Why I Struggle With Self-Love as a Person Who Has Chronic Pain

It’s official, folks: I have come to the conclusion that loving yourself is significantly more difficult than loving someone else. I’m never smart enough, witty enough or beautiful enough (as I see it) – and yet I love my partner, family and friends as if they were made of rainbows. Why is this? How do I make it stop?

Example 1: I was at my yoga studio about a month ago when I overhead a woman (who, in my rosy-colored opinion, looked like she galloped straight out of a J. Crew catalogue) say, “I’m so nervous. I just don’t look like a person who would do yoga.” What? Why didn’t anyone tell me you have to look a certain way to breathe and stretch? You can imagine the panic that set in as I examined my own body’s nooks and crannies while listening to her degrading self-analysis. My leggings were faded from black to a weird shade of chalkboard gray, my arms jiggled like day-old Jell-O salad and the blonde stripe in my hair was snaking through my bun in all of the oddest places. I basically looked like a hungover zebra, you guys.

Example 2: In the fall, about two weeks after one of the harder surgical experiences of my life, I found myself eating a sandwich and suddenly unable to chew or swallow. I laughed a little bit, amused by how little it takes to entertain me at times, but soon realized the left side of my face had drooped. I quickly ran to the bathroom and tried brushing my teeth, with the same dismal outcome. Arm & Hammer dripped down my chin and onto the sink in small, mushed puddles. I rushed to the emergency room, fearful of something like a stroke. The minute I walked in, facial paralysis painstakingly obvious to the triage staff, they tested my blood sugar and quickly inserted an IV. Thankfully, after seeing a few doctors as well as my ear surgeon’s resident, it was determined I had delayed onset Bell’s palsy, caused from the stress of the surgery, which had re-ignited a virus I had hanging out in my body since a childhood case of the chicken pox.

Because of the stiffness of my eyebrow, the inability to close my eye and the sad droop of my mouth, I spent a lot of time holed up at home and embarrassed about the way I looked. When visitors dropped by to visit, I’d coyly cuddle up with a blanket on the affected side or tell serious stories that didn’t require me to crack a smile. But why? Everyone else around me didn’t care. My brother made jokes about Halloween costumes and my boyfriend wanted to buy tiny bells for me to ring whenever I needed something. The self-hate might have been more impactful than the temporary paralysis, which ended up lasting about three months.

I could go on and on but I think you get my point. I’m not very nice to myself. The human experience is polarizing, especially when coupled with chronic pain, and I’m only making it worse by judging myself for what I’m not. Perhaps if I spent more time building myself up and loving who I am and what I do have to offer, I’d rely far less on others and experiences to make me feel whole.

One day, I hope to see myself as the magical unicorn others seemingly do. I want to wake up feeling like homemade marshmallows or the perfect cup of drip coffee. But to get to that point in my life, I think I need to start working a little harder on being kinder to myself, Jell-O arms and all.

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