Making New Year’s Resolutions While Chronically Ill

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by Claire Richmond |

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It’s that time of year again, when many of my friends and those on social media are making vision boards and charting paths to achieve their life goals. New Year, new you, right?

As a human who is chronically ill and limited by pain, it can all feel overwhelming and exclusive. It begs the question, are New Year’s resolutions ableist?

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My acute hepatic porphyria (AHP) dictates daily life, and it is unpredictable. My attacks and flares don’t follow a schedule, so I can’t set plans in stone. Knowing this, how can I set realistic New Year’s resolutions that I can actually keep?

There was a time before my chronic symptoms when I would make lofty life goals every Jan. 1. I’d break them down into different parts of my life to build a strategy for what I wanted to accomplish that year. It energized me, and made me hopeful I was working toward something big.

Fast-forward to life after a series of severe porphyria attacks left me with debilitating chronic pain and unpredictable levels of energy. Now, the thought of making New Year’s resolutions like I used to can slide me sideways into an anxiety tailspin. Not to mention a deep shame spiral.

That’s because how I’ve traditionally thought of New Year’s resolutions would set any chronically ill person up for disaster.

I entered a query into my Google search bar, looking for the most popular goals for a new year. Consider a few of the top hits: Eat healthy and lose weight, cut back on the Netflix, and get up early to exercise.

By unpacking these resolutions one by one, it’s easy to see how each could be considered harmful for a person with porphyria. For instance, rather than eating healthy and losing weight, my medically prescribed high-carb diet prevents symptoms, but certainly does not promote weight loss. In fact, restricting carbohydrates and losing weight is harmful to people with AHP and often precipitates attacks.

Watching less TV is tricky because it can be the easiest way for me to practice self-care on a low-energy or high-pain day, when I may need to lie on a heating pad or am too anxious to read. Getting up early to exercise is something I did in my past life, but these days, my body needs far more sleep.

Certainly, any of these examples do not make sense for someone with AHP. Still, I do not believe New Year’s resolutions are inherently ableist.

I think my biggest beef with traditional New Year’s resolutions is that they value accomplishments. If I’ve learned anything from losing my career and ability to work full-time, it’s that what you do is not equal to what you’re worth.

Over the last few years, I’ve sworn off this doomed tradition and took a social media hiatus in the days leading up to the new year. But I don’t think avoidance is the answer. I think redefining how I write resolutions is.

This Jan. 1, I’m not unplugging from my newsfeeds. And for 2021, I’m rethinking my resolutions. Instead of what I want to do next year, I’m focusing on how and who I want to be.

How can I be kinder to myself when I am in pain? How can I better prevent symptoms, nurture my body, and rebuild that trust within? How can I be more mindful every day and prioritize my mental health?

Will you join me in refreshing a tired old approach to writing New Year’s resolutions? Share your comments below about how you are rethinking resolutions this year!

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Note: Porphyria News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Porphyria News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to porphyria.