It’s that time of year again. Regardless of whether you’re a New Years Resolution setter or not, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to talk about goal setting with Lyme.
An enormous part of living with a long-term illness is the acceptance of your current situation. And by acceptance, I don’t mean knowledge. There’s a huge difference between knowing your physical limitations and accepting your physical limitations. Not many of us need reminding of the current state our bodies are in. Some days can seem like one long reminder of everything we can’t do. We resent this illness, these circumstances, our bodies and ourselves. We often end up pushing on and punishing our bodies because anything else might mean that we become okay with how things are.
That’s how I felt for a long time. It was fear. Fear that if I didn’t rail against it that it would overtake and consume me. Fear that it was my lot in life. I would either push myself too hard and cause myself to crash, or I’d begrudgingly rest whilst reminding myself of all the things I should be able to do.
Before I got ill, I was an avid gym goer – I was particularly into weight lifting. I wasn’t going to win any awards, per se, but I truly loved it. I loved pushing my boundaries and breaking my records. I was also a bit of a social butterfly, who’d generally be the first to take up an invitation. I used to take myself off to completely new places where I didn’t know a soul and dive in. Lyme has definitely put a crimp in all of that.
Lyme can often leave us feeling isolated and powerless to change our lives for the better.
The amazing thing with goal setting, though, is that it really is a wonderful tool for getting motivated to achieve your dreams. The problem with it, is that sometimes the so-called first steps feel like marathons to someone with a chronic illness. You can’t just go to the gym, or simply join a club. So, how exactly can we set achievable goals if the end result is so out of reach? There are two parts to it, and neither one will work without the other. The first is very practical.
Identify the end result: Using my exercise example, I want to be able to hike, go to the gym and experience the benefits of a strong body.
Identify the smaller steps: For a relatively healthy person, the first step would be to simply do some exercise.
Identify your own blockers: simply renewing my gym membership and going to the gym isn’t really possible for me, as a standard workout would cause me to crash at this point in time. Additionally, I am still in the recovery period from lyme-related surgery on my foot. And finally, and most importantly, my joints and muscles just aren’t able to cope with a full workout.
Identify steps to work within your limitations: I realised that I rarely ate three meals day. This probably wasn’t doing my blood sugar and insulin sensitivity any favours, and therefore my energy levels. Next, I realised that as any high intensity workout is out of the question for me, I needed to identify some sort of movement which I could handle. Even typical yoga is often too strenuous. But I’m able to walk for 20 minutes, or do some very gentle yin yoga – which is mostly stretching whilst laying down. Additionally, 5 times a week is way too much for me at the moment. Once or twice a week is a good aim.
So you see, I’ve taken the typical healthy person starting point (simply start going to the gym) and broken it down to fit my own abilities. Now I have two goals – eat three times a day & do some gentle movement twice a week. I can still benefit from the positive psychological rewards of goal setting without setting myself up for failure. Here’s some more examples of breaking typical starting points down into manageable chunks:
So, we’ve covered off the practical side. It’s time to look at the other side of the coin. No amount of list writing or goal setting is going to help if you can’t mentally get yourself to where you are right now. It’s no good just knowing where you are, you have to accept it. It took me a long time to be OK with my goals being ‘eat three times a day’ and ‘stretch once a week’. Whilst in my healthy state, they were givens. They didn’t take any effort or planning. I resented that something so simple had become a challenge for me, until I accepted it.
How did I learn acceptance?
As human beings, we all have a tendency to want to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable. It’s not got anything to do with having a chronic illness – we all do it. The problem is, we put so much energy into trying to prevent experiencing something that we often put ourselves through worse! For example, take the person who stays in an unhealthy relationship for fear of being alone. They often find that being alone really isn’t all that bad and is a darn sight better than the unhealthy relationship!
It’s the same with accepting our physical limitations. The fear of doing so is much worse than actually doing it. In fact, doing so is incredibly freeing! When you allow yourself to have these limitations, not only do you invite self-compassion, but you allow yourself to enjoy the small things again. Instead of being angry and resentful because you were only able to play piano or write for 10 minutes, you can start to be happy for those 10 minutes. And it’s those small achievements that turn into your small goals.
Living with a chronic illness forces us to stop seeing things in extremes. I never dreamed I would be able to accept some gentle stretching as the most exercise I can do, but through acceptance I’m able to enjoy and celebrate that gentle stretching, rather than resenting my limitations.
Do you set goals? I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below!