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What a Goat Taught Me About Self-Compassion Amid Chronic Illness

I’ve heard it over and over. But, since becoming chronically
ill and dealing with depression, I just can’t make myself believe it.

“We’re all children of God.”

“Every human has inherent value.”

“Have compassion for yourself.”

Yes, objectively, I understand that regardless of what I do
(or don’t do), my life has value. But when depression takes over my thoughts and I’m overcome with guilt because of what I can’t do anymore, it’s hard to convince myself that this is true. I graduated from college earlier this year, but unlike all of my friends, I don’t have a job. I live with my parents. I’m not really actively searching for a job, because the last few jobs I was offered I had to turn down because I wouldn’t be able to do it physically.

I know there will come a day when I will be better…when I will look back on these days with nothing but compassion for myself, compassion for the struggle I was facing. But some days, it just seems like I don’t matter; like I have to do something with my life for it to matter.

Some nights, this is enough for me. Knowing that objectively
my life matters, and there will be a day when I will believe this. When I will treasure my life like the incredible gift it is. But some nights, this isn’t enough. And on a night like that last week, I wasn’t sure how to stop crying…how to make myself believe that it would be OK. Because I already was OK, I just didn’t know how to make myself believe it.

Until I looked up at the picture on my wall and saw, of all things, a goat. I started volunteering once a week at an animal sanctuary farm a few weeks ago. When I finish my other chores at the farm, I am allowed to brush the goats and pet them. Unlike some of the other animals which are suspicious of humans due to past abuse, the goats are always eager to see me. They come prancing up to me, smiling, and rub against me waiting to be brushed.

As I sit there, brushing the goats, every concern in the world disappears. I feel myself smile, not in a forced effort towards positivity, but in an almost unconscious reaction to the absolute joy in front of me.

Last week, as I sat in my room crying because I didn’t see how my life could matter if I wasn’t doing anything, I thought back to the goats. The goats bring me infinite joy to spend time with, even just thinking about them brings a smile to my face. I don’t love the goats because they do something for me, or because they’re doing incredible work that will save the world, I love them just because of who they are. Just the idea of their existence brings me joy.

And that, I realize, is why we all matter. To someone, now or in the future, our very existence will bring them joy. Whether you believe in a God who loves all humanity as his children, or whether it’s a future friend, or a parent years ago, your very existence is enough to bring joy to their life. And that, I believe, means that we should love and accept ourselves, because if our lives mean that much to others, then they must be important to us.

I would be crushed if I thought the goats didn’t value their life, if they didn’t think that they mattered. What if something that brings so much joy to my life didn’t see it’s life as important? It might never know how much it means to me, so I just have to hope that it is able to treat itself with the love and understanding that it deserves.

Now, when I have trouble believing that my life matters, I think of the goat. Without doing anything, the goat brings joy to my life. If a goat can do that, then so can all humans. When I try to be compassionate to myself, I picture the goat. I remind myself to love myself the way this goat deserves love. And so do I. So does everybody. Because all life is worthy of love. Infinitely, regardless of what we do, just because of who we are.

Photo credit: Lubo Ivanko/Getty Images

Originally published: March 15, 2020
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