Helpfulness and Hopefulness: A 21 Day Challenge

 

“The wish for healing has always been half of health.” Seneca

I was diagnosed at age 11 with Ulcerative Colitis and have been in pain, felt sick, and been in and out of hospitals ever since. For most of that time I’ve felt that I was the sole cause of how I felt. With UC and subsequently Psoriasis being both autoimmune diseases and having an immune system causing systemic inflammation,  I am in a sense truly the cause of my suffering. That is the conundrum I’ve faced all my life. My body attacks itself. No matter what I do consciously my immune system is out of control and causing me pain and causing me to feel terrible.

For the last thirty years I’ve been living in what I call the “Cycle of Suffering”. It is divided into three parts: The Lead-Up, The Crisis Event, The Recovery. The Lead-up is where my symptoms become worse and worse, its not a linear process, and there is moments when I feel better, but overall the arch is toward increasing pain, inflammation and fatigue. Then there is “The Crisis Event”. This is usually either a small bowel obstruction or a pancreatitis attack. I go to the hospital about once to twice a year for these but I have far more frequent crisis events throughout the year which cause me to be bedridden for weeks at home After The Crisis Event comes The Recovery Phase. This is where the pain begins to wane,  my mind is clearing and my body begins to get stronger again. I’ve repeated this cycle hundreds of times since the age of 11 with no sign that it will ever end.

That sounds pretty bleak. And it feels that way. But I’m done with dwelling on this thought. I can’t count how many times this type of thinking has caused me to stop an endeavor before I begin or to not finish what I start. I would always think “why does it matter?”. My reasoning was that eventually the lead-up phase will lead to a crisis phase and that will put a stop to what I’m doing anyway. This is what causes the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness to flourish and cause me to ask myself:

Why should I make a new friend? Why should I try a new business idea? Why should I ask a girl out on a date? Sooner rather than later I’ll be so sick I won’t be able to be a good friend and they’ll end up abandoning me, I’ll not have the energy to run a business and I’ll run out of money and I’ll fail, and if a girl I like get’s to know me she’ll find out how miserable I am, how much of a failure I am and will never want to see me again.

I can tell that I’m in the recovery phase of the cycle now because I’m desiring to make changes because I’m realizing how much is missing in my life and what changes can I make to get them. I’ve been here hundreds of times during my hundreds of Cycles of Suffering and  his time I want the positive changes I make to stick even through the next lead-up phase and even carry through the crisis phase as well. For the next 21 days I am challenging myself to replace my negative thoughts  that create the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness for the next 21 day with thoughts that create feelings of helpfulness and hopefulness. I’m going to use ideas pulled from Stoicism, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, NeuroLinguistic Programming and other techniques that experts recommend for breaking the Learned Helplessness mindset.

Day 1 Practical Action:

Five minute walk – I will walk at least five minutes everyday during the 21 day challenge. This is a “proof” that I am helpful to myself and firmly believe that the feelings of hopefulness are strengthened by positive actions.

Day 1 Mental Action:

Thought Replacement 

This is the thought I’m getting rid of today.

“I am the cause of my suffering”

Even just reading what I wrote here caused me to feel a twinge of hopelessness and sadness. I’ve had this thought a million times.

This is the thought I am replacing it with:

“I take good care of myself”

I felt empowered when I wrote that. By going on the five minute walk today I do have evidence that this statement is true. All during the walk I also said my new replacement thought out loud. I did get a look from a passing neighbor but I just waved and kept talking to myself.

Walking is a powerful tool for mental and physical improvement. It helps to relax the mind, strengthens the body and creates  positive neurochemicals in the brain.  It’s a concrete way to help demonstrate positive self-care.

For those who haven’t had to deal with a life of suffering, these two steps might seem meaningless or not worth the effort because they aren’t “big” enough to create noticeable change. I’ve in fact I felt that as well. And I’ve used that as an excuse not to attempt to improve when I only had the capacity for limited actions due to pain and fatigue.  I’ve also used that same logic to justify making too many changes at once, which I couldn’t maintain for long. Both of these approaches have been ineffective for me. That’s why for 21 days I’m focused on making small changes that I can maintain and build upon.

I’m not sure if I can ever truly end my “Cycle of Suffering” but I can adapt and improve my life during the lead-up phase as well as the recovery period. And I’m hopeful I can even shorten the time I’m totally down when a crisis event occurs. I’ve done this type of self-improvement stuff hundreds of times before and each time I do, small amounts of what I learn stick. But the helpless and hopeless feelings are deeply engrained in my psyche and I’ve not been able to get rid of them yet. My hope is that by the end of 21 days I’ll have a better understanding of  how to erase the mental pathways that make it so easy for the feelings of helplessness and hopeless to overwhelm me. I am doing this with the full realization that the physical triggers that have caused them to occur in the past may very well still occur in the future when another “Cycle of Suffering” begins.

I would love to hear from anyone who has been locked into a “Cycle of Suffering” and what they’ve done to adapt to it or even end it. And if you are following along with this challenge please leave a comment below and share what thought you are replacing today and what action you’re taking to rid yourself of the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Living better today one thought at a time.

Brad Miller

 

 

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