This may not be a popular post, but please hear me out and know that I am right there with you. I struggle daily with setting boundaries and defending those boundaries. We all want someone to just “get” what we are going through and “understand” us when we set our limits. I wish it were that easy!
What I hear over and over (and experience, at times, myself) is that my spouse, friend, mother (insert noun that applies) doesn’t understand my illness or doesn’t believe I am really ill. The frustration really kicks in when you expect this person or these people to “approve” of your need to rest or to not do something that they are wanting you to do.
We let other people keep us imprisoned in a tighter illness “cage” than it has to be because we are too afraid to set boundaries or tell them that we can’t do something when we know we can’t. If they argue, if they don’t believe us or if they disagree, then we feel we have to make a choice about whether to justify our non-doing or do what they want us to do. Doing usually seems easier in the moment. However, in the long run you pay the price.
Set Your Boundaries and Stand Firm
I want to propose that, at the end of the day, you are one-hundred percent responsible for you. It is no one else’s business to decide your limits and if they don’t see your limits the way you see them, that is kind of too bad and their problem. They are not inside your body and they are not living what you are living. God forbid they one day might be chronically ill themselves and then they would understand, but until that happens you just have to take personal responsibility and defend your boundaries. As scary as it is and hard as it is and as against the grain as it goes, you just have to say I. Can’t. Do. That. And stand firm.
I’m not saying that I have it all figured out and that it doesn’t bother me to set limits and stand up for those limits; it does. I realize that it is something that I am going to have to get over or I am going stay sicker than I have to stay for the remainder of my life because I am constantly overruling my own innate sense of when I should rest. If I don’t enforce my boundaries, I will be doomed to continue apologizing for myself because I am always going to be sick and will always be letting people down due to having to go to bed and recover from my overdoing.
Are You Your Own Worst Offender?
I am not discounting that I am my own worst offender, either. I often place too many expectations on myself and crash and burn as I struggle to meet those expectations. The fact is that we can’t really teach other people how to treat us until we learn to treat ourselves better, which includes honoring our own boundaries with ourself.
I think an interesting exercise would be to pretend one day, all day long, that you have cancer. How would you treat your body knowing that any chance you had of living versus dying is in conserving your energy and resources so that your body could have a chance to heal? How would you be around other people if you knew you had a “legitimate” disease such as cancer? How would you feel? How would you behave? How would others treat you? How would you expect others to treat you? And, how would you treat yourself?
Your Illness IS Legitimate!
Just because you don’t have cancer and you have chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines or whatever illness instead, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you have is a legitimate illness! Your body deserves your consideration. And, obviously, you deserve understanding and consideration from those around you, but it has to start with you.
You see, when we expect other people to understand our reality from their reality, it doesn’t usually work out well. It can be like we are on totally different planes of existence. I know that I didn’t even fully understand my own reality when I first became ill. I kept thinking that I could push myself much further than I actually could. So, if it takes us a while to believe our own limitations when we become ill, how can we expect others to understand when they haven’t lived in a chronically ill body?
They can’t understand it! In fact, I don’t know if you have done this, but I have done this in the year and a half since I have had chronic fatigue syndrome and have been unable to do most physical activity: I watch people do the simplest of things and am amazed. I do this when I watch TV. An actor is running down the street and my brain just can’t quite grasp how they can do that. It is because I have been in this reality of chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and a half and I have forgotten my previous reality. If I’ve forgotten my own reality from when I was able to do more, then how can I expect some other person to understand my reality as a sick person from their reality of health?
It is Empowering to Take Responsibility for Yourself
The bitter pill to swallow is also the most empowering thing we can do which is take total responsibility for ourselves, set our limits, set our boundaries and don’t let anyone make us feel guilty. How long can you continue to drag your body through activities that it can’t physically do right now because you don’t want someone to be upset at you for setting your limits?
We can pass out the spoon theory to every person that we meet and in the end we stay totally frustrated because they still aren’t getting it. In the meantime, we just keep on overdoing because we are waiting for them to give us permission to take care of ourselves the way we know we need to. The spoon theory might help someone understand for a nanosecond, but then they slip back into their reality where they truly can’t comprehend because they haven’t lived what you are living.
You wouldn’t let someone break into your house while you just sit back on the sofa and watch them take all of your stuff because you are scared to offend them. So, don’t let someone break into your body and take all of your energy while you are busy people pleasing because you don’t want to make waves.