Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two Coping Strategies

I decided to allow myself to write about the psychological impact of adjusting to life with ME.  At first, I shied away from from that topic because I didn't want the blog to devolve into my own private "pity party"--just a place where I vent my frustrations.  I wanted to keep it mostly factual, so that when (not if) I recovered, others could consider duplicating my path.  But the bottom line is, ME has brought a significant change in my quality of life and outlook, and I think it's legitimate to discuss those issues here.  Instead of just venting, however, I want to discuss what I'm actually doing to help me adjust.

The Current Problem.  I find I have a tendency to idealize my former, healthy self.  During the quiet times of the day, my mind is often racing, scheming, and slightly obsessing over getting back to that person I used to be.  I've always been someone who enjoys solving problems (whether they be mine or others'), and a lifetime of habit has trained me to think in a problem-solving pattern.  It's as if, on some level, I believe that if I just think...hard...enough, I can solve this little ME problem.

Of course, that's not realistic and not a productive way to spend my mental energy.  So I've been consciously changing that pattern of thinking to something more productive and healthy.  So far, I've come up with a few things that help.

1.  Don't idealize my former self.  An ideal: that's just what it is.  I have to remember that my pre-ME life was not perfect, and I had other problems.  Frankly, my diet and sleep habits were so atrocious that, in a few small ways, I'm actually healthier now.  I rarely felt rested, in the sense of having gotten enough sleep (which is vastly different than the body fatigue I have now), and I usually had some nagging injury or another from all my extra "curricular" activities.  This may seem like a small consolation, but it's significant to me.

I'm not a Buddhist, but I remember reading somewhere that the Buddha said, "life is suffering,"  and apparently this mantra is central to Buddhist philosophy.  With my apologies to Buddhists for oversimplifying things, I take this to mean that "if it's not one problem, it's another."  Life always comes with problems, and new problems have a way of pushing other problems and would-be problems out of the way.  The lifestyle adjustments I've had to make because of ME will inevitably avoid other types of "suffering" that would have come with my old lifestyle.  By now, I might have thrown out my back doing carpentry work around the house, or torn my ACL while surfing, or been hit by a car, or continued the long, slow destruction of my body with unhealthy eating habits.  The point is, I'm not going to waste time lamenting what my life could be like right now if I hadn't gotten ME because that's an unknowable ideal.

2.  Make New Goals and New Plans.  I recently read the biography of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, and something interesting struck me.  When he was terminally ill with cancer and knew he would die within a few months, he found that, in order to avoid despair, he had to keep making long term goals--knowing full well that he would not live long enough to attain them.

In recent months, I've found myself reluctant to make long-term plans...not because I thought I would die like Jobs, but because I can't predict what my physical condition will be in the future.  Summer vacations?  Camping?  Work projects?  Who knows if I'll be healthy enough when the time comes?

But I've found that it's not healthy to stop making plans and setting goals, even if I'm not ultimately able to fulfill them.  If the time comes and I'm not healthy enough, people will understand. I can deal with it then.  In the meantime, it's critical to make plans just as I always have.  For me, happiness is strongly correlated with planning for the future.

In terms of goals, my goals now may be different, but it's important that I make them of equal value. Equal quality.  While, before ME, I might set goals in say, athletics & fitness, now I set goals like: write a book for my daughter compiling life's anecdotes and lessons.  I don't see either goal as qualitatively better than the other...the latter is simply one that I can handle in my current situation.  So I'm changing goals, not downgrading or eliminating them.

I have a few other thoughts on this subject, but I'll have to save those for another time.  Thanks for reading!

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