Generally, approaches to coping during illness (lupus or other chronic illnesses) are individually-focused. The premise is that we are the only ones we can control. Control, realistically being only an illusion, is something we expect to achieve anyway.
In following up on the last post about Network Remodeling (Sorry, we have a weak connection… ), it is important that we recognize the roles our relationships play in how we manage our health and – basically – our lives. Focusing only on the medical information, research, nutrition, medications and treatment options often overlooks a key element in our daily lives: we are social creatures. To not take into consideration the effects that relationships have on our well-being is one of the downfalls of health research, because we do not live in isolated test tubes. Nor is our physical self that far detached from our social/emotional self. Those of us with overactive immune systems need to remember that.
For now, I’m not talking about seeking support from others to help in coping. What I am talking about is how our relationships can either nurture or interfere with our efforts to individually manage our health challenges as we get through our holidays.
Again, network remodeling is a term coined by social support researchers (Renee F. Lyons, et al., 1995) to recognize the relationship-focused coping strategies used by individuals living with chronic illness. This particular strategy targets the creation or changes of their social network web in order for it to be more supportive or productive.
Remodeling will sometimes occur automatically due to the challenges illness(es) create in relationships, such as the loss of energy to socialize or the discomfort people around us feel from not knowing what to say or do to ‘fix things’.
In the last post, the suggestion was to write out a list of people you anticipate in having to spend time with this holiday season. The goal is to identify the supportive (nice), significant relationships in your life to invest what energy you do have towards nurturing them as you would yourselves. For those that are less supportive (naughty or difficult), it’s time to take a look at them BEFORE you have to spend your holidays stressing out about them.
When we find ourselves isolated or limited in our resources to socialize, many of us turn to the internet and/or social networking sites. It is ridiculously easy to build a ‘social network’ with strangers without ever having to put ourselves into the commitment that friendships, in reality, do require. We “friend ” people we will never have to meet face-to-face. We “follow ” people we would never agree to doing literally in person. The language used in these sites give us a false sense of connection, just as having a lot of people in our networks does not mean they are our friends who would be there for us, if needed.
Creating and evaluating a virtual social network is as easy as a click, with little possibility for trouble. Losing a virtual friend will more than likely not affect your ‘real’ friends. However, creating and remodeling an in-person network can really hurt. Not just in dealing with emotions/situations like shyness, awkward moments, heartache, guilt, anger and resentment, but it will also hurt you physically with the stress you experience in going through building or eliminating- it will engage your immune system either way.
Remodeling isn’t, by the way, just hacking up the list of people you know you aren’t seeing eye-to-eye with. It’s to shape and sculpt – regularly - the list of resources and opportunities you have to share your life and energy with that will support you in thriving.
If you have already written the list of people, the next step is to begin the remodeling process for this holiday season only. This isn’t for the long term – these are the holidays and let’s just get through the month for now, shall we? If you did put the names in columns (I used “nice” and “difficult” columns), take a look at where the weight lies – meaning, which list is bigger? The ‘nice‘ column is now your holiday season network. That’s it. That is where the majority of your energy will be spent nurturing those people who feed your support needs – perhaps with real food, too.
Now, for those in your ‘difficult‘ column – these are the ones you will now consider for placement in your social calendar. There are two rules:
- Rule #1: They don’t all get in.
- Rule #2: You have to contact those who don’t get in and honestly say that it’s going to be too much to see them during the holidays and wish them a great 2009. Cards are fine.
Remember, ‘difficult’ means just that – not impossible. There is actually positive stuff that can come out of a rough connection~ namely, just as it is with an electrical circuit, we learn a lot about ourselves in both the ‘positive’ and the ‘negative’.
Once you get through the list of people one by one, note on the side of the name either a “Y“ or “N“ which answers one or all of these questions:
1. Can I give this person 5-15-30-60 minutes of my life if I promise myself that is all I have to give them?
2. Can I be around this person without harming the relationships with someone in my ‘nice’ column?
3. Would time with this person potentially help someone in my “nice” column – as a gift to them?
4. Can I allow a time-out from my hurt feelings, as a gift to myself, so that I may enjoy being with others this holiday season?
Hopefully, you won’t have too many people to go through and pick no more than half of the people from this list, because you really don’t need to stress yourself into a short circuit or flare. What you do need to do is ‘decorate’ your network for the holidays with a working string of lights and enjoy the view. The New Year will be here soon enough to take apart your tree and begin anew.