Can't - That Forbidden Word

In a world of motivational speakers, life coaches, and 'You Can Do It' memes, what are you to do when you realize that you have (gasp) limitations?

As a planner, a lister, a scheduler, with an I-can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to attitude, finding out that I really can't do some things was a crushing blow.  About five years ago I was diagnosed with a rare muscle disorder that has no cure and, even with the treatment available, causes periods of paralysis and muscle weakness. My life came to a halt and I soon came to despise all the encouraging messages of the motivators: Get Up And Go, The Only Thing Stopping You Is Yourself, Mind Over Matter, etc.

Six years ago my advice to anyone struggling with pretty much anything would be to eat healthy, exercise, and make sure you're drinking enough water.  Good advice, right? So, what do you do when that's not enough?     

You find answers.

Finding answers allowed me to know what I was up against, but I was still left to deal with my limitations.  Sometimes I found myself focused on the things I can't do and mourning for my old life and my old self.  The one who could push a double jogger around the lake. The one who could go on family hikes with a baby or toddler in a pack. The one who could volunteer at all the school parties, host playgroups and preschool co-ops. The one who could clean her house before the kids were up. The one who could go to bed knowing what the next day would hold. How could I come to terms with my limitations and still love who I am?

On our last camping and hiking trip before I became sick.

On our last camping and hiking trip before I became sick.

Here are some things I do to keep from falling into the trap of focusing on all that I am not.

Keep A List of Accomplishments

I changed the way I made my to-do lists.  I used to make them each evening for the following day then get discouraged when the next day was over and I hadn't checked off the things on my list.  It was self defeating. I began to turn it around.  Each evening I would list all of the things I had done during the day.  I included everything from 'made my bed' to 'made sandwiches for the kids', as occasionally the simplest of tasks were a struggle.  Finally, I had something to show for all my efforts. 

Be Flexible

I keep a list of things that I'd like to accomplish during the week and I keep things flexible.  I purchased colorful erasable pens for my planner.  Nothing is set in stone and I can change my plans to work for me. I have a basic routine that I try to stick to, but again flexibility is key. I plan a menu making sure I have a couple simple meals during the week that I can move according to how my day is going. I plan activities that can also be moved throughout the week.

Focus On The Essentials

Essentials for me are prayer and scripture study first thing in the morning.  I need that peaceful time every day. Other tasks may depend on my body, but if I can keep my mind and heart in the right place then the rest seems a little easier to deal with. The other essentials for my home are clean clothes, good food, and a clean kitchen.

Do The Most Important Things First

Each morning I assess my strength and plan what I feel is possible and the most important for the day.  If I'm feeling great, I usually try to do something fun with my boys, making memories that last.  I try to focus on the things that will make the most impact on my life and the lives of my husband and children. 

When you can't do what you have always done, then you only do what matters the most.  -Robert D. Hales

Let Go

I let go of things I just can't do.  I can't exercise no matter how much I'd like to.  I won't be a runner. I can't do all the cleaning in my house every day on my own. I can't make big plans ahead of time and always stick to them. My friends need to know that I may cancel at the last minute if I am unable to walk.  I can't travel alone, I need someone with me just in case. I can't lift heavy things.  And that's okay!  These things don't define me.

Adapt and Accept Help

I adapt. I have help with my deep cleaning every once in a while from my mom who lives about an hour away.  My boys have learned how to clean and help me keep things in order. I order groceries online and have them delivered. We even purchased a travel trailer so that we can still camp as a family. I keep friendships with people who understand my abilities and let go of guilt (and situations and people that put impossible expectations on me). I rely on my husband. A lot. I've made our house and lifestyle as simple and self sufficient as possible.

Focus On What I Can Do

I focus on all the things I can do. I can be a good mom. I can be a good wife. I can listen.  I can learn.  I can love.  I can create.  I can think.  I can play.  I can read. I can sing. I can teach. I can find ways to serve others. I can keep going and never give up. 

"I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.  And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." -Helen Keller

It's hard to admit that I have limitations, but when I say no to the things I cannot do, I allow space for all that I can do.  At times it can feel like I am the only one who is unable to do all things, but I know that is just my pride getting in the way of reality.  We each have our own limitations and trials in life and it is in working through these that we can become the best versions of ourselves. 

-Mary