Below are the three steps I took to stop making excuses because of my health issues…
I will never forget the first time I realized my disease provided a benefit – a highly addictive one.
“So what do you gain from having an autoimmune disease?”
This question, posed by my then-therapist, stunned me. “Excuse me?” I asked, my tone more protesting than inquiring.
“You get something out of being ill. You may not have acknowledged this yet, but if you go inward I think you know what the payoff is.”
I stared at a tapestry on the wall while I slowly attempted to sooth my shock. I blinked rapidly, as if that motion was somehow going to plug me into a zen-like intuitive state. It succeeded in nothing more than me feeling like I had a piece of dust stuck in my eye. Now I was shocked, upset, and had tears coming out of one eye that I awkwardly held half shut while attempting to form a coherent response. Not my finest moment.
Think, Paige, think! You overthink everything. Why can’t you think of a response for this?! Seriously?!
Then it hit me like, right in the chest, like the medicine ball from that one boot camp class I attended during a trial period of ClassPass. Oooof. No one ever asked me a question like that before. No one dared to make the poor sick patient answer for herself. They simply offered attention and understanding, and I LIKED that. I liked it a lot.
I recalled the previous week when I had agreed to attend a birthday dinner for a girl I had recently met. It sounded like a fun time when I agreed, but as the weekend rolled on I began to regret my commitment. All I wanted to do was go to yoga, get a pedicure, put on some comfy PJs, and finish the first season of Stranger Things. There are times when the fatigue as a result of Hashimoto’s does make it difficult for me to leave the house. I’ve woken up before and felt like the walk to the bathroom was through a sea of wet concrete. Each step felt more difficult than the last. On those days I was justified in taking time to recover at home. This, however, was not one of those days. I was feeling lazy and I had my trusty excuse to bail on the birthday plans.
My outgoing text: Hey, I am so sorry to do this but I am not feeling very well. I feel like I was about to fall asleep all day at work. The joy of an autoimmune disease :-(. I do want to make it up to you though. Free one night next week?
Her response: Oh no, I am so sorry! Don’t even worry about it. I hope you feel better
Not only was I immediately forgiven, but I was given a hit of sympathy. I enjoyed my pedicure and Netflix binge guilt free. I honestly felt entitled to cancel plans like that any time I wanted to. Then, in the same breath, I would wonder why my self-esteem was borderline non-existent. My integrity was lacking and it bled into my self-awareness and self-respect.
Playing the role of victim extraordinaire clearly had its perks. The benefits, at least in my case, included the following:
- Built-in justification for canceling plans or giving flakey, non-committal responses to invitations
- Significant leeway for time sensitive tasks (example: telling my boss I needed an extra week to complete a project that any other employee would be expected to turn in on time)
- Free pass to feel sorry for myself
- Perpetual excuse to never take action, forever delaying the execution of necessary changes in my life
- Ability to attribute my unhappiness to something outside of my control
Living with an autoimmune disease is a serious struggle at times, and maintaining a healthy level of self-compassion is crucial. It would be very unwise to push your body or emotional stability past their limits when you’re in the throes of a flare up. That being said, the attention and escape from coping with reality that having a chronic illness provides can become alarmingly enjoyable. I had been getting hooked on the sympathy of my peers for over a decade before someone dared to call me out on my bullsh*t. Prior to being confronted, I was honestly not aware of how accustomed I had become to being treated with velvet gloves and given a pass when on many occasions it was not warranted.
Once I was aware of the tendency to use my illness as a scapegoat, I had to begin the process of withdrawal from the world of convenience I had built for myself. No more last minute cancelations because I just didn’t feel like doing something (or worse, because something I deemed “better” came along). No more solo pity parties. No more perpetual procrastination. No more blaming my unhappiness on my illness.
For decades I blamed everyone and everything for my situation but took zero accountability for my role in my own life.
These are the 3 steps that turned the benefit of my disease from a source of excuses to a source of endless motivation:
Stop Making Excuses Step #1: Own your habit, then forgive yourself. I was humiliated when I first came to realization that I liked the attention and excuses to avoid certain obligations that my illness awarded me. I was diagnosed when I was 12, an age plagued awkwardness and uncertainty. My diagnosis, despite being a blow, got me more attention and recognition than anything in my life up to that point has. Once I had a hit of this validation I couldn’t get enough. I had to accept how this happened, show myself a little compassion, and move forward.
Stop Making Excuses Step #2: Develop an alternative perspective and reinforce it everyday. One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I ever came across stated that life happens for you, not to you. Just let that simmer for a moment. I realized after much self-reflection that instead of using my autoimmune disease as a crutch in times of self-doubt and avoidance, I could, instead, use my condition as a source of immense motivation. Perhaps my health issues did not happen TO me so that I could crawl into my little shell instead of facing the big, scary unknown. Perhaps they happened FOR me so that I could share my path to holistic health with others who are not aware that there is a non-traditional path to take. I decided to take the latter perspective and my life has completely changed.
Stop Making Excuses #3: Be mindful when the habit creeps back in. My people pleasing, perfectionistic tendencies like to make their presence known all the time. I am far from an enlightened individual. For example, yesterday while I was trying to take an insta-artsy photo of my essential oils box (sidenote: SO excited to share how much these have helped me with sleep, stress, brain fog, and digestion) I realized I was being fake as f*ck. It felt like I was saying please, Instagram followers, come look at my perfectly organized essential oils and let me tell you how they’ve been a part of my journey to holistic health, one in which I preach self-acceptance and authenticity. I was being so ridiculous that I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity. I put my phone down, took a deep breath, and accepted that my road to embracing imperfection feels more like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride than traveling on a Hyperloop. If you can acknowledge when your old tendencies appear, breathe through them, and let them go with a little grace… you’re a bad*ass. Give yourself a high five.