Something I’ve always struggled with is believing that I deserve certain things that most people would probably consider basic human needs. Happiness, love, comfort; what have I ever done in life to deserve these things? Surely there are people much more deserving of them who are going without… why should I be any different?
These feelings have been magnified recently by illness. I’ve lost some of the major components of my identity, my brains and my drive, and without these I’ve started to believe that I deserve less and less. Slowly I’ve been losing my strength and letting people dull my light. Over the past two years I’ve went from somewhat self-assured to being in a constant state of self doubt and apologizing for the shortcomings that come along with being chronically ill. It may not always translate in my writing, but there is nothing I’m more insecure about then the limitations brought upon by my Lyme disease.
I decided this week though that I will no longer be apologizing for my perceived shortcomings from illness. This new found gumption came from, of all people, Selena Gomez. Flash back to two years ago when I was undergoing test after test to prove and disprove a diagnosis of lupus around the same time it was revealed that Selena was struggling with the disease. I immediately latched on to her story. While I now know we’re fighting two very distinct illnesses, her struggles with chronic illness still resonate with me as she battles not only physical but also the mental symptoms of her disease.
This week when addressing her need to take a step back she said “I’m putting my health first, because in doing so, I know everything else will fall into place.” In other words, health needs to be the only priority, because without health, we have nothing.
As Oprah would say; this was my “ah hah moment.” Why did it take me so long to realize this? Since becoming sick I’ve been so focused on how to do things despite my illness, it never occurred to me that doing the exact opposite might be more beneficial. Sure I’ve embraced self-care and learned the need to rest and recoup, but I’ve still been in a constant state of comparing myself to others and focusing on what my illness means I can’t do. I’m still constantly beating myself up over not performing like the healthy version of me would have.
This past week I was entirely ready to give up an appointment with my doctor in Maine because of a work deadline I was worried about missing. My father who normally remains calm, cool and collected said my decision was making him physically ill, but I couldn’t understand why. Surely he realized the importance of getting x, y and z done at work… after all, isn’t that the most important thing?
But hearing Selena’s quote made me think about what will happen if I keep thinking this way. I’ve already had to stop working for an extended period of time once, do I really want to risk this again for a one time deadline? Do I really want to risk relapsing just so I can avoid three days vacation? Is my long term health really less important than a short term deadline? Long after my career is over I’ll still be battling the effects of chronic Lyme disease, shouldn’t mitigating these symptoms take priority?
The truth is I’ll never be at my best again until I am healthy, so from now on this needs to be the priority. No more compromising, no more excuses. I am taking time to rest when needed, I am taking time to work out when I can, I am making sure I’m eating Lyme friendly at all times and I will never even consider the possibility of missing an appointment again. I’ve started leaving work immediately at 5:00 and because of this am finally able to start attending yoga classes, and I actually think this is helping. I’ve removed myself from a few stressful situations by simply walking away. I’ve made time for old friends who undoubtedly boost my mental health.
Prior to last week I would have done some of these things in isolation of one another, but I would have been racked with guilt simply because others around me choose to prioritize their lives differently. But from now on what others choose to prioritize is no longer my concern. I am making all decisions with my health at the forefront.
I am no longer feeling guilty and I am no longer apologizing for anything that will impact my health in the slightest. From now on I am working on my health, and in doing so, I am letting the rest fall into place as it may.