One thing I’ve had trouble with is expressing self-compassion. When you’re a driven perfectionist it’s easy to believe that “giving yourself a break” is tantamount to “going soft” and “losing your edge”.
I couldn’t forgive myself when I felt that I’d failed. And guess what, getting cancer made me feel like a failure. I had tried to live the healthiest adult live I could, given the sometimes-limited resources I had, often denying myself what others called “pleasures” or “indulgences”.
The fact that I was convinced that I shouldn’t have gotten cancer was a recurring theme early on in this blog–I was convinced that I must have done something wrong, even when I tried so hard to do my best.
I was also ashamed. Cancer, I felt, opened my life up to judgment by others.
Getting myself out of that funk took serious work. It meant rewiring my brain and allowing in the same kindness and compassion for myself that I allowed for others. At the same time, I reminded myself of a quote by author and humor columnist Dave Barry: “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” I prefer to interpret Barry’s words in this way: I cannot be genuinely kind and non-judgmental to others until I’ve learned to be so to myself.
But how do you do that when you’ve spent your life pushing yourself, not accepting excuses? It wasn’t until I hit the lowest low that I ever experienced that I learned to dip into unadulterated compassion for myself. I imagined who I was as a chemo patient–skinny, bald, dehydrated, vulnerable, frightened. And suddenly felt it: that overwhelming desire to wrap my arms around that version of me and protect it.
And while that was “cancer me”, I realized that same version of me was the scared person inside that I had always bullied with perfectionism and accusations of not being good enough. This was who I really was, in need of and deserving of gentle holding.
It took a life threatening illness to make me realize that I deserved kindness and compassion. I believe that you are deserving of the same. Do something today to prove it to yourself.