Two times in two days I’ve ended up in a conversation about how hard it is to learn how to be sick, dealing with all the ups and downs of chronic illness and remembering to live like you’re still sick on the days when you feel good.
The first conversation I had with someone who is new to chronic pain; the second conversation was with someone new to chronic fatigue. Both were professional women, used to being more than capable of doing whatever needed to be done. Yesterday’s conversation was in an executive’s windowed corner office while her staff ran her extremely busy practice. In that case, I was paying money to see her. Today’s conversation was with a friend at a coffee shop. The situations were different, but the conversations were the same.
So how DO you do live with a chronic illness like fibromyalgia or CFS? As my friend said, “How do people who have this actually live and make a living?” The hard answer is that depending on how bad your fatigue or pain is, there’s a possibility you might not be able to work. The other hard answer is that even if you’re “not that bad” and you can work, you won’t get better if you don’t stop abusing your body. That may not be a popular way to put it, but it’s the truth.
Treating your body like a mule you can push, prod, and force to do things is abusive. You were not created to be a beast of burden. I touched on this a little bit in How Office Organizing Relates to Fibromyalgia and Cherry Blossoms as a Symbol for Fibromyalgia, but I think more needs to be said.
Really think about it for a moment — if you let someone else treat you the way you’re treating yourself, would it be abusive?
Let me give you a few examples from my own life:
- I often went to bed at 4 AM and got up at 8 AM, getting only four hours of sleep a night.
- I would sit at my computer or work on a project for 6-8+ hours without eating, drinking, or taking a break.
- If there was something that I thought was really important that needed to be done, I would sometimes force myself to work all night, just to be sure it was done before the next morning.
- When I felt crappy, I often ate “comfort food,” you know, chocolate, ice cream, sugar, carbs… In other words, when I felt like crap, I ate crap. Even though I know that eating gluten causes me physical pain, I would sometimes even eat gluten!
- I would ignore the stress and pain signals my body was sending me, such as headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, hunger, brain fatigue, emotional fatigue; and keep going “because I had to.”
Now, if I told you that there was someone who was there forcing me to do those things, what would you say? You’d tell me to get the heck out of there, right? You’d tell me that it was a really unhealthy relationship and I needed to find a new one, I hope! But there wasn’t anyone else there; it was just me.
So the first commandment if you want to get well, if you want healing from your fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, is this: you must honor your body.
Honor your body
You are not a donkey or a mule that can be a beast of burden. You need to learn to love and honor your body; you need to begin to treat your body with kindness and gentleness.
I know, I know. That brings up all kinds of… stuff… doesn’t it? There’s probably a reason we haven’t been honoring our bodies, right?
In a flash of revelation one day, I realized that I was abusing my body like that because I didn’t like my body.
My attitude was, “God, why did you give me this defective body? It’s always had issues. If it was a car, I could have traded it in on the lemon law by now!”
Then I’d go back to abusing my body, just waiting for the day that I’d die and get a new one. It was kind of a “duh” moment. I didn’t like my body, so I treated it like I didn’t like it!
The funny thing about your body is that it has a way of getting even with you, like a donkey would. You abuse it long enough and finally it just gets stubborn. That’s what happened to me. I couldn’t boss myself around anymore. I couldn’t push myself to stay up until 4 AM and expect to wake up at 8 AM. My body expected to be fed regularly in order to perform. You might say it went on strike; it got my attention and in the process got my respect. (In other words, that’s when my fibromyalgia got really bad!)
You see, you’re only gonna get one body — the one you’re in right now. You can treat it like you hate it; you can abuse it, push it, prod it, and it WILL give out on you. Or you can honor it, love it, care for it, give it what it needs, what YOU need, and it will respond.
The fact is, you really can’t do anything without your body. It’s more than just part of you; it IS you. When you love someone, it’s your hands that do things for them, your arms that hug them, your lips that kiss them, your mouth that tells them you love them. It’s your shoulder they cry on, your face they look at in pictures. Talking to you on the phone isn’t enough, they miss your physical presence near them — your body, YOU.
I’ve found that when someone starts working with me to improve their health, wanting to be there for the people that they love is always one of their top three reasons. It looks different for each person, but here’s some common ones:
- I really miss all the things my husband and I used to enjoy doing together. If I had more energy, I could do them again.
- I hate that I have to miss out when my family goes places, but I just can’t walk like I used to. If I lost some weight my knees wouldn’t hurt so much and I could join my family.
- My young kids have so much energy and I just don’t. I have to take care of myself so that I can have the energy to keep up with my kids!
- I want to be healthier so that I can live longer to enjoy my grandkids. I don’t want them growing up without grandparents like I did.
- I feel so guilty saying no to my kids when they want to go to the pool just because I’m self-conscious in a bathing suit.
What is it that made these people decide to take care of their bodies and be successful?
They may have had some kind of a wake-up call, but underneath it all, I believe the ones that are successful in making lasting changes have decided to honor their bodies. I believe that they have made peace with their bodies and have transitioned from seeing their bodies as something separate from themselves to seeing their bodies as part of themselves.
I’ll explore some practical ways you can honor your body — and learn to love it in the process — in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, what has this brought up for you?
June 11, 2011 — Update: The next installment in this series, Honoring Your Body: Getting to Know YOU, is now up!
June 16, 2011 — Update: The next installment in this series, Honoring Your Body: Practical Advice, Part 1, is now up!
June 21, 2011 — Update: The last installment in this series, Honoring Your Body: Practical Advice, Part 2, is now up!
“Mule in Northern Africa” © berndwalter / iStock 2008.