*This article was originally posted on Prohealth
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. I have to work for it. So, how do I do it? I remind myself:
- I remind myself that things will work out as they should when they should. Often I want to just make things happen. I get frustrated when they don’t happen, and I worry that I can’t do enough to make things happen. Just reading that back reminds me of how silly I am. I know in my heart that things will always work out as they should when they should. Instead of stressing over what will or will not be. I can take small steps towards my goals. I make lists of what I can do and work through that list. Instead of focusing on how I can never possibly eat the whole elephant, I focus on the single bite I can take right now.
- I remind myself of who I love and that others love me. When I’m feeling particularly down or bad, talking to someone else is usually the last thing I want to do. I want to wallow in my depression and “enjoy” it alone. But, I know that’s the worst thing I can do. The best thing I can do is focus on someone else. This is the time to call up someone that I care about and let them know that I care and why. Reminding myself of how awesome those I love are, reminds me that I’m worthy of their love, and worthy of my own love.
- I remind myself that it’s ok to be down. We all have bad days. The bad days are necessary to appreciate the good days. They are also necessary to help us work through things. If we were always positive and feeling happy we’d think we owned the world. We’d likely never get anything done because we’d never see the downside of anything. It’s ok to just accept what is. Therefore, it’s important that on the bad days we stop and think about why we feel the way we do, accept those feelings, and work through them.
- I remind myself to forgive. Forgiveness is important, not just forgiving others but forgiving yourself. One of my greatest flaws is my ability to hold a grudge. I don’t just hold grudges against others, I hold them against myself. I think and rethink things, trying to figure out how and where I went wrong and what I should have done differently. Why? It does me no good and leaves me in a perpetual state of guilt and chances are that my actions affected no one negatively (chances are that no one else even noticed my error). So, I have to remind myself to forgive myself.
- I remind myself to be thankful. One of the best ways to increase happiness is through gratefulness. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we don’t have and what we wish we had, that we forget to be thankful for what we DO have. Health is such a big thing that when it’s failing or gone it’s easy to think that we have nothing left. Health is a big thing and it affects so many aspects of our lives, but without health we do still have much. It’s important to take the time each day to look around and be thankful for what we do have, for those who love us, for the homes we live in, for our family, and even for a beautiful sunset.
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.