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Has a Chronic Illness in the Family Made You Unreliable?

Six ways to embrace the new you

Any readers out there who used to follow this blog—hello, old friends!—have probably noticed some inactivity around here. Like what, four years’ worth? Ahem.

I could unfurl a very long scroll of excuses for the disappearing act if I wanted to, and most would have to do with a household of people fielding chronic physical and mental illnesses, plus not enough “well minutes” in a day.** Thing is, I’ve become comfortable enough with my unreliability to not worry much about unfurling that scroll, or apologizing for my essential unreliability unless I’ve actually hurt or inconvenienced someone.

As Popeye the Sailor Man used to say, “I yam what I yam.” Turns out, old Popeye was onto something there.

Lou Gold/CreativeCommons
Popeye: he wuz who he wuz
Source: Lou Gold/CreativeCommons

As the old me was super-reliable and sweated every detail of every commitment, this inability to follow through with stuff was a blow to my self-esteem. To my very identity. That was a normal reaction. But I’ve learned to deal with it, and so can you. Here’s how:

1. Learn from your miscalculations. Every time you offer to volunteer at school, or to make a huge lasagna for the neighborhood block party—and you nearly destroy yourself, or neglect a family member who needs you, in order to get the darn thing done—ask a trusted confidant to remind you, the next time you make the offer, what happened the last time. Eventually it’ll sink in.

2. When you accept an invitation from colleagues or friends to do something important or fun, preface the “yes” with a brief explanation. Please understand that I may have to cancel at the last minute due to xyz. It’s not personal. If that would be a problem for you, feel free to invite someone else—no hard feelings! Eventually your friends and colleagues will know this about you, no explanation required.

3. Anytime you’re feeling bad about all the ways you think you’re not contributing to the world at large—e.g. holding down consistent paid work, blogging (ahem!), political canvassing, volunteering at school, volunteering for causes you believe in—make a list of the challenges you face every single day. Then make a list of the stuff you accomplish most days, in spite of them. Then remind yourself you're a mere mortal, not a machine. Then go grab a 7-minute snooze while you have the chance.

4. Allow yourself to enjoy the feeling of quietude you get when you do have a spot of time, free of pain, exhaustion, and worry, and you spend that free time on yourself. For people like us, “free time” is more than a clear schedule. It’s a precious commodity.

5. Learn to value yourself as highly as you always valued everyone and everything else. Think of your needs as urgent and deserving, like all those needs you reliably volunteered to take care of until you became unreliable. Do all of it guilt-free.

6. Stop being silly about this reliability stuff, will ya? You is what you is.