December has always been one of those months that I take stock. I review the past year in my head. I think about if I am where I thought I would be last year. Or where I thought I would be at the beginning of the upcoming year.
This year, I'll be turning the BIG 4-0. Forty is scary enough...but when you're dealing with chronic pain and/or chronic illness, milestones of any kind seem to take on new meaning.
This morning, I was going through a few things in an old box of mine. My childhood best friend made a homemade card for my 17th birthday. She had cut out my horoscope for that year. There was a photo of us. She also named a few songs, tv shows, and events that were "big" during 1997...which was really cool to look back on twenty-two years later. Cool...but not cool enough to take away the pang I felt in my stomach.
I couldn't help but think...that seventeen-year-old girl had no clue what was coming her way later in life. After all, at that time, I was undeniably convinced that I was going to marry my high school sweetheart after college, buy a home, have children, and (seriously) live happily ever after.
However, by the time I was 28-years old, it was clear that my life was on a different trajectory than the one I had so meticulously planned. By my 31st birthday, grief, loss, and illness seemed to take center stage. As my 33rd birthday approached, I was facing divorce. What the hell happened to my happily ever after?
Life not turning out as you imagined happens to most of us. Very few of us have the life we dreamt of as children. Life throws unexpected curveballs, and it's our job to adjust accordingly. But that isn't always easy. In fact, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO, wrote a fantastic book about this concept, entitled "Option B," after she tragically and unexpectedly lost her husband and the father of her children at just forty-eight years young. One of her biggest hurdles was letting go of the life she believed she so securely had, to start creating a new life..." Option B."
Chronic illness adds another layer of dashed hopes and dreams. It holds us back and holds us down...no matter how hard we try to fight the suffocating proverbial chains that are wrapped tightly around us. Surgeries, medications, therapies, and testing consume our lives. Suddenly, we're not working towards our long term goals... we're working just to keep our heads above water.
Which, is the exact reason we need to learn to compare our current selves to ourselves and not to our "old selves" and the world's standards, milestones, and expectations. Theodore Roosevelt famously said, "Comparison is the thief of joy," and you know what? He was right.
This has taken years to learn, and the truth of the matter is that I wouldn't even say I'm a total pro at it. It's human nature to want to compare ourselves to our counterparts. However, it is something that, with some practice, we can learn how to do on a more regular basis.
Here are my top 5 tips and tricks to do just that!
1. Understand your story, not anyone else's.
Ummm...what? It sounds silly, but this is an important step. Yes, we all know our personal story because we have lived it. However, understanding the small details of our story is not always something we do. What were the significant events in our story? What led up to them? How did you handle them? What did you learn from them? What was your part in making them better or worse? You get the idea...
Go through your life story and identify the milestones, the triumphs, and tragedies. Then create a timeline. Seeing your life on paper is a sobering experience. We often do not give ourselves the credit we deserve. When you take the time to layout your life in this manner, you suddenly realize how strong, pliable, and resilient you are - you suddenly...appreciate yourself and your story.
2. Make peace with what has happened in your story.
Acceptance is the key to enjoying so much of life. When we can accept what has happened in our lives, we can move on from the past and begin creating a brand new future. Acceptance doesn't mean we like everything that has happened in our life, it just means that we have processed what has happened and have resolved our feelings towards the situation. Acceptance means that we can objectively see the situation for what it is and how it has helped shape us, for better or for worse.
By making peace with the story of our life, we can begin giving ourselves, "a break." Often, time allows us to "downplay" events and emotions. We can beat ourselves up for reacting or acting a certain way, allowing situations and scenarios to derail us or not having the proper insight or wisdom - after all, hindsight is 20/20. Recognizing and accepting that we did what we could, with what we had, with where we were, is a liberating concept.
3. Recreate your life trajectory now that you're sick.
This is perhaps the most crucial step in preventing comparison. Undoubtedly, illness creates limitations - so does aging. Trying to accomplish what we could when we were twenty-years old (and healthy) just isn't fair to do (that is...unless you're still twenty-years old). Stick to reality. What can you feasibly do...consistently? What are your limitations? What are a few goals that you can set that are slightly out of reach, and you can work towards?
Once you have a list, begin thinking about a new life path. It doesn't have to be the antithesis of your "old life" - in fact, it should have some resemblance to your "old life" - after all, you're still you!
Google career paths in the arena you're looking for, ask your family and friends what your strengths and weaknesses are, popcorn ideas of things you have always been passionate about - just make sure you're enthusiastic about it.
4. Realize that you'd choose your problems over everyone else's.
Everyone, every single person has to contend with trials and tribulations. Everyone, has problems. No one gets through this life unscathed. However, my grandfather always used to say to me, "If you took everyone you knew and put them in a circle...and then had them throw all of their problems into the middle...you would pick up your own problems 100% of the time instead of taking someone else's." Think about that for a second. He's right.
When you realize that you're comparing their successes to yours...think about comparing their problems to yours too.
5. Work every single day on your new life's path. Big or small. Take one step every day in the direction in which you want to go.
Listen, "Life" happens. Events can knock us down, emotions can create chaos, and errors tend to create paralyzation. When we look around and see people living their dreams and bigger than life, it's hard not to compare our monotonous, "small" ones. Seeing others experience uber success can make us feel like uber failures. Additionally, seeing others living our dreams can really sting.
So what do you do? Resolve yourself to being secretly envious? Give up on your own dreams and goals? No!
Chronic pain and chronic illness may have prompted you to change your life path, but it shouldn't prevent you from working on your new dreams and goals. Perhaps you want to help others in chronic pain and chronic illness, or you want to try to become a writer. Maybe you want to adopt a child instead of having biological children, or you want to volunteer. Whatever your newly adjusted dreams are, work towards them, every single day, because it's the complacency, stagnation, and surrender that causes us to compare and covet someone else's life.
Don't have newly developed dreams and goals? Begin creating them! As humans, we need a purpose - being sick doesn't change that fact!
Christina H Chororos founded Kairos Chronic Pain Coaching in the fall of 2017 after obtaining her Integrative Wellness Life Coaching certification from the Integrative Wellness Academy.
She is a decade-long deep infiltrating endometriosis sufferer, speaker and, suicide prevention + chronic pain patient advocate.
For more information, please visit kairoschronicpain.com