Four previous posts on goal-setting offered steps to increase your odds of success in choosing and achieving your goals. If you are one of the 50% of Americans who have at least one chronic health condition, however, those suggestions may not have helped you as much as you might like. If you are healthy, the odds are that someone you know is struggling every day to accomplish tasks you take for granted.
HSPs are not necessarily sick or sick more often than others
Dr. Elaine Aron’s research has found that highly sensitive persons “raised in a positive environment are healthier, happier, and more productive” than non-HSPs. Being highly sensitive is not, by itself, a disadvantage. It makes you more sensitive to your environment, whether that environment is positive or negative. It appears this applies to circumstances as different as parenting on the one hand and chemical pollution on the other.
HSP allergies and sensitivities
The presence of allergies does not identify a person as an HSP. The quiz used in Aron’s research to identify sensitivity does not include a question on allergies. Many who are high on the HSP scale do not have allergies. But yes, if someone has allergies, he or she may be an HSP. HSPs may also have a sensitivity to medications and need a different dose or a different drug treatment than the first one their M.D. offers.
What about chemical sensitivities?
Drugs are chemicals. Some HSPs, certainly not all or even the majority, have a variety of sensitivities, intolerances, or allergy-like reactions when exposed to chemicals.
The sensitivity to chemicals has been noted by those studying environmental sensitivity, who find most with this difficulty are HSPs.
Whether you are an HSP or a non-HSP, the first weeks and months of illness can be quite challenging.
There are many diagnoses that fall into the chronic category including chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis, and severe allergies and sensitivities. Cancer and AIDS, once life-threatening, may also be chronic conditions due to recent medical advances. Or, you may be sidelined by an injury and face months of rehab.
If you have just been diagnosed with a life-altering or life-threatening illness, you encounter a bewildering array of medications, treatments, and new rules for living. “Be at the hospital at 8 am for tests; bring your insurance card. Avoid grapefruit. Eat more broccoli. Be sure to exercise even if you can hardly crawl out of bed. Don’t forget your three-ring binder full of instructions. And, here’s a list of recommended reading.”
You may feel like you have lost your mind. Your life, as it was, feels like it’s gone. You wonder if it will ever come back. The landscape around you hasn’t changed. But, despite things looking outwardly the same, so much is different, almost unrecognizable. This is a normal, understandable reaction, and you will need time to see what all the changes mean.
Pacing and prioritizing
Your first priority is to calm the crisis enough so that you can see what to do next. This often means more tests, treatments, and doctor visits. You will be updating your family, and making decisions on what to tell friends and the boss at work. There may be a period of study and exploration to find out what your illness means and how others cope.
Your second priority, now and later, will be to stay within your “energy window.” You will find that you can do a certain amount, although that amount may vary based on a number of changing factors. If you go beyond that, you will pay the price in increased fatigue, pain, and the need for an extended period of rest before you can again do what you could do just yesterday.
There is a temptation to do as much as you can as often as you can. Many find that this attempt to achieve a victory over illness is counter-productive. They get more done over time by scheduling in rest periods before they are needed. Resting is not a victory for the illness; it can be a major component of effective coping. When you rest, that usually means going horizontal with your eyes closed rather than reading or watching television.
Some track their energy window well enough to know when to also rest after activity as well. Perhaps you are well enough to go on a trip that takes you away from home for several days. When you come back, it can be helpful to check your mail and email, pay any bills due, get in groceries, and then rest for three days. You might shower, take a walk, and do little else each day.
Resting, in this case, means resting from planning, decision-making, and socializing, as well as anything physically strenuous. Whatever your physical ability, if you don’t get the rest you need, you may spiral down and take days or weeks to level back up. If you have young children, of course, that means a different strategy, perhaps including some help with childcare and chores.
Recognize emotional labor
You make a presentation without showing your fear. You treat your best customer with courtesy and respect even when they don’t always return the favor. As a parent, you are calm, confident, and soothing, even though you are worried sick about something your children are too young to be burdened with. These are all everyday examples of emotional labor.
When you are “on,” it can be draining. When you are ill, any conversation can require you to “step it up a notch.” To be social requires extra effort. Here too, you need to recognize the extra energy expenditure and perhaps shorten the time involved.
Allow extra “extra time”
When a new member joins one group on dealing with chronic illness they are told that now “it will take twice as much effort to achieve half as much.” That means, when they were healthy, one unit of effort yielded one unit of production. Now, in their new life, it takes four units of effort to accomplish one unit of production.
The ratio may vary from one daily activity to another. Early in your illness, this can make planning very difficult. In the past, you could accurately assess how much you could get done in an hour or a day. Now, it’s harder to predict. As time goes on, you will be more able to anticipate what you can do and how long it will take.
Most illnesses also have ups and downs; this means what you can get done will change from day to day or week to week. For many, this is an on-going challenge and is best approached with patience and gentleness toward yourself.
Fennell's book covers the many aspects of illness and helpful coping strategies. The author also recognizes your small daily acts of bravery, grit, and perseverance. If you or someone you care about is chronically ill, I hope you will continue to learn about how to live with it in what Fennell describes as dignity, peace, and meaning.
This is the fifth post in a series of goal-setting for the highly sensitive person.
And, you are invited to join us for teleclassHappiness and the Highly Sensitive Person. Learn more about what it means to be an energized, effective, confident, and authentic HSP.