Without a doubt, one of the hardest aspects of living with chronic illness or disability is the feeling of being a burden to those around us. Even after all these years I still struggle with feeling that my husband would be better off without me and that my friends are wasting their time and effort on maintaining our relationships.
An all-too-common occurrence for me is the necessity of cancelling plans with friends or family at the last minute because of my health: something as minor as a cold or a poor night’s sleep can render me too dizzy to shower and dress, never mind actually leave the house to do something fun with loved ones.
While I am incredibly fortunate to have truly wonderful people in my life who are endlessly patient and understanding in these circumstances, I cannot help but feel I am being a terrible friend every time I let someone down by missing an opportunity to spend time with them.
My strategy for coping with these feelings is summed up in the title of this post: I try to be as kind to myself as I would be to a friend or loved one.
Whenever I worry I am a terrible person because my health has caused me to miss an important occasion or forced me to leave early I take a moment to consider how I would feel if a friend had the same situation. Inevitably I find myself thinking that my overwhelming feeling would be of concern for the person feeling unwell rather than annoyance or betrayal.
It is my sincerely-held belief that kindness is the single most positive attribute a person can have. Therefore, I strive to be as kind as possible in all situations and to all people.
This is certainly not an easy path to follow and it requires a great deal of patience, empathy and forgiveness, but I like to think it has made me a better person.
I make a concerted effort to ensure my loved ones are fully aware of how much I cherish and appreciate them so that they never assume that my absence from important events is the result of my not caring for them enough to make the effort to be with them. Something as simple as a letter or small but thoughtful gift for no reason other than to thank them for their friendship can really brighten someone’s day and remind them how much they are treasured.
It is only relatively recently that I have come to the conclusion that the one person I have never shown enough kindness to is myself. As with so many of us I have always been my own harshest critic and this has dragged me to the depths of low self-esteem that have seriously threatened my mental health. Because of this I now try to see myself as others would: a person who is trying her hardest in some very tough circumstances. I try not to dwell on what I feel are my negative personality traits or focus on the disadvantages I have in life.
In order to keep myself happy and healthy I choose to focus on even the tiniest positives in life rather than beating myself up over the bad stuff. For example: on a bad day I might not get dressed or do anything of any great note but I will congratulate myself for any tiny thing I do ,e.g., if I walk from bed to the bathroom I will remind myself that directly after the stroke I was unable even to sit up in bed so the fact that I can not only sit up but get out of bed and walk at all is testament to all the hard work and progress I have made.
If I could give one piece of advice to others, especially those living with disabilities or chronic health issues it would be this:
IF YOU ARE NOT GOOD TO YOURSELF NO-ONE ELSE WILL BE GOOD TO YOU.