better.  What are your resolutions for 2017?

 

With this mind, therefore, how can we make realistic and achievable resolutions when our lives are so uncertain, and our bodies unreliable?  We may have all the intention in the world to keep such resolutions but when living with chronic illness we are often not in control of our own bodies and instead are governed by the constant symptoms we endure.  Are we setting ourselves for failure by making such unrealistic expectations?  Could it also affect our already fragile confidence if we do indeed fail in these unrealistic expectations for the new year?

A new recent trend advises forgetting to make New Year’s Resolutions and to instead focus on just one word that sums up who you want to be or how you wish yo live your life.  The word, if given full commitment can not only shape our year, but also the person we become.  The word chosen is said to be a compass which can be used to direct our decisions and guides ultimately how we live day-to-day.

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My word last year was HOPE.  Although many people would describe me as a positive person, I often felt that hope was out of reach because of the effects that living with a neurological condition was having on my life.  I wanted my life to be about hope; focusing on the positives instead of dwelling on life with chronic illness.  To be able to appreciate and embrace the small joys of life and celebrate the achievements, however small.

This year my chosen word is GRACE. Life with a neurological condition for me personally continues to be challenging and difficult.  Every day, the symptoms associated with my condition affect my daily existence dictating what I am or not able to do.  And that can be frustrating and burdensome.

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According to its many definitions, grace is about being at ease with the world, even when life is arduous such as living with a life-altering medical condition.  To live with gratitude; being thankful for what I do have in my life, and being aware of the blessings that even challenging times provide.

Grace, for me personally, is also about kindness – showing kindness not only to others but also to yourself.  For those living with chronic illness, we are not always guilty of showing ourselves kindness instead harbouring feelings of regret and repentance of things we are not able to do or for cancelling plans whilst we are in the midst of a flare.  Often we harbour feelings of resentment towards our conditions, wishing them away and yearning to be ‘normal.’

But what if grace was also the acceptance that life is not always about trying to be a round peg attempting to fit inside the square hole.  What if grace is instead about finding our unique and individual strengths whatever our circumstances and despite the personal limitations that each of us is living with and developing those as best we can.

Grace is finding purpose in our lives; doing what we love and loving what we do.

And that is my wish for 2017.

What would be your one word?

 

 

 

 

 

2016: A Year of Hope

Presents have all been ferociously unwrapped, the christmas decorations have been taken down, and 2015 has been erased to make room for a new start that 2016 promises us.

Just like in the sand, 2015 is being erased to make way for 2016
Just like in the sand, 2015 is being erased to make way for 2016

It’s been a time of reflection, in which we acknowledge the people, events, and the changes that helped to define what the year has meant to us, as well as a time to look forward to the future and all the hopes and possibilities that it may bring.

In my notable absence from blogging, I have been experiencing some of the lowest points in my journey of living with a neurological condition.  The pain and trembling in the legs has been so bad that it has almost overpowered everything else; overpowered in a way that concentrating on anything has been increasingly difficult.  There have been so many moments that I wished, like a faulty computer I could simply press CTRL+ALT+DEL to reboot my troublesome limbs.

From Pinterest
From Pinterest

Consequently most of the Christmas period was spent on the sofa, doing my shopping online and enjoying the overly cheesy and sentimental films that the festive season brings. Of course, all of these festive films are all essentially different versions of the same clichéd premise: chaos ensues into the lives of the films protagonist only for it to eventually remind them what is important in life as they emerge from it a better person.

It's A Wonderful Life is the ultimate Christmas film
It’s A Wonderful Life is the ultimate Christmas film

Furthermore, these Christmas films, also emphasises the importance of hope.  The hope for a happily ever after.  The hope of children that the myth of Father Christmas is real, as well as the hope of presents under the tree on Christmas morning!

The concept of hope and acceptance is important in the chronic illness community and one which I have mentioned in previous posts.  The hope that despite chronic illness and its limitations upon our lives we are still able to find purpose and carve out a successful and fulfilled life.  That is not to say that we all hope for a miraculous recovery or cure from our ails, as this very often the case would be extremely remote, but hope for a better tomorrow despite the circumstances of our lives.

This year I choose hope...
This year I choose hope…

It is strange that before the deterioration of my symptoms within the last few weeks of 2015, I had thought I had reached acceptance of my condition and wore hope like a badge.  However, like items such keys or our mobile phones, hope and acceptance can become mislaid and we are once again navigating the ‘stages of grief’.  It is a continuous cycle of ups and downs in which our journey to acceptance starts again and again.

We are now at that time of year when New Year Resolutions are made and trying to be kept!  Often these resolutions are not meaningful, unattainable and are completely out of reach of our expectations.  But what if we focused on how we would like to feel during the year instead of what we would like to achieve?  By focusing on our ‘core desired feelings’ we are much more likely to achieve our goals (if these goals are consistent with how we want to feel).

Many people are doing this by creating  a ‘one word‘ for the year.  A word to focus upon every day for the 366 days of 2016.  One word that perfectly epitomises who we want to be or how we want to live our lives.  The choice of the word is important as for the year, it will become a compass in life, as it directs your decision-making and guides you through each day.

My word for the year is…HOPE.

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I had thought that HOPE is something that I live with everyday, as I live with the neurological condition.  However, after reflecting on this last relapse, and its effect on my emotional health, I realise that like many other people experiencing difficult times, hope is something that I feel is out of reach.

However, during 2016 I would once again like to pick up the torch of hope and run with it for the duration of the year and through the finishing line at the end of this year. Yes, hope is often difficult during the trying days with chronic illness.  But I also think, that hope is an important word for those navigating life with chronic illness, as if one has hope then it can lead to many other things, such as acceptance and peace for example.  William Wordsworth once said ‘not without hope we suffer and mourn’, and I for one agree as in the times I have been without hope during my own personal journey with illness, life was much more difficult; mourning for an old life that was no longer mine to live.

This year, I intend to focus on the positives despite living with a long-term condition.  To appreciate and embrace the small achievements made and accept that these small steps has an impact no matter how insignificant; and furthermore to see these small steps as building blocks to bigger achievements.

I am starting this new positive and more hopeful outlook by creating my own ‘happiness jar’ in which I am going to write all the good and positive things that is going to happen during the next year.   These notes will be then placed in the jar and on New Year’s Eve, only then I can open the jar and marvel at all the wonderful events that has shaped the year.

Image: Pinterest
Image: Pinterest

I would also like to see this year as a blank slate.  To not look at the past failures and bad times that 2015 saw, and get caught up with the things that I did not achieve, but rather see the new year as a fresh start, with endless possibilities and opportunities to explore.

And as I experience bad days due to unrelenting symptoms, I will focus on my one word and remember that it is just a bad day, but it does not have to mean that the entire year will consist of days like them.  I will focus on hope and move forward with life; neurological condition and all,

What is going to be your word for 2016?

 

The sound of illness is often silence…

When living with a chronic illness, any chronic illness there are of course many symptoms that we are forced to live with as a consequence.  Both physical and psychological effects of living with a long-term health condition such as the neurological condition that I live with everyday.  Perhaps one of the most significant and common psychological repercussions of living with a chronic illness, which is not always discussed is loneliness.

Loneliness is often discussed in relation to the elderly.  It is often seen as a consequence of getting older.  However, loneliness is a feeling that can strike at any age and whatever the personal circumstances of the individual concerned.  In my personal experience, through personal experience and with engaging with those within the chronic illness and the ‘spoonie’ community, loneliness can also be very much evident when living with chronic illness.  Not only is loneliness is felt in terms of living with a chronic illness itself, in the feeling that no else understands what it is like with living with such an illness. However, loneliness can also manifest itself in the physical sense – the lack of company.  One often consequence of being diagnosed with a chronic illness, is that friends can disappear from our lives.  Many cannot handle seeing a friend being in pain, or cannot understand when plans are often cancelled due to the onset of debilitating symptoms.  Living with chronic illness can often result in many hours spent alone in our homes.  Hours spent lying in bed or on a comfortable sofa.  Hours spent binge-watching boxsets, often because a lack of other options and to fill the deafening silence that surrounds us.

Bank Holidays are a time where loneliness and isolation feels more evident when living with chronic illness
Holidays are a time where loneliness and isolation feels more evident when living with chronic illness

Being alone is something that I routinely have to deal with as my parents are often working and have few friends living nearby that have the time to visit and keep me company on those days in which my symptoms are particularly bad.  It was on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day this year however, the feeling of loneliness and isolation was particularly evident.  Like previous years, I celebrated the start of New Year alone, whilst my parents were sleeping upstairs (both were unfortunately started work early the next day) and as I had no contact with anybody and no-one had bothered to phone or text me to wish me a Happy New Year the feelings of loneliness were exacerbated. I felt jealous whilst watching the live New Year celebrations on television and seeing those people who were friends and family for the night meant for celebration, whilst I was sat on my own.  The first day of a brand new year also started on my own in an empty house with only a dog whose only interest was sleeping.  As cards drove onto our street and emptied with the arrival of visitors to other houses in my street, I  felt even more alone and felt incredibly low.

It’s frustrating living with a neurological condition like mine.  Due to the symptoms which are particularly debilitating such as the dizziness and weakness in the legs (which are unpredictable and it’s not known when they may give way), I am not able to get out of the house alone.  Therefore, as a result it makes it even more difficult to be able to go out and make new friends.  It’s as if my neurological condition has torn down bridges between myself and the life that I want to lead, and instead has built a wall around me, trapping and confining me.

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It is of course, easy to make online friends or even penpals which I have been trying as a way to quench my thirst for human interaction and companionship.  These are great substitutes and an easy way to make new friends, but I still crave face-to-face interaction with someone around my own age over a cup of hot chocolate.  Isn’t that we all want in life?  Plenty of friends that we can count on during the good and bad times in our lives?  How to achieve that when living with an illness that prevents you from leaving the house unaided is still a huge question that remains.

Although that I hope to gain new friends during the coming year, and hoping that I will have people to celebrate the start of 2016 with…