> Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
To me, one of the best features on my smartphone is the global positioning system (GPS) capabilities. I say this because I have no sense of direction. On more than one occasion, I have had to rely on my GPS to help me figure how to get to where I wanted to go, starting with showing me my location. Yes, there are times when I’m not even sure where I am, let alone how to find my way to my destination.
So I can say with conviction that I would be lost without my GPS. Literally.
I can’t help but think of a greater life lesson that we can learn from our smartphone’s GPS capabilities. The GPS tells us where we are. At this moment in time. Not where we wish we were. Not necessarily where we thought we would be.
There is a lot to be said for being aware of where we are in life. That doesn’t mean we always like where we are, that’s for sure.
I don’t think anyone is more aware of life’s GPS than those of us who are living with a chronic condition. The ups, the downs, the responsibilities, and sometimes the limitations.
My clients, and our members here, often express frustrations at where they are in life. It is not so much that they complain about having to live with a chronic condition. Instead, they often criticize themselves for not being where they want to be in managing their condition, what they have done wrong, haven’t done enough, or have done too much. I see this among individuals who are newly diagnosed as well as those who are more experienced.
This self-criticism is often expressed in ways like these: “I should be ___.” “If I could finally ___.” “I still haven’t ___.”
Here’s the problem: according to life’s GPS, here you are. But you’ve decided you should be at a very different place. It’s human nature. That’s right. Normal.
But you don’t have to be stuck in all that self-criticism. Don’t like what you’re seeing on your GPS? Here’s what to do.
Take a look at your perspective. Are you all about where you aren’t in your life, or where you are? You can choose to get down on yourself for not living up to an ideal image of where you think you should be in life, or you can choose to focus on where you are now. It’s up to you.
Accept life on life’s terms. When you accept where you are now in your life—and tell that critical voice to be quiet—you’re on your way to being more compassionate toward yourself. Along with freeing yourself up to start looking at what’s possible! How do you come to this place of acceptance? It starts with the messages you play inside of your head.
Give yourself some credit. You’re dealing with a lot. And there are days when the road can get pretty rocky. Remind yourself—every day—that you’re human and that you’re doing the best you can. Identify small and big victories and give yourself a pat on the back.
Beware the comparisons you make. There’s always going to be someone who seems to have it all together more than you do. But also somebody else who’s lagging behind. What’s important is where you are in life right now, not where someone else is. Embrace your own unique path in life. It’s okay!
Chart your progress. Where did your journey begin? Think back to when you were first diagnosed, whether that was in the recent or the distant past. Take stock of the changes you have made. Review what you have learned. Consider how your emotional reactions to living with your chronic condition have changed. Sure, you will most likely identify some setbacks along the way. But chances are, you will also identify the ways in which you have progressed.
Choose a destination. A GPS isn’t very useful in providing directions if you don’t tell it where you want to go. Have a realistic vision of where you want to be in managing your chronic condition as well as the rest of your life. Six months out, one year out, and beyond. Identify practical steps forward you want to take to get you there.
Your life’s GPS. Take a look at where you. Select a destination for the road ahead. You’re in the driver’s seat!
What helps you to accept where you are in managing your chronic condition and decide how to get where you want to be? Share your advice in a comment below.