A look at Control and Chronic Conditions

Control, in the world of chronic conditions, is an interesting topic. I am using the term chronic as ‘something that persists for a long time’ and/or is ‘constantly recurring’.

Wanting to control is prevalent in all areas of human society, and when it comes to chronic conditions we want to be able to control it, so we personally feel better about it. This type of control has no benefit to the animal/person living with the chronic conditions, because it is more about how we look at the condition, and in many cases, how we want it to not be part of our life, because it brings us discomfort.

We don’t know how to be with it, to respond to it. It can bring up so many feelings that we don’t want to engage with. Feelings of guilt with laminitis in horses is a big one. ‘Feeling sorry for’ can also be a pervasive reaction to any type of chronic physical or behavioural affliction, whether it is in animals or people.

As we start to move into a world of learning more about mental health, we have now started to push away even further by allowing new belief systems to control our thoughts, such as chronic physical conditions come about from over-thinking, stress, anxiety, etc, and maybe they do in some cases, but telling a person or animal that, does not help them; particularly if the reason you are telling them is so they might go away and sort out their mental health, so you feel better.

We humans like to put things in boxes. We are obsessed with it. If it is in a box we can put a lid on it and then stick a label on top.

But, if, for example, we took out three individuals from the box and asked them ‘How do you feel about your condition’, we will often find a different reality if we can listen without judgement. Each one will have a different response to the question, and then we have a choice. We can create 3 more different boxes, or take a step back and let go of trying to control them, and ask ourselves a question:

Just reading this question will start some people shouting at the page such comments as :

‘That is so selfish!’ ‘It is not about me, it is about them!’.

But, really…How do you feel about that animal/persons condition?

We must try not to define with labels and be aware of our words. Humans have a lot of words, but in a way they are also very limited. We often need more words to be kinder with our words. For example, I could describe my pony in two ways:

“Querida is a lovely natured pony who suffers on and off with laminitis” or

“Querida is a laminitic”.

One sentence is very open and loving, the other is in a box where it can be controlled. When you say the sentences there are different feelings attached, feelings we share everytime we say them. Imagine how these two sentences would feel to your animal when stated in their presence.

We can control our actions, what we do. In a domesticated environment we are responsible for the health and wellbeing of those dependant on us for the basics of their care, (food water, safety and security), whether it is an animal, a child, or an adult with limited physical abilities or a chronic condition. What we are in control of, responsible for, is the environment in which we care for them. For a horse that suffers with laminitis we may have to limit access to grass to maintain their health. That is ours to control. The horse may have feelings about that. The feelings are theirs to control. We can only support them by allowing them to have those feelings, not try to change them.

What we do should always come from a place of knowing why we are doing something, and really understanding where the decision to do something has come from. Do you feel peaceful about what you are doing? If you feel anything other than peace with it, then it is something that has to be understood. For instance I did not feel peaceful with using muzzles for a long time. The reason was that my intention wasn’t coming from a peaceful place of creating an environment of health, wellbeing, safety and security to the best of my ability. It was coming from a place of feeling like I had to control what they ate. A very different feeling, that once changed within, expanded outwards to a peaceful exchange of support for and co-operation from the horses.

Our thoughts, or what we believe about something is also what we can control. For instance, I went along with a belief system, for a long time, that providing free hay in the form of putting out bales so the horses could eat when they wanted, was healthy and more natural. But, something changed when I took a step back and re-examined this thinking in relation to the health and well being of the herd I was responsible for, the environment they live in, and how I manage that environment. I changed it. Access to hay is limited in the herd now and they are all much healthier for it, particularly in winter when they have to work harder to find a good bit of grass or forage deeper into the hedges. Remember though, this is about individuals and my environment will be different to anothers. Nothing is right for everyone, but getting out of the box and questioning your own belief system is what you can control.

We can control where our attention is. Is our attention on the needs of the individual, or is our attention on our need to be seen to be doing the right thing? Is our attention on what we can do right now, or are we planning for something that may never happen? Is our attention on the whole horse, or on the hoof? Consistently asking ourselves where our attention is helps us to know when our feelings are not supporting what is happening right here, right now.

To summarise, when you are in a position of sharing your life with animals that suffer with chronic behaviours or conditions, take it as a place to learn and understand how you use your words, why you take the actions you take, what belief system underlays your thought processes, where your attention is, and how all of these affect the feelings you share with your animal. And animals include the humans in our lives to.

Ren Hurst – The Wisdom of Wildness

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