Sunday, June 17, 2012

How to Take Control

Last post was about how taking control in stressful situations can help one deal with chronic illness. Hopefully, I've managed to convey some key points: (1) illness can reduce your feeling of control over life, (2) it's important to regain a feeling of control to protect against depression and emotional weakening of the immune system (learning helplessness from lack of control is a key ingredient for depression), and (3), it's possible to regain that feeling of control by taking small steps in your life.

So, today, I'm going to give some ideas on getting that control back. I mentioned diet as an example last post, but today is going to focus more on examples than anything else.


  1. As said before, by exerting control over what you do/do not eat (in accordance with dietary recommendations for your disease), you are asserting control in your food intake. It's easy to see it as 'I can't eat that'--but that's not what it's about. Truly, I could walk to the bakery right now and get a croissant. I miss them incredibly. Yes, I would feel sick afterwards, but I could still eat it. But I am choosing not to. Look at your diet as a choice. Actively pursue information on diet and understanding what foods have what effect. And make a choice.
  2. Treatments. Often, going to the doctor and being at the whim of his/her prescription pad is a huge blow to a sense of control. It is easy to feel a victim in the situation--you are, after all, at the mercy of what that doctor decides to do. It seems like a powerless situation. Or at least it can feel that way. When giving up room in your budget for medications and surgeries, you may see it as having money taken away. But, in actuality, you are choosing to value your health over other life demands. Like with diet, this is a situation of recognizing choice. Even when under the directive of requiring surgery, it is still a choice. Obviously your condition of health has forced you into that choice, but it doesn't change that you can still ultimately choose. 
    • A good example of this is how I chose to deal with the massive changes endometriosis forced on my life. I kept trying to get through treatments as quickly as possible and not give myself time to actually make significant and time consuming changes/stops in my life. This characterized my first couple of years trying to cope with this disease (after it took a turn for aggressive in 2009). When I finally decided to completely put school and work on hold for 6 months, and sought out a highly qualified doctor, my disease finally resolved enough to allow me to resume a normal life. I had many ways to undergo medical treatment for this disease. My earlier choices did not go well--my later ones did. I don't look at my earlier years as being an 'unfortunate victim of poor circumstance and unqualified doctors'; I look at it as me not allocating the proper attention/time off. And that gives me a much greater feeling of control and power than a victim in the waiting room. 
  3. Homeopathy. Home treatments/remedies/rituals are amazing for any kind of suffering I can think of. This is medicine focused on balance of the body rather than resolving a specific illness. Thus, it has the potential of making you healthy all over with fewer negative side effects (thought it can also take longer). However, for me, it's been amazing. For example, lately I've been using eucalyptus to help treat my asthma and allergies--it helped resolve some of my congestion better than any prescription I have ever taken. For endometriosis, things like fish oil, red raspberry leaf tea, and yoga/deep breathing can help immensely. The availability and easiness of the internet provides a wealth of information for pretty much any home remedies for any ills. That also means there is a lot of unfounded and possibly dangerous 'home remedies' peddled too. The key is actively searching for what will help you and make your illness more manageable. Yes, again, it's about taking control of the situation and making educated decisions about what you put into your body. The plus sides of this is these are not prescribed by doctors, meaning it's pretty much self administered. You are in the drivers seat. This also leaves room for danger though--please educate yourself on the risks of home remedies and make sure to carefully evaluate each treatment. Consider seeing a licensed homeopath for a couple appointments, so he/she can guide you in your choices. 
  4. Move your Body: chronic pain is a huge detriment to a feeling of self control. When it hurts to move, it restricts your mobility and the pain and even infringe on clear thought. Feeling unable to control your own body is frustrating. It's easy to see that chronic pain patients are around 5 times as likely to experience depression. But as chronic pain is a source for learned helplessness/depression, it's also a clue for a good place to exert some control. There are times when even a sick person can do something. On good days I can bike around 30 miles. on bad days, I take my dog on a short walk. I do yoga, leg lifts, arm curls--anything I can get my body to do, I make it do it. Why? Because it's a way for me to assert that I am ultimately in control of my body. I cannot stop it from hurting me sometimes, and while motion does help prevent scar tissue formation, it is not 100% effective. But refusing to let your body completely force you into motionless bed rest can help fend off feelings of victimization. It's about focusing on what you can do--not what you can't. 
 I hope you have found something helpful in these tips. They're not all inclusive, and I am sure there are many other ways to 'take the driver's seat' in your illness. Look at this post as a primer. Recognize spots in your life where you can take control.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to add any examples or email me for questions, bedriddenhead@gmail.com.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Your Own Control

Hey Readers--it's been a while! Between my job, school, and (gasp!) my re-emerging social life, my blog has been hard to update. I've even been on consecutive birth control, so I will only be bedridden every three months (rather than every two weeks), so I cannot rely on that bed time to force me into making blog time. But I have really missed writing, I've missed my readers, and I've missed making my possibly small difference in the endometriosis community. To this week, I plan on doing two new entries. One on an important chronic illness mentality, one on my own personal update, and one (possibly!) on the Angry Uterus (the sleep post will have to wait--I am currently doing sleep therapy and have no results to post). So please, continue reading, I love your thoughtful comments, messages, and shares of my posts on Facebook. It makes me feel so supported and received, thank you.

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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


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About The BedRiddenHead

I want to be happy. And this site is about that chance. How to strive to thrive in the body I've got and maybe turn my experiences into something worthwhile.

This site aims to help educate and reach out to people all over that struggle with pain or illness. To try and make something helpful. I work as a medical research writer, my background is in neuropsychology and biology, and I want to share what I learn in a way that is easy to understand. I am not a doctor. I'm definitely not your doctor. I am just some lady who wants to make someone's (anyone's) life a little bit better. Whether you have endometriosis, a chronic injury, a struggling friend, or just want to learn something new, I hope to make a place that has what you are looking for.

Thank you for stopping by, I wish you strength in your health, struggles, and happiness.