When I was growing up in the U.S. in the 1960’s, the ‘self help’ section didn’t exist. There were ‘do-it -yourself’ books, such as ‘Sewing for Beginners” (which I owned and used) and “How to Take Care of Your Automobile” (which I bought but never read). But then the “Me Generation” wasn’t a noun yet, either.
But things change and these are different times. There’s no end to the opportunities to focus on yourself toward the self-improvement goal. And yet, no matter how much my self tries to improve, the old thoughts persistently pop up.
It’s another holiday season and I find myself, again, feeling like an outsider. Social media has had a seismic impact on the social isolation that many of us with chronic health conditions experience. You can go on Twitter (I’m @WorkWithIllness – follow me — and let me know who you are), Facebook (ciCoach.com) , forums (WegoHealth is one site ) to find like-minded/like-bodied people.
But this doesn’t replace the person-to-person conversation for me, the kind of talk that happens when you put an idea out there and the other person listens and explores with you. This week, following Thanksgiving, as each of my clients started our meetings focusing on the holiday and the negative feelings it brought up for them, I was reminded of the power of conversation and exploration.
I’m sharing highlights (with their permission). There’s a a theme here. Does it resonates with you, as it does for me?
Her: “Why do people write on Facebook that they count their blessings that they have their health? Does that mean I’m not blessed?”
Me: “Maybe that’s the only thing their grateful for. How about you — what are you grateful for?” (She decided to create a list.)
Her: “This year I ignored Thanksgiving. I can’ t be with my family. They don’t get why I’m still sick and treat me so badly!”
Me: “Do you think you felt better or worse about the day with that decision?” (Unsure – but she felt proud that she figured out a way to take charge rather than only feel like a victim.)
Him: “I refuse to spend my time telling people that I hope they have a happy holiday. I’m not happy and the holidays aren’t going to make me happy. But what should I say?”
Me: “I don’t know. What would you be happy to say?” (Laughter!)
These conversational snippets weren’t magical or life changers. This kind of exploring can ease the pain and lighten the load. It’s easy to feel different when you live with difficult health and that difference translates into self- dislike, even loathing. When you share your thoughts with someone who doesn’t judge and ‘gets’ what you experience, you feel less isolated. Most importantly, these conversations can encourage you to be more expansive and you use a different lens.
A good coach or a therapist can do that for you. A partner or friend can do it, too, if they’re skilled in listening, supporting and exploring. But if you’re feeling what I’ve described, I urge you to give yourself a break. Particularly at this time of year, when the expectations are so high for you to be joyous and grateful, make sure you find a place to get what you need. I hope it helps you to feel a little less alone.