It’s time to show yourself a little love and acceptance
By Jenni Grover Prokopy
(One in a series of columns by Jenni Grover Prokopy – founder of ChronicBabe.com and Illinois State Pain Ambassador for U.S. Pain Foundation)
I am looking at a woman, and she is tired. She is worn out from her pain. She’s wearing the same PJs she put on yesterday morning, even though it’s 4pm today. There are circles under her eyes from the pain and lack of sleep. Her hair is a wild mess, and there are little bits of mascara flaked onto her cheeks because last night, she was too exhausted to take off her makeup. I glare at her.
And I am mad—wow, am I mad! She is like an anchor some days. I’m so tired of hearing her say the pain is wearing her down, that she needs to take a break, that she’s having a flare-up. She’s getting in my way! I have things to do, important things! Why can’t she just leave me alone? Or suck it up, just grit her teeth and bare it?
But she can’t. So here I am, looking at her. Face to face. Staring her down. Trying to come up with the right words to say.
Like if I look in the mirror long enough, she’ll miraculously change.
The thing is, that woman is me, and she’s not going to change. At least, the pain and fatigue are not going away. And if I keep glaring at her—telling her to suck it up—she’s just going to feel worse. If I stay angry at her, I’m just going to get stuck in that anger, and I won’t get a thing done today.
So I take a deep breath. I smile at my reflection. “Hello there, my friend. Looks like you’ve had a really rough day,” I say. “I know you’re hurting, but I think the effort to change into clean PJs is going to be worth it. And while we’re at it, let’s just dab a damp washcloth over your face to get some of that makeup off, okay? And run a brush through your hair? You’re going to feel a lot more human once we do that.”
In my reflection, I see tear roll down my cheek. I see how much that woman just wishes for some relief. And for some understanding. And acceptance.
What I mean by acceptance: I am my own best friend
When we live with chronic pain, we can lose sight of possibilities. We get stuck in anger and fear; we’re too exhausted to think straight, let alone make plans. And in that headspace, it’s easy to just give up. To stop washing off our makeup before bed, or to wear the same clothes day after day. To watch the same mindless TV shows and to share the same goofy memes about suffering from pain on Facebook to pass the time.
And listen: I love a good meme too, and I’ve been known to go for days without washing my hair. I’m not saying we should never go there. Sometimes we need a little time to wallow.
But staying in that headspace long-term can lead to a deep sense of self-loathing. We begin to hate our bodies, to hate how we look because our bodies have changed. We hate the limitations, and we’re angry at people who can do what we can’t. We start glaring at ourselves in the mirror.
I’m here to tell you that is not a viable long-term option. Giving up is just not something I can endorse, and staying mad at yourself for having chronic pain—well, that’s just abusive. You wouldn’t yell at your best friend if she told you she had developed cancer, right? That would be cruel. You wouldn’t question her diagnosis, or her treatment approaches, right? You would accept the circumstances and work with them. You would love her through it all.
It’s time for you to treat yourself like your own best friend. It’s time to accept your circumstances—that you have chronic pain, fatigue, and maybe (if you’re like me) a bunch of other health concerns. You didn’t do anything wrong. You don’t deserve to be scolded or mistreated because you’re sick. You deserve the kind of love and care—and acceptance—you would expect from the people with whom you’re closest.
Today, I want you to try something when you look in the mirror. Instead of being frustrated, angry, or irritated by the face staring back at you, try sending some love to that reflection. Say the things you most need: “I love you. I accept you. I’m so sorry you’re suffering. I’ve got your back.” Instead of being angry that your reflection looks disheveled, consider the circumstances and cut her some slack—it’s been a hard day, maybe in a long series of hard days.
Accept your circumstances instead of lashing out at them. It’s not giving up to accept that you have chronic pain—in fact, it’s the opposite. Acceptance frees you from some of the damaging emotions that arise when you fight your condition, when you stick with anger and resentment. Acceptance can give you more energy to care for yourself, in fact.
So instead of glaring at your reflection and being angry, if you can manage a small smile and some loving words, you’re suddenly a lot closer to feeling okay, even if you still have pain.
Jenni Grover Prokopy founded ChronicBabe.com in 2005 and has been a boisterous advocate for people with chronic pain and illness ever since. A professional speaker and writer with more than 25 years of experience, Jenni believes all people have a story worth telling. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Joe, and enjoys gardening, quilting, and five-minute dance parties in her living room.