A few years ago I was forced to do a little, okay a lot, of self reflection. When your life comes to a screeching halt and doctors aren’t immediately able to tell you what’s wrong it’s pretty natural to start looking inward. So I did that, looked inward, and honestly, I didn’t like everything I saw. I was already trudging through cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with my illness, still am, and what better place to bring that stuff I found but didn’t like? As I began to slowly and delicately sift through the mine fields of endless feelings a chronic illness brings on the therapist recommended a book. Little did I know, the book, and the philosophy, would change the perception of my reality. In the spirit of complete honesty, I took this quiz before ordering the book just to make sure that in fact the therapist was on to something. Oh was she ever…I failed miserably, think opposite of self compassion, which was shocking to me because I’m extremely compassionate to others. The quiz and the book have really helped me in immeasurable ways as I’ve continued down the chronic illness path. I thought today I would share some of the things I’ve learned with you in hopes that something might resonate with you and be helpful along the way.
- Accept your flaws. Let’s face it, we all have flaws. Unfortunately, with chronic illness some of us have a lot of ‘flaws’ that are out of our control and that’s incredibly frustrating. I personally have a wobbly gait due to vestibular dysfunction and it can be embarrassing. I know I appear drunk or overly medicated. Here’s the thing, yep I look drunk. Am I? Nope I don’t even drink. So I’ve accepted that, mostly. It’s uncomfortable when people look at me judgingly but can I control that? Nope. Acceptance sets you free a bit. And when you accept your flaws you actually begin to love yourself a bit more.
- Life has pain and insomnia. Pretty much everyone’s life has pain, both emotional and physical, and at some point insomnia too. With chronic illness the pain can be relentless and so can the insomnia. When the two decide to do the all-night tango, well that’s no fun. But here’s the thing. It’s happening, no matter how you choose to embrace it. I try to think what would I say to someone else in pain and unable to sleep. I would probably say I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry. I wish there was something I could do and perhaps I would hold or hug them. So folks I do that for me, I think compassionate thoughts, I cross my arms over myself and hold myself while accepting the pain, and the insomnia. I’m also honest and I tell myself this sucks! But it’s going to pass, the pain will pass, the night will end and neither have taken me yet, so I’m going to get through this. Honestly, at first it was awkward and felt weird but now it just comes to me naturally. Another thing I do is move on! I read, play games on my phone, I think about 10 things that are blessings. I take my mind somewhere else. Laying awake is a bummer, laying awake in pain is awful, but laying awake ruminating anxiously about it is the worst. It really helps to accept it, embrace it and then find something else to do with your brain. It’ll thank you in the morning.
- Set boundaries for yourself. This is a tough one! When you are used to doing everything for everyone and you are no longer able, well, I wouldn’t wish that guilt on anyone. It can be soul destroying, but transforming away from being everyone’s go-to person can be life changing. Making the transition from doing everything yourself in your family to ‘I cannot do things for others they can do for themselves’ is a steep journey, but boy once you reach the top you feel the greatest sense of freedom. It doesn’t obviously just stop with your family it also includes things like not making two doctors appointments in one day because you don’t have it in you. Saying no feels uncomfortable the first few times, but it gets easier and don’t let people around you guilt you into believing their wants or needs are more important than you doing what’s best for you, because they aren’t, they just aren’t.
- Put yourself first (I know scary right?). This kind of picks up where the above left off. It’s not just setting boundaries though, it’s also continuing to follow through by doing things like feeding yourself a snack for your blood sugar when you are hungry so you can be okay, even when the world is falling apart because everyone is hungry. Things like that. Sounds so selfish doesn’t it? I thought so, but it goes along the theory of put your oxygen mask on first. You have to take care of you so you can take care of anything else you need to do. As a compulsive caretaker this was difficult, I mean really difficult, and I still haven’t mastered it, but I’m better at it than I was. I am learning to put myself, my needs, my wants, and my desires somewhere before last.
- Let it be okay if you fail. No matter what failure means to you, we all mess up, say the wrong words, forget things, trip over nothing and generally let ourselves down. Those things are going to happen, it means you are alive. It’s how you deal with those things that matters way more than them happening. It’s your inner voice that either chastises you or comforts you. I had to train myself to think what would I say to a child if this happened? I would obviously comfort them. So with those words I would use to comfort them, I turn and comfort myself. Thankfully, I don’t really battle negative self-talk like other people I know, but I also did not comfort myself, at all. So now I’m learning that when I trip or stumble over my words I simply think, it’s okay. You’re ill and it’s not your fault, but most importantly everyone messes up, that’s just life. You have got to learn to give yourself a break, you are likely doing the very best you can.
- Spend time doing what you love. Life moves really quickly folks. If you keep putting things off until the right time you might miss out completely. Before my illness I multi-tasked my loves. I loved walking on the beach, so I’d walk with my son to spend quality time, and for the exercise, but I wasn’t really embracing it, I wasn’t taking the time to take it all in. I was focused on speed, steps, distance and my son’s well being. Don’t get me wrong those things are great, but I wasn’t getting in touch with me, I wasn’t in the moment. Now, obviously I have ample time, but I see it differently. Now instead of walking on the beach, which I miss desperately, I draw and paint. But as I’m doing that I appreciate the colors and the way the paint flows on the paper. I’m mindfully embracing my life, my loves and it feels really, really good. It’s new to me, decorating my own soul, but I think I kinda like it.
- Give yourself the encouragement you need. Be your most supportive inner voice, your own biggest fan!! It takes so much practice but just keep in mind what a loving, supportive person would say to you at any given moment. Learn to laugh at yourself, learn to cry for yourself. You know that feeling when you receive the biggest, best hug and you let it wash over you? Find it, embrace it, it’s in there just try get in touch with it. I had no idea where to look for it and the CALM app helped me find my self compassion. It was hiding in the Loving Kindness meditation option. Well the key to unlocking my own was. Hoping you find ways to keep on encouraging yourself even when your body feels like it’s doing nothing but letting you down.
Thank you for reading along! I really appreciate that you’ve taken time out of your day to read my thoughts. I hope that today you take time for you, to listen to your inner needs and wants. It’s not easy when you’re ill to love the body that is failing you, but it’s imperative for your mental health, and in turn your physical health. Please feel free to share your thoughts or even ways in which you practice self compassion in the comments. 🙂
Normally I post one of my more recent painting(s) at the end but none of them really jump out at me this week so here’s a quick little one from April.