Stop comparing yourself! How to focus on yourself when recovering from chronic illness.
If, you struggle with a chronic health condition and you constantly compare yourself to others then this article is for you.
Make big leaps in your health by focussing on yourself and not worrying about others.
At 20, I developed chronic fatigue syndrome. I would like to say it was a surprise but it wasn’t.
It was born from an excessive drive to thrive and be better than the rest.
I was focused on achieving at all costs including myself.
It was typical perfectionism born out of a lack of self-confidence and dare I say self- love.
I grew up amongst highly intelligent over achievers. I just didn’t fit and had a hard time accepting myself for who I was.
Fast forward and I had to abandon medical school.
As I began to feel better, I decided to volunteer and get a simple job to get back into real life.
I started volunteering at the Alzheimer’s society looking after dementia patients. It provided a great sense of relief and satisfaction.
I also began working in my local hospital helping nurses and doctors provide care to patients.
This job provided me with enormous fun and relief to my otherwise depressing life of exhaustion and despair.
The comical moments and the sense of belonging were truly wonderful.
I’m in no doubt this helped a great deal in my healing journey.
I felt part of a team, working towards the same goal. It felt great.
I wonder how many of us who work in hospitals are really there to save ourselves? (Another topic for another day).
Despite the happiness and gratitude I felt for having some resemblance to a normal life, I also felt a great sense of sadness, bitterness and disappointment.
I lost focus.
I constantly compared myself to many of the 25 year old junior doctors. “I would have been a doctor by now. Why couldn’t that just be me?!”.
Even though I had the energy to work, my ability to study and think (certainly at the levels needed for medical work) was still impaired. The frustration and anger began to fester and grow.
And then one day, something happened…
Looking after acutely sick patients made me realise how ungrateful I was being.
This time two months ago I was spending 18 hours in bed. It felt like a miracle I could work a 12 hour shift.
‘Sure, I’m not making major clinical decisions but I get to play an important role in looking after the patients well-being.
I get to be part of the medical team. Most importantly I get to talk and laugh with patients. I get to learn and meet truly amazing people.’
Instead of what I couldn’t do, I began to focus and be grateful for what I could do and trust one day I will get there.
I stopped worrying about the destination and began enjoying the journey.
I love this quote from Russell Simmons book ‘Do You!‘:
“Instead of staring at the prize, stare at the process…..Don’t think that there’s going to be gold at the end of the road. Instead, value the process and you’ll see that the road has been paved with gold all along”– Russell Simmons ‘Do You!’
You maybe thinking: ‘This sounds great and it’s easy for you to say since you can work but what about me? I still can’t get out of bed!?’.
I get it. I’ve been there. And it’s very easy for me to say this while I’m sitting at the other end of the tunnel.
Every journey is different, but my experience with clients has taught me that when they stopped comparing themselves and focussed on their path, things really began to change for the better.
It takes time, but when I practiced these simple steps things began to change:
1. What are you grateful for?
Are you able to speak? Can you read this article? Are you able to walk to the bathroom? Are you able to chew and digest your food?
Even though it’s a cliché, every second of everyday our body’s are performing miracles for us.
When you start focusing on the ‘small’ things you realise our bodies are performing miracles and even though we feel shit, our bodies are still working!
We may not be able to do stuff, but there’s a hell of a lot we can do. We’re winning!
2. Try Not To Compare Yourself
This was a big one. When I stopped comparing myself I began to take big leaps in my healing journey.
If you are fortunate enough to be integrating back into life but you compare yourself to friends or colleagues:
Just say ‘I may not be where I want to be, but I’m lucky to be able to do what I’m doing. I’m winning and someday I’ll get there.’
3. Stop comparing yourself with social media
We all do it. We all know it’s bad. We know we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves with what we see on social media. Especially if you struggle with chronic illness.
I’ll admit I discovered some useful information on instagram but the feelings of inadequacy and despair outweighed the benefit for me.
When I stopped using my iPhone, my happiness and ability to focus on myself went exponential.
I decided to ditch my smartphone last year. I’ll be writing an article about this at a later date but I highly recommend checking out Irresistible by Adam Alter.
Before I start browsing social media I ask myself ‘Is what I’m about to do serving my highest and greatest good.’
If you need a ‘digital high’ watch a video or read a book that uplifts you with laughter, hope and optimism.
4. Don’t believe the grass is greener.
I can’t tell you how many times I see friends and people I know on social media ‘having the time of their lives’.
We see what people want us to see..and we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors (hopefully all good stuff).
I just try to focus on myself and work towards my highest and greatest good.
I remind myself if I hadn’t developed this illness and became a doctor I wouldn’t have been lucky enough to learn what I have. I try my best to be grateful and see the big picture (even though I stumble).
5. Think Ultra Long-Term
I try to see my healing journey as time gained not lost. I remind myself that with everything I’ve learned I maybe in a position to live longer. While my schoolmates are slowing down I’m just getting started.
6. Be true to You: What Resists Persists
In Mel Collin’s book ‘The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People’ she discusses the idea that people with certain personality traits are more likely to develop conditions such as CFS.
These are ‘the perfectionists’, ‘the achievers’ and ‘the givers’. Many of which maybe ‘sensitive souls’.
It’s possible, we manifest these traits to hide our sensitivities and imperfections to protect ourselves from our own vulnerabilites. I certainly did.
I tried to exercise, study and work to distance myself from my true self.
In Ashok Gupta‘s amygdala retraining programme he often uses the phrase ‘What resist persists’.
I certainly learned through my healing journey, that resisting things just makes it worse.
I try to be as true to who I am: accepting myself and embracing the crazy journey we are on.
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow”– Helen Keller
Take Each Day As It Comes: The Present Is A Gift
Often, when we face chronic illness our minds race, thinking about what might happen in the future.
In reality, those thoughts are not reality. They’re just our imagination running wild…they’re not real.
I found when I took each day as it came…it made a big difference.
There’s just no point worrying about tomorrow when you have chronic illness. We often don’t know how we’re going to feel tomorrow.
But the important thing is realising tomorrow hasn’t happened. Tomorrow. Is. Not. Real.
Wishing you well in finding your path to health,