So, I have to let you in on a little secret:
I’ve been battling a regularly occurring illness for some time now, and it totally sucks. There are some days that my body is in so much pain, I can hardly move from my bed at all.
Then, there are days when I am working full speed and winning at life like a champ.
What I’ve discovered is this: modesty and a little routine called “counting my strengths” keeps me motivated to write and just be a human on my toughest days.
Are you coping with a serious illness too?
Are you undergoing regularly occurring health problems that throw your life-train off the tracks too?
Just know that you’re not alone. Know that your struggle is not in vain. Also, know that you’re courageous as heck and you’re capable of, not just coping with your illness, but living your life despite the pain.
For those of you who may not suffer illness, I’ll tell you honestly that it feels like the heaviest ball and chain, or the most frustrating prison in the world.
You feel like you have no control and that’s the hardest part of all. These simple things that we all take for granted are taken away from you:
- Social life
And sometimes, even more than that. For me, it has even greatly affected my workflow and my time spent writing.
See, when you’re suffering illness, you don’t want to acknowledge that you’re not quite the same person any longer. Anything that acknowledges your weakened state may trigger all sorts of fears. At least, it did for me. First, I became forced to accept my limitations. And that was my first trigger word: “Limitations.”
Is that your trigger word too? Do you believe accepting limitations means giving up more things?:
Accepting illness-induced “limitations” sade me afraid of so much. I was so afraid that I’d suddenly become obsolete. I was terrified that I’d have to give up my goals, my ambitions, my writing dreams.
I believed my friends, my family, my supporters would either treat me like I was dying and never really understand my pain, or that those same people I cared about simply wouldn’t be compassionate toward the very real issue I’m facing.
This fear of accepting limitations kept me from getting the support I needed for some time. In fact, ignoring my limitations stifled true progress and made my situation so much harder than it had to be.
Some dear friends reminded me of the value of modesty. See, so many folks overlook this valuable quality because they think it’s another word for “weakness”. But it absolutely isn’t.
These loving friends and family members rallied to my side when they noticed I wasn’t quite myself anymore. They told me how much they valued me and that because of that, they wanted to do all they could to help me in my situation.
But there was another trigger word: “help.”
Have you been in a similar situation where friends or family members notice your pain and offer their help? It feels like a defeat, accepting help, doesn’t it?
All those thoughts shattered my brain like lightning too, blowing up the wonderful offer of support my loved ones gave. If you’re coping with illness, perhaps you’ve had this same train of thought yourself. And that’s completely normal. All humans want to be independent and feel competent. And we view relying on others as a sign of defeat, somehow. But again, I’m going to tell you that it isn’t. Allowing loved ones to support you is a sign of trust, of courage, and of modesty.
My husband, my friends, and family members all helped me to understand that modesty ensures healthy progress. They helped me to view modesty, not as a sign of frailty, but as a healthy quality which gives you an honest awareness of self and a balanced acknowledgment of current limitations.
Once I understood the value of modesty, it was honestly like a giant weight was lifted off of my shoulders. It actually felt incredibly freeing. I was pushing passed my pain for so long, that I didn’t realize I was unintentionally making it worse! So, I finally let my support group be a support group. I accepted help and I acknowledged that I needed to slow down and focus on healing at a healthy pace. Not only did this support strengthen my relationships, it truly helped me cope with my illness.
If you’re coping with illness, please understand that you are still the same awesome person capable of reaching all of your goals, writing or otherwise. Yes, you may have limitations and you may require more help than you used to, but that does not change the amazing person that you are.
Your loved ones want to be there to support you and if you honestly open up about your illness to them, they will help you to reach your goals. There is nothing wrong with slowing down if it means it will help you speed up again soon. Modesty is a vitamin, not a disease. It has helped me focus on my health, and therefore make true progress, even though they are baby steps.
“Counting my strengths” is a therapeutic routine I’ve implemented to keep writing despite my fluctuating health. If your writing routine suffers due to your illness, then this is the routine for you!
I have a journal that I keep by my bedside. I keep a plethora of colorful pens, markers, sharpies, and otherwise. When I see a positive quote somewhere that I love, I grab a few colored pens and I write it down. When a loved one says something positive or thoughtful, I write it down. When I’ve had a good day, I write that down. Even when I have bad days, I write down the most positive thing that happened (yes, even if it was that I managed to get up and make myself tea. Seriously, some days that is an accomplishment, so high five to me.)
The point is this: I’ve lost so much strength, that taking on a big writing project seems almost impossible at times. But having a journal by my side that I write in every day not only keeps the connection I hold to my writing process alive, but it helps me focus on all the good that still happens despite this illness.
If you too find that your illness interrupts your writing routine, then try something similar to the “counting my strengths” process. These positive little baby steps will help you maintain your writing flow while reminding you of all the positive steps, thoughts, and accomplishments you’ve made.
If you feel strong enough one day to write a whole chapter of your novel, then do it. But don’t beat yourself up if your illness has kept you from returning to your novel, or slowing down your progress.
If you keep a regular, un-intimidating writing routine, then you have taken great steps to stay connected and still reach your goals. If you write a post-it note a day worth of thoughts, prose, or story-related material, then that is something to be proud of. Why? Because you could just plain give up writing altogether, but you’re not into the concept of “giving up”. (Go you)
So, don’t focus on what you haven’t accomplished, or on how much you used to do. Focus on what you have achieved, no matter how small. Write down even the littlest accomplishment! Share it with your support group. Celebrate the baby steps and you’ll have the courage to return to your big writing projects on the days you have the strength for it.
What if you don’t suffer from a serious illness, but you want to be a genuine help to those who do suffer from a serious illness?
First of all, allow me to break down what true support doesn’t look like:
It’s not a “kelvin-filtered”, duck-faced, “live strong” bracelet photo on your favorite social media littered with trendy hashtags. Things like this, while possibly well-meaning, may not be the support your friend is looking for or truly needs. Things of this nature can come off as a campaign to make yourself look like a great friend instead, and it may be invading your friend’s privacy. Worse still, this can trivialize your friend’s very serious illness. However, that’s not to say a very well-meaning photo about your friend’s struggle that is pre-approved by your friend, can’t show loving support. Simply show discretion, put your friend first, and think ten steps ahead when it comes to sharing on social media.
Likewise, support isn’t texting or saying “Let me know if you need anything!” and showing no follow through on that offer.
While this phrase is, of course, incredibly well-meaning, it actually has the opposite effect on us. Unfortunately, we won’t let you know if we need anything. We won’t call or text. We’ll tell ourselves to buck up one more day. So instead of saying that, make a few definitive offers that are in your friend’s interest, such as:
- Do you need someone to talk to?
- Can I make you/your family a meal one day this week?
- Can I run any errands for you?
- Can I pick the kids up from school or get them off the bus one day this week for you? (if applicable)
- What’s your favorite flower? (then get a bouquet for them!)
- What can I do to help you enjoy uninterrupted writing time?
Be respectful of their privacy of course, and be respectful of boundaries. Do what you deem appropriate. But along with those offers, offer exact dates that you can do such things for them. Your friend may resist at first but don’t give up the first time around. Check up with them and offer these things regularly. And just do the flower thing. Your friend will love that and it will mean the world to them.
As for more should-do’s :
From personal experience, a loving smile, gentle demeanor, sincere praise, and a good listening ear were all I needed to open up and trust in my support group.
See, A handful of dear friends and family members approached my husband and I privately, and at different times. My husband has been such a loving support but having an outside support group rally around us helped him as well. They asked if it was okay if they checked up on me from time to time, to sincerely see how I was doing and if I needed anything. Every two weeks I get a little text or a visit from them, and I’ll tell you it’s always at the exact moment I need it. This also keeps me from turning into a virtual hermit (which is honestly such an easy trap to fall into) and stay connected with those who remind me of my value.
So, to reiterate:
- Take a private moment to listen to your loved one who is suffering.
- Simply let them talk uninterrupted.
- Be genuine, be loving, don’t judge, validate their feelings.
- Offer sincere, proactive help, then follow through on that help.
- Check up on them regularly in a way that makes them feel safe, not interrogated.
- Remind them regularly of their value and praise their accomplishments no matter how small.
And most of all, if they too are a writer, let them know how their works of fiction will help others just like them. Remind them that their story is one the world needs. Tell them that someone out there is going through the same struggle and will be encouraged by their strength, their story.
Tell them not to give up on achieving their writing goals because they are still capable of success.
Every story matters, especially yours. Thank you for listening to mine, and I hope that you continue to persevere and accomplish great things as a writer, one baby step at a time.
If you feel comfortable enough to open up, I’d love to hear about your journey. How has writing helped you cope with your illness? What, have you found, helps you through your hardest days? Please, share your story in the comments section below!