By Sarah Faith –
Chronic pain drains your energy, leaving you exhausted. It keeps you from being productive. It turns your life inward. It causes isolation, depression, loss of hope, and even loss of motivation to get better. First you give up and then eventually even begin making excuses above and beyond your actual limitations, limiting yourself even further. It is a vicious cycle leaving you in despair and even more debilitated than before.
Forgive me ahead of time if I seem at all harsh in this entry. Believe me when I say that everything I just described IS my life as I know it. It is myself I am speaking about.
I’ve been thinking a lot about self discipline in the face of pain and how it could positively influence my life and possibly break this cycle. It is one of the first things to weaken tremendously when we are mired in the depths of chronic pain.
There are, of course, many days that any choice we have to better things by exercising self discipline is taken from us because surviving the pain, just surviving, is all that we can manage. And that is OK. We should not ever beat ourselves up for this because that survival takes tremendous strength and that is, on the contrary, something to be proud of.
But what about the other days? The “good” days? (And please know that I use that term very loosely). What about the days that we could possibly rise out of the mire long enough to do even just one thing? One thing that could positively affect us.
It is so much easier to just stay down, buried in the exhaustion and, if you are like me (a completely ineffective overachiever), only “one” thing is not good enough, and I don’t even try.
Enter self discipline. We have to start small. There is no choice as self discipline is like a muscle… in my case a very weak and atrophied one. The beauty of this though, and what inspires such great hope in me is that, like a muscle, it can be exercised and strengthened to become more and more effective and easier to use.
Again, start SMALL. One thing. That is all. I can’t stress this enough because if we do not pace ourselves it WILL become overwhelming and we will give up.
Not to mention that we must be easy on ourselves physically, meaning that when a “good” day comes, after so many bad ones, we cannot take it to the extreme in our attempt to “catch up.” It will only invite the inevitable crash and the cycle starts over yet again. So, baby steps my friends. Over time the ability to do that one thing will turn into motivation to do two and so on.
So, how does challenging yourself with exercising self discipline play into self care? One could almost make the argument that they are at two ends of the spectrum. Self discipline being “hard on yourself” and self care, cutting yourself slack and pampering yourself. These, though, are the two extremes and very narrow definitions. I’d like to suggest that they are much more interdependent on each other.
Remember that self care is not only doing nice things for yourself (although that is essential as well), but it is also cleaning up a mess, paying a bill, finally taking that shower (after how many days? You all know what I’m talking about). These types of things, too, are essential ways of loving ourselves. And for many, if not all of us, neglecting ourselves becomes natural after a time, so even doing the aforementioned self-pampering type of tasks takes a great amount of discipline.
I’ll leave you all with an idea I had about a week ago to help encourage myself to begin practicing self discipline in both doing things that I hate but have to get done, as well as things that are simply good for me and make me happy. Instead of focusing on my eternally growing “to do” list, I have been writing a list every day composed of what I have DONE that day. I suggest you do not write something down before you do it (your intention to do it) on the DONE list, because if for some reason you can’t follow through as planned you will feel guilty and discouraged.
Think of something, act on it as soon as you are able, then when finished add it to your list of accomplishments. Remember, nothing is too small and even if the list only contains one thing at the end of the day you must give yourself the credit you deserve! I have been doing this for a week or more now and I will openly admit that some days my list simply contains “took a shower” and that’s it. But for some reason putting it on paper makes me feel stronger and gives me a desire to try harder.
One month from now… even six months from now, and so on, I will look back on these lists and review my progress, and I truly believe I will see change. It has already begun to encourage and motivate me to push myself further.
We are limited by our pain. Period. That is a reality, NOT an excuse. But do not let the quicksand of learned hopelessness limit you even more!
“Wisdom means to choose now what will make sense later. I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me.” – Tracee Ellis Ross