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Empathy and Boundaries While Living with Pain

Where is the line between practicing empathy and setting healthy boundaries? More often than not, people are repeating taught behaviors or just living on autopilot and not even noticing how their actions affect others (or maybe there are cultural differences that could explain the “rudeness”). I saw a question on Twitter recently that asked about how to manage being grumpy and rude when you feel bad. This is when empathy becomes especially handy. I put on a happy face because I don’t know who else feels horrible. In moments of flares I know I need additional love and support and understanding—I need others to empathize with my pain they can’t see.

And that’s what I try to give to others whether I’m in pain or not. I don’t want to risk dimming someone’s else’s light because I’m struggling maintaining my own flame. People have been “rude” to me when I felt really bad. I was having an arthritis flare in my hand while working at a movie theater. People were getting irritated it would take me so long to tear tickets and then snatch them out of my hand or say something frivolous I don’t even remember but it stung at the time. No one could see how bad it hurt to tear those tickets or scoop popcorn, but I was doing my best to not only do my job but do it with a smile. But you know what? I don’t know if one of the people who snatched the tickets out of my hand needed to hurry to the bathroom. I don’t know if they needed to hurry to a seat because their back or hip was in excruciating pain. It’d be easy to get mad, but it isn’t too much harder to give someone the benefit of the doubt—especially people I’ll never see again and if I do I won’t recognize them.

When does empathy expression though cause boundaries to be crossed? Is it when it’s with a constant in your life? When it happens a second or third time? We can’t take advantage of our loved ones just because they’re understanding on our bad days. We have to learn to communicate our struggles so they can give us space and we have to do it without biting their heads off. Sure it’ll happen occasionally, we’re humans and get overwhelmed and react. But even if it is more difficult to choose kindness while in pain we must persevere and try. That’s part of helping our loved ones set healthy boundaries for what they’ll put up with. I think for us setting boundaries it needs to be with a person who’s regularly in our life. If you value someone tell them, “I won’t tolerate being talked down to like that.” Maybe they’re having a bad day but if bad days become habits, they have to learn to manage them like those of us with chronic illness do. And if the patterns don’t quit? We have to make the decision on whether or not to keep them in our lives. Which can lead to grief, which is all too common of an experience. It is also not uncommon for people with chronic illness to grieve the loss of their health or the things they once could do that now they can’t do.


Maybe even grieving a sense of normalcy and expectations for yourself. Grieving the peace of mind that you can do what you did yesterday today without a problem. Even with this grief, we have to be mindful of our attitudes and behavior and empathize with those in our life who are also grieving in their own way. Their hearts are broken to see us in pain and even if they say and do all the wrong things, they are simply doing their best. That’s all we can do each and every day is our best.


Some days that looks like 5 am wake up calls and exercising all before going to work all day to knock out huge projects and coming home to make a healthy dinner. Other days it’s brushing our hair and using mouthwash before heading out the door, or even staying in.


Boundaries are healthy for those setting them and for the people around them. When we don’t respect the boundaries of others, we are not only causing damage to them, but we are also giving ourselves false expectations of those people, which will lead us to disappointment.
It can be hard to say no especially when trying to keep up with the rest of the able-bodied world. But we’ll inevitably crash and burn. Boundaries aren’t just for relationship and mental health, they play an important role in our physical health as well.We’re all doing our best and for that we need to respect one another and shoe each other grace. I know that one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given was grace when I was angry and in pain and acted out, and then was met with love. How much of a better place would our world be if we offered this grace to each other?


Now, the people at the movie theater probably will never give me and my slow ticket tearing another thought. That’s okay. At the time I was so focused on doing my job and working through the pain that I didn’t get to empathize in the moment. I remember thinking, “How could these people be so rude?!” Later that evening when I sat on my couch with my then boyfriend (now fiancé) crying and watching Netflix to try to take my mind off the pain in my joints, I had some time to reflect. Being judgmental served no purpose, but empathizing and showing grace? That allowed me to show myself grace as well.


Empathizing and setting boundaries are two powerful tools at our disposal that can make a difference in our worlds. And if we make a difference in our own worlds, isn’t that the first step to changing the whole world?

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Lots of Rain and No Umbrella

Every task we complete on our to-do list causes a raindrop to fall. Some drops are smaller and some are larger, but every thing we do—brushing our teeth or going to an appointment—results in water falling around us.


People without chronic illnesses are naturally equipped with an umbrella and rain boots. They can do whatever they want to in a day without fear of the rain water slowing them down. As the puddle builds beneath their feet, they are unscathed.


People with chronic illnesses on the other hand, do not have rain equipment. We are seemingly unprepared by nature and unfortunately, we cannot borrow another person’s boots or umbrella. As we exchange tasks for raindrops, our puddle can quickly become overwhelming. We find ourselves in a rainwater puddle, exhausted, and at risk for getting more sick if we don’t stop and rest.


We can use this as code to help explain to our loved ones when we need a break. I know that telling my fiancé that my puddle is getting too large, has made a positive difference in our communication. He then helps me find a seat if we are out and about so that I can rest.


Now, when one is bogged down with rainwater a majority of the time, it becomes more difficult to experience an authentic sunrise. Not impossible. This is why rest and self-care are so important. This is why putting our time toward things that soothe our soul when we can makes such a big difference in the quality of our lives.


An authentic sunrise refers to inspiration and pursuing a dream set on our hearts. If it’s our passion, it’s our passion for a reason–or I like to think so anyway. An authentic sunrise also refers to us being our true selves and allowing our inner light to shine bright. Our sun beans warm ourselves and allow others the encouragement to let their own lights shine. It’s a contagious phenomenon. It can be hard to be ourselves, or to even know who we are when battling an invisible illness. That’s why managing the size of our rain water puddles is so important.


We sometimes attempt to borrow an umbrella from someone else, and keep pushing and pushing. When we burn the candle at both ends, we wind up with a melted mess. And we don’t want to be a melted mess! We don’t want to be soaked with rain drops, unable to do anything for days because we’ve caught a cold. We want to live our life to the fullest, and that includes resting so we can enjoy the things that we have energy for.


Sing and dance in the rain! Enjoy every rain drop that hits your face. Just remember, you don’t have boots or an umbrella like a lot of our peers. BUT you aren’t the only one dancing with bare feet. It can be hard, but I try to appreciate everything I am able to do because I don’t know if I will be able to do the same task tomorrow.


So, take it day-by-day and drop by drop. Remember you aren’t alone and despite the rain, your sunrise is just beyond the horizon waiting for day to break.


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Welcome to Authentic Sunrise!

An authentic sunrise refers to a spark of inspiration—perhaps even an awakening of sorts. It is when we organically discover what is our gift, or what we can offer the world.

Now, we can choose to share our gift or not. I like the philosophy of using our gifts selfishly. What I mean by this is that we use our gifts, like writing, for our own healing or therapeutic needs. Then we can share our stories (or products or what have you) with others and if it resonates with them, then fantastic! If not, then we as creators still have something that we can be proud of and that is worthwhile because it did have an impact for at least one person—us.

I adapted this idea from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to live a more creative and expressive life!

A lot of the posts on this blog will be focused on living with chronic illness because although it is possible to experience an authentic sunrise living with a chronic illness, it definitely can be more challenging with symptoms and fatigue; however, the posts are designed so that anyone wanting to learn more about themselves and explore journaling topics can do so.

Excited that you are joining me on this journey! Be sure to subscribe to stay updated on posts. 

​XOXO

Kari

ED Recovery is More Difficult than I Realized

I heard all the way back in high school, “Once you have an eating disorder, you always have it. You just go through periods of remission.” At the time I didn’t think much of it. After all, I was totally in control of my eating disorder–so much in fact that I couldn’t possibly have a disorder.

My chronic disease of ulcerative colitis helped me hide my eating disorder for months because even the doctors thought that my meds just needed to be adjusted. Movies shown in freshmen health class to scare us into not developing eating disorders just showed me how to hide it from my family. And then after all I had more control than the girls in the movies, so I knew I could handle it before it got to the point of dying. Right?

I ended up asking for help after reading an article in 17 Magazine about disordered eating. It helped me realize that maybe I did have a problem. It showed me my eating patterns were abnormal and unhealthy. I started working with a nutritionist and that helped a lot. I didn’t have problems with food for years. Or so it seemed.

Until I relapsed at the demise of an abusive relationship. I lost a tremendous amount of weight, that I had gained during the relationship, in just a few short months. I managed to keep it off for years. But then, I ended up gaining all of it back plus a lot over the last five years.


After all this time, I thought that my relationship with food was better; however, working with a nutritionist (trying to lose weight the “healthy” way) recently showed me how unhealthy I was/am actually eating. Not necessarily choice wise, but when and why I choose to eat. Restrictions lead to binges which lead to more severe restriction and then additional binges and so on and so forth.

I started seeing a counselor for help with my depression and food issues. (I was on a waiting list for almost four months but that’s another topic.) My counselor was worth the wait and I am so thankful that I called and waited.

At our most recent session though, we discussed something that has shaken my core and hurt my heart in a way that anyone without an eating disorder may not understand: I am not healthy enough mentally to try to actively lose weight. That I should try to let the goal of the past 5 years (weight loss) go and just focus on loving myself and building a healthy relationship with food.

I feel lost in all honesty. I have big events coming up this year and the idea of staying this size for possibly forever is terrifying to me. The idea of never losing another ounce is just baffling and horrifying at the same time. Especially since it seems that everyone and their grandmother are trying to lose weight these days. It’s added pressure to lose pounds when I see other people’s transformations with captions like “I did it and so can you.” Not to say people shouldn’t post things they’re proud of–it just makes me feel like I’m not trying hard enough and that I should restrict more. An unhealthy mindset that I am working on.

At this point I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I do know that I am going to keep seeing my therapist. I know that I’m going to fight ED whispering in my ear to skip lunch or to not eat even though I’m hungry. I’m going to try to give up the idea of losing weight ever again. As long as that takes–I will try.

As it turns out that remission thing I heard years ago about eating disorders is true. Even though for so many years I thought that I had it beat–that I was better. It’s not my identity–just like arthritis and ulcerative colitis are not who I am. BUT they are a part of who I am. I wouldn’t stop taking my meds for my chronic diseases so I’m not going to stop seeing my counselor especially since I am at the beginning of a potential relapse.

My purpose for sharing this is twofold: one as therapy for myself. Writing and talking are tools that help me. And two, to let anyone struggling with an eating disorder know that you aren’t alone. It’s okay to see a counselor. Eating disorders are difficult for most people to understand. Therapists with specialized training in eating disorders are unbiased third parties that can help. Also, don’t wait to ask for help. The earlier you can ask for help, the better.

I know from my past that remission is possible. It is so difficult to get there but to be in a place where I am not constantly thinking about food and eating will be worth it. Not obsessing over my size will be worth it. Loving myself will be worth it.

I may not be able to love myself right now on this journey but I’ll get there one day. In the mean time, I can continue to love others. Maybe while we can’t love ourselves, we can love each other especially harder? We can borrow each other’s love and belief in one another. With that borrowed love and faith, anything is possible. We will reach our goals. We will reach recovery.

Photo by Nita on Pexels.com

Is Forgiveness Really the Answer?

“Forgive others.” Yikes. That’s asking a whole lot. In fact, I think it’s asking too much.

Forgiveness isn’t the end all be all to happiness. Forgiveness shouldn’t be rushed or even expected.

When it comes to some wrongdoings toward me many years ago, I don’t harbor resentment or anger that only poisons my heart. I recognize that the actions and the words were cruel and inexcusable. But I don’t let it weigh me down or stop me from living my life to the best I know how.

Maybe it’s semantics. Maybe what I described is “forgiveness;” however, I refuse to label certain situations as such. Some people don’t get to be forgiven in my opinion. I think it’s tremendously unfair to tell people to “forgive” their abusers and tormentors. Forgiveness isn’t warranted always. Forgiveness isn’t a given. And I think that’s okay. As long as it isn’t holding us back from living our lives and loving ourselves.

As long as we aren’t being weighed down by hate and loathing and pain—who says we owe anyone our forgiveness? And I’ve heard the whole “forgive others to help yourself, not them.” But what if what someone needs is to be angry in the moment? What if someone needs to focus on healing? Why shove this expectation of forgiveness on them? Why rush someone into something they aren’t ready for?

So forgive or don’t forgive. Just live your life the best you know how.

8 Tips for Facing the Week with Chronic Fatigue

Life with chronic fatigue can be plain difficult. Anything we do can easily lead to overexertion. It’s more than just being a little tired. It’s sleeping all the time and never feeling rested. It’s when your body and soul just constantly feel worn out. I have dealt with fatigue for over a decade, coinciding with my autoimmune diagnoses of ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Using my experience, I have compiled a list of 8 tips I use for coping with chronic fatigue–particularly with planning out my week.

1. Schedule Naps/Time to Rest

This one may seem silly. How am I supposed to rest when working 20 or even 40 hours a week? If you are in school or work from home, this is a little easier to manage; however, even working a full-time job, we can find 30 minutes here or 15 minutes there where we set a timer and rest. We can meditate during this time to quiet the mind (there are a lot of cool apps out now for guided meditations). We can scroll social media (I suggest following uplifting accounts and not ones that stress you out/drain your energy). We can sit there and doodle or write in a journal. Heck, we can close our door and rest our eyes for 10 minutes if needed.
Again, I do understand that this is not always possible for every person in every situation. If you are one of these people, schedule down time on your weekends. Without rest, we will burn out. It’s a guarantee. If you work 40 hours or more a week and this is a non-negotiable for you, try giving up some social time in order to recuperate. You can only run on borrowed rain boots for so long.

2. Stay Hydrated

Through trial and error, I have definitely noticed that drinking plenty of water does help with my energy levels. Am I getting up at 5:00 am and staying awake until 9:00 or 10:00 being 100% productive with my time after I drink a gallon of water in a day? That’s a big, fat nope. But my skin looks clearer and I feel like I’m not quite as bogged down as when I am dehydrated.

3. List 3 Things You’re Grateful For

Gratitude journaling isn’t just hot right now, it’s life-changing. Writing out three things you’re grateful for and writing why you’re grateful for those things can begin shifting negative thought patterns that fuel depression. Now, this is by no means a cure, but in my experience, it can definitely help.
Depression and chronic illness is often cyclical in nature with one fueling the other. Both also make fatigue worse. Treating depression can help with energy levels. If you are struggling with depression or other mental health concerns, please consider seeing a therapist and/or psychiatrist. I will write about my experiences with these professionals in a future post. Stay tuned!

4. Keep Microwavable, Healthy Meals Handy

Some people will argue that processed meals can’t possibly be “healthy,” but eating something processed is better than skipping a meal due to utter exhaustion. I really like Gardein and Green Giant (not sponsored, this is just what I like to eat on rough days to make things a little easier.) Both brands have protein bowls that take just a few minutes in the microwave and clean-up is relatively easy compared to cooking a meal. #veggies#protein#lowmaintenance

5. Make Jeggings your BFF

I adore a colored pair of jeggings paired with a cute blouse for more professional settings. Comfort helps me push through difficult days so much. Pressure on my tummy from regular pants can cause cramping and discomfort. I also tend to hold more tension in my body, the less comfortable I am. And anytime I am home, you best believe that I am wearing my comfies–often even my PJs.

6. Talk to your Doctor

Your doctor can order some tests including, but not limited to a sleep study. It isn’t uncommon for people with autoimmune diseases to have vitamin D deficiencies. I can usually tell when it’s time for my weekly, prescription strength, vitamin D supplement because I am even more tired than normal. I also had a sleep study done about a year ago, and was diagnosed with idiopathic hypersomnolence, which is a fancy way of saying, “You’re super sleepy all the time and we aren’t sure why.” Chronic fatigue doesn’t always have answers, unfortunately. Taking my supplements, scheduling naps, and following these other tips written here help though.

7. Pick 3-5 Priorities

I recently picked up a new planner that has weekly priorities. I write down three things that absolutely must be accomplished that week. Everything else on my to-do list is just icing on the cake. If other things get done, great. If not, then there is always next week. Prioritizing daily and weekly tasks has made a huge difference in managing my stress levels, which in turns helps with my energy.


8. Do Anything that Soothes Your Soul

Journaling, talking with a friend, meditating, reading a good book, baking cookies, watching a movie where you empathize with the characters and maybe even cry–the possibilities are almost limitless! When our souls are well-rested, it’s easier for our bodies to be well-rested.
Do you have any tips that you use to prepare for a week with chronic fatigue? Let me know in the comments below!