By Julie Ryan
When you live with chronic illness your self-esteem takes a beating. You are no longer able to do many of the things you used to do, you are forced to rely on others for help with often simple things, you may no longer be able to work, and you might gain weight and see your looks change in other ways. There are just so many ways that living with chronic illness makes you feel bad, makes you feel that others don’t love you as much, and even that you don’t love yourself.
I went through this during the first couple of years after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Not only did I not love myself, I practically hated myself and it showed. It showed in how I treated myself, but it also showed in how I treated others. Instead of giving others the benefit of the doubt I assumed they felt the same way about me that I did, therefore I looked for the worst in every action from others. Rather than feeling that perhaps they were acting out of love when they tried to help me, I “knew” they were acting with ill intent. They must have ill will towards me, because how could they possibly love me when I didn’t love myself. How could anyone love me? I knew that certainly no one could.
Sadly, I was about half right. I was right in the knowledge that others can’t fully love me if I don’t love myself. But, I was wrong in assuming that they didn’t love me or that they were acting out of ill will. They may not have taken the actions that I would have wanted them to take, but they were doing the best they could with the information they had available.
Had I been able to better love myself, I could have looked for their positive intentions and, more importantly, I could have helped them know what actions would actually help me rather than hurt me (even if it was only emotionally).
During the height of my illness I pushed too many people away. People who only wanted to help me, but they couldn’t help me because I wasn’t ready or able to help myself.
I still struggle at times to love myself. I carry a lot of self-doubt. I question too many things and too many people. I question myself and my own intentions (which is probably a good thing). But, I have learned to love myself. And, I’ve learned that loving myself is a choice. It’s not something I’m going to just wake up doing every single day. Sure, there are days when I wake up happy and love myself and know that I can do anything, but there are still many days when I wake up doubting myself, doubting my choices.
Those are the days where I have to actively choose to love myself. Choosing to love myself is about more than just saying “I love myself.” It’s about all the little things I choose to do throughout the day. I have to work for it. I have to constantly remind myself to make choices that put myself first. I have to remind myself of the things that matter.
Choosing to love myself first is about reminding myself that things will work out when they should as they should. When I push for things to happen because it’s something that I want, I’m not loving myself well. I’m stressing myself out. Instead of pushing and pushing for things that perhaps shouldn’t happen at all, I have to slow down and take things one step at a time.
Choosing to love myself first often means reminding myself of how important I am to others. For me this means taking the time to call up someone that I know cares about me. Someone who will fill my cloudy day with a silver lining and leave me smiling. By letting them show me that they love me, I am loving myself.
Sometimes loving myself well requires reminding myself that it’s OK to feel down. We all have bad days. The bad days are necessary for us to appreciate the good days. When I try to force myself to feel “up,” I’m not loving myself because I’m not letting myself work through whatever needs to be worked through, nor am I giving myself a chance to appreciate the amazing days that will come.
Loving myself involves forgiveness. I have to remind myself that I must not only forgive others, but that it’s just as important (if not more so) to forgive myself. When I waste time reliving the errors of my ways, I’m not loving myself well. Loving myself means letting go of the times I feel I’ve done something wrong and knowing that I can do it differently next time.
Loving myself means being thankful. It’s so easy, especially when we live with chronic illness, to get caught up in all the things we don’t have or, or all the reasons we have to not be thankful. But, no matter what is going on in our lives there are things to be thankful for. When I take the time to look around at my world and count my blessings, I’m loving myself well and I’m loving myself first.
Loving myself takes effort. It takes time. It takes thought. I have to think about loving myself each day. I have to remind myself that not only is it ok to love myself, but that it’s necessary. It’s important. It’s required. My health will never be what it was before fibromyalgia, but there are still a million reasons to love me – and if I don’t do it properly I can’t expect anyone else to.
Julie Ryan, a regular contributor to ProHealth, is a fellow Fibromyalgia Warrior, freelance writer, and blogger. In addition to Fibromyalgia, Julie is currently diagnosed with Endometriosis, Migraines, Cluster Headaches, and Hypothyroid. She shares her journey, along with inspiration, and information on her blog at http://countingmyspoons.com