Good illness management takes a certain amount of self-discipline. Even getting out of bed in the morning requires discipline for me, when just about every day I wake up feeling awful. In the knowledge that I will feel better once I get through my morning routine, I resist the urge to stay in bed and overcome that feeling of reluctance at having to do something when I feel so rough. I always do feel better after my T’ai chi and meditation so my discipline is rewarded and reinforced. I generally motivate myself by giving myself permission to go back to bed or do nothing if I don’t feel like doing anything after I’ve got going, but I nearly always find that I do.
It also takes self-discipline to prepare healthy meals when junk and processed food would be so much easier. It takes a huge amount of self-discipline to avoid all the foods that I’m intolerant to (and I have to admit that this is an area I still struggle with). It also takes self-discipline to pace: to make sure I break up enjoyable activities with a rest or a change; to make sure I don’t rest for too long without a little movement. It takes self-discipline to make sure I don’t do anything for too long, to stop way before I notice myself getting tired because then it will probably be too late. It takes self-discipline to go out for a walk every day especially if it’s cold and damp. I particularly need self-discipline to get up after my afternoon rest and get going again. Although I’m motivated by the knowledge that I always feel loads better after my afternoon yoga it’s still a huge struggle to shake off my feeling of inertia, and the sense of exhaustion that’s calling for more rest. It also take self-discipline to go to bed early, to massage my legs with essential oils before I get into bed and to make sure I don’t read for too long before turning out the light.
All this self-discipline involves determination. It often involves doing things that I don’t feel like doing right now, in the knowledge that it will help me later. The more immediate the reward, the easier it’s been to develop the self-discipline required. I immediately feel better after morning T’ai chi and afternoon yoga so I do them quite regularly. The foods that I’m good at avoiding are the ones the cause immediate and more painful/embarrassing symptoms. The ones I struggle to avoid are the ones that could take a couple of days to cause symptoms. For example even though I know that fruit just makes me crave more sweet things and by the time I’ve had it twice in a week my belly swells, the fact that it’s effects are not immediate allows my sweet tooth cravings to fool myself into believing I might be getting better, and it’s good for me so shouldn’t I give it a try!
All in all self-discipline is a really important ally, but I do have a problem with it. It seems to conflict with another strong value I hold that it’s important to listen to your body and go with the flow. For example, if today I don’t feel like writing I won’t. I’ll trust that I’ll feel like it again soon and that what I write when I’m feeling like it will be of a far better quality. This principle of least effort that I hold so dear; of never forcing myself, directly conflicts with the idea of self-discipline.
But the problem is that this is a complicated self-perpetuating illness we are dealing with. Many of its symptoms don’t point the way to how we can get better but only serve to make us worse. We can’t sleep well, and sleep deprivation only depresses our healing. Light sensitivity can make us avoid the sunlight we need to manufacture important vitamin D. We need to rest and minimise energy expenditure but lack of movement prevents our lymphatic system from working effectively. This illness muddies the link between what we feel like and what is best for us. To beat it we need to employ wisdom. With an understanding of how this illness is affecting us, we can make a decision about when it’s best to employ self-discipline or when we can employ the law of least effort and just go with the flow.
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