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.
*Tabula Rasa (Latin) - Blank slate.