My New Year’s Wishes for the Chronically Ill
Seven New Year’s wishes that I hope come true for those with health problems.
Posted Dec 27, 2013
As we reflect on the year that’s passing, it’s not unusual to formulate wishes and resolutions for the new year. I’m not much for resolutions anymore (I wrote about this in “Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions that Nobody Will Keep”), but I do have hopes and wishes for me and for my readers.
May your family and friends be attentive when you talk about your illness, your limitations, and your disappointments.
There is nothing as exquisite to me as the feeling that I've been listened to and that I've been believed when I talk about what my life with chronic illness is like (chronic illness includes chronic pain). I wish for all of you to have that experience of being listened to. That said, at the same time that I hope your family and friends are attentive listeners.
May you accept with grace that some family and friends may never understand what you’re going through.
Some people can’t handle being around the chronically ill because it triggers their own fears about illness and mortality. I’ve worked hard not to take it personally when family and friends “go missing,” because it only makes me feel worse physically and mentally. With as much grace and courage as I can muster, I let those people slip out of my life. I’ve done this with a couple of close relatives. It was hard at the time but, in the long run, it’s better for me to work on being content with my life as it is than to be around people who are uncomfortable or in denial about my illness.
May you find a doctor who will work with you as a partner in your health care—especially one who isn’t intimidated if you’re more of an expert on some aspects of your illness than he or she is.
In this internet age, it’s not unusual for people with chronic pain and illness to be the experts on their condition. I, for one, certainly have plenty of time to study my illness online! I’m fortunate that my GP welcomes learning from me and is open to experimenting with treatments. So long as what I suggest doesn’t run the risk of making me worse, he’s generally willing to try it.
No matter how hard a day is for you, may you keep your heart open for life's beauty—the sight of a beautiful cloud in the sky, the sound of a favorite piece of music, the feel of warm water on your skin, something silly on TV.
Some days, I feel so sick that the only "beauty" I can find is a silly movie on TV, but that’s okay. Sometimes a good distraction soothes you just enough that your heart can open to let in even more of the many pleasures that life has to offer.
May you find a measure of peace and contentment despite your health challenges.
This is a hard wish for me to fulfill at times. Some days, things just fall apart. I cry out that all I want is my health restored, and I’m simply not able to see past that burning desire. The good news is that we can start over each time this happens. We can have our little pity party (they can be so cleansing) and then say: “Okay, this is my life; let me see what I can make of it despite my limitations.”
Sometimes I forget that even those in good health face tough times and have their share of difficulties and limitations. They may be under stress at work, or bogged down by familial responsibilities, or worried about a relationship. Each person’s life is a unique mix of what I refer to in How to Wake Up as the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows that make up this human existence.
I point this out because I think it’s valuable to keep in mind that we, the chronically ill, don’t have a monopoly on suffering. The key to finding a measure and peace and contentment in life is to understand that it’s inevitable that things will be unpleasant at times—even overwhelming—and not to identify with those tough times as a permanent part of who you are. In other words, you can have a good cry…and then start the day anew.
May you learn to treat yourself with compassion, beginning by recognizing that being sick or in pain is not your fault.
Learning self-compassion takes practice. A good starting point is putting aside any self-blame you may be experiencing. You're in a body and bodies get sick and injured and old. It happens differently for everyone, but it happens. No blame!
I include many self-compassion exercises in my books because they’re my personal “go-to” practices when I'm at a loss for how to cope. To practice self-compassion, I often speak silently to myself, using whatever compassionate words fit the moment: “It’s so hard to feel sick and in pain all the time”; “My sweet body, working so hard to support me.”
Lastly, I wish this for all of you in the New Year:
May your suffering ease.
May you find joy amidst your sorrows.
May you be at peace.
© 2013 Toni Bernhard.
Thank you for reading my work. I'm the author of four books, including How to Be Sick: Your Pocket Companion (for those who've read How to Be Sick and for those who haven't), available May 2020.