Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My 2017 New Year’s Resolutions to Better Manage My Chronic Condition

Like countless millions of others, I, too, participate in that annual rite known as New Year’s Resolutions.  As someone grappling with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition involving chemical and hormonal changes that result in ongoing pain, digestive issues, cognitive impairments, weaker immunity, poor sleeping, low energy, and so on, as well as not getting a definitive diagnosis until late this year, I had a mixed bag of results in 2016. But I fervently believe the diagnosis drives home the need to have resolutions for 2017, and to set them appropriately.
As we observe the end of one moment, the start of another awaits. 
I’ve found it helpful to compose less dramatic resolutions and instead use the declarations as a way to state my priorities and direction for the year. More recently, I’ve also begun shaping them to allow for different versions and degrees of success. In thinking about the upcoming year and factoring in the impacts of fibromyalgia, I believe I see several general areas around which to craft my personal 2017 goals: health, relationships, creativity, growth, and figurative or literal “housecleaning”.

I know up front that this year won't allow
for an off-the-grid family backpacking trip...
For me, health and my fibromyalgia diagnosis are completely intertwined right now. But I have to acknowledge the improbability of going from notably impaired daily functioning to returning to arduous backpacking excursions off the grid, or multi-day mountain biking road trips. I think the reality of the condition and treatments, and the newness of my diagnosis, require that my focus is on an improved understanding of how to manage my condition. By breaking it down into refining my nutritional regimen started in 2016, building on the limited exercising I could muster late in the year, and experimenting with other supports such as massage, meditation, and so on, I should be able to slog through the daily grind and end the year with improved health and better knowledge of how to manage it. This goal meets my criteria of layers of success and flexibility, and underscores that the year is just truly about effort and learning.

... But we can convert it into a goal
of finding new ways to connect.
Fibromyalgia affected not just me but those around me for nearly the past three years. As such, I think a second general goal revolves around learning my physical limits for the current ways I bond with friends and family. It also seeks new ways to connect with loved ones. Again, this will require experimenting. But the only way to discover new limits is to try and then assess; the only way to develop new avenues for creating shared memories is to risk a bad time in order to revel in a good experience. Whether we attempt some grand international vacation or merely check out a museum we’ve never visited is irrelevant. The priority is on partnering with those close to me to see how we can continue sharing our lives.

Regularly playing this beautifully-restored guitar
is  one of my goals for 2017.
I long ago learned I need creative outlets for my emotional well-being, and I chafe without those releases. The previous iteration of my life was wonderfully integrated. But, my now-chronic condition led everything to unravel and left me rudderless. This past year’s creative goal emphasized trying new creative expressions on for size. For this upcoming year, I can build upon that effort and see goals that my condition no longer disrupts. All of the experiments I’m conducting create some fertile ground to return to writing; the prior photography I’d toyed with helped me begin to see what is in front of me in a new way, and building a more diverse library of photographs to accompany my writing seems to be an easy and fulfilling add-on; resuming guitar playing after years of near-dormancy caused some elbow pain this year, but I learned ways to mitigate it. So, continuing to rediscover my love of music through some focused efforts will allow me to have a collection of creative outlets that cover the spectrum: written, visual, and auditory. In that sense, I don’t care if one of them dead-ends, just that I give each an earnest shot. If so, I believe I’ll end the year with something to show for the effort and to build upon.

A goal that dovetails with my prior ones is to push myself to evolve: to return to some of my prior activities in a way acknowledging my new limitations, and to see if such versions of those activities are fulfilling. In addition, I want to force myself to participate in completely new adventures that from the beginning appear likely to work within my constraints. Much of my reading on fibromyalgia has seemed to present a push-pull conflict between returning to your old self so that the condition doesn’t “win” and finding new ways to live positively so that you aren’t bound by your condition. I see my focus this year as going down both avenues so that neither artificially precludes the other’s chances for fulfillment. The reality is that we’re all always morphing, and the real point of this goal is spending this year seeding my life with varied opportunities, in the hopes that I yield some sort of benefit this year and position myself for better harvests in future years.

Chipping away at projects should help avoid
adding myself to the list of things needing repair.
Lastly, I have my tedious but necessary goal around “housecleaning”. No one loves updating wills, working with financial planners, mucking out gutters, cleaning out the attic, and the like. As I learned this past year, pushing hard and ignoring my body’s warning signs can lead to physically painful setbacks. Yet, these tasks are necessary evils for keeping affairs in order and avoiding more stressful alternatives that might otherwise arise. Therefore, laying out my priorities at the beginning of the year allows me to chip away at a necessary but boring goal and to avoid distractions or disregard.

I think the combination of physical and emotional well-being, staying connected with those around me, growing as a person, and tending to some loose ends constitutes a well-rounded, achievable set of goals for the new year. It addresses ways in which I experienced setbacks in preceding years due to my condition. It builds upon efforts or learnings from my current goals, now winding down. These days, I’m often easily frustrated or despairing, and sometimes pessimistic about my future. But this goal-setting is also a self-managing way to see positive outcomes. In their details, each goal also allows for degrees of success, since all-or-nothing outcomes are needlessly punitive and would only reinforce the frustrations I’m battling to overcome.  I’ll commit these goals to paper – or at least a virtual document on a laptop – and update them at least monthly. Doing so helps maintain my focus and positive outlook. It will also help me acknowledge small successes along the way.

Like everyone else, I want to live vibrantly, with great moments transitioning into wonderful memories shared with those whom I love very much. Also like everyone else, I’ve experienced the curve balls that life eventually throws at us all, each with our unique versions. So, for me, New Year’s resolutions are not about unrealistic aspirations or about lamenting what might have been. Rather, they’re about trying to attain the potential that my life offers, make some impact to the world I live in, and do my best to enjoy the ride.

For now, though, one step at a time.

Jay Bell

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