Emotionally Vulnerable

I have given much though to this over many years and I am still surprised by how chronic illnesses and health struggles can make us so emotionally vulnerable.

I seem to feel everything so much more deeply since becoming ill that I have had to work hard to build up barriers in order to handle things better. It’s truly difficult to describe how this feels to most people, and sometimes it’s hard to accept myself. Conversely I am actually pleased by how being emotionally open has helped my marriage (and some of my closer friendships). It has given me the ability to offer so much more, and for those precious few, they are able to truly know and see me.

However it is not without its difficulties.

It feels as though my naturally empathic nature had been dialed up a million fold, bought on by the years of pain and struggle that I (and my husband) have had to endure. People’s actions and attitudes can leave deep impressions on my emotional skin now. Enough of these wounds and the skin becomes very inflamed. This is not easy to deal with when it becomes so pained so it is much wiser to try and protect the emotional sides of us more vigilantly.

Nowadays I am very careful who “I let in” and who I offer my precious resources to. I have to be because I know that I am weakened vessel now, with a very low battery life. So I want to give my best to those that appreciate my efforts and I also want to give some to myself; that’s always much harder.

It only takes approximately 10 minutes on social media or talking to some stranger on the phone to make me feel exhausted and depleted emotionally. I remember life twenty years ago and it seemed so completely different in my memory. I do miss some of those strengths of yesterday but today is a new day.

I believe that being ill and feeling so helpless physically has a huge toll on our emotional well being. More than I could have ever realized or thought possible. I reason that most people out there have no idea how they affect the ill or health challenged. They are oblivious to what they give off and the deep effect they can have.

For this reason many of the chronically ill retire from the world and have to cocoon themselves in a manner that they can feel stable again. Feel able again. As able as we can be.

My life now has to have a filter on people, events, social media, commercials and politics and anything that can disturb the precarious balance I try to reach each day. I have had to cut off contact or interaction with those energy feeders and provokers. Those that constantly feed off the fruits of happiness and self esteem that you have been carefully growing and tending. They can drain you entirely in a matter of moments or with an unthinking word.

Being emotionally vulnerable was something that was condemned growing up and where I grew up. It was preyed upon and used as sport by those I should have been able to trust and respect. We start out life emotionally vulnerable because we are young and inexperienced and we are trying to grow. It’s ironic that later in life I feel I have returned to this state as I try to find new growth whilst I am in these weakened legs again.

My list of friends and contacts dwindle each year as I have learned to weed out the meaningful from the superficial. Although I may know thousands of people (even related to a considerable amount) yet it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will ever really know anything about me or appreciate the things I contend with. So I let them go. I only have room for a select group of peace loving devotees.

I realize that my natural state, and the mood to which I am most at home, is a peaceful yet humorous and creative one. One were I can admire a loved garden, a little bird busying himself in a tree and the warm breeze blowing over me while I create in my mind or remember some humour and enjoyable events. That’s me and that is what I try to protect at all costs.

I have learned to let go of a lot! I have had to! I have let go of a lot of mistakes, wrong doing, regrets, dreams, goals, people, stereotypes, prejudices, judgements and needs that previously ruled my life. There is no easy way to do this but to buckle in for some extreme soul searching.

The fact is that as of today I realize that I still cry a lot about things I can’t control and I do still hurt deeply from the painful things people say and do, even if they don’t mean it. So I know I have a ways to go on my emotional journey but as I look back I am proud of some of the milestones I have achieved in this area and I have hope for what I may be able to achieve.

Gentle hugs,

Trish

In The Beginning.

Recently a dear friend contacted me because their family member had been diagnosed with an Autoimmune disease and they wanted me to help them to understand more.

I felt both saddened to learn that their family member was going to have to deal with these challenging diseases but I also felt so amazed that he had bothered to learn more for the sake of his family.

Despite having so many emotions of my own I did all I could to help and I still am doing so. I have made myself available to assist him if or when he ever needs it. That’s what I believe we can and should do for our autoimmune family out there, without question.

After nearly a decade of writing and advocating about autoimmune illnesses many of the things I have written may have made some people annoyed, uncomfortable, resentful and displeased but if what I do can help just one person with these illnesses than that is all that matters to me. If it helps improve the life for even just one person (and the way they will be supported) it means everything to me.

I told my friend from the beginning that I am not a doctor and I can never give diagnosis or medical instruction, and that each sufferer will differ greatly in their own way regarding their symptoms, their progression, their circumstances and their personality. There is also no single one blue print about how our lives with these illnesses will play out.

He asked me if these illnesses can kill and this has always been the hardest question that I get asked because I never lie about these illnesses and what they can do. I have always answered anyone in the same way “…just because a disease can kill us doesn’t mean it will. We can never know how thing will happen.

It’s as simple and honest as that.

I was taken back to when my own battles started and how things played out in my life. I have never wanted anyone to go through that and I wanted to what I could to spare someone from all that happened to me and my husband. It was enough to drive me to writing these blogs and to fuel my work ever since.

Despite losing many friends and fellow fighters to these diseases there are still so many alive and fighting and that this really is the best way for me to feel that I have done something positive. I never think about whether my own illnesses will worsen or if they will kill me and I don’t focus on this in my daily fight.

During my conversation with my friend I was very focused on assuring him that there really are many people who will happily sign on to help support him (as a relative) and his autoimmune family member, it also became clear that there is still such a lot of misinformation and prejudice out there when it comes to these diseases so I would dearly love to know I have done all I can to set him in the right direction and not let him become influenced by ignorance and lies.

He asked questions like… “what has caused this? Is there a cure? Will just changing diet fix it? Can I catch it? How long will this (flare) last? Will there be operations and medications?…”

It is normal to feel overwhelmed when these things are diagnosed and it seems so amazing that everyone always wants to solve the riddle of autoimmunity. We all think we can and we all spend many years trying to prove we can. We try diets, supplements, exercise, medication, alternative therapies etc all in the belief we will cure ourselves, because at the end of the day the one thing we all want to do, whether we are sufferers or loved ones, is to cure these diseases.

It’s only after many years that we come to the conclusion that we can only learn how to live as well as we can with them until greater minds than ours find the ultimate answers. Believe me, I have spent millions of research hours and have tried every cure being waved around the Internet! But it doesn’t stop us craving a cure and wanting to end to the struggles we face, especially during terrible time of flares or progression.

Is it like cancer? I was asked. “No. It’s not a cancer,” I replied “but there are many ways in which our immune system can misbehave and many ways our blood cells can go awry…” A damaged body is not an easy proposition to face and to cope with. A body that is continually and progressively harming itself can become a full time battle. Often it does.

Will [they] need surgery? Can [they] remove the damaged part of the body? “…Since I am not a doctor and I don’t have a full picture of where and how your beloved family member has suffered there are no cookie cutter answers for all our bodies…” A great many autoimmune sufferers have never had to have surgery to remove areas damaged by our rogue immune systems. We don’t all need wheelchairs. We don’t all have metal joints. We don’t all need donor organs. We don’t all have catheters and aids… But some of us do. Many of us may. And it’s not a competition.

The hardest thing to impress upon a newly diagnosed sufferer or their supportive loved ones is this…

each day will be a moment by moment scenario. You must learn to see it as a never ending processes of mini steps and battles and never as one final push.

I also encourage any caring and supportive members to see their own roles in these situations and to get the help and support they may need too. Family/friends/partners will need to think carefully about the roles they have in the lives of the autoimmune fighter and the sooner they realize that they are not there to dictate the terms of this illnesses or the lives of their loved ones then the better and healthier everyone will be.

Sadly the typical cycle for most sufferers is that initially you may feel a satisfying amount of encouragement and understanding but this can change as the years progress. Once kind and respectful people can become unkind, demanding, doubting and cruel hurdles for the autoimmune fighter. I am not sure why such things happen but I do believe that it is completely unnecessary and should not be laid at the feet of those may be already struggling to have a fulfilling life!

For a moment I wondered what would happen to this newest member of the autoimmune family and what awaits them as they enter such a long and winding road ahead, but I took heart in the hope that this family member cared enough to learn more and perhaps that is all we can ask in the beginning.

To this day I don’t believe these battles can ever be fought in isolation, despite the fact that many of us are pushed into fighting alone and suffering in silence. I do all I can to appeal to the world at large to open their hearts and minds and connect with their loved ones. I keep writing with the hope every day. I am only too aware of the debt I owe those that have stood by me and how I can never repay them for their support and love.

This is the perhaps time he most human of all realizations.

I hope that this family will remember the love and will appreciate each other in the darker times ahead and even when they may feel their most lost and confused may they always appreciate they are not alone. Hundreds of millions of sufferers and their families/friends/partners/loved ones are out there and the more we connect the stronger we can become.

Gentle hugs,

Trish

Social Media

As a blogger every time I press the publish button or write a piece of work I know that it will invariably invoke some sort of reaction from the reader. I can never be sure what that reaction will be but I can decide how much credence I give it.

Putting yourself out there will always mean you are also subject to who is out there. Whether they are friend or foe, they will have open access to read and comment about your work and your life. The only thing that can vary will be how much I engage with others comments and how much I let it mean to me.

My soul reason for taking up blogging was to add a voice, and hopefully some context, to the awful misconception and lack of information regarding autoimmune diseases and chronic illnesses around today. There was so much patient shaming and disrespect out there that I thought the balance needed to be redressed. Although I write openly about my own experiences it is my hope that people will realize that it is ok for us to come out and speak up about how we feel and what we experience and that we are not social pariahs the world would like to believe.

So much misinformation and prejudice existed a decade ago, and still does, that it was my sincere hope that some education and sharing could help make a difference. I still hope this. I couldn’t do what I do without believing in this fundamental belief. So I keep on writing and I keep on hoping.

I never cared about who liked my writing or how many followers I had but I felt truly touched when someone felt a connection or a sense of empathy when they read something that they related to.

I notice today that there are growing numbers of people out there who are also coming out and sharing their stories. It is incredibly satisfying to see. Sufferers seem to be realizing that their difficulties and their challenges need not make them feel unwanted and invalidated in this perfection obsessed world.

When I first started speaking out I was truly shocked my the number of people who would say, “oh wow! My (insert name) has an autoimmune disease too,” or “I have battled lupus for years now…”. It was amazing to connect with so many others that it was no longer important to me who didn’t like me or who was trying to devalue me or my experiences. I felt released. I still do.

No find today that I am no longer dependent on the judgements and validations of the world at large, my voice has given me strength and my strength has given me more voice.

However, the downside to speaking out about anything these days is the number of people who will retaliate. It has become clear that expressing an opinion today or sharing a view is a dangerous thing to do and it seems like everyone (whether they know you or not) can (and will) feel entitled to fire back. It surprises me and disappointments me greatly because without open and respectful discussion no civilization has ever grown or flourished. Ancient Greeks recognized the need for their people to have a voice and the need for their people to think.

Since when did having an opinion or voice become such a blood sport?

The fact is that without sharing our thoughts and experiences, and feeling able to do so, we never learn. We never get to hear other sides of a story. We never get to see a bigger picture. Regardless of whether we are right or wrong.

I have many friendships and rewarding relationships with people that I couldn’t be more different from if I tried but I still enjoy their friendships nonetheless. Furthermore I don’t always have to be right all the time, I believe that I just have to be me and this is what I value from others. Authenticity.

But these days you it feels as though we can’t speak, write, post or show anything about yourself without someone trying to besmirch you or your entire being! I am also aware there is a social phenomena called virtue signaling where people feel better about themselves by holding themselves out to be more virtuous and better than someone else!

https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/are-you-guilty-virtue-signaling

It has become unacceptable in society today for someone to disagree with you without trying to attack your entire character or worth. Why? The need to be right all the time, to be the best, to be special or to feel superior to others only causes more social problems than it could possibly solve.

It has even become common place for anger and vitriol to erupt in our personal spaces with people feeling it is necessary to become angry mobs rather than exercise respect and dignity. I am deeply saddened by this.

Whenever I write something I now know that someone will 1. Like it. 2. Hate it 3. Agree with it. 4. Ignore it. 5. Troll what I have written… and every other possible variation. None of this, however, alters the fact that I am writing about my own personal experience and my life and I am entitled to do so. I am no better or no worse than anyone else.

Although after years of living my life and fighting these illnesses it would be wonderful if people read my work and felt like maybe they understand a little more but I can never guarantee that this will happen. I can never predict or expect that something positive will come as a result but I can only hope.

I don’t ever write for the purpose that I will garner sympathy or popularity for myself because my life and my personal value exists completely independently of such things. I have found value in myself first and foremost and I also encourage all those with chronic illness to spend every ability and every ounce of energy you have in doing this. It is by far the most important thing that we can ever do during our life with illness! More important than medications or anything else because the fact is that we have to value ourselves or nothing we ever do will be worth it. Nothing.

This is essentially why I continue to write what I write and do what I do, regardless of what people have said or will say. I believe I have the right to think, believe and develop as I go through this life, My life, and I am not afraid to be wrong or to learn from my mistakes along the way. I have only ever been afraid of losing the desire to keep fighting my fights and finding no meaning in being the person I am today.

This is how and why Autoimmunitygirl came into being but from this little blog site I also became a stronger and more complete me.

Gentle hugs,

Trish

In The Shadows

With his permission I am writing this post on how illness and diseases have changed my husbands life forever, despite the fact that he doesn’t actually have them. He is my full time carer now but he never imagined that this could possibly have happened to him or to us and I marvel at the way it has transformed him and who he is today.

When we first started dating I was most definitely the more assertive, confident and the more outgoing. Because of the roles I had carried out in my life I was used to being a manager and a facilitator. I was all about a strong mental attitude and a positive approach. That was who I was then and I can only assume that was some of the things he most liked about me.

I have since learned that he also liked my intelligence and my loyal and loving devotion to those I cared for. I hope that this will always be how he sees me and how others will see me too. However time does change us and illnesses will change us completely!

Back then my husband was an academic, a geologist, an historian, a teacher and a published scientist. He was an admirer of Charles Darwin, and many other great minds over the centuries, and he shared his thoughts on their lives and works with me whilst we were getting to know each other. Neither of us could have ever known what was waiting for us and our own evolution which was waiting to happen in the most brutal manner possible.

Unlike the theory of evolution that Darwin suggested our own evolution and changes had to happen dramatically and far more quickly than the time frames for life on this planet. Ours had to happen almost overnight, and we only had each other to make it possible.

In my other blogs I have always written about life from the perspective of my experiences of chronic illnesses, and although this piece will also be a continuation on that theme, however it’s prime focus will be about the changes these illnesses have had on my partner and husband.

In the past decade or so I have seen my husband and partner transform from being a quiet, detached and retiring academic to one who now must carry out all the interactions and be the decision maker for our day to day lives. He answers all the phone calls, talks to anyone and everyone that comes along and takes care of all the financial transactions and bill paying. I used to do the lions share of all these things myself in the early days of our relationship and so it was a huge challenge for both of us to swap roles. Although we still discuss and plan our lives together collaboratively, the fact is that I no longer have the ability to carry out most of the day to day activities and have needed someone to oversee almost all that happens on a daily basis.

It is for these reasons that I have watched and witnessed how my husband has needed to become more open, more outspoken, more assertive, more disciplined and more organized; and we have both had to mature so much more than most people since autoimmune diseases took over my physical life. It has been incredibly hard for someone with my husband’s nature to take on all he has done and I am in awe of many of the ways in which he has endeavored to meet all these challenges.

Looking back on my former life and relationships I had seen how every time circumstances became hard or difficult other partners had either left, walked off or become bitter and destructive. I was expecting the same result from my husband as things started to unravel.

Thankfully I was wrong.

I remember one morning, after him being up all night with me in pain and struggling, watching him quietly dressing for work in the dark because he didn’t want to wake me. I cried with guilt knowing that he would have to endure a thirteen hour day before he would be able to return home and repeat the same nightly routine of house keeping and caring for me. Words can’t describe how we both felt during those years until we made the difficult decision of leaving his paid roles and income to become my full time carer. But even this was to bring fresh new struggles for him.

He has been irrevocably changed by our battles and struggles with illnesses and there is no way now that we could ever revert to who we were. Although some amazing qualities and abilities have been uncovered there have also been some darker things emerge that he (we) must now deal with. He has terrible anxiety issues, panic attacks, high blood pressure, migraines, insomnia, reactive depression, IBS and back and knee damage from lifting me and carrying me when I can not move myself.

I have watched him age overnight and yet I marvel at the dignity he shows despite all the challenges he faces. I have also seen him reach a point in his life where he no longer feels the pressures to conform with the stereotypical man that exists in society. He has evolved beyond this to show a nurturing side, an emotional side, an honesty and exposing his and gentle side which I thought I may never reach in any man, let alone in this man.

He owns his failures and mistakes with more dignity than many I have seen and he shows such love and devotion than I could ever ask for.

Years ago we both struggled to talk about some topics that were deeply personal and possibly embarrassing but today we talk openly and authentically about any and all topics. Nothing embarrasses or frightens us anymore! Nothing. We offer judgement free discussion to each other however difficult the topic may be. We have even tackled topics like our own deaths in a respectful and honest manner.

He has become a more resilient, funny, open, honest, trusting and beautifully flawed man in my eyes and our lives have had to take on entirely different meanings and directions.

Although today we rarely leave our home and we have become reclusive to a large extent there has never been a day in which we have felt intruded on or claustrophobic of each other’s presence. This is perhaps the most amazing thing of all! We are still able to set healthy boundaries and allow each other space within the confines of our own home.

Over the years he has been able to balance a lot of my feelings, thoughts, attitudes and thinking and I have helped him in these same ways too. Whilst I am sure there are many things that he would dearly wish were not a part of our lives and our circumstances today he is also quick to remind me that he wouldn’t want to be with anyone else. Those words alone mean more than any other words I have ever heard in my entire life. This has also been the hardest thing for me to understand but he has never given me a moment to doubt it.

Not even for a moment.

The most surprising things about him have been his constant devotion and commitment to our lives together, no matter what. Whilst so many others have turned away and disappeared, including friends and family, he has never once looked like leaving, although I have given him many opportunities to go. Many times I wondered how he could want to stay but his love has been unwavering.

Although such illnesses can impact on your physical abilities and sex life I have seen our level of intimacy grow and deepen like I have could never have imagined and we have looked at life’s hurdles in completely new ways.

Sadly, he has found it hard to find people he can relate to now and who can understand and empathize with him. He feels outside of the realm of other men his age. His peers don’t understand what his life is like and so he doesn’t hear from or interact with any. I can’t quite understand this because I only see someone whom I would want to know and have in my life due to how much he has learned and what he has to offer as a human being.

Despite all the hurdles that these diseases have placed in front of my husband I have been amazed and thankful for how he has risen to each one and although I would never have wished these things on him, and despite the fact they have taken us both to the edge, he has emerged from the flames time and time again in a new form.

Today we see life in completely different ways than almost everyone else does and our beliefs, ideals, behaviors, goals, personality, understanding and feelings have been forever changed by illnesses and diseases, but despite all this we still find ways to laugh, hold each other and smile everyday because, despite all that life has thrown at us, we have somehow survived it all together.

Gentle hugs,

Trish

Predicting The Future

Predicting The Future

Many years ago I was involved in a relationship which was very difficult and ultimately destructive. One of the ways that it was very difficult was because it was unpredictable in how the other person was going to act or react at any given time; even their moods were unpredictable and changed often.

As I look back I am reminded of all the times when I was heartbroken by an argument or how this person might have acted during the course of a day. One moment they could be happy and the next they could be raging with anger. It was hard to have any type of life like this let alone a happy one.

Predictability is a big part of any relationship in the sense that we need to know how or why the other person may act and what you can rely on them to do or say. It is not hard to understand why my past relationship broke down and it is easy to see why it really could never have gone any further.

We can all relate to such difficulties and struggles with relationships and with various people in our lives but very few people understand what it means not to have predictability and reliability over your own bodies and health.

It is for this reason that I struggle immensely living with Autoimmune diseases as they are the most unpredictable illnesses around. It is truly heartbreaking. Most of the time sufferers can have absolutely no control over what our bodies are going to do (or not do) and it is soul destroying most of the time.

My unpredictable body has meant I have not travelled on holiday in nearly 8 years and have rarely left my home. My unpredictable body means I haven’t seen some friends and loved ones in decades. My unpredictable body means I never know what tomorrow is going to bring or whether I will be able to celebrate even the smallest of things.

There has been the occasional cruel person who has said “oh it can’t be that bad!”… “she is just doing it for attention!”… “if she really wanted to”… or “I know plenty of people with (insert illness) and they are a lot better than you!”

I can only assume that the purpose of such remarks is to somehow shame sufferers into behaving differently and to attempt to make us do things that others would want us to do. But we can’t. And I have begun to realize that we shouldn’t even listen to such comments or remarks.

Sometimes I really don’t blame others for part of their ignorance when it comes to these diseases as I was ignorant myself at some time of my life and I can’t always understand what my body is doing or going to do either! I share a lot of their frustrations but only on a far more profound scale.

I have missed appointments with specialists because I could not move my limbs or because my cluster headaches have me crippled and struggling to function. I have missed birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, much to my sadness and disappointment.

But what can be done?

Having to accept the unpredictable nature of these diseases and never knowing what we can/cannot do on any given day is tantamount to torture but I have to keep trying to accept it as my reality now.

Sometimes it is the lack of control of these diseases that is worse than any of the many other symptoms. Especially for me. The struggle to live and love within the confines of a broken body and immune system takes Herculean effort but for many of us out there we have no choice.

Gentle hugs,

Trish

The Pain Of Shame

It seems as though it is assumed because you have chronic illnesses and a litany of health problems that you no longer experience embarrassment or shame. Speaking for myself, nothing can be further from the truth.

The fact is that there are a number of issues that I have to deal with that are deeply personal and incredibly embarrassing to me; despite being told that doctors have seen it all doesn’t make it any easier for me to share it all.

I have always been a very private and introverted person who rarely revealed personal challenges or struggles (especially emotional ones) so it is incredibly difficult for me to share things with doctors, health professionals and anyone in general. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself not to feel this way, the fact is it still remains… why hasn’t it got any easier?

Many of the health struggles that I deal with I have never told anyone about because of the deeply personal nature and the embarrassment that accompanies such topics. My feelings just didn’t change overnight because my body did!

A dear friend was probing me about my current health situation and as I felt more and more unable to conceal certain details I became very teary and emotional. My eyes welled up as I disclosed how I have been suffering from bladder problems for many years now and for days later I couldn’t help relive the humiliation of it all.

I feel caught in a battle between being truthful and authentic and being very embarrassed and shamed.

It is profoundly difficult for me to admit that in my 40s I suffer the most awful and embarrassing of health conditions from incontinence, constipation, horrendous menstrual pain, tremors, diarrhea, urinary retention and spasticity, to name but a few, and I have often wondered if there are others out there like me.

People have assumed that because I have a chronic illness and am always sick and disabled that I no longer experience embarrassment or self consciousness. Wrong! The truth is that the more disabled or impaired I have become the more I have struggled to come to terms with it.

My husband is a constant source of strength and encouragement, however it is much easier to be the person to offer support than to be the person who must ask for it with these intimate topics. I really don’t know why this is how I feel but I am also truly grateful for my husband’s kindness and understanding when I know many men would simply have walked away!

I come from a family, and a generation, of body shaming so when it is put in this context it is very easy to see where these phobias stem from. Overcoming them becomes incredibly difficult, especially at this stage in life.

When I consider that many of my peers are doctors, lawyers, professionals and independent women I find it immensely shaming to have to admit that I require help getting off the toilet!

Ask any woman what one of her fears are when giving birth and they will tell you that they are afraid of shi*ting herself whilst pushing out the baby. Imagine then if you had to live everyday with those fears, no matter where you are or whomever is around! You would soon get a better understanding of what life is like when your nerves become damaged due to diseases and illnesses.

Sometimes the shame and embarrassment of our illnesses is as painful as the illness itself. As sufferers we tend to congregate in closed groups to discuss these topics anonymously but it is still incredibly hard, even amongst virtual strangers.

I marvel at those men and women that YouTube themselves with stomas bags, catheters and tremors. I have nothing but praise and awe for those that face their deepest embarrassments every day and talk openly on such topics! They are nothing short of incredible in my book!

For the rest of us who are still struggling to come to terms with such topics and and trying to find peace and strength I hope that we can all do so in time. This has been my first step in trying to face my demons by blogging about them but I know I have a very long way to go yet… I hope this has been one small step at least.

Gentle hugs,

Trish

Real Strength

Growing up in a small country town I was taught that strength was being physically strong and also never showing your real feelings or pain. It took me many decades to realize nothing could be further from the truth!

Looking back it’s hard to distinguish who to blame for these incorrect notions, whether it was my family and others or society at large, although I can clearly see where my immediate environment deviated many times from social norms when it comes to the way it regarded physical pain and emotional pain. Regretfully my upbringing resulted in a very unrealistic understanding of pain, empathy, endurance, respect and coping.

However as I matured and experienced the world I realized that the forms of strength I was familiar with growing up have very little to do with the human strengths that I admire today.

The notion that personal strength means not speaking about painful things, not showing emotions, not showing love, not offering empathy and not being vulnerable seems completely ridiculous to me today. Especially now.

Although many of those I grew up with may still cling to the belief that being tough or strong means being silent and emotionless I feel much more able now to reject this notion and leave those people to their convictions and their fate.

I have been able to construct my own understanding of personal strength based on my experiences of life and the world, and I feel much more comfortable with doing this with each passing year.

It has been my experience that personal strength has almost nothing to do with physical abilities or emotional suppression, in fact the very notion seems absurd to me now. I can’t believe that I bought into such an idea for so long!

The types of personal strengths that I admire today are such things as daring to try new ideas and open our minds to alternative thoughts and experiences; even when they test our long held beliefs. There is true strength in continuing to keep going after many failures or mistakes and yet still determined to carry on regardless.

There is exceptional strength in revealing our real thoughts and feelings even though we don’t know how they will be received. Only those who have had felt the pain of rejection yet still choose to be a feeling and emotionally giving person will ever know the strength required.

There are incredible amounts of personal strength required when you face daily pain and struggle and yet you choose to keep going and keep living for the benefit of others, to help them rather than for any personal benefit. This is something very few people today can appreciate especially when society keeps sending messages about entitlements and personal power. Very few comprehend the notion of responsibility and living for altruistically.

There is enormous strength needed to forgive others for the deep pains they have caused us and even more strength to forgive ourselves for the pain we have caused. The ability to still believe in ourselves and find beauty in ourselves when the world turns its back or closes its mind is something so difficult that it levels any physical pain to obscurity.

In this era of disposable and replaceable living it is harder to hold on to things than to simply push them aside.

True emotional maturity and personal growth requires far more strength and commitment than does physical strength and muscle power. Time and time again I have seen people admire things which look impressive but lacks deeper substance and meaning.

Finally, it has been my experience that believing in yourself, your worth, your beauty and your truth takes Herculean strength that very few people posses or are taught to nurture.

Time and time again I have had my self worth and value questioned and my honesty and credibility challenged by friends, family, loved ones, society and by the medical profession simply because I have diseases that affect my physical abilities and capabilities! I can say without fear of contradiction that facing all this and yet still choosing to go on and hold on to self respect and dignity is the hardest thing anyone will ever do and those who continue to do this, day after day, are the strongest people you will ever meet in this world!

Gentle hugs,

Trish.