By Toni Bernhard J.D.
To celebrate the release of my new book,How To Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide, I’ve made a list of 20 tips to help with the health challenges all us face at one time or another in life. The book explores each tip—and many more—in detail.
1. Your body is not the enemy.
Quite the opposite; it’s working hard to support you. There’s a chapter in the book titled “Appreciating the Wondrousness of the Human Body.” Your body is indeed wondrous. Even so, it’s also vulnerable to illness and injury, so it deserves your compassion not your anger.
2. It’s not your fault that you have health problems.
Everyone struggles with his or her health at some point in life. Don’t make things worse by adding self-blame to your list of challenges.
3. Accepting that life is uncertain, unpredictable, and doesn’t always conform to your wishes is the first step toward making peace with your circumstances.
In the book, I call this making peace with a life upside down.
4. Don’t spend your precious energy worrying about how others view your medical condition.
Instead, spend that precious energy taking good care of yourself.
5. Forgive yourself—over and over and over again.
And when you realize you’re not taking good care of yourself, forgive yourself immediately. Although taking a good hard look at how and why you acted as you did is a good way to learn from your mistakes, the “hardness” should stop there. Learn and move on. Self-forgiveness is a form of self-compassion, and self-compassion is one of the major themes of the book.
6. To the extent possible, stick with those who support you.
That said, some people may genuinely feel supportive of you, but not be good at showing it. We do a poor job in this culture of preparing people to be around illness and pain. For many people, supporting loved ones in need is an acquired skill.
7. Expect to be let down by friends and family now and then.
Everyone feels let down by others at times. More likely than not, it has to do with what’s going on in their lives, not yours.
8. With practice, you can turn envy and resentment into feeling happy for others.
It’s hard to be limited in what you can do, but feeling envious and resentful of others when they’re out and about having a good time only makes you feel worse—mentally and often physically. With practice, you can not only overcome envy and resentment, you can learn to be happy for others when they’re doing things you can’t. And that, in turn, will bring youhappiness.
9. Teach yourself to ask for help.
Many of us were taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness. It’s not. It’s an act of self-compassion.
10. It’s okay to feel lonely.
The effects of isolation and loneliness can be so hard to cope with that I devote an entire section of the book to this subject.
11. Help others when you can.
Reaching out to others in need can ease the pain of isolation and also give you welcome respite from always thinking about your health.
12. Remember that even if you regained your health, your life would not be perfect.
In other words, don’t fall into that “if only” trap that has you thinking that your life would be trouble-free if only you were healthy again.
13. Don’t forget to thank your caregivers.
I devote two chapters in the book to these hidden heroes.
14. Patience truly is a virtue.
There’s no escaping it: you’ll encounter difficulties and annoyances in life. Patience can help you weather these storms without exacerbating your symptoms. It’s a skill you can learn.
15. Realistically assess what you have to give up and work on letting go gracefully, so you can make room for a new way of life.
Getting stuck in old identities can be a great source of suffering and can keep you from seeing new possibilities right before your eyes. In the book, I write about how I’m trying to look upon my new life as an adventure. I hope you’ll try this too.
16. With rare exceptions, when your body says “no,” you say “no.”
Saying “no” takes practice. I know because I’m still practicing. It’s another act of self-compassion.
17. Don’t feel bad if you’re not a member of the outside workforce.
Taking care of yourself as a person with chronic pain and/or illness is work! In fact, it’s often a full-time job.
18. It’s okay to feel fed-up sometimes.
I often say it’s okay to be sick of being sick. A bad day is just that: one bad day. Tomorrow, you can start over. And if it’s a bad day too, there’s the day after. Sooner or later, the universal law of impermanence will come to your rescue.
19. Become your own unconditional ally.
With practice, this can become a lifelong habit. From the book: “If you’re quick to direct negative judgment at yourself, pause for a moment and imagine how it would feel if you spent the entire day being friendly, caring, and considerate to yourself. If you can imagine it, you can do it.”
20. Never forget that despite your health challenges, you’re still a whole person.
And don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
I hope these tips have been helpful. All of them are expanded upon in the new book. My heartfelt wish for all of you comes from the end of the Introduction:
May you find a place of peace even in the midst of your health struggles. May every step you take become your home.