Wednesday 20 March 2013

Tabula Rasa

I am always amazed by is how a single negative comment can outweigh a dozen positive. Doesn't matter if it's about me personally, the blog, my shoes, how I do my hair, cook a a meal or even my taste in TV shows. If I'm not careful, every single good comment can be swept away with one little ,"you suck". Doesn't even matter who it comes from. Stranger, friend, family, that negative is like a tsunami sweeping away all before it. For some inexplicable reason many of us tend to hold onto those negatives. We imbue them with a power that is hard to dislodge. And ruminate upon them until we adopt them as our own. Self-flagellation at it's finest. All because that one comment tapped into an emotional raw spot in our psyche. 

I still recall every nasty nickname or put down, from primary and high school. I remember every time I was told I was not good enough. Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Not something enough. Most of the time I can put it in it's place, but every now and then a crack opens up in my defences and someone will make a comment and all those old feelings will flare up as raw as they were back the day when they were first laid into my being. 

Being chronically ill my emotional resources are often stretched and on the days when I am really tired and really unwell those negative comments can end up gaining an importance they simply don't deserve. And being chronically ill you will be told all the ways you are doing it wrong, or how your response, or even you, are essentially a failure.

It's bad enough at a personal level, but for me one of the most heartbreaking aspects of living with a chronic illness is hearing how poorly others in the same position, are treated by those in their life. It's one of those times where I wish others didn't "get it". Where you would expect compassion there is, for many, naught but derision and criticism. Somehow our society has moved to a place where people are blamed for illness. Not just strangers, but family members and so-called friends. All competing to tell us how we are doing things wrong. As if illness, or an inability to recover, is somehow a personal failing.

So often I hear tales from fellow patients where they are told that the way they live their lives, deal with their illness, generally choose to live, are wrong. 

They are too engrossed in their illness. 

They are not trying hard enough. 

They want to be ill. 

Or the old chestnut, "it's all in your head".  

Despite logically knowing that we are doing our best under extremely challenging and often painful circumstances, we are often left feeling guilty or bereft because that little voice in the back of our minds, whispers "maybe they are right?" Somehow we give a monumental amount of importance to the perceptions of others. Others who are not living our lives and have only the briefest and most superficial glimpse of our day-to-day existence. We imbue others with an expert status on a topic they really know nothing about.

A long time ago, I realised that the question I needed to ask myself is, "how do the perceptions of others add to my life?" Do they bring positivity and joy, or do they make me feel worse? And if their ledger came up in the negative I put up boundaries or in some cases, cut people out of my life altogether. 

I cannot prevent others from being critical and negative about me and the way I choose to live my life or deal with my illness. But I can choose the importance I place upon their opinions. 

I can choose me. 

And I am worth it.

I choose to surround myself with those who bring me happiness and joy and who help me see that it's okay to simply be me, warts and all. Those who add to my life, not crush it at every opportunity or when I am most vulnerable. There are some I can't avoid, but I now choose how much weight I give their opinions and put a soul-preserving distance between us. 

None of us can control the actions of others, but we can choose whether we allow them the honour of writing on the slates of our lives. And it is an honour. Our sense of self is precious. Too often we are taught to undervalue ourselves and our needs. We carve the negative in stone, and hold it near and dear. We cherish it and repeat it to ourselves until it is all we can see. And in the end no one is ever satisfied. Not those who criticise. And especially not ourselves. 

In life we have choices, and one is to decide who we allow to define who we are. Have those we allow to direct how we feel about ourselves, really earned that power? Do they add to our lives or do they subtract from that which defines our perceptions of self worth? It's a hard lesson and one that takes work. Sometimes criticism is constructive and sometimes it is not. But by learning to value those who add to our lives and equally put the negative in their place, it can make what is already a difficult time a little easier.

Becoming ill you undertake a crash course in sorting out the wheat from the chaff. You are forced to re-evaluate what helps and what doesn't. You are forced to re-evaluate how you see yourself and how you want to see yourself. There will always be someone who puts you down or tells you that you aren't enough, but those people don't deserve the honour of defining how you see yourself. 

It can be challenging and heartbreaking, but you are worth the effort. Never forget that. 

Michelle :) 

*Tabula Rasa (Latin) - Blank slate.


  1. Good post. Also remember that behaving in this way to someone disabled is discrimination, and may be hate speech or abuse. It should be no more acceptable than racism or homophobia. Yes, it's horribly common in today's society, but that doesn't mean we should accept it as normal or start wondering what is wrong with us. As with some other manifestations of social inequality, such as sexual violence, it's become standard to blame the victims and examine their behaviour for signs that they "deserved it", usually in such a way that whatever they do, it's wrong. We need to be looking at the perpetrators, identifying what they are doing wrong, calling them out for it, holding them responsible.

    For instance, I once saw a forum post by a young woman who was distresses that her school friends were publicly rude to her when she went out with her snazzy new walking stick. I was horrified to see some people responding with, "well, maybe they didn't like your walking stick, you did say that it was brightly patterned, after all." They should have been saying, "That's outrageous, there's no excuse for such behaviour."

    1. I agree Elettaria. There really has been a change in the way society responds as a whole and it's quite a sad development. For me I know I can tell someone exactly what I think and what they can do with their crap comment, but I feel for those who don't feel able to advocate for themselves. I think more of us are getting more confident to say something, but unfortunately the level of overt aggression from others also seems to be increasing.

  2. As always a wonderful post.

    I've had POTS for so long but my school friends, teachers, employers & colleagues never understood, I've always tried to be perfect at everything, which is impossible for anyone let alone anyone with a chronic illness.

    This led to depression & anxiety getting unbearable. I suffered throughout school and university but in July last year after having had so much time off with my POTS, not being able to achieve perfection, not having the energy after work to come home and cook led me to being severely depressed and anxious again and have had to be off work since then. But I started the process of sorting out my priorities. I have some great friends and family but have removed the critical ones from my life.

    I resigned from my job this week as no matter how many letters my doctors wrote about my depression & POTS they didn't understand. So now I'm going to focus on me, find something that fits around my POTS and work on realising that even if I can't always be perfect, I still have worth.

    1. I so sorry it has gotten to the point that you had to resign from work but am glad you are focusing on you. It's hard to do sometimes but it is one thing we can do for ourselves. Funny that so many of us seem to have been perfectionists. I know I put a lot of pressure on myself for a long time and it only made things worse. It is really hard to let go of that mindset though. Big hugs to you and hoping that this the start of a new and wonderful beginning. xx

  3. Hello. A good post, and I feel sad for people who would judge others for having an illness, those poor fools. I, too, often take the smallest negativities to heart, but I try and remind myself that people too often don't comment at all when you look good / do something good / say something clever, maybe because they put that down to you just 'being you', but are all too quick to point out when you look a bit less good / do something a bit less good.. So basically what I'm saying is that people around you are probably just so used to your total fabulous-ness that they only remark when it drops a little from super-fabulous-level. That's how I choose to see it anyway!! :D

    1. I'm going to go with your thinking painpositveUK. It's a burden we all have to carry, this super-fabulousness! :D

  4. It never ceases to amaze me how you always seem to know exactly how I am thinking or feeling, yet don't have the talent to put it into words that others can understand. Thank you for saying what I wish I could. Such a rare and wonderful talent you have for seeing into the hearts of others and being able to express it! Carla


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