Like anybody with an illness like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia or Lyme disease, I’m rather familiar with this kind of setback. Over a total of 15 years of experience with ME/CFS I’ve developed a comfortable and effective strategy for dealing with it:
- I let go of everything that I can and imagine myself as being ‘off sick’. This isn’t every day chronic illness, it’s an acute episode and needs to be treated differently from the every day.
- I rest as much as I can
- I accept the low mood that always accompanies this kind of crash, putting it down to changes in brain chemistry. I do my best to avoid finding any other meaning for these low feelings. I let go of any comparisons that crop up into my head and repeat the mantra ‘it is as it is’. I let go of any thoughts about what this crash might mean for the future, telling myself I’m too foggy and skewed to make any objective computations: there’s no point in thinking about things until the skewey fog clears.
- I allow myself to let go of any self-help activities if the only way I can consider doing them is by beating myself up with a stick. I make a decision to choose to treat myself with kindness, even if I can’t feel that kindness, I know what it looks like, so I do it.
- I do my best to make myself as comfortable as possible while I wait for the worst to pass
- I trust that the worst will pass and a time will come when I have enough energy to easily start investing in things that will move me forward again.
But even when I know that this is a really effective strategy and that I’ve employed it to good effect over and over again, I still get inundated with the nagging doubts!
‘wouldn’t it be better for you if you did a bit of yoga now?’
‘don’t you think you should set your alarm? It will help you regulate your sleep pattern’
‘What if you’re making yourself worse by not moving around enough?’
‘maybe a short walk is just what you need right now?’
Now all those thoughts can be really helpful when I’m not in a crash, but what makes them unhelpful when I am, is the feeling of being bullied; the sense that what’s being suggested is the last thing that I feel like doing right now; a recognition of the pressure I feel as a result of these thoughts.
When I recognise my reluctance to cede to this pressurised self-bullying, I remind myself that there is not point in just fighting back. That kind of resistance just brings more tension into my body; an extra load for it to deal with. First of all, I have to accept and understand that these thoughts are trying to help. It’s understandable to worry about whether we’re doing the right thing for our health when we’ve never been given the formula! Chronic illness, particularly it’s acute flares, suck! It’s understandable that we have a strong drive to move away from it. It’s understandable to feel worried about whether or not we’re doing the right thing.
Once I’ve shown myself acceptance and compassion for the drive that is pressuring me, I remind myself that pressure just isn’t helpful right now; that in order to get to a place where I have enough energy to invest in self-help, what I most need is let go of all demands and find a state of peace in which my energy can be directed towards healing. Without the compassionate acknowledgement that the pressured voice is trying help, I just get drawn into an energy draining internal battle:
‘You should be doing yoga, no you need peaceful rest, but yoga will help, but I don’t feel like it, but you’ll never move forward if you don’t invest in it, but I’ve got nothing to invest……..’
When I can step back and acknowledge that the pressure is trying to help I can address it gently: ‘I know it’s difficult to know what’s best and I know you’re trying to help, but I’m going to choose to trust that by letting go and allowing myself to be at peace with not ‘doing’ I’ll save the energy that gets wasted by being in tension and I’ll get to a point when I have that energy to invest sooner’
Having a strategy for coping with a set-back helps, but it’s so important to remember the importance of acceptance and self-compassion to help that strategy run smoothly!
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