Loving Yourself on Hard Days

Good in Every Day SelfieSome days are hard, and the past three days have been that way for me. I am exhausted and my heart rate is elevated. And while I’m getting used to dealing with these symptoms, the disappointment that comes with them doesn’t go away. It still hurts me to cancel plans and I don’t enjoy asking for help with simple tasks.  It’s humbling to admit that I don’t have much control over how I feel from day to day.

I’ve worked hard over the years to develop personal freedom and independence. It’s been a real struggle for me to accept that I have a purpose that is not dependent on what I do or what others think. I’ve fought to hold onto the truth that I am worthy of love, even on my worst days.  When I first met S, I was clear that I am a “strong and independent woman.” I must have said that phrase to him at least a dozen times before we even started dating because I needed him to know that I didn’t expect him to determine my self-worth. More importantly, I had to remind myself that while the relationships in my life are important, they do not take away my responsibility to love myself.

Over the past six months, I’ve told myself over and over it’s okay to ask for help. And I’ve realized that asking other people for help can be an act of self-care. If I choose to be without something I need because I won’t ask for help, then I am ignoring my responsibility to love myself. I wouldn’t want someone else go without what they need, and I can’t ignore my own needs, either. It may be humbling, but asking for help is especially important for me right now. At the same time, I have to remember there is an end to what other people can do for me. I can ask my loved ones to drive me to appointments, help me with errands, and sit with me over tea, but it’s unreasonable to expect them to take on the responsibilities I have to myself.

You see, no one else can convince me that my story matters. No one else can reach into the darkest parts of my soul and show me that I am beautiful, no matter what. I have to do that for myself. I firmly believe that compassionate people can help, but they cannot do the work for me. The most loving, helpful team of people cannot rescue me from the project of loving myself. They cannot force me to forgive myself for the mistakes that only I know about and they will never be able to repair the broken parts of my soul.

I am sharing this truth with you because I know that it’s hard to accept what you can’t change. It’s hard to live with chronic illness, shame or emotional pain. And it’s hard to admit that you don’t have it all together. But please, don’t let the difficulty scare you away from finding hope. Because there is always, always hope. There is hope for me on the days I cannot get out of bed and there is hope for you when you feel terribly alone. And when we find that hope and choose to love ourselves, hard days can still hold joy. The past few days have left me unable to do much outside of my bed, but I’ve still been able to find goodness in them. I’ve focused on my adorable cats, lasting friendships, fresh flowers, and kind husband. And I’ve celebrated the beautiful, abundant life I’ve created for myself. As difficult as illness can be sometimes, it can’t take away my joy or my self-love. I hope you will work to make the same true for yourself.

Kind Neighbors

IMG_20140801_185729My neighborhood doesn’t look like the one where I grew up. As a child, I lived in a lovely house at the end of a cul-de-sac, and it was a great place for me to be. I am thankful for my childhood home and the kind neighbors. But when I look out my window now, there are far more abandoned houses. Some homes are divided into apartments, and others are owned by families. There’s a group of homes near us that provides transitional housing for veterans and recovering addicts, and that makes some people uneasy (the residents are actually great neighbors). I live in an area that some people snub, thinking that it’s not as nice as the local suburbs. But I love it here. S and I moved here because we believe in the future of this neighborhood.  It’s not a perfect place, but we have come to appreciate the beauty here. Being ill has allowed me to invest more into my neighborhood by getting to know neighbors and the people who walk by my house every day.

Today I willed myself to sit on the front porch, even though I felt exhausted from a medical appointment this morning. I came outside and I looked around to enjoy the mature trees, perfect weather, and cobblestone street. I glanced at our lawn and noticed that it was long. I added mowing the lawn to the mental list of chores that need to be done at home, and I tried to focus on the beautiful parts of my street instead. Then a neighbor I’d never met came over from across the street and started mowing my lawn. Right behind him was another man who I’ve been getting to know over the past few weeks, and he did some weed whacking and edging for us. I thanked them as tears welled up in my eyes and I tried not to cry. Thankfully, I was successful. I think the gentlemen would have been a little confused by tears.

My illness has brought feelings of isolation back into my life, and getting to know my neighbors has helped me feel like a part of something. However, today I felt pretty alone. When I had a few people show my a simple act of kindness, it made a big difference in my day. I was reminded that people in my neighborhood take pride where we live. And I felt privileged to have people around me who care enough to help me have a nice yard. It may be a small thing to some people, but it means a lot to me right now.

Please don’t underestimate the power of showing kindness to other people. You don’t need extra money to be kind, and it is a gift you can always give. Kindness is possible in the nicest neighborhood and the most run-down street. And it’s something that everyone understands, no matter their background. Please remember that some of us are fragile right now, and we may need some extra love. Feel free to ask us if you can help, because we can be too prideful to ask for a hand. We let the grass grow and the dishes pile up when things are tough, but we don’t like it at all. Or we may just feel alone and need someone to show us that we are not alone, even on our rough days.

Today I am grateful to live in a neighborhood where kindness can be clearly seen. I am grateful for the train whistles and kids yelling and neighborhood cats. I see hope for an area that some people ignore because I understand that while the kindness of my neighbors cannot be included in my property value, it certainly makes a difference in my life. 

Changing My Routine

This week I read a newsletter written for women with chronic illness, and I was inspired to try a different approach to my mornings. I put more effort into my routine by showering, moisturizing, fixing my hair, putting on a bit of makeup, and wearing a cute (and comfy) outfit. I took things more slowly than I did when I was healthy, and I made a few changes to my old routine, but I did it. Those of you who live with illness know that being able to get ready and look “normal” is an accomplishment in itself. I dealt with physical pain most of the day, and my symptoms remained the same, but I felt good about myself. And I felt confident about my appearance for the first time in too long.

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We know that illness affects the body, but we don’t always consider how chronic illness changes the way we see our bodies. There have been dozens of times I’ve thought to myself, “I am fighting against this body” or “I wish my body would cooperate today.” In the process, I’ve seen it as something that I battle. It’s been challenging to love the very thing I am fighting against. I’ve decided that I need to change my point of view. I started by following a morning routine in which I care for my body. It’s helped me change my perception of what I’ll look like while living with this illness. I know that I won’t be able to blow dry my hair or shower on my really bad days, but I am learning to do what I can to help myself feel better about the body I am in.

You see, I can’t change my illness. I can manage it, accommodate it, and be grateful for good days, but none of that will make it disappear. It’s taken me months to accept that my life will not be what I’d expected. That doesn’t mean that my life is less worthwhile, but it changes how I think about my future. Accepting a new way of life means that I have to be more intentional about caring for my body because it’s not as resilient as it was before. I will need to use my transport chair sometimes, and I may be judged for looking “normal” while riding in it. I may get stares from strangers who don’t understand that I need a lot of help, even though I don’t look terrible that day. And that sucks. However, I refuse to feel bad about how I look in order to cater to the misconception that illness is always visible. I will not let ignorant people determine the way I live my life, and I won’t hate my body because it doesn’t function the way I’d like. Instead, I’ll do the best I can to enjoy the life I’ve been given.

Today I am reminding myself that life can be beautiful when it’s not perfect, and I am challenging myself to treat my body well every day.

If you’re looking for more inspiration on this topic, I recommend checking out Lottie Ryan’s newsletter.

Choosing Love

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This afternoon I finally made time to journal and reflect. It’s something that (almost) always helps me feel better, but for some reason I don’t do it was much as I’d like.There are a lot of unknowns for me right now, and that makes me uncomfortable. I recently told S that I’m feeling especially vulnerable these days, and it was a relief to admit that to someone out loud. I’ve decided to share some of today’s journal entry with you because the words that came onto the page are straight from my heart.

When I am honest with myself, I acknowledge that I feel broken right now. I am grateful and I choose joy as much as I can, but those things co-exist with the hurt. I am afraid of the unknown. And I ask myself, “What is the right way to deal with all of this?” I run ideas through my mind, but I don’t become convinced of a solution. And then I remember that there isn’t always a right way to handle something. I tell myself it’s okay to cry and scream when life is uncertain, just as it’s okay to spend time alone thinking about different ways to solve a problem. My personality tends to lean toward more emotional expression, but that doesn’t have to be seen as “wrong” or “not good enough.”

I spent a lot of my younger years motivated by shame; I was trapped by the fear of doing something wrong. As a result, I missed out on a lot of opportunities to see the beautifully messy parts of life. I now choose to live in love instead of fear. Living in love allows me to ask for help. Love tells me that I don’t have to know exactly what my future will hold. It pushes me to be vulnerable with loved ones when I feel alone. Love reminds me that I have value on my hard days, when my hair is a mess and my clothes don’t match. When I choose love over fear, I am able to live with hope again. And I am able to share my hope with other people.

But let me be clear– living in love is not always easy. Fear still sneaks in sometimes, and it tells lies and encourages shame. The only way I’ve found to push away fear is to accept my imperfections and embrace my humanity. My imperfections do not make me ugly or wrong. They do not determine my worth as a person. When I accept that I am human, I become able to make decisions because they are right for me. Living in love is a daily practice for me, just like choosing to live in truth.

Today I remember that the most beautiful parts of my soul have developed during tough times. Today I choose to live in love and drown out my fears. Today I accept that asking for help is not bad or wrong– it’s human. I will give myself time to breathe and reflect. I hope you can do the same.

Anthem

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Sometimes I find a song that becomes my anthem for awhile. Right now my anthem is “I Believe” by Christina Perri (click here for the video). I stumbled across this song a few weeks ago, and I’ve listened to it on repeat every couple days. The lyrics hold so much truth in them, and different lines stick out to me each time I listen to the song.

It’s become increasingly important to me to know my truth, and “I Believe” is a reminder of many of the beliefs I hold dear. (When I say “my truth,” I am referring to simple beliefs that guide the way I live.) Most of the time, I live with joy and gratitude. But I must be honest– there are days that I do not follow my truth. On those days, I tell myself hurtful, untrue things about my purpose and worth. I have fought hard to become the person that I am, but each day I must choose to live my truth. Living with joy and gratitude is a daily decision.

Chronic illness does not change the core of who I am. It certainly affects the way I live my life, but it doesn’t have to take me away from my truth. Here are some of the things that I must remind myself to believe and practice every day:

  • Gratitude enriches my life. I need to take time to be grateful for the things that make my life better.
  • There is always hope.
  • Everyone needs kindness, both from other people and from themselves.
  • Joy and happiness are different. I can always choose joy, even when life is tough.
  • Being brave doesn’t mean that I am unafraid. Brave people choose hope when they’re afraid.
  • Love is stronger than fear.
  • A messy life can be beautiful.
  • I do not have to be perfect to be loved.
  • Every person has worth, no matter what.
  • I must be part of the change I want to see around me.
  • Compassion and empathy empower me to live an abundant life.

I would be excited to hear how your life is affected by the truths that you hold close to you. We all have something to teach to those around us.