Sunday, April 05, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: You're Right Where You Need To Be

We had a little scare this past week. Normally, I manage pretty well these days and can even be fairly active. Crashes from over-exertion or even from exposure to colds, etc. have become rare for me. But I have been achy and run-down all week. I sort of took it easy but sort of kept going with my normal life, too, even going to the grocery store on Thursday. By Friday, there was no ignoring it: I was fully crashed. I could hardly get out of bed, had severe aches, was worn out, and even had a mild sore throat. By my normal standards, I hadn't done anything that would usually result in a crash, so my husband and I got a little panicky: what if this was coronavirus? (though my husband also pointed out there are still plenty of ordinary viruses around that could trigger a crash). I listened to my body and rested, something I'm not always very good at!

I felt much better on Saturday, though I still took it easy. Today is still questionable--I woke up feeling great but am a tiny bit achy now, a couple of hours later.

This past week, what helped get me through was remembering a line from a friend's book, "You're right where you need to be" (from Seven: In the Lane of Hope by Michael Marini). His whole memoir is inspirational, but this one line struck me so deeply that I wrote a chapter in my new book about it. At times like this week, when I am frustrated by not being able to do what I want to do, it helps remind me to live in the moment, be present, and listen to my body. Coincidentally, this is advice we can ALL use right now, healthy or sick, during this time of extreme restrictions.

So, I thought I'd share this chapter excerpted from my book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness, here. I hope you find it helpful, too:

You’re Right Where You Need to Be

In autumn of 2018, during a severe, three-month–long crash triggered by a relapse of Lyme disease, I was frequently frustrated by my inability to be productive. With a wide variety of treatments, I normally function fairly well now, and this unexpected infirmity seemed to go on and on.
During that time, I was reading an inspirational memoir, Seven: In the Lane of Hope, written by a friend of mine, Michael Marini. One line in Michael’s book especially resonated with me. His dad, who was a running coach, frequently told Michael and his 10 siblings “you’re right where you need to be” while they were running a race. In the book, his dad repeats this familiar phrase when he is in the hospital and incapacitated by health problems. That phrase struck me and helped me recognize that I needed to relax, let go of my normal expectations for myself, and live in the present.
Sometimes, you hear something at exactly the time you need it, and that was the case for me with this simple phrase: you’re right where you need to be. It reminded me that during this crash/relapse, my job was to take care of myself and everything else could wait. It’s hard to get out of the must-do mindset so prevalent in our modern world. Yet, this one line did that for me, making me stop and think instead of just reacting.
With respect to living with chronic illness, I’ve found that “you’re right where you need to be” means the following.

Giving in Versus Giving Up
Although severe relapses have become rare for me, thanks to treatments, when they do occur, I always struggle with accepting my limits and resting completely. For instance, I might lie down on the couch but still try to work on my laptop. I have to remind myself that giving in to what my body needs is not the same as giving up. Giving in is a healthy response. It’s listening to my body, allowing myself to rest, and admitting to myself that “I’m right where I need to be.” That can be difficult, though, in a culture like ours, in which we feel like we must always be in control. When I do finally give in, set aside any work, and completely focus on resting, it’s always a huge relief.

Accepting Where You Are
You can accept that you are right where you need to be now without giving up hope of a better tomorrow. Living with chronic illness requires a careful balance of acceptance and hope as well as an understanding that acceptance does not mean giving up. Constantly fighting against your illness is stressful and exhausting, requiring mental energy most of us don’t have. It’s better for your body—and for your long-term health—to try a Zen-like attitude and accept where you are today. You can continue to look for and try new treatments while acknowledging what you need right now. During that challenging autumn of 2018, once I accepted my need for rest and let go of thinking I had to be doing something, I was able to fully rest and give my body what it needed.

Different Seasons
There are different seasons in every life and in the course of a chronic illness. “You’re right where you need to be” means recognizing that where you are today is simply where you are today; tomorrow or next month or next season or next year might be different. A principle of Buddhism is that everything is in a constant state of change. When living with chronic illness, it may sometimes feel like every day is the same, but over the course of a life, there will always be changes and other seasons. Recognizing this truth can help you to accept where you are today and give yourself the care you need.

Live in the Present
This is a tough one for most of us, but living in the present is far less stressful and better for your physical and mental health than looking back or ahead. Obsessing over past hurts or “the old you” can set up a painful and self-destructive mindset, wherein resentment and pain build and worsen, poisoning your body and mind. Worrying about the future can be just as detrimental and make you miss what is going on today.
As hard as it is to do, it’s best to let go of the past and live in the present. That’s what “you’re right where you need to be” means. It’s fine to plan for the future in a positive way—without worrying about what will happen and about those things that are out of your control.

All of these strategies require intentional thought (at first) and some practice. Over time, though, acceptance, living in the present, and focusing on your needs become habits that can improve your life. Wherever you are today in your life and your illness journey, you’re right where you need to be.

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