Chronic Illness: How to be honest about your limitations.



When someone accuses us of not doing enough we feel terrible. Worse if we are doubting our own judgment and wonder, “Am I capable of more?”

This is a hard concept when we have a chronic illness. Our energy levels and pain threshold can change from day to day. Sometimes we doubt ourselves so much we get confused about what we are capable of doing which causes havoc in how we see ourselves in our various roles as partner, parent and productive member of society.

Defensiveness in the form retreating like a turtle or snarling back like a cornered rat, is human nature when we feel we are attacked. We can often feel attacked when we are flat on our back and our spouses or kids are pulling on us to do more.

When you know the truth about your limits there is less need to be defensive. When you have the truth in your corner it is easier to stay calm, accepting and centered in confidence.

OK, so how do we know our real limits?

By taking the time to get everyone else’s expectations out of your head and come face to face with yourself.

First: Breathe deeply and reach beyond the desire to fight or run away.

Then: Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly. Only apply the questions to the next twelve hours or so. These are 'Yes' or 'No' questions! No ‘buts’ or conditions! Go with the first answer that pops into your head.

  • Am I faking my symptoms to get away with not working?
    • Yes. Then cut it out.
    • No. Then give yourself a break. Most of us get tired just thinking of doing jobs we don’t like, even if we are healthy, but we do them anyway if we can. That's called a work ethic which doesn't go away just because we're sick.
  • Do I have enough energy to do stuff I enjoy?
    • Yes. If you do have energy to do the fun stuff you probably have enough energy to do at least a balanced number of not so fun chores.
    • No. Self-explanatory.
  • If I could do some chores would that make me feel better about myself?
    • Yes. When we are fighting illness, even the smallest accomplishments can feed our self esteem if we let it. I hate doing the laundry, but I admit that by the time everything is folded and put away, I feel pretty damn good about myself.
    • No. Then maybe you are expecting too much from yourself. It could be that you do not value the little accomplishments because you used to do them so easily.
  • At the end of the day, do I still have enough energy to take care of myself in the most basic ways, like taking a shower, communicating with family members, my medical team, preparing a meal?
    • Yes. Then you are doing a reasonable job of balancing your energy levels with activities.
    • No. You are probably over-extending what your body can do. Sometimes you can't predict this but when you can, learn from the moment and adjust for next time.

Trust yourself. Only you in your heart of hearts can know how much you reasonably can and cannot do. You may need to take this survey every morning, even multiple times during the day. That’s OK. Once you have drawn your conclusion, let go of the need to be defensive and instead calmly state, “This is what I can do right now. And that’s good.”

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