Bamboo forest with text overlay: Learning to be Flexible When Living with Chronic Illness

Learning to Be Flexible When Living with Chronic Illness

Where does the time go?! I can’t believe it’s March already! It’s been a busy few weeks around here, and some of the things I usually do (like blogging) have had to take a backseat to life. That happens for most of us from time to time, but it happens more routinely for those of us with fibromyalgia or another chronic illness. Sometimes we have to let go of the things we “usually” do in order to manage our pain and/or energy levels.

Learning to be flexible is key in thriving within this “new normal.” Most of you already know I’m a list person — I like having my to-do list and checking it off. When we live with chronic illness, that doesn’t always work out. I’m learning, slowly but surely, not to be married to my plan.

It’s great to have a plan, but it’s important to allow some flexibility.

Why is being flexible so important?

Being flexible and adapting to changing circumstances can help us build resilience. As we talked about in Bend or Break, “becoming more flexible can help us become more resilient, more likely to bend than to break, and more capable of living our best life.” We become better able to work within our limitations and adapt ‘on-the-fly’ to whatever life throws at us.

Bamboo forest with Bruce Lee quote: "Notice that the stiffest tree is easily cracked while the bamboo survives by bending with the wind."

Learning to be more flexible can keep us from becoming derailed when we hit a ‘bump.’ This goes hand in hand with building resilience. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve worked with clients who, because they were so locked into the “all or nothing” mentality, one little ‘bump in the road’ could completely derail them. When we live with chronic illness, we hit a lot of ‘bumps.’ Learning to take these in stride and work around them helps us continue to move forward.

It can help alleviate some of the guilt associated with not getting everything done. Almost anyone who has lived with chronic illness or a chronic pain condition for any length of time experiences guilt because of the things they can’t do. If we can mentally allow ourselves some flexibility, that goes a long way toward easing those feelings of guilt when we can’t accomplish something we “should” do.

Flexibility doesn’t always come naturally to us. For those of us who have Type-A personalities (anyone else with me?) can often have the most trouble being flexible. I thought I’d share a few things that have helped me.

Ways to Improve Adaptability

Give yourself permission to let go of some things when you need to. Sometimes the mental aspect of having to let go of the idea that we can do it all is difficult. We’re such a society of ‘doers’ that it’s hard to admit we can’t get everything done.

Take an if/then approach. “If I can’t do this, I’ll do this instead.” Sometimes we can’t do what we planned, but we can do something else that requires less energy, time, etc. That helps us feel we’ve accomplished something, even if it’s not what we originally planned.

Give yourself more time than you think you need to get things done. If we build in extra time (for deadlines, for task completion, etc.) we have more flexibility to just take the time we need for recovery days, etc.

Realize that sometimes you just have to sacrifice the ‘good’ for the ‘better.’ Sometimes we just have to let go of some things if we’re going to really thrive. This isn’t an easy lesson to learn, but it’s an important one. We have to come to terms with the fact that in this “new normal” we live in, we will often have to choose between ‘good’ and ‘better.’

Learning to be more flexible and adaptive can help us truly thrive, not just survive, when we live with chronic illness.

Do you feel being flexible is important for successfully dealing with your chronic illness? What helps you adapt to changing circumstances? Please share!

Blessings,

~Terri

30 comments

  1. Very wise words, Terri. We just have to be flexible, or else we run the risk of feeling continually defeated. I’ve become so much better at not feeling guilty for leaving something half done for weeks at a time or not done at all. Or accepting I can’t do it at all and asking for help. It definitely takes time to adjust to this new normal. But with patience and being kind to ourselves we can adapt. Thanks so much for your encouraging words. Penny 💙 xxx

    1. Thank you so much Penny! You make such a great point about us running the risk of feeling continually defeated if we can’t be flexible. Realizing and actually accepting that I can’t do it all has been hard for me, and there are still times that I have to revisit that, but it has helped me immensely. Hope you’re doing well sweet friend. Sending hugs your way!

  2. Flexibility is the secret to making life as good as possible Terri. I must be a slow learner as it’s often learned but then forgotten again but slowly getting better in that regard.

    1. Oh Marie, I have the same problem…. Even when we know these things in our heads, sometimes it’s hard to get them into our hearts. We’re having to unlearn all the habits that have worked for us in the past, when we were well, but which no longer serve us. I’ve decided it’s just going to be an ongoing process for me, and I’ll just continue to remind myself what I know to be true. Sending hugs across the ocean sweet friend!

  3. Flexibility of my neck and shoulders would be awesome!! 🤔 keeping life simple and lowered expectations helps a lot. But I am retired, so I have that luxury. Good luck as we all strive for flexibility.

    1. You and me both, Ruth! 😁 Thanks for sharing what helps you. Lowering expectations is probably key – I know I have extremely high expectations of myself, and I suspect others have the same issue….. I hope you’re doing well. I’ll pop by your blog later to catch up. After several weeks off, I have a lot of catching up to do…. Hugs!

  4. Great blog post, Terri! I agree with all four of your “Ways to Improve Adaptability.” I’m a work in progress, still trying to learn how to be kind to myself.

    1. Thanks so much Janet! I’m always amazed by the number of us who have trouble being kind to ourselves. I know I tend to be much harder on myself than I would be on anyone else…. I’m also a work in progress. Blessings to you sweet friend!

  5. Being kind to myself is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learnt through chronic illness. I realised I was expending so much energy trying to meet everybody else’s expectations that I wasn’t treating myself well enough. Excellent post. I’m a list person as well, and I put everything on the list – loading the dishwasher, sorting the mail – so that I feel like I’ve added value even when I’m at my worst. But flexibility for me means it isn’t the end of the world if there’s nothing on the list today, even though that’s really hard for me to learn to accept.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Captain! I can completely relate to trying to meet other people’s expectations and not making ourselves a priority. I love that you put everything on your list – as you said, when we ‘list people’ can see those things checked off, we feel we’ve “added value.” Learning the value of those recovery days where we choose to do nothing is so important, but it’s hard, isn’t it? Blessings to you!

  6. Thank you Terri. I needed to read this today. Although I had a long blogging break over Christmas, I feel the need to take another. Perhaps blogging less in general is the answer for me.

    1. I’m so glad this came when you needed it Brigid. Blogging really does take much more time and effort than you’d think, doesn’t it? I have to laugh at how naive I was when I set up my blog and wrote that first post…. I hope you’re able to find what works for you. Sending hugs your way!

    1. Thanks for reading Don. I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this issue also. I know after all your years of coaching, it must be tough to give yourself permission to be flexible instead of ‘hard-charging.’ I hope you’re able to find what works for you. Blessings to you!

  7. This is another thing I’ve found quite challenging, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I started to find some degree of structure and routine helpful, but of course with chronic illness you can guarantee that best laid plans are made to be broken, sometimes quite regularly. Having that flexibility is important so you can ‘go with the flow’ and not get too worried or stressed out by things not going as intended.

    “If we can mentally allow ourselves some flexibility, that goes a long way toward easing those feelings of guilt when we can’t accomplish something we “should” do” < that’s a really good way to see it. For me, I sometimes start to worry about delaying things. ‘But if I put it off until tomorrow because I’m too poorly today, what if I’m still not able to do it tomorrow and then it’s all going to pile up and nothing will get done?!’. And each time of course comes a thick layer of guilt.

    I love your tips and I think that permission we give (or don’t give!) ourselves to let go of some tasks, or some ways of thinking about what we ‘should/need’ to do, is a really important one. If we can’t always change the physical aspects of what we’re doing, we can perhaps change the way we’re thinking about them and to at least look after our mental health a little more. When it comes to doing things a little differently, a bit more time to actually get stuff done is good when possible, and breaking tasks down into more manageable chunks, not saying ‘yes’ to things we feel we’d rather say ‘no’ to just because we don’t want to let someone else down. I try to have back-up plans sometimes too, which can be helpful depending on the situation.

    Another fantastic post, Terri!
    Caz xx

    1. Thanks so much Caz, and thanks for sharing your tips for improving flexibility. You make such fantastic points about looking after our mental health, saying ‘no’ to things we don’t want to do, and having a back-up plan. Like you, it’s important for me to have at least a loose structure or I’d never get anything done. Getting it into my head that it’s okay when things don’t get done and being flexible helps immensely. Hope you’re doing well sweet friend. Sending hugs your way!

  8. Great post! You really nailed it with the guilt – the guilt is the worst! Thanks for putting this one out there – very useful words.

    1. Thanks so much Matt! I’m glad you found this useful. We sure do lay a lot of guilt on ourselves, don’t we? It’s one of the hardest things to get over, but when we finally convince ourselves that we can’t feel guilty for something we can’t control, it’s so freeing. Blessings to you!

  9. Excellent post! Great reminder. I was thinking as I was reading that I’ve let go of so much just to survive as happily as possible. It’s in the letting go though, that a certain freedom is found. Hoping you’re best as possible. 🌼

    1. Thank you so much Mishka! You make such a fabulous point about the freedom that’s found in letting go. That has definitely been my experience too. I hope you’re doing well sweet friend. I’m still playing catch-up from my time off so I’ll be by your blog soon. Hugs!

  10. I am absolutely hopeless at letting go of something or cutting down. I know it’s my downfall. I need to remind myself sometimes that I am getting older and not younger. Great post as usual Terri x

    1. Thank you for sharing Bar! I was just telling my husband the other day that I forget how old I am because I just don’t feel it. My body likes to remind me when I forget though.😁 Sending hugs your way sweet friend!

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