Tonight, I need to talk about something that made a tremendous difference in my endometriosis control, and, more significantly, my life. Anyone with a Chronic Illness will remember times in their lives where everything feels it has spun out of control. It's not hard to feel this way. One moment, you're an average Joe or Jill, suddenly you're a periodic invalid in pain and torn from a normal life. You are sucked into a spiral of unpredictability and of things constantly 'happening to you'. You become dependent on doctors for minor relief and are trapped in bed trying to figure out 'why oh why did this happen to me?'.
In psychology, we have a term called 'locus of control'. It's part of a person's self concept--how they perceive themselves as an individual. Locus of control refers to how you perceive events in your life as relative to your control--as external or internal. For example, someone who struggled for years and made valedictorian of their class would likely have an internal locus of control--she sees it a result of her own hard work and not as a hand out from the school. Another example, someone who is constantly gambling all of their income away, rather than investing and saving. He may see it as "everything's just luck anyway, might as well speed up the process". These two examples, the girl and the man, have two different types of loci of control. She has an internal locus. He has an external locus. It's the 'I make my own things happen' vs. "things happen to me" view on life and one's self.
Locus of control is important because it plays a huge roll in depression. Did you see that coming? In actuality, a person with an external locus of control is much, much, much, more likely to fall to depression. Why is that? Because of another concept--that of 'learned helplessness'. When awful things happen to a person over and over, and they have little to no control over such events, people are taught by the situation that they are helpless to prevent bad things from happening to them. Like with chronic illness--it often seems/is the case that countless negative events are flung our way with nothing to stop them/prevent them. And feeling unable to quash bad events can leave a person helpless for a depression onslaught. If they have an internal locus of control, they may be able to resist that lesson, and may persist in believing they have influence. But, more often than not, it's easy to have an external locus in such situations. It's easy to see those horrible things as happening to you and not having any influence over things.
Now, reading this, it's pretty easy to think "wow, that was depressing. Thanks Ash, for illuminating my circle of doom for me.", but I promise this is not the case. Yes, you can feel that external locus of control. And that learned helplessness. You feel bombarded by horrible illnesses and side-effects, and sideillnessess, and side-side-effects, for no reason whatsoever. I mean, no man/women with chronic illnesses asked for them. I certainly don't remember lining up with my endometriosis bowl and saying "please sir, I want some more". So how can you not feel like a helpless spectator?
But the thing is, you can do things to help redirect that locus of control. Little things you can do, where your attention is focused, small claims for control, can make a huge difference. It's pretty simple concept but it can take a lot of effort and focus. But, hopefully, I can explain how it helped me and it can give some of you ideas.
First off, a good example of my focus on the internal control, is my having a really strict diet. I guess that can be a little counterintuitive--after all, I am restricting my diet in a way that prevents be from having access to many foods I enjoy. I could feel that my body is controlling what I can eat. Worst of all, even though I feel much better without gluten, I am still plagued by worries that it may just be the placebo. However, in reality, it comes down to that it is my ultimate choice of controlling what I eat. Even if it does make my body sick to have certain foods, I could still choose to eat them. And that's what I focus on. It's not about my body keeping me from foods, it's about me protecting my body from those foods.
Even more subtle, are small things. Things that I could very easily see is completely out of my control. For example, when I start cramping up. My first impulse is to think, "my uterus has no reason for doing this, why is this happening, this is so unfair". That's what I first think. But then I think, "I maybe didn't take my birth control on time, maybe I had too much dairy, I should have exercised more this month".
Now, this route of thinking is NOT self blame. That's not productive or fair to oneself. It's not about saying, 'this is all my fault.'. It's about looking what factors of self involvement contribute to the situation. Because it can make you feel more in control of the situation. It can be almost unnoticeable, how much influence focusing on the disease's control over you life has. Even if you don't think you're looking at it that way. It subtlety presents itself as the new master of your life, and it's so gradual, you don't even realize it. But the way it takes over is, completely, 'in the little things'. So look at those little things, and reassign control from the disease, to yourself.
It's not about assigning blame. It's about assigning control. Teach yourself that you are choosing to fight back, you are choosing to tackle this, and you are choosing how to handle it. Trust me--you don't want to fall into that external locus of control. Remind yourself who is in charge. Remind yourself who is trying to overcome that chronic illness. Whether it be endometriosis, asthma, an injury, cancer--whatever it is, you are ultimately the decision maker. Remember that and acknowledge your control. Take control when you can. Because depression can make any disease much worse. Don't give it an edge.