I love To-Do lists. I depended on them when I was working outside the home. I’ve depended them since my bed became my office. The one difference is that, pre-illness, I had fancy notepads and appointment books in which to keep my lists. Now I scribble them on any random piece of paper I can find.
A few weeks ago, I realized I could benefit from a Not-To-Do list that would remind me of my limitations—limitations I often ignore either because I’m in denial or because I want to please others. Unfortunately, I always pay the price physically, and that’s not good for me mentally either.
So here’s a Not-To-Do list for those who live day-to-day with chronic pain or illness (or, as is often the case, both).
1. DO NOT say “yes” to an activity if your body is saying “no.”
I’ve ignored this Not-To-Do so many times that I’ve lost count. It can be so hard to turn down an activity that makes me feel more like a healthy person. When I break this rule, it’s as if I’m a child again, shouting at my parents: “Look at me! I can ride a bike with one hand!”
My most recent “bout” with ignoring my body began innocently enough about a year ago. Two friends were kind enough to coach me in learning Qigong. I learned movements with wonderful names, such as “Against River Push Boat” and “Huge Dragon Enters Sea.” Then came “Ancient Tree Coils Root.” You imagine that you’re a strong tree, sending roots down into the ground. Unfortunately (for me), you execute this by pointing the tips of your fingers toward the ground, putting your weight all on one leg, and then squatting down on the knee of that leg.
For the first few months, I ignored the “one leg” instruction. I stood on two legs and only squatted down partway. I was listening to my body. But one day, I decided I wasn’t progressing fast enough, so I picked up one leg and went all the way down on the other. My knee went “crunch” and, for several months afterwards, I was limping and had knee pain to add to my daily symptoms. Why did I ignore my body? I was frustrated by my limitations and so I rebelled. Lesson learned though: DO NOT say “yes” to an activity if your body is saying “no.”