Being Kind to Myself

As I navigate the complex process of coming to terms with my RA, I have made an effort to cultivate a positive attitude.  This doesn’t always come naturally to me – I tend to be more pessimistic – but I think it’s an important tool in dealing with a chronic illness.  So far, I’ve been pretty successful at appreciating the little things that add loveliness to life.  I also appreciate the big things, like having a supportive and loving family.  Something I’ve overlooked, though, is that this attitude of appreciation also needs to extend to myself.   

 My recent pity party has caused me to think deeply about autoimmune disease as a metaphor for the way I sometimes treat myself.  Somehow, being kind to myself is something I’ve overlooked.  When I really stop to examine my thinking, I find that I am often… well, MEAN to myself. 

I’ve always been a perfectionist – I think the classical music field attracts them.  If I get a 99 on an assignment or test, I focus on the missing point.  When I make mistakes in life, it’s really, really hard for me to get past them.  I could get into all sorts of psychological reasons why this is the case, but it’s not important right now.  What’s important is recognizing this, and understanding that it doesn’t serve me here.

So, in addition to appreciating little things and big things in my life, I want to commit to treating myself with kindness.  I have a son who is almost two, and if he is hurt or sick or sad, my instinct is to pick him up and hug him.  I can’t imagine saying to him, “What’s wrong with you?  Why can’t you just get over it?”  I can’t imagine that that would help him, either!  So why shouldn’t I treat myself with the same loving kindness?

I’m not sure what this means yet.  Some of it means giving myself the space for a pity party now and then, or finding little ways to comfort myself when things are tough.  Some of it, maybe the more important part right now, means appreciating the things I do to try to improve my life with RA.  It’s hard for me to see these things, and hard to write about them.  It’s also hard to give myself credit for them.  The other day, I asked my husband for help with this.  He began naming things he has seen me do that he thinks are admirable.  And just like that, BAM!  POW!  I blocked each and every one of them:

MY HUSBAND:  You’re really good about taking your pills every day.

ME:  No – remember that one day I forgot them?

MY HUSBAND:  That was one day.

ME:  No, I think it happened more than once.

MY HUSBAND:  Okay… you’ve been really proactive about seeing the doctor when a new symptom comes up, and getting to the bottom of what’s going on.

ME:  Maybe that’s just me being a hypochrondriac.

MY HUSBAND:  But every time you’ve done this, it turns out there really is something wrong.

ME:  Well, maybe I’m CAUSING the problems, then!

(This, by the way, has been another unhealthy theme – that somehow I caused my illness, or that it’s a punishment for something I did wrong at some point in time.  Totally irrational, and I don’t believe for a minute that this is how things work when it comes to OTHER people!)

This, then, is my new challenge for myself: to start appreciating my own efforts.  Now let’s see if I can do it without insisting on doing it perfectly!  :-)

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4 Comments

  1. Cathy says:

    I am always amazed at what we learn while experiencing RA. Enjoy appreciating yourself!

  2. RA Guy says:

    “This, then, is my new challenge for myself: to start appreciating my own efforts. Now let’s see if I can do it without insisting on doing it perfectly!”

    I think that moments like this, where we make new positive intentions for ourselves, are the biggest successes of all. Everything else will follow.

  3. Helen says:

    This post really resonated with me. I’m going to read it again!

    I, too, have always been a perfectionist. I am trying to learn to allow myself to be too tired or too sore to get everything just right.

    I am also terrified that I’m a hypochondriac. But, like you, there really are lots of things wrong with me! I don’t know what makes me say to myself, “well ok, you’ve got arthritis and scoliosis and a heart condition, but come on, stop whining! You’re fine!” I think this frequently, and it’s always hurtful. Hmm.. maybe I should blog about it. :)

  4. Linda Mooney says:

    Those of us with the chronic disease have the A+ type personalities. We all need to do more things for ourselves and be a good patient along the way.

    It took me reaching the age of 50 before I decided it was time to do some things for myself. I had been a good daughter, now both of my parents are deceased, I had been the good wife, 30+ years of marriage, I had been the good mother, attended to all of my childern’s needs and wants and now they were all gone, I had been the good friend, reaching out and sharing and golly the only one missing from that equation was me had I been good to myself along the way (or so I thought) I questioned my disease, what could I have done to brought this upon myself. So I decided that I needed to make a little time for Linda, which I did, so if I felt like shopping and I ran upon something that I wanted I would just buy it, because it may not be there when I got back to that store, etc. and it just plain feels good to get something for yourself every now and then.

    Sorry to ramble but I have enjoyed your blog! Linda/Lulu

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