It can be hard to maintain your sense of self, much less feel good about yourself, when your whole life gets flipped upside down.
I didn’t have any self esteem problems around my chronic illnesses in the early days. That was partly from denial, partly from the illnesses not having too big of an effect on my life, and partly from having a wonderful mother who raised me to be full of confidence and self esteem.
I’m not sure when that changed, exactly, but I’m pretty sure it was around the time I had to stop working. Suddenly, when people asked “What do you do?” – a very common question to ask someone you’ve just met around here – I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t have a job. I wasn’t earning a living. I was constantly unsure of when I might have to move. I couldn’t do much activity. I had a ton of food restrictions And on top of all of that, I just felt like shit.
There were times I wanted to be there for my family or friends and couldn’t be. I couldn’t travel anymore to visit the ones who were farther away and I didn’t always feel up to doing things with the ones who were local. I wondered “Why would anyone want to date me?” even while I knew that was a horrible frame of mind.
Now I’m on the other side of that. I did some small bits of volunteer work from home. I found ways to be there for my friends that required less of me physically. I used the phone and video chat. If a friend needed help with something, I would research options for them online, from the comfort of my couch. I focused less on all the things I couldn’t do and more on the few things that I could. I realized just how many different interests I have, even if I can’t work on them every day. And I started to wonder “Why wouldn’t anyone want to date me?” I started to remember what makes me so great.
But today was the real deal. Today it really hit me. A friend texted me about wanting to set me up with a guy she’d met. She told me a bit about him. Then she said that she’d told him I have chronic pain. She’d told him I can’t eat gluten. She’d told him these things and I hated it, but not in the way I used to.
Not that long ago I worried about telling anyone about my health issues. I wouldn’t have wanted him to know because I was so insecure. I wouldn’t have wanted him to only focus on my health issues, and I would have assumed he would because I focused on my health issues. I would have assumed they’d be a problem because I saw them as a problem. Today was different. Today I didn’t want him to know because I didn’t feel that should come from someone else. It should come from me so I could present it properly. I didn’t want him to focus on it because I wanted him to see all the awesome stuff about me first. I didn’t want him to think I was only my illness because I no longer think that I’m only my illness.
He called right before I wrote those last few paragraphs. We had our first conversation. He did bring up the pain and gluten stuff. I said a bit, but I mostly brushed it off. Before I would have brushed it off because I was scared to talk about it. Today I brushed it off only because there were more interesting things to talk about.
Yes, my chronic illnesses are a huge part of my life. But they aren’t the only part of my life. They define big parts of me. But they don’t define all of me.
I know better than to assume my chronic illness-related self esteem issues are 100% in my past. But I hope they’re mostly behind me. And when they come up again in the future I’m going to reread this. Because we all feel less than stellar about ourselves sometimes, and if that happens from time to time it’s ok, but it shouldn’t be happening all the time. If it does, we need to find a way out. For me, that way is to help other people because it makes me feel so much better about myself to be able to do something for someone else; and it’s also to have a hobby that has nothing to do with my health, because that focus not only gets me out of my own head, but it gives me something to discuss with other people that has nothing to do with chronic illnesses.
What about you? What makes you feel better about yourself? And will you be doing more of it in the near future?