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This isn’t my battle

I hate when people refer to having a chronic illness as “fighting.” I hate when people tell me they are impressed with how “strong” I am. I hate when people tell me I “inspire them” just because I have a disease. I also hate orange gummy bears but that’s not important right now.

After reading that, you probably think I’m in a really sh*tty mood. Tell us what else you hate, Becky! Let’s make everyone feel bad!

Don’t worry- I’m happily listening to Emma Chamberlain talk about what outfits are totally in style right now. And I don’t hate anyone (besides the person who decided orange would be a good candy flavor). I hate hearing all of those things because this isn’t my battle; this is my life. I’m not fighting anything, or anyone. I wake up, I go to school, I see friends, and I live, no boxing gloves needed. It’s a life with more needles, more vitamins, and more stick-on heating pads than some, but it’s mine. And I hate when people admire me just for the sake of living it.

A person in a wheelchair does not wake up every morning and “fight” against their inability to walk until they go to sleep each night; they wake up every morning, and they live. A cancer patient doesn’t walk into their chemo appointment and “fight” their disease until it goes away; they walk into their appointment because they have to, and it’s not what they want to do or where they want to be, but it’s life, and they are living.

What I hate most about the idea that I, or anyone, is “battling” a disease or disability is that all the pressure for progress rests (but really digs) on their shoulders. It’s *my* battle, so it’s *my* problem. It’s *my* job to get better. To *win.*

Okay Becky, chill. You don’t have to be a “fighter.” Just sit back, relax, hang out. No one cares! So what happens if I step down and say, what the hell, this is too much. I’m tired. Why don’t you all take over?

Well, the funny* thing is, society is only “inspired” by sick and disabled people until those people need us to fight for them. At that point, they are burdens.

*It’s not actually funny. It makes me very mad. Please let it make you mad, too.

Wheelchair users are “inspirational” until it theres’ a need for accessible spaces, then they’re problematic and why are we moving the venue for three people out of 500? The deaf community is an “inspiration” until captions are requested on videos, then they’re demanding and can’t they just do that themself? Neurodivergent students are “inspiring” until they request accommodations, then they’re asking for too much and can’t they just figure it out like the rest of the class?

This isn’t my battle; it’s ours. And it’s not a fight against a disease, but against a society and its systems that don’t see sick and disabled people for who they are: people with regular, boring lives. People who want to be employed. People who want to get married without losing their income. People who want to be in the next hit Netflix teen drama (or at least see someone like them as the main character). People who want to feel welcomed, not special.

A person is not inspiring because they are sick, and sick people don’t fight wars, they live lives. We as people are inspiring for who we are, what we create, and the way we treat each other. Our only real fight is getting everyone to see that.

I feel like I should be used to it by now

When I woke up at 11:41 on July 4th, my back was hurting. It was the kind of ache you feel the day after you work out too hard or go on a really long walk, or, in my case, just exist in a body that likes to hurt for no reason. I sat up, tried to stretch it out, and as expected felt no difference. “Yeah, this sucks,” I thought to myself. “But whatever, it’s happened before and I’m fine.” You could say I was used to it.

I unplugged my phone from its charger and started scrolling through Instagram, expecting to see pictures of people at the beach and backyard bbq’s. Instead, I learned that at 10:15 while I lay sleeping, there had been a mass shooting 10 minutes from my house. The shooter hadn’t been found yet. Six (now 7) people were dead. I should stay inside and off the roads. Yet as I sat there on the edge of my bed, I didn’t panic. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t feel anything. Of course I was heartbroken, and angry, and confused. But this news? I was used to it.

Hours later, I watched on tv as the white male suspect was peacefully taken into police custody after feeling a traffic stop- the same type of stop that had put 60 bullets into Jayland Walker the week before in Ohio. One was a murderer known to be armed and dangerous, the other a black man driving a car. This injustice? I was used to it.

If it isn’t obvious already, I like to write. It’s what I do when I feel like I can’t do anything but have to do everything, and last Monday I was feeling especially this way. So I dug out my old journal, but before I flipped to a new page, I read some of the old stuff. I was reading an entry from January 2019 when I saw something that’s been stuck in my head ever since. I had written “When you don’t feel good, it’s harder to be anything. But I feel like I should be used to it by now.”

Now, there’s a lot you don’t know when you’re 16. There’s a lot that I don’t know now. But reading these words that I had written 4 years ago, words from a version of me who was confused and in pain and convinced I was making it all up in my head, was hard. All I want is to go back in time and tell her no, I shouldn’t be “used to it” by now. Pain isn’t something you should have to get used to.

When people ask me how long I’ve had Crohn’s, I tell them that it’s been 11 years and I honestly don’t remember most of my life before then. Like how I don’t remember school without active shooter drills, or what it’s like to go to a concert without hoping it’s not the target for America’s next massacre.

It’s been 11 years, and I’m still not used to waking up feeling like crap. I don’t think I ever will be, because every time, it sucks. Every time, it takes something out of me. Every time, I wish it wasn’t real.

The point I’m trying to make here is not that Crohn’s and gun violence are the same; they most definitely are not. The point is that pain, and hardship, and violence are everywhere. They affect us all, whether it be a sprained ankle or a national tragedy. And no matter what kind of hurt we are feeling, we cannot cope by simply getting used to it.

When things happen over and over again, we can become numb to them. But that numbness doesn’t make them easier to deal with. If you punch yourself in the arm enough times, it might start to feel numb, but the last punch still hurts just as much as the first. Just because something painful happens all the time doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Waking up in pain is something I’ll never get used to. It’s something I shouldn’t have to get used to. Because pain isn’t normal. Violence isn’t normal. Normalizing tragedy is the same thing as telling yourself that if your stomach’s been hurting for a over month now, it must be fine and you should carry on as if nothing is wrong. Which is obviously ridiculous, and you should go see a doctor, like right now.

There are still a lot of thoughts I have about July 4th 2022, and right now I’m not sure what time or place they belong in. But I am sure about one thing: that the pain we all feel, whether it be as a community or by ourselves, is not something we should ever get used to. It’s not something that will ever get easier. It’s just something I hope will go away. And I wish I could do that for all of us.

Books

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to all of you that I like to read. I mean, if I’m going to ramble on and on here, it’s only fair that I read other peoples’ ramblings from time to time too.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved books. In third grade, I was so obsessed with Little House on the Prairie that I convinced myself that I needed to move to a farm and live like it was 1835.

I love talking about books, too. I literally wrote my college essay about reading. Yet, whenever I’m asked what my favorite genre is, I lie and say that I don’t know.

But I do know. My favorite books are books about sick people.

When I’m at the bookstore, it’s what I look for on every shelf. Because no matter what mood I’m in, books about sick people never get old. I could read them over and over again (and I have!).

So how did I go from Laura Ingall’s biggest fan to the person who’s visited Goodreads list of “Fiction Books With Chronically Ill Main Characters” more often than they can add new titles?

I believe that we read for one of two reasons: to escape or to understand.

When I was little, I read to escape. The world was so big and loud, but if I just opened a book I could be anywhere else. Fairy dust and magic trees and little cabins in the woods were so much more comfortable than real life where I had to *talk* to *real people.* But over time, the little worlds in my books got farther and farther from my own. Fairies don’t know what pain is, and there are no hospitals in Little House on the Prairie that I’m aware of. And so, I stopped reading to escape, and I started reading to understand.

That’s when I discovered books about sick people.

I read about polio, heart disease, arthritis, kidney failure, anorexia, the bubonic plague…the list goes on. I didn’t care as much about what happened to each character as much as I did the fact that they’d all been handed something they didn’t want, yet their stories kept going. They were kids, too, and they had friends and played sports. They had bad days and were given bad news, but they still graduated high school and won track meets and were happy in the end. They were in all kinds of pain, and still, they were okay. They were me. And even though they weren’t real people, they had real feelings. Growing up, they understood me better than most real people could.

All the “sick people” books didn’t just help me feel less alone. They taught me to be proud of myself, and not the person I was “despite” being sick, but the person I am because of it. They taught me that chronic illness wasn’t something I had to keep to myself. That feeling sick wasn’t my fault. To not be afraid of the medical world, that it’s good to ask for help, and that not everyone is going to be kind.

Years later, having learned all these things, I still read my “Fiction Books With Chronically Ill Main Characters” as a comfort. Every time I finish a chapter or start a new one, I am reminded that chronic illness is not something to hate or hide away. It is a part of my story, and if I can love all of those characters who are just like me, than I can love my own book too.

My shoes won’t fit you

And no, it’s not because they’re a kids size 4.

Think about the first time you were told to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You were probably no more than 5. At the time, such a concept likely made no sense, but as you got older, you probably had an eventual “aha” moment when you realized what it actually meant. But you know what? 5 year old you was right. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes really does make no sense- it’s impossible.

When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, all we can do is imagine how we think they feel. We don’t really know, and we never will. Think of it this way: we’ve all had a rock get stuck under our foot, but it wasn’t the exact same rock in the exact same spot for the exact amount of time. So yes, we may think we know what it means when someone says “ow, I have a rock in my shoe!” but we only know how we felt in a similar situation. We don’t know how they feel because we quite literally can’t.

Telling people to put themselves in others’ shoes is a flawed approach to teaching empathy because it lacks the most important part: showing that you care. If we go about our day imagining what other people feel like when we actually have no way of knowing, the way we treat them isn’t necessarily more helpful. If you know someone is sick and you “put yourself in their shoes,” you might think about how you’ve felt when you’ve been sick yourself and acted in a way that would make you feel better. And then, just like that, the whole situation has turned from being about that person to being about you. They’re left wondering why you acted that way, not realizing that you were trying to empathize.

This isn’t to say that we can’t ever put ourselves in other people’s shoes- the point of my rambling is that we have to remember that those shoes will never fit, so trying them on can only tell us so much. Instead of assuming, we can ask questions and actually communicate with the person we’re trying to understand. Not only does that make our response to them more helpful, but it lets them know that we want to support them.

If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of asking before doing. They both take effort, but asking takes thoughtfulness. When we ask someone how we can be a good friend before doing what we think is right, we keep that person as the focus. After all, it’s their shoes that we’re concerned about.

When I started this blog, my intention was to make it easier for people to understand me and my life with a chronic illness. But as I’ve continued that journey, I’ve realized more and more that no one is ever going to know how I feel, and that isn’t a bad thing. No one is going to fit into my shoes because they’re mine, and I’m the only me. You’re the only you. But that doesn’t mean we have to be alone.

You don’t have to wear someone’s shoes to listen to them. You don’t have to know how they feel to be present in their life. I know my shoes won’t fit you and yours won’t fit mine, and that’s okay, because we don’t need to stand in each others shoes to show that we care.

252,000,001

When you type the words “chronic illness college” into google, you get 252,000,000 results in 0.58 seconds. The first title to pop up is “Guide For College Students Living with a Chronic Condition,” followed by “28 ‘Hacks’ for Going to College With Chronic Illness,” “12 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going to College with a Chronic Illness,” and “Surviving college with a chronic illness.” I had planned to make that number 252,000,001 by writing something very similar until I tried reading a few and realized how irritating they are. To start, there’s the dramatic, anxiety-provoking titles and dumbed-down language that makes you think you, the person actually managing the disease (and doing a great job) are stupid. Then, there’s the fact that many of them are written by people who have no actual experience on the subject. And finally, the real source of my frustration is that most of these articles lie. A chronic illness is not a packing list, and it can’t be tackled by checking off boxes or pretending to be “normal.” Teaching people that it can be is wrong.

I know this post won’t be on the first page of google when someone like me types in “chronic illness college” and hits enter. I know they’ll instead be bombarded with the same numbered lists of “must haves” and “must knows” that make them feel like their entire existence is being reduced to a step by step problem. I know that they may choose to follow one of those lists because it seems like the logical thing to do. But if I’m going to spend the time changing that 250,000,000 to 250,000,001, I want my 1 to tell the truth: that there is no “guide” for going to college, or high school, or camp, or anywhere with a chronic illness, because there’s no guide for living in the first place.

So, instead of using my 1 to make a list, I wrote a letter. It’s addressed to the me-from-the-past that was swamped with college applications and wondering how I was supposed to handle having Crohn’s on top of all the regular college mess. And in a sense, it’s also addressed to everyone who’s been in her shoes, past, present, and future. But if that isn’t you, feel free to read it anyway. I know it won’t get as many views as the 250,000,000 links above it, but I’m glad that it’s out there, and I’m hopeful it will find the right people.

~

Dear past me,

Hi. It’s current me. I know future me will look at this one day and think that I’m a massive idiot, but she’s not around right now so it’s all good. You’re nervous. You’re tired. You’re so tired. So am I. It’s almost like we’re the same person!

But you know what past me? All that nervousness and all that tiredness doesn’t mean what you think it does. It doesn’t mean you’re taking the wrong path, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to fail. It doesn’t mean your expectations are too high and that you aren’t capable. I know you’re stressed about the future, and school, and where you’ll end up. You’re thinking about how you’re going to have to start all over with new people and new teachers and new systems and it all seems like so much, and you’re just tired and you don’t know how you’re going to find the energy to make it all happen.

There are so many extra meetings, and extra forms, and extra accommodations, and extra details to figure out just because you have this thing. This thing that takes up so much time and energy and attention. And it’s not fair, because most people don’t have to deal with any of it. But there are also extra clubs to join, and extra people to meet, and extra support to receive. There is extra appreciation to be had, and extra naps to take, and extra reasons to take care of you.

You’re right, past meβ€” college has plenty of things to be nervous about. You’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have hard weeks. You’re going to make mistakes and forget things. You’re going to have to make sure your fridge actually works so that your $17,000 medicine doesn’t get ruined :). You’re going to to have to remember when to take it and to save a day after for the side effects. You’re going to have to be careful with germs and try not to get sick. You’re going to have to explain things to people, and explain them again when they forget. You’re going to have to be okay with people not understanding. You’re going to have to be okay with sleeping more. You’re going to have to be okay with missing out. But guess what? You’ve done those things before, and you know that none of them last forever.

No, past me, I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know what the best heating pad or supplement powder or meditation app is. But I don’t need to know them because I know you. I trust you. I know that you can open up to people and still set boundaries. I know that you can be independent and still ask for help. I know that you can push through a bad day and still know your limits. I trust that you will take care of yourself, and I trust that you will surround yourself with people who will care about you too.

Yes, pas me I am nervous. Maybe even more than you are. But I’m excited nervous, because college is just a piece of regular life. And we’ve been doing just fine at that as it is.

Do something scary today

A few days ago, I made myself an appointment with a new doctor over the phone. It took all of 10 minutes and wasn’t even that hard. But if you told me last year that I would have done something like that, I wouldn’t have believed you. I know it sounds ridiculous. A phone call, really? Is that really such a big deal?

Yes. Yes really. Because to me, it is. I hate making phone calls. Absolutely despise. They are one of the most nerve racking tasks I could possibly be asked to do. The thought of talking to someone I’ve never met, especially when I can’t see their face terrifies me. And rather than face this fear, for much of my life, I got really good at avoiding it.

I had my parents make my appointments. I sent emails instead of calling. I “forgot” to leave a message. But as I’m sure you all know, avoiding only works for so long.

Eventually, I turned 18 and my parents couldn’t call my doctors anymore. A global pandemic made it impossible to meet with people face to face. My volunteer position at the hospital switched and I was now working behind a desk with a phone 3 inches away from me. 30 minutes into my first shift, it rang, and no one else was around.

That first phone call was a mess. I fumbled over my words and had no idea what the other line was talking about. But, taking the advice of my supervisor, I just pretended like I knew what I was doing and it all turned out okay. By the end of that day, I had answered 5 more calls and called the PACU 4 times myself. As the weeks went on and I built up my confidence in “pretending to know what I was talking about,” hearing the phone ring didn’t make me jump out of my skin anymore. The thought of scheduling my own appointments suddenly seemed a lot less daunting.

Now, if you think I’m being dramatic, you’re right; I am. I know this story sounds ridiculous. But the thing is, everyone has something they get dramatic over. Everyone has something that, for whatever reason, makes them want to run in the opposite direction and hide. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or stupid, or a failure. We all have things that make us anxious, and a lot of time, that anxiety comes from the fact that we care. I care about helping people at the hospital. I care about having good relationships with my doctors. Phone calls stress me out because I care about the person on the other line.

It’s okay to have things that scare you. If you didn’t, that would honestly be a lot weirder. But don’t be like me and avoid doing things that make you nervous for years and years and years. Do them now.

Ever since that first “scary” phone call, I try to get myself to do one scary thing every day. I’m not talking about something extreme like cliff jumping or skydiving; scary doesn’t have to mean dangerous. I’m talking about the little things that I could easily avoid doing if I wanted to. The things that make me nervous in the moment, but are positive in the long run. Things like texting a friend who I haven’t talked to in a few weeks, or asking them for plans even though I know they might not be free. Things like telling someone when they make me upset, and telling someone “no” when I don’t have the energy to do what they’re asking of me. Things like sending my doctor a question I’ve had for a while and speaking up at my appointments. I know the idea of doing something scary every day sounds daunting, but when you break it down, it’s 100% doable. And by living this way, I’ve realized that a lot of the things I used to consider “scary” really aren’t so bad.

You don’t have to do something big, or bold, or crazy. Most scary things aren’t. Start small: make one phone call, send one text, submit one application. And if you can do that today, think of what you’ll be able to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. Eventually, all those scary things will just be things.

Ask me

When I was 10, I made my mom buy me a shirt that said “ask me about my Crohn’s Disease” because my Camp Oasis counselor had one and I thought it was just the *coolest.* I really only wore it around the house and it sort of became a joke to the rest of my family. Every time I would come downstairs my dad would “ask me” about my Crohn’s to the point where I taped a piece of paper saying “actually don’t ask” to the front of it to make him be quiet. At the time, it was just a funny t-shirt that I wore to make my family laugh. But thinking back, 10 year old me was on to something important.

So often, we assume things about other people based on what we can see or gossip we’ve heard. We see someone who looks “healthy” and “normal” and assume that nothing could possibly be causing them pain. Or, we hear that someone has a certain condition and assume they are affected by it the same way our aunt, or lab partner, or favorite tv-character is.

But as someone living with an invisible illness, I can tell you that these assumptions often hurt more than my disease itself. They make me feel like people are looking at me through a glass case, as if there is something in the way preventing them from reaching out to me. They assume that if their friend or relative is doing well on a certain medication, I should totally try it to because it will fix all my problems- as if I’m not already trying my best to manage my disease. When I voice my offense, I’m met with the response “Their intentions were good! They just didn’t want to make you uncomfortable!” But in these scenarios, is it really my comfort they’re trying to protect, or is it their own?

Asking people to tell us about their battles is not easy. It feels “wrong,” like the very question is off-limits. But avoiding these types of questions because they feel funny isn’t okay, either, because it leads us to judge people rather than try and support them. And when we assume things about other people, we make them feel small; like their story is invalid if it doesn’t fit with how we picture it in our own heads.

I’m guilty of this. This “thinking we know people based on how they appear and what gossip I’ve heard about them” nonsense. I’m pretty sure we all are. People are so scared of being “uncomfortable” that we sacrifice others’ well-being for our own peace of mind. For so long, we’ve been taught to piece a person’s story together by making assumptions and snap judgments instead of just asking them to tell it themselves. But those assumptions and those judgments? They hurt.

Asking doesn’t.

There’s nothing wrong with asking someone how they’re feeling, or how their condition affects them, or how you can help them get through a rough day. Sure, there are polite and impolite ways to do so. Asking someone “what’s wrong with you?!” or is a lot different than asking “how is your ______ impacting you today and how can I help?” or “how is your treatment going?”

When we ask people questions instead of assuming the answers, we let them tell their story the way they want it to be heard. We show them that we value and genuinely want to learn how to support them. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can just ask whatever questions we want and expect an answer every time. If a person isn’t willing or able to respond to you, that’s okay. You did your part- you asked. You showed that you care and want to learn. That’s already 5000 times better than just assuming. Or, if they correct you and explain a more polite way to ask your question, be receptive. Don’t defend your mistake, but rather be willing to learn and improve the way you approach that situation next time. Asking the wrong way and learning from that mistake is better than not asking at all and just taking a guess.

I may not wear an “ask me about my Crohn’s disease shirt” anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to start conversations. If you don’t know what food I can eat, or what I mean when I say I don’t feel well, or how I expect you to react to that statement, ask me! Don’t ask your great uncle who also has Crohn’s and expect me to feel the same way as he does. Don’t google it and get confused when I don’t have the same experience as the robot on WebMD. Just ask me. It’s not rude; if anything, it’s the opposite. Asking people questions is compassionate. It’s thoughtful. It allows us to hear their perspective and put ourselves in their shoes. It may feel weird, but asking is the right thing to do. It’s the kind thing to do. So if you have a question, go ahead and ask. And when you get an answer, listen.

4 Words

I’m thinking about you.

Yes, you. The person reading this right now. I’m thinking about you.

I’m thinking about you, and I hope you’re doing well. But I know that might not be the case, especially now. You may be thinking “you don’t even know me” or “you have no idea how I feel,” and you would be right. Maybe I don’t know you. I can’t possibly know how you feel. But I’m still thinking about you.

I’m thinking about you, and I care about you. I’m serious. Pinky promise.

So why am I telling you this? To make you smile? I hope so. But it’s more than that. So often, I find myself writing about how to recognize when someone needs your support. How to put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine how they might be struggling. Empathy is one of those words I write about so much that sometimes I start to think it’s not even English anymore. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that I’ve given you the “why.” I’ve told you my story. I’ve spent hours upon hours explaining why we, as people and as a society, need to do a better job of having empathy and support for each other. But the “why” is just context. On it’s own, the “why” is powerless. Who cares why we need empathy if we don’t know how to show it? That’s where the other half comes in. The “how.”

How can we effectively support one another? How can we show empathy in a real, tangible way that actually helps someone? We know we need to have conversations. But how do we start them? Who do we talk to? And what do we say first?

That’s where the 4 words come in.

“I’m thinking about you.”

I’m. Thinking. About. You. 4 words, 18 letters (if I counted right), and yet they have the power to do so much good.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I send or receive a text with those words, I smile. It makes me feel good. Sure, maybe it seems a little awkward to message someone you haven’t spoken to in weeks. And I know it’s uncomfortable sending that first text to someone after they’ve experienced a tragedy. But the anxiety and fear we associate with reaching out is so small compared to the difference those few words make to the person hearing them.

It could be that your message is the first text they’ve received all day and they finally have the chance to open up to someone. Or maybe they don’t have the energy to text you back, but seeing those words flash on their screen makes them smile and power through the next few hours. Those 4 words can be the difference between someone feeling like no one cares and like someone does. So be the person who cares. Be the person who doesn’t just know why empathy is important, but who actually uses it to make today better for someone.

Having empathy means stepping out of your world and into someone else’s. And it doesn’t have to be for a long time- they just have to know you’re there.

So I have a task for you. I need you to pick one person. Any person. Try to pick someone you haven’t talked to in a few days, or weeks, or months. And send them 4 words: I’m thinking about you. It can be a text, a card, a telegram, I don’t care. Just make sure they hear them.

We’re living in a really hard time right now. A time that has forced a lot of us to stay shut away in our own worlds, unsure of how to step into others’. But just because we can’t touch other people doesn’t mean we can’t think about them. So tell someone you’re thinking about them. Tell them that you want to know how they’re doing not just to be polite, but because you actually care. Send that text (or that card or that telegram) and step inside their world for a moment. I promise you’ll both feel better for it.

New Years Intentions

I’m just gonna say it: I hate new years resolutions. I think they’re the worst. And no, I’m not just bitter about my failed attempt to totally transform my life in 2014 (hey, I was only 11, give me a break!). But I don’t hate them for what they are- goals are good things. I hate them for the way they make us think.

New years resolutions perpetuate an all-or-nothing mentality that is as ridiculous as it is detrimental to our mental well-being. The idea that we have to do something perfectly or not at all causes us to believe that one mistake signifies instant failure. That if we can’t do it right all the time, there’s no point in trying in the first place.

Now, this mentality might work if you’re a superhuman robot who never has bad days and can afford the “perfect” lifestyle we see advertised so often in the media. But what happens when you wake up in excruciating arthritis pain at 4 am and can’t make it to the gym? Or you only have the energy to make a frozen pizza for dinner instead of spending hours in the kitchen. Or, oh, I don’t know, a global pandemic makes it so that you essentially can’t go places and see people for 10+ months. Does one skipped workout, or frozen meal, or bad day make you a failure? Of course not. But our little friends called new years resolutions seem to think they do. Which is why they suck.

We aren’t built to be all-or-nothing beings. We have good hours and bad hours within each day. We face challenges that tear us down but also bring a new perspective. We feel pain, and sadness, and fear, but at the same time, we can still sense the goodness that still exists in our world. Life isn’t black and white. It’s not all great or all awful. Rather, it’s a mix of both.

I hate feeling sick. I hate waking up feeling like I was run over by a truck and dumped into the ocean where I spent 2 hours treading water. I hate the physical, mental, and emotional toll that living with IBD takes on me. But I don’t hate my disease or the life that it has caused me to live. I don’t hate the sense of empathy I’ve gained, the people that I’ve been able to meet, and the impact that I’ve been able to have because of it. I cherish those things, and I can cherish them while still hating the way that I feel.

So how to we handle a time when everyone seems to be making huge “all-or-nothing” goals that we know will only hurt us in the end? How can we motivate ourselves to try new things and be open to change without feeling like a failure every time we slip up? As I mentioned before, it’s not the idea of making goals that harms us in the long run, but the way we think about them. So I present to you, my totally awesome way to set goals without feeling like a complete and utter failure when you make a mistake or two (or three or four or seven) along the way! Now say that 10 times fast.

Here’s how it works: stop making new years resolutions, and instead, start making intentions. See how much nicer that word even sounds? Intentions, by definition, are things you aim to do. Think about shooting a basketball. Sure, you have the size of the rim, the heigh of the hoop, how far back you’re standing, and if it’s really windy outside determining if your shot will go in. But those things are all out of your control. The one thing that is up to you is your aim. So in this new year, don’t worry about setting goals for things you can’t control. As we saw in 2020, stuff happens, and sometimes, there’s not much we can about it. So forget about resolutions, and focus on intentions. Focus on aiming for the things you can control.

In addition to that, make those intentions broad. Setting a goal to do a six step skincare routine three times a day is intimidating and likely not going to happen. So instead, make one of your intentions to prioritize self care. Decide to do one, or two, or three things just for yourself every day. Maybe most days that looks like doing your multistep skin care routine, and that’s great! But on the days where getting out of bed is hard, just brushing your teeth can count, too. And bam! You aren’t a failure, because you’ve followed your intentions to take care of yourself.

Now, let’s talk about what types of intentions to actually make. So often, we tend to focus on physical goals and completely forget to make mental ones. But the big actions, like working out and eating differently, are no more important that the ones you can’t see. Make an intention to shift your current attitude closer to your ideal mindset, whether that be becoming more inclusive, thoughtful, or self-aware. So make goals for the way you want to treat yourself, but also the way you view and talk to yourself and others.

And lastly, realize that you shouldn’t be perfect. Even by using intentions instead of resolutions, we’re bound to forget where we’re aiming sometimes, and that’s ok. Maybe a few weeks in you realize setting an intention to be more mindful is actually making you more anxious, so you decide to focus on something else. January you is not the same as February you or July you, and that’s to be expected. So remind yourself that the goals you set now are for the person you are now, and those goals may change as you do.

New years resolutions suck, and so often they make us feel like we do, too. So let’s stop giving them that power. Instead, take the hope, the ambition, and the motivation that once fueled your resolutions and turn it into something useful: an intention. Think of the person you want to be- the actions you want to take, the thoughts you want to have, and the feelings you want to experience- and think of small steps you can take to make that person possible. Set intentions that not only propel you forward, but give you the flexibility to face the hard days.

Being a human is not easy, and its even harder right now. So this new year, let’s be kind to ourselves and the people around us. Let’s be patient, and flexible, and okay with making mistakes. Let’s set intentions that build us up rather than resolutions that tear us down. We can do this.

You don’t need to understand

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know how I feel about Pinterest quotes. (And if you don’t, no need to worry! You can find all my thoughts right here πŸ™‚ ). So you can imagine my surprise when I found one tonight that I actually liked. I guess it’s less of a quote and more of a question, but regardless, it has none of the nauseating elements of a typical “inspirational” quote, so that’s a win for me.

It goes like this: “why do people need to understand everything”

Okay, okay. So it may have seemed cooler and more interesting in huge black uppercase letters with an artsy background. Reading it in times new roman or whatever this default font is does make it seem like an overdramatic English teacher wrote in in his sleep. But, that’s exactly why I love these words so much. They’re subtle, but they make you think. Why do people need to understand everything?

The easy answer is because it’s in our biology. Back in the caveman days, humans needed to understand things to survive. Get confused by which animals will eat you, and you die. But back then, things were black and white. Understanding them was easy. So our innate desire to “get” everything wasn’t an issue. But flash forward to now, when almost everything is some kind of muddled gray. In today’s world, nothing is simple. Our tiny cave clan has grown to a staggering 7 billion human beings, each with a unique life experience. 7 billion people, all with their own thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and challenges. There’s no way we can all understand everything about ourselves, let alone that of everyone around us.

What I’m basically saying is we’re stuck. We’re stuck living with brains that need to understand everything about everyone in a society that makes it impossible to do so. And we’ve tried to adapt, by asking questions and making assumptions about people and groups. But it’s not good enough. We are never going to understand everything about each other. We are never going to know what someone else’s life is really like. And that is a really scary thought for a brain that thinks it needs to know everything.

So why do people need to understand everything? Well, if you ask me, they don’t. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we don’t need to know what someone else’s life is like to support them. We don’t need to physically be in someone else’s shoes to show them empathy. Spending hours trying to make sense someone else’s situation is time that could be spent sitting with them, telling them that we’re here to talk. Researching someone else’s disease to try and get how they feel is time that could be spent reaching out to them, asking what we can do to help. As people, we spend so much time trying to understand everyone else that we forget to actually care for them. Knowing the ins and outs of someone’s life means nothing if you don’t actually support them.

But guess what? We can still treat people with compassion when we don’t understand how they feel.

No one owes you an explanation of their struggles to earn your support and your empathy. And you don’t owe one to anyone, either. Accepting, and including, and supporting, and empathizing with people, and doing all of the things that I write about on here don’t require you to understand that person. I don’t expect everyone in my life to know everything about my disease and it’s impact on me. I can’t expect that. But I also shouldn’t have to. Treating people with understanding is not the same as understanding what they’re going through. You don’t have to “get” me to show me support, just like I don’t have to “get” you to show it back.

So on this fine Monday, I challenge you all to do something. Stop trying to understand. Stop trying to make sense of the people around you, and instead, start focusing on how you can show them compassion. Don’t think about why they need that support- think about how you can show it to them, even if it makes no sense to you.

There are 7 billion of us on this earth right now. 7 billion human beings. And, if you ask me, I think we could all do a lot more good if we focused on treating each other with compassion instead of just trying to understand.