How to Stay Positive When Living with a Chronic Disease
I met a wonderful woman recently who, while dealing with a debilitating disease, started a business from her bed! She still lives with this disease, though she has found lifestyle changes and treatment options that help her live more “normally.”
She and I had a lovely conversation comparing notes about how we managed to accomplish things and remain productive when most of the time we could barely function physically. I was telling her about being diagnosed with terminal cancer decades ago and that I was given just months to live. I was not only scared out of my properly-functioning mind, but most days felt like utter garbage. And yet I was still on this mission to find answers; to find the kind of medicine that would save my life. That was a full-time job and some of it was done from my bed or sofa!
Anyway, I thought this would make an interesting blog post, because the truth is, the majority, if not all, of the information online about how to be productive and how to be positive is usually not from the point of view of someone facing a chronic illness and/or debilitating disease.
Think about some of the advice you’ve herd over the years about being a positive and productive person. They tell you to do things like “Get up at 5AM”… “Workout first thing in the morning”… “Set goals and stick to them”… “Keep a consistent routine”… etc.
Well I’ve got news for whoever is writing these kinds of articles: If you are living with a debilitating disease, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE for you to keep a routine, exercise first thing – or even exercise at all, get up very early and set goals and stick to them. Life with a major illness means your body will force you to sleep whenever it wants or needs. It means you’ll set a goal, but maybe won’t reach it because you’re too busy puking your guts out. A consistent routine? Ha! The only thing consistent when I was fighting cancer was my desire to make the pain and fear of dying go away!
No, that advice simply doesn’t work when you are living with a chronic, debilitating disease. And yet, despite the disease, life is going on all around you. You may still have to try and work to put food on the table. You still have to try and raise the family and be the business leader your staff is counting on.
Here are some ways I managed to stay positive, motivated and productive when I was battling cancer years ago.
Stop Trying to be Perfect (Or who you were before you got sick)
Even when we are at peak health, we will never be perfect. It’s just not a realistic goal. And it’s really not realistic when you are battling a major illness.
If you are battling a chronic disease or debilitating illness, you have probably found that you can’t do what you used to do. Maybe you were someone who could easily write an awesome email to a coworker, and now you find your mind just isn’t as sharp as it was. Maybe you used to be able to clean your entire house in 3 hours, and now just cleaning up the kitchen takes a toll on you.
Now is not the time to try and perform every task perfectly or how you used to. Save your energy and your sanity for those tasks that do require a certain level of high performance and let everything be “as good as you can manage to get it.” You can’t be productive or positive if you are getting bogged down in all of the things you can’t do. Get one or two things done and done well, and the rest, do the best you can and leave it at that!
Don’t Bite off More Than You Can Chew
In addition to not trying to perform every task perfectly, you shouldn’t be trying to do as much right now. You only have so much energy and ability to focus, so you’ve got to really pick and choose where you are going to put your energy and attention.
Do you have to answer every single email?
Do you have to attend every single social event?
Do you have to clean the entire house, make cookies, wash the dogs AND vacuum your car?
No, you really don’t. Please make the smartest decisions you can right now and be patient with yourself.
Prioritize Tasks Based on Ability
When I was battling cancer, there were days I felt pretty good and had a decent amount of energy. Then there were those days I felt incredibly sick and really emotional. I learned I needed to make a to-do list and prioritize tasks based on my ability that day.
So for instance, I had a running list of things I needed to tackle and would decide what got done that day based on the length of the task, how my mind was working, how my body was working, how able I was to handle stress, etc. Those days I was feeling quite well, I prioritized the biggest/hardest tasks. Those days I was barely able to function, I tackled something far smaller.
Each day I tried to do something to stay productive, but I was realistic about the types of tasks I could accomplish.
Celebrate Your Victories
I spent far too much time at the beginning of my illness getting down on myself for all of the things I couldn’t do. I was full of despair and in a big BIG funk. I learned quickly that in order to heal, I would have to remain as positive as I could. And to do THAT I would have to celebrate myself and all of my victories big and small.
That meant there were days I actually celebrated the fact that I got out of bed, showered and dressed. That may not seem like a win to a healthy person but when you are battling a major illness, let me tell you, that is cause for celebration!
Celebrate yourself, all of your efforts and everything you are able to accomplish, no matter how grand or simple.
If you are living with a chronic disease or debilitating illness, you can stay positive and productive. But you CAN’T follow the same-old typical advice on how to do it. Hopefully if you follow the tips I’ve shared with you, you will be able to get the things done that really need to get done and feel good about yourself at the same time!
Be kind to yourself! You are creating a new YOU.