Chronic Illness · Coping Tools · CRPS/RSD · Dealing with Pain · Mindful Mondays

Should-ing Vs. Chronic Illness & Pain

Should-ing vs. Chronic Pain_IllnessHello there and thank you for joining me for Mindful Monday. Last week I wrote Part I about The Dangers of Should-ing all over Yourself & asked readers to notice the “shoulds” that were unhelpful in their own lives and toss them to the side.  The intention of this Mindful Monday is to improve awareness of unhelpful, unhealthy thought patterns that can become toxic when battling Chronic Illness & Pain.

Unrealistic Expectations: The Shoulds can be a Big Mean Bully

They creep into every facet of our life and become background noise in our thoughts, gaging our success by our ability to validate our shoulds. They are the kid on the playground screaming, taunting us with a slew of shoulds that aren’t even based in reality…We should be able to keep up with the housework, we should be able to keep dates with our friends, we should be able to maintain our work schedules despite being ill & in pain, we should go to every event at our church, we should be able to drive more than 20 minutes,we should plant a garden like our neighbor, we should volunteer more often, we should take on more responsibilities as a mother or father, we should we should we should…….

Are you nodding your head in agreement? Well guess what! It’s normal to want to maintain some aspects of your former healthy self!! I would love to keep around the parts of Kelly that kicked ass. Who wouldn’t want to wake up and go for a jog in the morning before a 10-hour work day and then have enough energy to spend quality time with friends or family in the evening?? But here is the thing: Just because your day does not reflect your schedule from 3 years ago does not mean that it is not successful or filled with meaning in this moment. However when we wake up to these shoulds and beliefs of unrealistic expectations, our attitude shifts as our body is unable to perform.

It steals our joy from the moment our eyes open. It can manifest from feeling helpless to feeling enraged & angry.   And all of this (the shoulds) are not even based in reality!

Even though you are no longer able to run, work a 10-hour day or spend every evening with loved ones doesn’t mean that you aren’t living as your best possible self. It can feel just as good getting up in the morning, take time to stretch and breathe in the morning air. Maybe lie on your yoga mat, doing gentle stretches or beginning your day with meditation. Maybe you are able to work from home now, from the comfort of your bed. You may not be able to work 10 hour days but you still find your work rewarding & you are grateful for any time that is spent with family. Even if it means playing a game of Uno from your bed with family, or having a girls/guys night at your house to watch movies.

When we maintain the perspective of how something “should” look or “should” be, we aren’t allowing the full potential of the situation or ourselves to be exposed. We are stuck in this holding pattern. Not able to move forward and certainly unable to move back. It is clear. What we are doing is NOT working! Therefore we need to change something (and honestly kick that bully that taunts you to the curb!)

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Are unrealistic “shoulds” setting you up for suffering?

Shoulds vs. What you Really Need

Are the shoulds in your life loud? Are they overpowering and bullying you? Are we listening to the shoulds instead of our bodies? The “I should just do this________(insert anything)” can keeps us from getting the rest and self care that we need. Sometimes, it is okay to give into one or two of these feelings throughout the day but beware that they can quickly add up to a day that you will end up paying for later.

I can always tell right away when I give into a should that is not in my best interest. My thoughts immediately jump to “Shoot! (or another word),I should not be doing this” but more often then not, I continue, thinking, “Well I started so I might as well finish.” Twenty minutes later I am confined to the bed for the rest of the day as pain engulfs my body.

It’s crazy that one little tiny should can dictate our mood, our wellbeing and ultimately our response to pain. It can take a good day and turn it into one spent in agonizing pain.  It can even spill into the entire week as your body’s response snowballs into the rest of the week.

Our bodies know what we need and they do a pretty good job at alerting us. (That is their job.) Even when our complex diagnoses cause our bodies to go bizerk, we still know what we really need. We also learn from our past mistakes of giving into shoulds, but I bet every single one of us will make the mistake again, just because we are hanging on the hope that this time, we can do it. My entire summer has been spent attempting tasks even though I knew deep down in my heart that my body could no longer accomplish.  Why do we put ourselves through this?

I guess it is just really hard to accept and let go of those beliefs and the image of who we still want to be.

After all of my failed attempts to be working full time, commuting 2 hours a day and doing PT everyday, I realized I wasn’t the same Kelly I had been 2 months prior. Through my meditation practice I realized this didn’t mean I wasn’t a person who was doing honorable work. Even though Kelly wasn’t the same, I realized I was changing in some pretty significant ways. I didn’t need to live up to the shoulds that were causing me to suffer and feeling inadequate.

I pushed my shoulds and unhelpful thinking to the side & honored the person that I am in this moment.  I stopped bullying her, judging her actions and setting her up for unrealistic goals. I listened to my body & adopted new self care schedules that didn’t consist of the shoulds.

Maybe it’s time we push these shoulds to the side and listen to what our body telling is telling us. Mindful tip: Even though you are unable to be the previous healthy you, what are some really cool things that have manifested in your own life? How are you growing as a person?

Other People’s Shoulds

If you don’t have enough work controlling your own shoulds, you also unfortunately fall prey to the shoulds of those around you. We all know these people and while they are well meaning and typically are coming from a place of concern and love, their shoulds are hurtful.

People who may not understand chronic illness and pain may see you do something and think, you should be able to do it again, everyday.  There are also a million different wacky treatments that you should try, riiight???? “I heard if you drink cactus milk for three days, through a loopty loop straw that it will help alleviate your pain, you should try that”.

We’ve all been there.  Don’t get caught up in these shoulds. Don’t let other people’s assumptions weigh you down and most importantly steal your joy. Allow those shoulds and faulty beliefs to roll off your back. Someone has a problem with you parking in a handicap designated spot when you have justified this with your doctor and the your state’s department of motor vehicles? Honestly that is their problem, not yours. If someone else is holding you to an unrealistic  standard, have a discussion with them.  If it becomes habitual, simply let them know that unfortunately your illness and pain can’t be cured with magic moonbeams but that you really appreciate their concern.  Let them know that everyday can be difficult for you but your medical team is working to help alleviate some of those symptoms.  And then do yourself a favor a move on.

 Shoulds in Our Relationships

Our relationships are often the thing that is hit the hardest when illness & pain step in. Our connection, our time and our energy with friends, family members, partners and colleagues change drastically.   Both you and the other person may have shoulds that are just not realistic anymore. She should come by more often, she should call or text me, he should have invited me to go, I should be able to maintain my social life. This thinking can cause hard feelings and quite a bit of grief. If this person is special or significant to you, address the shoulds before it could become detrimental for your relationship.

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don’t allow assumptions and shoulds stand in the way of your relationships (photo/pixabay)

A conversation (although it may be difficult) about how the illness has affected you could bring understanding instead of a person feeling personally rejected because you cancelled plans.  Be honest with these people and don’t try to live on a downward spiral of should thinking. When the feelings of inadequacy, resentment are brought to the surface because of a should, look a little further to see what else is there and what is supporting that belief.  If it doesn’t make sense to hold onto it, let it go.

Incorporating Mindfulness & Meditation

1.Pay attention to the shoulds that come up in your day to day activities.  As you hear the word come across your train of thought, notice what it is concerning.

  • Is this should a belief about your abilities and is the belief realistic for you today?
  • Is it helping or causing you more suffering?
  • Is it possible to let that should or belief go?

2.Treat yourself with Loving kindness as you examine these beliefs.  Many beliefs have been instilled in us our entire lives, be patient. Changing the way that we think is not something that happens overnight.

3.Allow yourself 10 minutes ( or more!) a day to sit quietly with your eyes closed if that feels comfortable.

  • If a should comes up, allow it to pass through (like a bird flying through your thoughts)
  • Start at your toes and slowly work up to the top of your forehead
  • Notice how your body feels
  • What is your body telling you?
  • How can you respond with self care that you need?

You suffer too much as it is, don’t let a should cause even more for you! And again: Just because your day does not reflect your schedule from the past does not mean that it is not successful or filled with meaning in this moment. free from the Shoulds!  Sending you positive vibes & as always…..

Much Metta (loving kindness),


3 thoughts on “Should-ing Vs. Chronic Illness & Pain

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