The Art of Relinquishing Control
I like the title of this article because it makes the subject sound deep, philosophical, or maybe even a bit spiritual. As if I might pontificate on the practice of releasing control over the uncontrollable aspects of your life as a way of reaching a higher plane or coming to terms with your disease.
Had I such wisdom to impart, rest assured that I would. Instead, I’m writing to you about more practical matters. When I talk about relinquishing control, I mean control over aspects of your life that are unnecessarily causing stress, anxiety, and therefore contributing to increased disease activity.
If you’re anything like me, you like to have a certain amount of control over things. I’m a planner. I might not always follow the plan that I create, but I like to take charge of planning days, events, vacations, work projects, etc. (I even create documents to plan future writing endeavors, blog posts, and art projects). I wouldn’t call myself a ‘control freak’ by any means (I’m perfectly fine when things don’t go as planned), but I’ll admit that I do have a little trouble handing over control to others.
But that control comes at a cost, especially for those of us with AxSpA who only have a certain number of spoons to work with in a day. So here’s some food for thought on relinquishing control as a way of managing challenging days with AxSpA.
Planning itself can be exhausting
Let’s be frank--planning itself can be exhausting and it’s only the pre-event or pre-trip work. When I plan for our frequent road-trips and travel plans, I spend hours researching hotels, travel routes, restaurants, and destinations. And when dealing with chronic pain, plans get a whole lot more complex and more stressful.
Then, there’s the planning that involves physical work, such as packing, shopping, cleaning, coordinating, and what have you. I take charge of planning partially because I know that the stakes are higher for me. If I forget my heating pad or pick an uncomfortable hotel or if I choose to make foods that will increase my inflammation levels, that’s on me.
But the stress and fatigue of planning also detracts from the energy I have for the event itself. That’s why I’ve been working on releasing some control and trusting my loved ones to help.
For example, my wife and I have a system where she does much of the heavy lifting and physical part of planning, and she always double-checks my list to make sure I’ve remembered all the items of my chronic illness toolkit. Having that second set of eyes and a reassuring voice of reason can be a huge stress-reliever.
Being at peace with what you cannot control
Relinquishing control means two things for me: first, loosening up on the reigns when it comes to planning and second, going with the flow when things don’t go as planned.
I consider myself lucky to have a partner who checks me by telling me when I’m doing too much, reminding me to relax, and insisting on helping with tasks that will likely cause me pain. She’s also there to remind me that plans change and that’s okay.
Improvisation is okay too, and often necessary regardless of how much I try to control for everything. Sometimes my joint pain gets the best of me and I have to excuse myself, even in the midst of a party or crowd, and go seek rest. If I’m at the house of a loved-one, I make sure to speak up to identify a comfortable, quiet space to nurse my pain. If I’m out at a restaurant or event, I know I can always excuse myself even if that means lounging in the car for a while and missing out on part of a show that cost me money.
Remain flexible when planning with a chronic illness
In reality, living with AxSpA often means living with unpredictability. As much as I rest, prepare, and try to anticipate any and every need that may arise during a trip or event, I cannot control the future. Something is likely to change or surprise me. Being at peace with relative unpredictability helps control stress, and stress needs to be kept in check to avoid increased inflammation and symptoms.
As you move in and out of busy seasons of the year, make sure to look out for yourself. Consider all your options, and understand that change is an option too. The need for control may seem like a good solution when planning for AxSpA pain and fatigue, but insistence on control is also a stressor.
Ultimately, remaining flexible may be the best plan for planning with a chronic illness.
Can you tell when a flare is coming?