How Fibromyalgia and other Chronic Illness Can Drastically Affect Your Self-Esteem

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How to Cope with a Low Self-Esteem and Chronic Illness

Our society makes it challenging to have a positive self-esteem. We are taught from the cradle to base our own sense of worth upon the opinions of others.  We are a reflection of the way the world perceives us. Add a long-term illness to the mix and the result can be catastrophic.

According to an article on Psychology Today,  a negative self-esteem is based on believing these five assumptions we see society reflecting on ourselves.

 

1. Our Appearance

When others view us the first thing they usually notice is if we are attractive and well-kept. While a healthy person often goes out of their way to dress for an outing it can end up backfiring for someone who is chronically ill, especially during the phase of seeking a diagnosis. We’re well aware we will be judged by our appearance and we often want to make a good impression on a new doctor. The difficulty becomes when the illness is largely invisible and the medical profession is prone to looking for psychological reasons. We go in with makeup, hair done, and a decent outfit to complain about strange symptoms and we send mixed messages. When I was first having issues I was often told I didn’t look sick. In fact, even my “psychological” diagnoses always seemed to be catered for someone attractive and intelligent. Somehow it wasn’t the ego boost I needed.

Eventually, I learned if I wanted to be taken seriously as a patient I would have to compromise in appearance. I quit making such a huge effort to get ready and I discovered I was taken more seriously. As I learned to give up my vanity my self-esteem went up. As time passed it became less important to show the world I was able to keep up with my looks. Ironically, the less important these things became to me the less important they became to everyone else who mattered to me.

The reality is that looks fade and those who fight the battle with surgery, skin creams and unrealistic expectations are dealing with their own lack of self-esteem.

2. Our Net Worth

The message society sends us is that money buys happiness. While a decent income does make life more satisfying studies have proven there’s a point where money becomes problematic. Just look at all the wealthiest people of the world driven to make more and more money. To what end? The boy with the most toys never wins in the end.

When we have a prolonged illness we tend to be habitually poor. Medical tests are expensive and treatments tend toward outrageous. The $1,000 pills that don’t work end up in a dumpster and we still struggle to pay for groceries. Once we accept what we have and become grateful for the small things we often discover we are open to other blessings. Let’s consider it from another perspective. The vast bulk of the contributions to society comes from those who can’t afford to spare it, whether in money, time, or talent.

3. Who We Know

Society tends to give kudos to those who know the rich and famous. Well, unfortunately, a majority of us are at least a few degrees away from anyone of any merit. Even if we do know a few of these people it’s pretty inconsequential in the scheme of things. Knowledge isn’t necessarily power when it’s leading away from the right direction. We cannot afford to focus our energies on whom we don’t know when the important people are standing right next to us, even if “next to us” is on social media.

We need to believe we can become that most important person for ourselves. When we glean knowledge and hope it passes along to others, even when we don’t see it.  The world changes one person at a time until a group comes together with a common goal.

4. What We Do

Now, we get to the nitty-gritty of what it means to be chronically ill. Before our entire universe seemed to collapse we were somebody special. We had hopes and dreams that held our imaginations and allowed us to fly to new heights. Suddenly, one day we’re flat on our backs in bed looking up at a gray sky.

At this point, we learn to separate what we do from our net worth and the next assumption, what we achieve. We learn to take on the days during which we are unable to do anything and lay down a foundation for the day we have that extra energy boost, no matter how tiny that boost. These are the days to dream and plan. We can’t set ourselves up for failure either, but celebrate the two minutes it took to unload the dishwasher because we accomplished something! Before the enforced downtime we might have moved mountains. Maybe it’s time to focus on a few mole hills? Which leads me to our next point.

5. What We Achieve

Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend wrote her books while completely bedridden with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Many celebrities have managed to fight their own battles and meet their dreams. Our life is not over, we have the opportunity to change the plot of our story.

When we are first diagnosed or feel too disabled, we find this information depressing. We can’t be expected to do more than what is before us now, this very moment. Let’s  leave tomorrow to tomorrow and take care of ourselves. We each need to consider what we wish to leave behind in this world, our legacy. Perhaps something as simple as a loving word to someone who needs desperately to hear it or an hour in front of a cartoon with a child. When we focus on something outside our own little world of pain and sorrow it’s as good for our physical well-being as an hour in a counselor’s office, and better than that extra pain pill.

 

For support and Discussion join the group “Living with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Illness”

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