Health & Wellbeing

Changing “I Can’t” to “I Can”

September 18, 2019
image of a toddler standing at the foot of a flight of stairs

So often in life it is really easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the negatives, isn’t it? We see all the things that haven’t gone our way, all the things we don’t have, and all the things we can’t do. And it’s understandable, because life is hard. But changing your perception can have such a massive impact on your overall well-being, as I’m sure you all know. It’s why daily gratitude practices are so popular, and it also explains so many of the “you can do it” positive affirmations you find splashed across social media these days. But what happens when life knocks you down and you really can’t do it? What then?

image of a toddler standing at the foot of a flight of stairs

When Even The Smallest Things Feel Impossible

This is where I have found myself for the past couple of years. Chronic illness takes so much away from you, especially when it really impacts your ability to function on a day-to-day basis. When I first started getting sick, I was still able to work through the boom-and-bust cycle, and convinced myself that it was just a bump in the road. After all, I’d been chronically ill for years and had always managed to keep going or bounce back somehow. So I thought I just had to ride this wave out too. Except it didn’t work out that way this time, and I got increasingly more debilitated until even everyday actions such as taking a shower or washing the dishes became impossible most days.

All the planning in the world (and all the dreaming too) couldn’t change the fact that I was really sick. And coming to terms with the fact that I can’t do the things so many people take for granted has been an important step in my healing journey. We all have limitations and we need to respect them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that not respecting my limitations contributed to my becoming this ill in the first place. So I’d say it’s pretty crucial that we accept none of us are superheroes, and that some things are beyond our reach, whether for that particular season in our lives or because we’re simply never going to be able to do them. After all, even superheroes have limits!

Redefining Achievement

But what I’ve come to realise over the past few months is that even though there are so many things I can’t do, there are just as many things that I can. I just have to change my perception of what constitutes a “thing”. Washing the dishes or taking a shower may have once felt like everyday, normal things that didn’t even require any notice whatsoever. But now? Now they are achievements worth celebrating. They mean that I have not only achieved the act of doing them, but that I’ve also achieved a better balance in my life enabling me to be well enough to do them. I’m beginning to learn to live within my limitations, to accept the times when they are simply out of the question, and as a result I am finding myself more able to do things without such major payback. I’m beginning to crack the boom-bust cycle a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a long way to go with that. I still regularly push myself beyond my limits and suffer as a result. But it’s usually for a good reason, such as a family gathering, getting to church for an important service, or looking after my family when my husband is ill. But the key thing for me has been learning to accept that sometimes in order to do something I have to not do several other things. If I want to have a friend round for coffee, I have to accept that once they have gone I am going to need to rest in bed. I won’t be able to crochet or read or even watch Netflix, but rather I’ll need to lay down and really let my body rest. But if I refuse to fight the “I can’t” and instead look at what “I can” do I’m better able to see what I’ve achieved.

In the example given, I’ll have not only had chance to catch up with a friend, but I’ll have also made a deliberate choice to rest, which in turn means I can do more things the next day. By more things I mean I might be able to sit in bed and read or crochet, but that’s an improvement on being stuck in bed with major fatigue had I chosen to push through the day before and refused to rest. Sometimes even choosing to rest is an achievement! I don’t always get this balance right, of course, because there is so much more that I want to do. And it can be incredibly frustrating to sit in bed and look at a pile of clothes and wish I had the energy to fold them and put them away, or to hear my son playing in the garden and wish I didn’t have a migraine making the sun too bright for me to go outside and join him. But changing my perception from “I can’t” to “I can” is having an impact.

image of a woman stretching in bed, sitting up with arms raised above her head.

Celebrating The “Small Things”

It doesn’t matter what is happening in your life, whether you’re going through a tough season or are living your best life, I think learning to celebrate the small things can make such a huge difference to your day. There are so many reasons why you may feel overwhelmed, even when living you best life!! Deadlines loom, family needs battle for your attention, bills need to be paid, sleep exhaustion affects your ability to think clearly, the news is downright depressing… the list goes on. When we are so focused on the “big picture” of our lives, it’s hard to notice the everyday, little things that all contribute to our success in surviving this crazy thing called life.

The smaller things may feel like greater achievements to me because of how sick I am and how out of reach the bigger things are, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still huge achievements to everyone else too. Simply getting out of bed after a bad night’s sleep or when faced with a stressful day ahead is a sign of huge resilience and is worth acknowledging and even celebrating. I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate the big things, because we should, of course we should. All I’m saying is that we all have bad days, and on those days being able to celebrate our small successes is so important.

Changing “I Can’t” to “I Can”, one step at a time.

If you’re struggling to think of something to celebrate today, have a look through this list and see how many of the things you have done. You might be surprised at just how much you have achieved. I’ve tried to make a list that works for as many people as possible, from those chronically ill like myself or raising young children (for whom getting dressed is a major achievement!) to those who never seem to stop! So some of them will be more relevant to you than others. I’ve tried to split it into themes for easy reference, but they are very loosely categorised, and there is a lot of blurring between the lines. And it is far from an exhaustive list, it is simply meant to help nudge you into celebrating the “small things” we often overlook. After all, changing “I can’t” to “I can” is an achievement in and of itself!

daily Living

  • Got out of bed
  • Ate breakfast/lunch/dinner (no skipped meals)
  • Made a packed lunch
  • Made it out of the house (on time)
  • Paid a bill/renewed insurance/dealt with paperwork etc

Work Related activities

  • Got to work on time
  • Answered emails/messages
  • Completed a task
  • Met a deadline
  • Dealt with difficult colleagues/boss/clients/customers

Parent Life

  • Got everyone up (and out the door) on time
  • Spoke to someone at the school gates
  • Made it to parent and baby/toddler group
  • Listened to your child read/practised spellings/helped with homework
  • Survived another crazy day!

Spoonie (Chronically Ill) Achievements

  • Got out of bed
  • Had a shower
  • Got dressed
  • Had a nap (yes, this is an achievement for those who need it!)
  • Visited a friend/had someone visit you

Physical Well-being

  • Got enough sleep
  • Drank enough to remain well hydrated
  • Ate a healthy meal
  • Did some exercise (physio practice/short walk/run/gym)
  • Made a healthy food swap (eg decaffeinated tea/coffee, fruit snack etc)

Mental and Emotional Well-Being

  • Avoided being drawn into drama (in the family/on social media etc)
  • Remembered to breathe through the tough moments
  • Turned off your phone
  • Read a book/watched a film/listened to music
  • Went to bed early

Spiritual Stuff

  • Meditated (or any other mindfulness practice)
  • Made it to church/synagogue/mosque/spiritual gathering
  • Read some scripture/spiritual book
  • Prayed/spoke to God/Angels/Spiritual Guides etc
  • Spoke with others about your faith

I’d love to know what “small things” you are celebrating today. Why not share them with me in the comments?

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