What do you do about the exercise of self-discipline – the First Resolution – when you’re suffering from a chronic illness? When you’re ill, being disciplined is the hardest thing of all to do.
Injury is inconvenient, but unless it’s particularly catastrophic, an ‘average’ injury seems less mentally stressful because you conceive of an end date. You usually know that your body will repair itself. Like injury, most illnesses are the same – you know that ‘this too, shall pass’ unless your diagnosis reveals something a little more challenging.
What do you do when your diagnosis tells you that what you’re experiencing isn’t going away any time soon, is manageable but not evidently curable, and is causing constant discomfort?
That’s when the Second Resolution comes in. Character.
When feeling chronic pain, two personal characteristics tend to go walkies.
First, it’s easy to find yourself venting on other people, failing to come through on commitments, lowering your standards and just feeling miserable. Really easy. Ask my wife. Secondly, it means that exercising self-discipline becomes even harder than usual.
But if you value your good character, you choose otherwise. You recognise your condition for what it is – yours, and yours alone. You can ask for help from others, but you are responsible for accepting or ignoring that advice, or for accepting or avoiding their help. You decide whether to act upon or be acted upon, by whatever it is that ails thee. It also means that you should only abandon the exercise of self-discipline if it is truly too onerous because of the condition. If it isn’t, you need to avoid using it as an excuse.
That choice is easy for people of character, but acting on that choice requires reversion to the practices of the First Resolution, specifically being disciplined enough to do what is required to deal with the condition and the emotions that come with it, and continuing to live a disciplined life. All while denying yourself the soft option of attacking those who have no responsibility whatsoever for your illness.
No, not easy.
If you are suffering from a chronic, painful condition, remember that those you love are a potential support, but you want them to give that support freely – it’s not something to be demanded from them. (I detest news reports when people ‘demand’ something from government – try asking nicely and using a convincing argument rather than expecting other people and organisations to dance to – and pay for – your admittedly painful tune.)
They will give it freely, even when you don’t want to hear it, which is the danger moment. The moment when you reactively slap them down because you KNOW that already. But the real reason you slap them down is – you aren’t doing what you know. But even though you’re to blame, in the moment you snap, it’s ‘their fault’.
Character means being proactive with chronic illness. It means accepting the reality of your own situation, taking responsibility for dealing with it, fighting it in a disciplined way, and acknowledging that any help that is offered is well intended and with a serving of love attached.
And you are allowed to give yourself love, too.