You may recall that for a few years, I have used the occasion of the New Year to reflect on what I had accomplished in the outgoing year. I started this habit based on the advice of a former therapist. She also recommended that I develop a list of goals that I wanted to work on in 2020, and I adopted that suggestion as well.
I have to admit that the first year, I was not certain whether I wanted to adopt this as a tradition going forward. I was not one to make “New Year’s Resolutions” each year. I was such a consummate planner that I did not see the need to make a special effort for what I would do in the New Year. I would just continue to always plan my life out as I always had.
But the therapist has won me over. I found that when I engaged in this practice, it dawned on me that despite my chronic illness, I can still achieve some pretty awesome goals. But I realized that planning is only half of the equation of making and following through on intentional goals. There is a very important first step: To be able to know what you need to do going forward, you need to look back at the past. You need to figure out what was done well, what was done poorly, and what you neglected to do.
As a student of history, I don’t know how I failed to see the critical need to assess where I was in my life each year and make adjustments to previous goals, or to develop new goals. (I am not alone in this regard. If you read watch the news, you will see a multitude of examples of people not learning from mistakes and history.) I think I also realized how useful it is in my treatment to periodically re-evaluate whether medications, diet, exercise and other health goals are working. I concluded that looking backwards is perhaps the only logical way to make sure your next steps are in a positive direction.
Last year, I noted that I had never lived up to my goal of writing a book (originally the plan was to write a novel). I said that maybe I would not write a novel, especially since much of my time was spent on working on the blog. But certainly the blog has given me lots of ideas that could turn into a book either fiction or non-fiction. This year, I didn’t start writing a book, but I at least created a list of blog posts that I can analyze and develop book ideas. A new ministry director at my church has actually written a book that was published on Amazon Prime, and my sister-in-law’s nephew with autism has illustrated a book that is also sold on Amazon Prime. So these people are inspiring me to get a move on and start putting something on paper!
I continue a goal that I set a few years ago to devote my writing skills to other endeavors. Those endeavors are all related to writing projects for the church. While this is rewarding, I want to see if I can’t branch out a bit and so I may be looking for other venues that might need some written work product. I love writing because it makes me use my brain skills to organize thoughts and plan out the flow of a particular creative or even technical idea. The more time my brain skills are spent on analyzing and creating, the less time the brain cells can detour to anxious thoughts.
When it comes to anxiety, I have a new goal this year. While I think I have made strides in getting my obsessive compulsive disorder under control, there is still room for improvement. Let me be clear. My OCD does not involve organizing and reorganizing my cabinets or making sure that the items in my living room all face a certain direction. My OCD is internal to me - causing me to obsess on certain thoughts that then turn into anxieties.
What is the solution? I am putting some thought into some activities that can stop the OCD thoughts in their track – or maybe even short circuit them so that they don’t happen at all. Writing is one way I do this. Prayer is another way. I think anything that focuses me on more positive thoughts and activities is the key to getting control of my OCD.
Speaking of prayer, I am an elder in my church for the next three years. This means that I am expected to offer prayers at a variety of events. A number of years ago, I tried to craft each prayer so that it was not just me talking to God but hopefully pulling the other members of the congregation into the conversation with God. I think I am doing better, but again, there is always room for improvement in making it an elder’s prayer more of a communal experience. One other thing I could improve is spontaneity. I tend to be very scripted, writing out my prayers before I go to the events. I don’t think I am unusual in this regard. But I have noticed that prayers that are more spontaneous seem like they come from the heart, and seem to be more sincere.
Last year, I said that I needed to pick up few new pieces of furniture to make my condo homier, more cozy and to reflect more of my style. I did pick up some new furniture, to include a hutch that has some display space. Now I need to figure out what to display on the shelves that both shows my personality as well as helps me store items more efficiently.
In addition to décor, the condo is of the age where things are starting to be replaced. Last year, I replaced a water heater and a microwave oven. This year, I am thinking about renovating one of my bathrooms. The building I live in is about 30 years old, and while previous owners replaced and renovated, well the life cycle of appliances and décor only last so long. The other advantage is that it helps me channel energy into creative endeavors and again away from anxiety.
Last year, a goal was to start a chronic illness support group. This goal came to life in the summer. This year, we need to make it more accessible in terms of letting people know it is available as well as to provide more opportunities not only to discuss chronic illnesses but maybe to learn about what we can do to help navigate the uncertainty of chronic illnesses. We also are beginning to use technology to help us meet – such as using conference call capabilities during the meeting and on-line ways to keep in touch. We will continue to explore how to open up the channels of communication so that the members can reap more benefits.
Of course, it has always been my goal to stay ahead of heart failure. Every day that I can stay within my weight, diet, fluid and exercise goals is a day that my heart can continue to function better than expected. But this means also looking for new options when it comes to treatment. In 2019, I learned about a study for a new drug called Omecamtive Mecarbil. At the end of the year, after several appointments and tests, I learned that I was eligible for the study.
So for about six months of this year, I will be participating in the study and the de-brief from the study. The theory is that the drug will help the heart pump better. This particular phase of the study tracks exercise capability on the drug. I have no clue whether I the investigational drug or a placebo was assigned to me. But to me, that doesn’t matter. In order to make it a valid study, someone has to have the placebo. But even if I didn’t get the real drug, well I would be helping legitimize the study so that it can hopefully produce outstanding results and move forward for approval by the Food and Drug Administration. This would truly give my life meaning, and hopefully at some point mean an improvement in chances for all of us who have heart failure.
And finally, just like last year, I need to make it an intentional goal to have more fun and enjoy life. This is important because I believe having enjoying life is what makes us young at heart (and my heart needs all the youth it can get). As an example, my sister and her college roommate came to visit me one weekend in December. We spent some time in the lobby talking to someone on the staff of our building.
After they left, this staff member said that she thought my sister and college roommate were a lot of fun, and that we really seemed to be enjoying ourselves. She could not believe that all three of us were over the age of 60. She asked what our secret was for looking so young.
My sister put it the best: the secret is good living and laughing a lot. So hopefully your either intentional or unintentional goals will include these items!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.