We talked recently about telling the truth about our disease. When we do that, we need to come face to face with others’ expectations of us, and whether we’re going to try to meet them or not. In the face of our diseases, one of the things we must deal with is that we cannot be all things to all people. We must balance caring for others, appropriately, with caring for ourselves. Finding balance is never about reaching perfection and staying there, it’s always a process of adjustment and change.

This is a women’s issue because most of us women expect ourselves to keep a certain standard of order around us, despite years of feminism. We see ourselves as having to care for everyone. Research shows our brains are organized to multi-task and manage our immediate surroundings, much more than men’s. I have always lived at war with myself with my perfectionism coupled with an ability to be pretty organized but only if things go a particular way - I have trouble being flexible and still staying orderly. In the brief periods in my life when I lived alone I was pretty organized.

Living with 3 people with ADHD, while being chronically ill myself, has challenged my organizational abilities way beyond their limits and most of the time I am overwhelmed and just give up, but then the perfectionism pops in and I struggle up again and try to organize everything. And so it goes. Living with Migraine disease and the other chronic ills I struggle with has taught me something about when to give it up and say it’s not that important. I have also had to accept that my dear wonderful husband will work his tail off to feed us and run the errands and make sure the homework is done and the kids are well and happy and in bed, and he’ll try to keep up with the dishes and keep the mess down, but if I’m out of the action chances are I will get up to a mess because he can’t keep up with it on his own. I care how my home looks, and my pride has had to take some pretty hard hits, many times. Because no matter how bad I feel about the mess, my health is more important than how my home looks.

Lots of chronically ill women I know rely on their loved ones to shoulder a hefty share of work around the house, but lots more try to get it all done themselves, and run themselves into the ground. Letting go is an art. We need to let our loved ones know what we need, we need to communicate about what needs to be done and how best to split the work, and we need to accept that it won’t all get done. We will all, every one of us, die with things on our to-do lists. If we’re perfectionists, and we need to rely on others, we need to accept that things won’t be done to our standards. And live with it.

Chronically ill folk often report that their extended family members don’t understand - they don’t want to visit because our homes aren’t the way they expect. They come to visit and we are doing our best to make them comfortable, but there’s this sense that it’s all on top of something wrong - like icing on a mud-pie. Chances are they have no idea about what we struggle with on a daily basis, what it takes to be chronically ill and just manage the basics of life. Chances are we try to put on our game face and look like everything is okay, because really, who wants to complain all the time, or talk about all this negative stuff?

There’s no substitute for communication. We need to tell people that we’d love to have them visit (if that’s the case) but that they must take us as they find us, and we must lay down some ground rules. They need to understand we are ill, and we are doing the best we can. If coming to visit means pitching in, we need to let them know that. If they can’t accept that, maybe they shouldn’t be visiting.

We can’t expect to change people. Most people respond well to open, honest, uncritical communication. Some people don’t. Some people are toxic to us. A friend recently shared about cleaning her house for the visit of a very exacting and critical relative - one who would apparently not be satisfied no matter what. A key ground rule might be to establish your home as a no criticism zone. A really key part is knowing that you don’t owe anything to toxic people. You need an atmosphere that supports your health and probably the biggest piece of that is having the people in your life support your health. If you had a pet you were terribly allergic to you would be very sad and you would not blame the pet but I hope you would find another home for that pet! Toxic people are like that - you don’t even have to blame them. You just have to stay away from them - to stay alive!

Don’t let yourself be defined by those who criticize you, and don’t let being a woman mean you can’t sit down and rest. You need to take care of you, because without you, nothing else matters.

- Megan

Author's Bio: 

Megan Oltman is a migraineur, an entrepreneur, and a Migraine Management Coach, helping migraineurs and people with chronic illness manage their lives, keep working, start and maintain businesses, and live purposeful lives. She also practices as a professional divorce mediator. Over the years, she's been a practicing attorney, a free-lance writer, and a business coach and advisor. Megan has a free Migraine management course, The Six Keys to Manage your Migraines and Take Back your Life, available at http://www.takebackyourlifefrommigraine.com Her writings on Migraine and more tools for managing life with Migraine can be found at http://www.freemybrain.com