Firstly I am going to say I am no expert at this and I struggle just as much as anyone else might, maybe even more, but I have also felt that unless a Psychologist has had first hand knowledge of what disease and disability can do to a persons self worth than I personally doubt their abilities to help me in this challenge. That is purely my personal opinion based upon my experiences of several sessions with a counselor.
In our time I am sure that we have all read at least a few books or articles suggesting how to build up our self esteem and self worth so I have drawn on those times and articles whenever I have faced my darkest times. It has varying degrees of success and I admit that I still cry, I still hurt and I still do my best whenever these feelings descend on me. I am not at a master level of self esteem, not even close!
Truthfully, for most of my life I struggled with self esteem and self confidence issues and tried to channel those struggles into being able to be useful and effective in other areas of my life, for example my work and social life. Always trying to please others. It’s a typical path I suspect. Sound familiar?
If self esteem and self worth is not nurtured and encouraged growing up then it can be very hard to try and build it as an adult, especially when life is handing you some difficult situations and issues. The blows can be much harder and getting back on your feet takes much longer. A lot longer.
I have always admired those people who seemed to have such a healthy self esteem and always believed in how wonderful they are. They are amazing to me even if they are also extremely foreign. But nevertheless I admired it and wanted it for myself.
The irony was that I could always see so much good in everyone else but myself. I felt as though everyone was more valuable and talented than me. It is a heavy cross to bare.
And then came along the hardest life challenges imaginable; chronic and debilitating illnesses. It has been disastrous physically and emotionally.
Over the past decade I have tried to piece together a workable self esteem amidst a barrage of attacks from many different sources.
If you are someone with chronic illness you are probably already nodding and can list a million of your own battles and self esteem issues… it’s so common amongst these illnesses and very little has been done to redress the balance. Disgustingly little! Many of us are completely on our own when it comes to coping with these issues.
It becomes harder still when friends and family desert you, you lose your job, medications affect you, your relationships are strained, people doubt you or criticize you and hurtful things are said or implied my many people; including the medical professionals! It never ceases.
I literally couldn’t be driven down the street without someone saying something about my wheelchair or health situation! The messages we get from society at large are not the most positive or helpful either.
Everyday it seems we have to prove ourselves in so many ways. Prove we are still worthy of love and loyalty. Prove we are truly sick. Prove we are not dramatizing. Prove we still have value. Prove we can love and be wonderful partners. Prove we still have character beyond our illnesses… and the list goes on.
More scrutiny than anybody should have to bare and more than others have to bare. The scrutiny and judgements are exhausting. It is little wonder that so many of us choose to retreat and become reclusive.
But we still have to have some sense of self worth in order to want to keep fighting on, even if we are fighting alone.
So where do we start? What do we do? How do we get there?
I wish I had a PhD in these answers but for me it is not a straight line and there are many many set backs along the way. It is so much harder to build something when you are unwell and struggling but life doesn’t give us a choice.
I have started by trying to find something I have enjoyed about myself and that I like about me. Anything. Even if it’s something no one ever sees or knows. And I hold on tight to it with everything I can until it can rise up on its own. For example, I love my furry companions. I adore them. I know in my heart that I would do anything for them and treat them with such love and respect. Does this make me valuable? I believe it does to them. I am proud of how I have cared for them and been a true provider. When someone attacks me or my value I try to remember the love and bond I have with those little lives and I believe that has been my first step to getting some grip back on my self esteem.
This is not a complete list or meant to be exhaustive for everyone … but it’s a start. It’s a start towards validation and acceptance of myself.
As I said earlier, the road is not a straight line and there are many set backs. But I like to think baby steps still count. Self love seems to be always out of my grasp but self acceptance seems to get closer.
Although many of us feel like open wounds for the world to prod and poke, we are still human beings. We all have a fundamental worth that exists in everyone. I can’t afford to let myself be responsible for other peoples cruelty, ignorance or lack of humanity; it isn’t my fault.
So this is my way of talking about one of the hardest challenges of my life outside of these diseases. I would like to think that one day when my time is up I will look back and see progress and believe that I have done my best. In the end that is all we can ever do.