So far, I have kept most of my blogging focused on the horses. However, given my current struggles with seizures, I think this is a good time to address the issue of dealing with chronic illness as an equestrian.
I have spent all 22 years of my life dealing with chronic illnesses, jumping from one diagnosis to the next. I have asthma, allergies, migraines, and a plethora of unidentified symptoms that now seem to be some sort of obscure seizures.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), half of all (American) adults – approximately 117 million people – had one or more chronic health conditions as of 2012 and one in four adults had two or more chronic health conditions. Millions of people struggle with chronic illnesses every day all over the world. Chronic health conditions affect everyone differently. Some of us look healthy enough to those around us.
If you struggle from an illness that does not leave you visibly impaired, you may face questions and even criticism from those who do not understand that not all chronic conditions are visible. It can be hard to explain to some people that not all seizures look like convulsions. In some cases – including yours truly – they may simply look like someone spacing out and not paying attention. There are any number of condition that leave people with similar difficulties trying to explain that asthma can indeed be so debilitating that a sufferer can’t walk some days or that PTSD can be so severe that someone can’t function in large crowds or around loud noises or even that people who are not veterans can suffer from PTSD for any number of reasons. The list of “invisible” disabilities goes on, but I think you get the point. Whether your disability is visible or not, there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Don’t Compare yourself to Others
I was fortunate that I had gotten to point where I could usually function relatively unimpeded by my disabilities. I was usually able to walk, trot, and canter as much as I pleased, practice dressage, do a little western reining, and generally not have to restrict myself a whole lot. However, with this latest episode of seizures, I have gone into a period where I am back to being rather restricted. I mostly walk, with a little trotting. I can do some dressage, but after being unable to ride for 2 weeks I have to bring my core muscles back into shape and be careful not to push my spinal injury too hard. It will be a few weeks before I can canter again, but that’s for my own safety as the seizures have been messing with my balance.
There is no reason to feel ashamed that you can do less than someone else. Your first priority must be your own safety and the safety of the horse. It is not fair to compare yourself to anyone else. Rather than focusing on doing better than another rider, you should focus on doing more than you did yesterday.
Maybe yesterday you posted the trot for 5 strides. Today try to post 6. If you can’t, that’s ok. Maybe your health is worse today. Instead of trotting, you might be able to walk outside of the arena for 5 minutes. That’s something that you didn’t do yesterday, so you’ve still made progress. You’ve still accomplished something.
Set GoalsSetting goals is important because it gives you something to keep fighting for. Click To Tweet
When battling chronic illness, setting goals is important because it gives you something to keep fighting for. I know that my goals with my horses are the only things that keep me going some days.
There are 3 types of goals you should be setting. First, you should set that one big life goal that you are always working towards, the gold at the end of the rainbow, so to speak. The life goal can be a little unrealistic, but not too far out there. Do you want to be a professional trainer? A world champion? A breeder?
Then there are the long-term goals that are big, but not too big. These goals shouldn’t be more than 2 to 4 years off. You should have at least 2 of these. They might include things like get a new horse, winning a state championship, or breeding your mare.
Of course, the most important are your short-term goals these are the goals that influence your life the most at the moment. They may include learning to canter, improving your posting trot, or learning to extend your horse’s walk.
Goals give you direction and a purpose when you get in the saddle. When battle chronic illness, every moment in the saddle is especially precious and you don’t want to waste it due to a lack of direction. Goals help you keep your focus and give you something else to focus on even if just for a little while.