Happy New Year!
It’s hard to believe we’re already in the first few days of 2016—so exciting!!
I love the new year because it’s such a restorative time, a perfect opportunity to reflect on the past and set intentions for the months ahead. As silly as it can be, I’m definitely one of those people who loves writing out my resolutions for the new year; it’s kind of a ritual for me to sit with myself and really think them through. For my 2016 Resolutions, I broke them down into categories like “lymphedema,” “work,” “relationships,” “self”… (It goes on and on, because I’m kind of list-obsessed. Apps like Wunderlist and Google Keep are great for keeping it all organized!). Writing them down is an important part of the process for me, because it helps solidify my commitment to them while also keeping me accountable, even if it’s just to myself.
One of my biggest resolutions this year is to regularly update the blog and its social media accounts. It’s been hard lately to keep up—I recently returned to school as a full-time student while also working a couple part-time jobs and freelance gigs—but this is important to me, and I need to be proactive in making it a priority again. I love being busy, but something’s not working when I can’t give ample attention to all of my priorities! (“Better time management” is another one of my resolutions.) I’m mentioning this because I’m hoping you all can help keep me accountable on this one! ;)
For us lymphies, the new year is a great time to look at our health habits—both physical and mental—and see what we need to work on, and what we can carry over with us into the new year. While we examine ourselves and pick out the things we want to change, it’s important to remember to do this from a place of self-love. In addition to recognizing what we want to do differently, it’s good to also acknowledge the growth we have accomplished. This is a rejuvenating time, not a punitive one!
In honor of the new year, I’ve come up with four resolutions for lymphies to take into 2016. Feel free to share some of your own in the comments section!
New Year’s Resolutions for Lymphies
- Be consistent with your lymphedema care routine. Wear your garment daily. Practice your manual lymphatic drainage massages. Use your compression pump. Keep up with your lymphedema therapy appointments and doctor visits. Whatever it is that you do to manage your lymphedema, do it, because it is only through consistent and proactive self-care that your health will benefit! When I went for my appointment at the beginning of December, the volume of my swelling was down 4% from my visit six months prior—my lowest measurements on record for the entire year!—and it was all because I had been wearing my compression stocking daily and using my compression pump. So yes, sometimes it’s difficult to do what we need to, or it’s frustrating, or we just simply don’t feel like it—I get it. But taking the time to do these things is worth it. Your health is worth it!
- Change the way you approach your lymphedema care. In the midst of all the bandages and stockings and pumps, it’s easy to breed some sort of resentment towards your lymphedema. At best, your care routine can feel like an inconvenience; at worst, a dreaded part of your day. Living with a chronic medical condition can take its toll mentally and emotionally, and it’s easy for us to overlook that part of our self-care. You can change the way you approach your lymphedema and your care, however, by creating new associations with them. Subvert any negative feelings towards your lymphedema by making your self-care a positive experience: elevate your affected limb while watching one of your favorite movies; use a delicious-smelling lotion during your massages; get lost in that book you’ve been wanting to read while doing your compression pump treatment; light some candles and have your partner help with your manual lymphatic drainage (but make sure they’ve been properly trained in the technique first!). One of my favorite things to do is to paint my toenails, because it’s an exercise in celebrating my puffy foot instead of hiding it like I’m so used to doing. I also love using my hour-long compression pump treatments as a time for meditation and reflection; I get so relaxed that I sometimes fall asleep. By making these parts of your routine a pleasurable ritual, you’ll likely find yourself actually looking forward to your self-care rather than dreading it!
- Confront your negative thoughts with positive ones. Having such a visible medical condition can lead to a lot of insecurity and negative self-talk, which can influence our self-esteem and even our feelings of self-worth. Some days, these thoughts can be crippling and completely unsettling: My lymphedema makes me ugly. I look deformed. Everyone is staring at my swelling. I am damaged. Who could ever love me? When these toxic and harmful thoughts come up, directly challenge them with positive ones: I am more than my swelling. I am grateful for my health. My experiences with lymphedema give me a capacity for empathy and understanding of others. I am loveable, I am worthy, and I am deserving of respect. Repeat these positive affirmations until the negative thoughts subside. If you need to write these down and keep them in your wallet or on your phone for easy access, do it. It may seem silly, but positive thinking and self-talk can do wonders if you really put in the work! When I practiced confronting my negative thoughts with positive affirmations, I noticed a change in my confidence and self-esteem. Now, I’m comfortable with myself in ways I had never been before. For example, I used to be mortified at the thought of someone seeing my compression stocking, but now I openly wear my stocking with cropped pants or dresses without worrying about what other people may say or think—a huge thing for me, which took a long time and lots of work to accomplish, but I got there. Our thoughts are incredibly powerful, so we might as well use their power for good.
- Be an ambassador of awareness. We’ve all experienced it, those awkward questions about our lymphedema: “What happened to your leg?” “What’s that sleeve on your arm?” They’re usually well-meaning, but sometimes they can catch us off-guard or cause us to feel a little shame or embarrassment. These can be teachable moments, however, and a valuable opportunity to spread awareness about lymphedema. Just a simple “I have a lymphatic condition” is enough, but if the person is curious to know more and you are comfortable sharing, it can be empowering to talk about your lymphedema. I’ve found that most people genuinely want to learn more about it because it’s something they’ve never heard of before. I’ve also found that it really helps me to share, too, because openly discussing what is usually my biggest insecurity lessens the shame I feel around it. Going outside of my comfort zone like that is kind of cathartic. Next time you’re feeling brave, give it a try! If you want to be especially proactive, you can hand out an informational card like the ones offered by the Lymphedema Treatment Act or wear some lymphie gear to start a meaningful conversation about lymphedema. (And don’t forget to contact your representatives about the Lymphedema Treatment Act!!) Talking about lymphedema increases our visibility and creates opportunity for change.
There are certainly days where these resolutions are easier said than done. There is an element of grieving when living with a chronic medical condition that can make it difficult to navigate through the fog, and I am by no means discounting that—I get stuck in that fog, too. But by taking a more proactive and intentional role in our self-care, we can be our own beacons of light and guide ourselves through. Our light can help guide others, too.
I am so grateful to embark on yet another year with you all. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and bright new year, and remember: stay elevated!