One thing that has always helped me to cope with having chronic illnesses like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been believing with all my heart that I was “chosen” to be sick for a purpose. I believe that purpose has been to help others learn how to live and cope with chronic illness.
I by no means am perfect and I don’t feel that I know everything there is to know and there are many areas where I can still improve. But I guess this has been how I have coped and been able to continue on without giving up after all these years.
I know there are a lot of us “website supporters” out there who have created blogs and sites to educate others and to help us deal with our own issues on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and other illnesses. We put our lives out there on the Internet for the world to see and judge in hopes that by telling our stories we can help someone else. Some sufferers, like myself, have even started online support groupsto help others deal with their pain and suffering.
Even with as much as many of us enjoy helping others, there still needs to be some sort of balance with it. Here are some tips on how to find balance with helping others while still taking care of you:
Do not make others’ suffering your own.
I hope that sentence didn’t sound harsh, as sometimes I’m not very good with wording things! If you are receiving emails, telephone calls, or comments from others who are suffering and are reaching out to you because they need someone to listen, try to stay objective.
It is possible to empathize and sympathize with other people without taking their emotional load on and allowing it to impact your health and life in a negative way. It does hurt when I read emails, recieve phone calls and read comments from people who are suffering physically and emotionally and they just want their feelings to be validated. I know what that’s like because I’ve been there. But you can’t take the weight of the world on, especially when you are fighting your own battle with illness.
Know your limits.
Be there for others, but know your limits. You can’t help anyone else if you can’t help yourself first. If you feel that you are not physically up to answering phone calls, reading emails or answering comments on your websites, blogs or support groups, it’s okay to take a break. The one benefit you have is that the people who are reaching out to you are in the same situation so they can understand that you are not always going to be available.
When I am going through a bad spell, I will post on my support group that I am not well, that I have not abandoned them, but I need to take care of me right now.
Realize that you can’t change other people. If they don’t want to help themselves, you can’t do anything about it.
One thing that I have had to learn the hard way over the years is that no matter how hard you try, you can’t change other people.
One part of offering support and giving “tips” and “advice” to people who are chronically ill is that there are those people who just want to complain and do not want to do what it takes to help their situation.
To be honest, I do not have a lot of patience for these kind of people and I refuse to make my health worse because someone else doesn’t want to try. Being chronically ill doesn’t mean that our lives are over and that we can’t live a full life. We just have to do it in a different way, a modified way, and at a slower pace.
I have had a couple of people call me on the phone wanting advice on how to prepare meals, do housework, and just basic living skills. When I offered advice, they would frequently respond with “Well, I can’t do that because….”or “But I just don’t feel like getting up to do that…”. There were no words of “I’ll have to try that to see how that works for me” oranything positive coming back to me. After talking to these people different times, I found that they did not want to be helped. They just want someone to pity them. After a while of this, I cut off communication because I found that when I would get off the phone I would feel physically and mentally drained.
I don’t believe that this reflects the majority of people with chronic illness, but there are some. Most of the people I have dealt with over the years have been very motivated in wanting to help themselves and to have a full life – they just need the tools to get started.
Try to have professional resource recommendations you can lead them to.
I am not trained or a specialist so I always make sure what I tell people is clearly my opinion and have some professional resource recommendations you can offer. I believe that a lot of times experience means more than a degree, but I know where to not cross that line. If someone would tell me that they were considering suicide or something that drastic, I know I am not qualified to help in that situation.
But you can give people lists of doctors you have used, a list of treatments that have worked for you, and just talk to them about how you have made it through life daily.
Know when to let go.
We can’t be all things to all people. If you are finding that trying to help others deal with being sick while being sick yourself is just too much – let it go. It’s okay if you find this is not for you and you are not a failure because it didn’t work. The worst thing you can do is to continue trying to offer support but your heart not being in it.
You & your family need to be first priority.
First, you need to take care of yourself, then your family. Other people need to come after those two priorities. It’s a wonderful thing to help others but I have seen too many people neglect their own spouses and children for the sake of being there for someone else. This only ends up in resentment and your family wondering why they aren’t as important.
Balance is a hard thing for most of us to obtain because we led much of our lives pre-illness on fast forward thinking that we could do all and be all. Finding balance while helping others is achievable, if you keep you at the top of the list!
Very good advice!
I need to have this tattooed somewhere on my body LOL. Seriously I go overboard with everything I do and can’t find a balance. I’m really working on this issue. I run a chronic illness support group at my church and have my blogs (no medals for me, just stating the facts) and often find myself overdoing like right now I should be sleeping…
I’m going to print this out and keep it near me. Thank you Sandy. Just what the doctor(s) ordered.
I love that you’re talking about this. As a life coach, this is something I work with clients on constantly – finding what you need to do because it feels right and then doing things you think you need to do. It’s all about listening to your own needs MORE than you listen to other’s needs – that sounds selfish, but you cannot give effectively of yourself if you are not taking absolutely fantastic care of yourself. Hmmm….this is probably so common among women dealing with health issues that I should do a course on it. Look for that soon! 🙂
Sandy Robinson says
Thanks for the positive feedback on this post. I had been wanting to write about this for some time but I was afraid that maybe it would not be received well.
There are people out there everyday who do all kinds of “good things” for others, but then call their family, friends, etc. and complain because they have “all this stuff to do”. I personally feel that it is better to be able to give freely with total joy once in a while then to be giving non-stop, neglecting your own needs, and complaining to anyone who will listen.
Sandy – this is an excellent article. Your articulate and clear points, along with the explanations are so well thought out and right on target.
I, unfortunately, as well as many of us have fallen for the “trap” of overcaring. What can be one of my greatest assets can also be one of my more unhealthy traits. I was a big “helper” to others for many years in another type of organization, and it was eventually to my own detriment.
My body was giving me many signals, but my philosophpy used to be “just keep on keeping on” – however, this has been revamped entirely on my approach to life and living with a chronic illness.
I don’t “should” on myself nearly as much as I used to. I’m always a work in progress, and the old “me” sometimes eeks through and wants to place the guilt trip on myself for my limitations. The good news is that I’m getting better at knowing that no one else will do the job of being responsible for me than me. (hope that makes sense!) First things first.
There’s been so much letting go in these last number of years, but along with some of what I would have rather kept, some of what and who should have been removed a long time ago has evolved.
I also want to say that your website is just phenomenal. Your work and dedication is evident with each post. The resouces and researching you share is so greatly appreciated.
Thanks for all you do.
Sandy Robinson says
Thanks, Nancy! That means a lot coming from you! I have those days yet too of “I SHOULD be doing this and I SHOULD be doing that, but they are slowly getting fewer and farther between. We are always a work in progress aren’t we?
As women, it is just part of our making to want to take care of others. Our mothers and their mothers were selfless and would always put their own needs last, but were they ever really happy? I don’t think so.