Hello dear friends!
If you’re anything like me, you’re more than a little familiar with that voice inside that says “I can’t”, sometimes popping up so often that it sounds like a broken record. Its co-conspirator, “what if” also likes to hang out in the deep recesses of our minds and team up with its friend to keep us trapped and flightless. Especially for those of us who deal with physical or mental limitations, our go-to response is often that we cannot do something or go somewhere, and then we proceed to list (sometimes even out loud) all the disaster scenarios our little brains can spin up. Trust me, I get it. Nowadays my default setting is one of safety, familiarity, and security; I extensively plan out my days so not to interfere with my perceived actions that keep me from getting worse.
When you’ve lived with any kind of illness or disability for long enough, your neural pathways have been worn down in predictable trails- sadly, these are usually the trails of our deepest fears. And they may not seem like much to an outsider, or even to the people who are close to you, but your brain has repeated the same limiting phrases to itself over and over, each time brushing over a raw nerve of pure distress. I know I’m not the only one around here who has repeatedly rambled through phrases like these:
- I can’t accept this job- what if it’s too taxing? What if I relapse and have to quit?
- I can’t drive that far- what if I break down? Get stranded? Can’t continue on?
- I can’t go on this trip- what if the hotel is awful and I can’t sleep? What if there isn’t a good hospital nearby?
- I can’t leave my partner- what if I get worse or become completely dependent? What if I can’t take care of myself?
- I can’t start my own business- what if I fail and waste the last money I had left? What if I can’t afford my own health insurance?
- I can’t make plans that far in advance- what if I’m worse by then? What if I am broke?
- I can’t volunteer here- what if they won’t understand my condition? What if I end up bailing on my commitments?
As you can see, this kind of thinking becomes a vicious and self-defeating cycle, and if we let this progress, we can slowly justify cutting out our life bit by bit. In some cases, you’re left with someone who is too afraid or hopeless to leave the house, try any new food, or interact with new people. There have been moments in my life where I let my illness completely take control of my decisions and dictate everything I could and could not do. And even though I was conscious that I was doing this, it didn’t make it any easier to break free from. Frankly, I have my friends and family to thank (at least in part) for pushing me out of that terrible state.
You see, we all have incredible power and capability inside each of us- no matter what challenges our bodies are faced with. And it’s hard to not lose sight of that when we’re in the throes of a terrible sickness, relapse, or decades of defensive self-preservation habits. Most people do not see or acknowledge their own amazing competence, but it’s especially difficult for any of us who are dependent on others for help- whether that’s with paying the bills, driving us back and forth, or even helping us walk. Dependency can be a touchy subject with people who are chronically ill, especially those who have lived vibrant, active, and autonomous lives before. For me, when I was extremely sick, I let my partner take care of everything from the grocery shopping and taking care of the dogs, to fighting with the insurance companies on the phone and speaking up at the doctor’s office. And while I am so incredibly grateful to have had her there for my worst moments, recently I started to hit me that I needed to imagine what my life would be like without her.
Naturally, my first reaction was one of sheer panic. What if I have another relapse? What if I get in an accident and have nobody to care for me? Who is going to pay the bills? And underneath all those biggies, there were smaller but equally tense threads: she usually does the driving, so what if I can’t handle it by myself? She usually handles the taxes and insurance- what if I screw it up without her? We typically did our traveling together- what if I get lost or taken advantage of without her there to protect me? I’m sure these thoughts are nothing new to any of you who have partners, spouses, or caretakers- that relationship is a special one but one that can turn toxic if not nurtured within certain boundaries.
But let’s get back to the ways we limit ourselves, right inside our own heads. For me, I was always waiting for something to change before I tackled that big challenge. Waiting to be healthier, to have more stamina, to have my medications adjusted just right, to have a more stable income…you name it, I was waiting for it. I put off a lot of things I really wanted to do because I didn’t feel like I could do them yet. Looking back now (even though I’m not remotely “healthy” at the moment), I’m sad that I missed out on so many opportunities, and I am working diligently to open myself up and find my capable self again. And for reasons that I won’t get into quite yet, I am definitely feeling “kicked out of the nest” lately and am getting a crash course in not crashing, but in finding my own wings.
Just a month or so ago, I made the drive to Kansas City to stay with some family for two weeks. The 9-hour solo trek in my little Kia was enough to make my stomach tighten in fear and I laid awake for several nights before my departure, running through all the disaster scenarios I was so used to rehearsing by now, grasping for any real reason why I shouldn’t or couldn’t make the trip. Thankfully, part of me knew those ruminations weren’t actually based in reality, and the trip was an important one for me to learn to stand on my own two feet. And yes, I made it there safely, had a productive time, and drove back home without major incident. It taught me so much about myself and what I was capable of, even in the less-than-perfect health that I am in right now. Who knew something so simple could awaken me so dramatically?
And now, as I write this, I am actually sitting in a lovely little retreat center near the central coast of California after tackling yet another long solo drive that I never thought I could actually do. This trip is an important test of sorts for me to open up, stand in my power, and arrive in my self after years of repression, running, and clinging to safety. So far, over the last few days I have:
- Driven 19 hours through desolate highways, winding mountains, heavy traffic, and extreme weather
- Stayed in a hotel all by myself
- Slept in a new place that wasn’t “controlled” to my usual specifications
- Ate new foods, prepared by someone else
- Met dozens of new people, and been vulnerable with several already
- Had the time and courage to just sit and do nothing
This retreat is way outside my comfort zone, and the new environment and stimuli are stressful in their own ways- I catch myself in tiny moments of panic, especially when I realize how far away I am from home, but deep down I know I can handle this. Because I am learning that I am more capable that I ever could have imagined since getting sick almost six years ago. It didn’t hurt that just a month ago, I was in a similar position of having to navigate a brand new area, meet new people, spend lots of alone time, and not have the safety net that I was accustomed to. Maybe the key is to front-load as many new and scary experiences as you can for a few weeks or months, then taper into a more sustainable pattern. It’s just a theory :)
Now, I’m not saying that you have to go on a long solo trip in order to find your power again. What is challenging to you may be something completely different, and you may want to tackle something small and close to home first. If you are struggling with dependency or severe limitations, pushing your comfort zone will look different than some others. And that’s okay. It’s not about bragging about how much we can accomplish or cross off our bucket lists- it’s about finding that beautiful balance of listening to our bodies/intuition but not heeding our fearful self-sabotaging talk!
So, to tickle your brains, here are just a few ideas to tap into your powerful and capable selves:
- Do the grocery shopping all by yourself this week and maybe even try a foreign fruit or cut of meat that you’ve never cooked before
- Drive yourself to your doctor’s appointment
- Make that phone call to the insurance company/cable company instead of relying on someone else to
- Plan a day trip somewhere you’ve never been before
- Sign up for a new class in town- this can be anything! Meditation, pottery, creative writing, tai chi, you name it…
- Watch an online how-to video for something you’ve been wondering about and then go and do it!
- Fix that leaky faucet or running toilet all on your own
- Register for a retreat or getaway that will introduce you to new people and a new environment
- Make the appointment to look at that new house/apartment that you’ve been eyeing
- Sign up for a different yoga class than usual
- Go for a walk around your neighborhood without your spouse or dog
- Care for your vehicle- change your own oil, top off your fluids, and inflate your tires to the proper pressure
- Find a new healthy recipe and make it for someone you love (that could just be you, you know!)
So I challenge you this week to brainstorm a few ideas of things you’ve been putting off or avoiding because you too were waiting for something about yourself to change first. Or perhaps there are a few things that your partner or caretaker does that you would like to learn to do for yourself. Whatever it may be, no matter how small it may seem, it is an invitation for you to push out of your comfort zone and start learning how to fly.
An important note here: stepping outside of your comfort zone and acknowledging your capability does not mean you stop your self-care. Don’t suddenly stop taking your medications, make yourself stay up all night, or do anything reckless with your health or well-being. This is about self-empowerment, not self-punishment!
Whether you are dealing with health challenges, a codependent relationship, or simply low self-worth, it’s time to stretch yourself a little bit and take the steps to stand in your own power. Because you are powerful. You are capable. You are not broken. You are perfect, just as you are.
You just may not be able to see it yet.
Good luck and I’d love to hear your stories!
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~