I just finished a book a called Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan, a fascinating story about how the author, a young woman in her mid-twenties, went through a year long battle with a rare auto-immune disorder that affected her brain functioning and mimicked the signs of schizophrenia. She eventually recovered fully. As Cahalan chronicled her amazing, long and arduous recovery, which included massive amounts of steroid treatment, among other things, I was really struck by something I noticed in her narrative. Cahalan repeatedly described how ashamed she was of her weight gain and round, moon-like face – both typical side-effects of steroid treatment. She used words like, “apalled,” “embarrassed,” “roasted pig,” “disgusting” in recalling how she looked during recovery.
To be perfectly honest, this made me extraordinarily sad, not just for this author, but for people in general. Think about this: if your sister, friend or co-worker were going through a treatment that had adverse physical side-effects, or even permanent symptoms, how would you think about that person? Would you be critical, sardonic and negative about them – or would you have thoughts like, “They are going through such a tough time,” and “Wow, so-and-so is so strong! Look at all she’s handling and she still keeps going!” My guess is, like me, you would feel compassion and admiration for anyone else. So then, why are we so MEAN to ourselves?
Why is our self-talk so often negative, derisive, judgmental and unforgiving? I would venture to say all of us say things to ourselves (or at least think things) that we would never say to someone else!
I kept thinking, as I read Cahalan’s self-criticism, about how much she deserved to be thinking things like, “I am AMAZING! I am making such great progress! I am so grateful to be alive! I’ve been through so much, I need to give myself grace.” Really, that’s something we all need to take to heart. You and I are our own worst enemies. We experience something awful, hard, excruciating, and then we heap a bunch of nasty self-talk on top of it all. Well, I say “ENOUGH!” Every life comes with it’s share of garbage – the last thing we need to be doing is compounding it with our own thoughts and words. So, STOP IT! Yes, I’m talking to you. STOP being unkind, mean, rude, and hurtful to yourself. Ultimately, you are all you’ve got baby, and you’d better be your own best champion.
So, next time you’re struggling with something, whether it be learning something new, an illness, or a set back of any kind, I want you to think of yourself just as you would a dear friend. Be encouraging. Be kind. Be hopeful and uplifting. Give yourself lots of credit and lots of grace. Nap when you need to. Eat good food. Say no to everything non-essential (and that’s nearly everything we pack our lives with really.) Cheer yourself on as you make progress, no matter how slow, and show yourself LOVE – just as you would to anyone else you care about. Because in the end, you taking care of you will make your road to healing that much more achievable. And guess what? It will make you a better person to those you love too.