People keep telling me over and over that I need to give myself some grace to deal with my illness, to deal with my grief, to deal with the pandemic, etc. I listen and then immediately ask myself, “What does that mean?” So I looked it up:
According to Mashable: Give yourself grace is permission to forgive your mistakes, lapses in judgment, and hurtful behavior, because no one is perfect.
According to Kristin Meekhof in Psychology Today: Grace happens. Grace is about acceptance, forgiveness, love; and as hard and bitter as this is to swallow, it heals you unlike anything else. There is no magic formula, but those who are open to the possibility of it occurring and those who practice self-compassion will tell you that grace begins to mold together the fractures.
So after reading these definitions, I said to my therapist, “So I’ve been trying to give myself grace by being kind to myself” but her response was that I needed to reframe things and it is more than being kind. Honestly, I was at a loss. I just don’t understand how to give myself grace.
As a kid, I attended Catholic school. Religion was taught by very old nuns (honestly, my 4th grade teacher was 80). I remember very clearly my 2nd grade nun saying “Loving yourself was a sin”. I thought God wouldn’t love me if I loved myself. No joke. I remember saying “I hate myself” as a kid because I thought that was the “right” thing to do. As I got older, I learned that idea was not in fact true, but I still never quite learned how to love me or envision what that looked like. I still struggle with it, a lot. I’ve never felt “enough” for anyone, especially myself. I wouldn’t say anyone specifically made me feel this way, but it’s always been a clear thought in my brain. I knew people loved me, yet I always felt unlovable. This idea got worse when I got sick in my early 30’s. I already thought I was unloveable, then add in a life-long chronic illness? I saw myself as cracked on the inside and completely broken. Why would anyone want to be with me when I was so imperfect.? I’ve worked hard to get past that over the years, but the seed is always still present. Like a weed that sprouts up over and over no matter what I do. It didn’t help that I was in relationships over the years with men who helped to perpetuate that belief. I’ve had significant others who told me to “take your medication so we can get moving” and “I just can’t support someone who takes so much medication”. My favorite when my one boyfriend told me preexisting conditions shouldn’t be covered by insurance and that I if we ever got married, I would have to have my own insurance because it would take too big a chunk out of his paycheck to cover me. (We lasted less than 3 months). In hindsight, I think I gravitated to people I hoped would accept me instead of gravitating to people who just loved me…..but that is a story for another day.
So now, I’m at a place in my life where I feel I have no bearings. I’ve had 4 losses in a year during a pandemic. Two a direct result of the coronavirus. I’m grieving, alone, and my health is at a serious low point. I’m also navigating a career in a pandemic that is so different from what I have known and loved for years. Work was always my “safe space” where I felt good about myself. Where I was confident. COVID has taken that confidence away. I feel like the constantly changing world of education is more of a roller coaster than I can manage most days. I wake up each morning and can’t wait to go back to bed. I miss my dad and my Georgia so much that my heart just aches. I worry about my mom and her well-being so much that I can’t sleep at night. How do I give myself grace during a time like this? What does that mean? What should I be doing? I feel selfish for focusing on myself when my mom is suffering, too. I don’t know how to fix anything and I am a fixer. I’m so far out of my element that I don’t recognize myself. The only thing I do recognize is that I need help.
I put myself in therapy and I started doing research on grace, grieving, and self compassion. I came across a blog post called “5 Ways To Give Yourself Grace” by Rebecca Werts on a blog called “Iridescent Women” and I finally found a road map that makes sense to me even when I have no idea how to navigate these steps, but I’m going to really try.
Evaluate the expectations. Like the author, I often set expectations for myself that are not realistic. I drove over 350 miles to get my mom a vaccine, then drove another 60 miles to get my cat to a vet….and I wondered why I crashed so hard after having a medical procedure the following Monday. There was nothing left in my tank so push me through. I crashed hard. I felt terrible guilt over taking a sick day, but I did it. I need to start looking more realistically at things I can and can’t do. I’m over 50 with a debilitating illness, I’m not capable physically of what my mind wants me to do.
Establish healthy boundaries. I suck at this. I don’t let people take advantage of me, but I get so wrapped up in what I have to do, that I left other relationships fall to the side. I simply don’t have enough energy. Right now, I admit, I am avoiding a lot of relationships simply because I can’t talk to people without crying. It’s lonely and not healthy, but I am not ready. This is something I need to work on. My relationships with people, food, exercise, and my health are all pretty skewed. I’m taking things one day at a time and even made a list. So far, I’ve checked off a few things and am feeling positive about it.
Embrace the beauty of evolving. In some ways, I feel like I may evolve too much. I’ve taken this crazy journey of advocacy and it has brought so much into my life. I often take a leap without fear of failing but also without planting roots deep enough to stick. I didn’t realize this until someone told me they don’t know how I do everything that I do. I see myself as the most boring person who does nothing. In reality, I never stop doing things like work, advocacy, blogging, podcasting, etc. Maybe to others it seems like I’m busy and fulfilled. I think I constantly evolve to not ever have to be still with myself. If it wasn’t for my pets, I think I’d be void of purpose. Being their mom brings me joy.
Use mistakes as learning opportunities. I don’t know how to function through grief. I know there is not right or wrong (as long as I am not hurting anyone or myself). I fluctuate daily between anger, sadness, and numbness. I wouldn’t say I am making mistakes in my process, but I definitely need to start learning and moving on. I feel like I do not learn from my mistakes. I push myself until I crash over and over. I need to start reframing things and make realistic goals for what I can accomplish. Not asking for help has been my biggest mistake. I can admit that now.
Have more self-compassion. To say I am my own worst critic is not an exaggeration. I honestly don’t know how to be nice to myself. For example, I love manicures. It’s my guilty pleasure. During the pandemic, I actually taught myself how to do full dip powder/sms manicures due to the closure. This past week, I was feeling down and really wanted a manicure. I thought it would cheer me up. I went and felt so guilty during and after I got it. Why? Because I am afraid I may pass something on to my mom or someone else. It may be irrational, but dad was infected by someone who wasn’t showing symptoms. I don’t know if I could live with myself if I made someone sick, especially my mom. Do I deserve to do something I enjoy? Yes. Guilt is making that hard to accept. I thought about hiding the fact that I went. That is how stressed I feel over doing something for myself. I also think people will think I am vain. I came home and ordered out and got a big old dessert. Then I hated myself for eating it. I don’t know how to have self-compassion. I take care of myself, but I don’t know how to love myself. The only way I know to be kind to myself is by not pushing myself when I feel like my body is breaking down. My only self kindness is letting myself sleep in on the weekends.
The author of this post, Rebecca Werst sums up giving yourself grace in this way: “Grace is not a privilege or luxury—it’s a gift we embrace for ourselves and give to others, knowing that life is a journey, not a destination. ” I fear this journey for me is going get even more difficult before it gets better. I lost the anchor to my family when I lost my dad. Each step I take moving forward without him to anchor me feels uncertain. I promised my dad that I would take care of my mom no matter what. I forgot to promise him that I would take care of myself, too.
In closing, people often ask me why I share so much of my life in my blog. One, it is therapeutic. Two, through sharing my story, I’ve connected with so many people who just “get it”. Others who learn they are not alone in their feelings. I find solace in knowing I am not alone, too. Dealing with chronic illness while grieving is unchartered territory for me. Thank you for joining me on my journey to find grace.
A link to the blog post referenced in Iridescent Women is here: https://bit.ly/3sZgf2d