What to Do When Chronic Illness Feels Like a No-Win Situation

By Sylvia Lippmann and Dan Lippmann

"I'm stuck in a no-win situation!" Chris exclaimed during her first counseling appointment. She had been referred by her physician for help with chronic migraines, anxiety and the recurring lifestyle challenges of her chronic illness.

Her children attended a private school that relied on parent volunteers for fundraising and other events. At the beginning of each school year, Chris's anxiety sky-rocketed as she anticipated the many phone calls asking her to volunteer her time. "I feel like a loser when I say no to volunteering," she said, "but I don't dare say yes because,on the day of the event, I could be in pain and non-functional."

She didn't feel she could say yes, because of her illness, but she felt badly about herself for saying no. Chris didn't want to be scolded, as she had been in the past, for "overreacting to her condition." Her invisible illness was taking a huge toll -- physically, emotionally, and mentally.

As she talked more about her situation, it became clear that several underlying thoughts and fears were to blame. If she said No to volunteer requests, Chris feared that the other parents would get angry at her and think she was lazy and unmotivated. She also believed that if she told them about her migraines they would think she was making excuses and talk about her behind her back. Even more troubling, she felt "worthless" because she couldn't "pull her own weight." Just articulating these thoughts for the first time brought Chris some relief, because it allowed her to begin questioning their validity.

Once Chris's fears were out in the open, she soon recognized that many of her thoughts contained exaggerations and false assumptions. As the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques helped her generate more positive, realistic thoughts to counteract the negative beliefs, Chris could feel her anxiety slowly dissipate.

Chris learned that saying No is one of the most important ways we have to exert control over our time and life. This helped her become less concerned with others' perceptions, and more determined to focus on her own needs.

Next, Chris worked with a coach to come up with a better way to respond to volunteering requests. She wanted to be able to say No with grace and confidence. But she also wanted to be able to make a request manageable, so she could say Yes if she wanted to.

Together, Chris and her coach wrote several brief "No, thanks" scripts that expressed her needs simply and directly. As Chris rehearsed her scripts ("Pam, I'm afraid I'll have to say no this time. But I'm hoping to help out with another project next month."), her confidence increased. She no longer dreaded getting phone calls about volunteering.

Then the coach asked Chris to imagine her ideal volunteer job. Chris quickly created a list of conditions for such a job, including a maximum time commitment of one hour per week, with a flexible schedule, a flexible deadline, and minimal physical exertion.

List in hand, Chris began looking at the volunteer sign-up sheets posted at school. Soon she saw that several activities -- from baking cookies to making reminder phone calls -- fit her criteria. She even decided to propose a new position (researching educational field trips), which met her health needs and matched her interests.

Chris showed incredible resourcefulness in responding to the challenges of her chronic illness. After a few more sessions, she had the skills and confidence to exercise her power of choice in many situations, including medical ones. She began to orient her life around her own needs and priorities - rather than simply reacting to whatever requests or events came her way.

Despite the unpredictability of her medical condition, Chris found that thoughtful planning (with plenty of built-in flexibility), coupled with the ability to say No, enabled her to live with greater ease and enjoyment than she'd thought possible.

Four Simple Steps for Saying No
If you could relate to Chris's challenge with saying No, here are four simple steps to make it easier.

  1. When you feel uneasy about saying No, ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that will happen if I say no?" Often, just seeing your thoughts on paper will lessen their hold over you.
  2. Write and rehearse "No, thanks" scripts. The more you practice saying No directly and simply, the easier it will become.
  3. When someone asks you to do something, tell them you will reply later. Give yourself time to think about whether you really want to do that. Make a list of the conditions (your priorities) that need to be present for you to say Yes. Look for ways to change existing situations so you can participate comfortably.
  4. Practice making requests based on your needs and desires. Once again, the more you practice, the easier it will become.

When managing your illness claims much of your time and attention, it's important to get very focused and intentional about your life. An important antidote to fear and resignation is to take charge of every aspect of your life that you can control. As you free your time through careful planning and the magic of saying No, the possibilities for leading a satisfying life will grow.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Dan and Sylvia Lippmann have created a new form of complementary care that addresses the largely ignored challenges people with chronic illness face, by combining the techniques of their two professions -- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Life Coaching. 
Sign up to get a FREE eReport, "The Feel Better Now-CI Five-Second Stress Reduction Technique", as well as an eZine filled with life-enhancing tips by visiting their website, http://www.feelbetternow-ci.com.
Article Source: What to Do When Chronic Illness Feels Like a No-Win Situation

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