The Difference Between Misery and Contentment

I’m not terribly fond of New Years Resolutions.  Why should we wait until December 31st to begin a life shift?  In my experience, this tradition has set me up for failure too many times!  Don’t get me wrong – I love the concept! I think it’s important to re-examine our lives from time to time so we can make the necessary changes to grow as human beings. 

One amazing gift I’ve received from chronic disease is a deep appreciation for the short time we will be on earth.  I never wait to tell someone I love them. I don’t like to leave issues unresolved.  I take every opportunity to create memories with my family and friends. Waiting until the last day of the year to focus on these priorities could be too late.

I know, that all sounds depressing, right?  Well to me, it really isn’t depressing at all!  I actually get a sense of pride and accomplishment when I say what needs to be said and resolve issues so they no longer drain my spirit. Imagine going to bed each night without a list of regrets.  How would it feel to know with absolute certainty that every friend and family member knows they are loved and appreciated by you? What if every single item on that bucket list was checked off, and you took advantage of every spontaneous joy that came your way? It sounds like heaven to me!

No, I have not achieved all of this yet – not even close!  All I can do is try every day to keep my mind moving in a positive direction.

I seem to be in a constant state of self-evaluation. Over time, I have uncovered some rather unhealthy patterns. Every morning, I try to re-commit to changing those habits.  Here are some of my self destructive habits, and what I do address each one:

  • Feeling like I am less valuable because of my illness:
    This is a constant battle for me. It’s easy for me to believe I’m not contributing because my body won’t let me hold a job. That feeling left me with the belief that I had nothing to offer without a paycheck.  After five years, I’m starting to see things differently.  My value is so much more than a job.  I give the gift of time.  When a friend/family member needs a compassionate ear, I’m here.  When I volunteer on the crisis line, I’m there for a complete stranger.  When one of my kids needs to work out an issue in their lives, I’m here to listen and provide guidance.  I’m starting to see that I matter in their lives.  I have a purpose to them regardless so of my employment status.
  • Spending too much time thinking about the illness:
    In my reality, bad medical news and the practical needs of a chronic illness can easily take over.  If nothing else, it’s time consuming! Doctor appointments, new medications, fevers, drug side effects, fatigue, and so many other issues can easily consume every thought. I’m making a conscious effort to counter every illness related thought with something life-affirming. When I think “I’m so tired of being sick.  I’m always sick!” I counter it with something like “I’m like a cat! I have 9 lives!  This isn’t going to kill me! I’ve muscled through tougher things without breaking a sweat.  I can do this!”
  • Beating myself up for beating myself up:
    When my mind drifts into the negative, I’m quick to judge myself.  Why can’t I just always think positively? Things would be great if I could JUST keep my mind from going into pain and despair.  I KNOW that positive thinking can shape the way I feel on so many levels.  Why then can’t I just DO IT?  Interestingly enough, when I have a ‘bad’ thought, I always end up having this argument with myself.  How dare I think bad thoughts?!

    The reality is bad thoughts will creep in.  There’s no stopping them.  My only choice is whether or not to continue feeding those thoughts.  Instead of berating myself for having negative emotions (and creating even more negativity), I now give myself a break.  I acknowledge the feelings, then present a counter-argument that addresses the other side – the positive side.  Ignoring the bad stuff doesn’t work.  Acknowledging that the bad does exist and consciously making the decision to see the more positive side is much more effective.

Here’s what it boils down to:  I am a wonderfully flawed human being.  Bad thoughts (and sometimes actions) will creep in whether I like it or not.  I take time on a regular basis to allow myself to deal with the miserable stuff and promptly release.  Not sure how to release the bad stuff?  Here are some of the things I do:

  1. Write down all of the bad stuff on a piece of paper, then burn the paper
  2. guided meditation to release
  3. talk it out with someone
  4. work it out through exercise (if you physically can)
  5. go to a support group
  6. Most important – learn to forgive yourself for being sick.

How do you deal with the unfortunate reality of illness?  How do you let go of negative thoughts and behaviors?

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