Stop Glaring at Your Own Reflection

Stop Glaring at Your Own Reflection

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)

Jenni Grover Prokopy

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.

About Jenni:

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.

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Authored by: Jenni Grover Prokopy

There are 13 comments for this article
  1. William Dorn at 11:14 am

    There is strengh in numbers.If everyone in pain and there friends and family members would pick up the phone and call there elected officals asking them to change these cruel cdc guidelines we can get it done.Remember there are millions of us and votes are what they listen to.

  2. Marilyn Fabrizi at 6:31 am

    Hi…I recently found this website and it’s been a Godsend. Your article is so on point and speaks to countless days of loathing my reflection because of intense jawbone pain. Twenty years of chronic pain and fatigue, and constantly fighting it has been difficult. I used to think perhaps I was weak for not being able to endure it. Now I believe the opposite; I have maintained a career I love in Cardiology (Echo), with the unwavering support and love of my wonderful husband. He reminds me of who I am..not just someone who is always in pain. Thanks for so effectively verbalizing what many of us feel daily. Now I better go shower and make that hubby a good meal because we BOTH deserve it;)

  3. Janet Mollica at 5:23 pm

    Thank you for offering me & others the mantra of self love. I stay upset with my body! I’m good to myself but always pushing & saying Yes you can darn it! I don’t allow myself to ever rest or stop- I’m working 95 hours a week right now & my body is screaming out. I have to support & feed myself, so life is hard. Thx again for sharing your Girl in the Mirror…. I too see an exhausted old person staring me down with desperate eyes & a lonely heart. Sad but true.

  4. Ivan Aikenback at 4:05 pm

    It is not so hard to accept the fact that for millions, chronic pain is a difficult part of life. Just like any part of life that may be difficult, you find a way to deal with it. For millions of chronic pain patients the only treatment left for us is being removed from the table. What to do, to remain with a positive attitude? Write your state politicians. Write your governor. Write Congress. Write the President. The CDC “guideline” is discriminating against chronic pain patients that have been treated and are stable. I would think that treatment for those that can not deal with chronic pain very well need to be helpfully treated, not punished and discarded from society.
    Write your politicians about the unjust treatment of those in chronic pain.

  5. Becky at 2:36 pm

    For a long time I felt this way also. Sometimes I would go days and never go out of the house. The pity parties were endless. Then one day I woke up and decided enough was enough, I make it my mission every day to get up, shower, get dressed and be alive. I hurt whether I am doing anything or not so I go and do things. Sometimes I overdo and some days I don’t but I am alive and I will not give up. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  6. JoDawn at 1:36 pm

    God bless you. I needed that, well, as much as you can imagine. ❤

  7. Jean Price at 11:47 am

    Yes! Changing the tapes we play in our minds, talking to ourselves with more respect and love, stepping away from blaming ourselves for feeling more pain on days we might overshoot our capacities through a pure “grin and bear it” mind set….all this and more can help us live more comfortably and yes, even more happily with pain!

    This article is about being human…feeling the burden of pain, the weight of our bodies from conditions that plague us at our very core! And having the compassion for ourselves that we so willingly extend to others! To just say…I’m sorry you hurt so much, my body! You’re tough and good, and you try so hard! Then maybe asking….what can I do to help! And listening for your inner wisdom to tell you what’s needed most! Minute by minute, sometimes. However will be ENOUGH!

    Thanks for opening this dialogue for us, it’s important to partner with our bodies in this life of pain…not bash them or let them bash us and our emotions! Living with pain is dreadful and draining to all of our senses and capacities to keep going. Yet there are silver linings and small times of adventure and joy and wonder, if we but change how we define them, and embrace ourselves! It does help! And it’s the right thing to do! Our body didn’t choose this either….even if it’s a genetic malady! Be generous with your body! And with ALL OF YOURSELF! You’re so worth it!

  8. Suzanne B. Stewart at 11:06 am

    Hi Jenni, It’s Suzanne Stewart here! Honestly as I read this today, a tear ran down my cheek! Thank you ! I feel EXACTLY like you! I do too much then I can’t do anything and I get mad at the girl who’s in the same pj’s she had on yesterday and dark circles under her eyes where a brightness used to be!! That brightness cones back now and again because I try to do the things you have said! I don’t stay down too long or I feel I may stay that way! I think of the good things and then I wash my face etc. Thank you again because my husband & I watched our 2 & 4 yr old granddaughters from 9:30 am-1:30 pm yesterday, then I rested & we went to my SIL birthday dinner! Today I’m that girl! Thank you thank you thank you! I always keep in mind the things you taught us last summer at the pain summit too! I try to say “I live with….” instead of “I suffer from…” I don’t go on and list all of my ailments from A-Z, just say one or two!! You’re awesome!!!

  9. Judy at 9:39 am

    Thank you Jenni….I agree 100%!!! I’ve been living with chronic pain for 25 years, it’s been quite the journey, made even more so with the addition of chronic fatigue & a few other issues, but I eventually found my way to “acceptance”. Acceptance is NOT giving up. My doctor told me several years ago to “learn to live with the pain”……I thought he was an idiot, uncaring man for saying that, but now I’ve come to realize he was just trying to tell me to “accept my life of pain”….
    .I’m still in pain 24/7/365 but I no longer fight it every day, I’m not a pain warrior….
    fighting it every day took it’s toll on me. I don’t have the quality of life I wish I had, I can’t do many of the things I used to do, taking care of ME is my full time job….and my only job. It’s exhausting, but I’m doing the best I can….and I’ve accepted that this is what the rest of my life will be. The Serenity Prayer is my daily mantra.

  10. Tammy Crawford at 6:53 am

    I loved this article so much. It spoke thousands to me. It was like she was writing exactly how I feel when I’m in chronic pain everyday. I love how on point and emotional she was.Everyone with chroinic pain needs to read this article.

  11. Laurie o at 4:59 am

    This sounds EXACTLY like the books I’m reading by Dr John E Sarnos, MD. He also says that abusive treatment of oneself (thoughts) makes things worse. Acceptance of oneself is surprisingly frightening, but very helpful for having more good days (in my case, at least). Very good advice I shall continue to practice and share.

  12. danny harris at 4:57 am

    can you tell me the chronic pain advisor for Georgia please mam.thanks,and God bless

  13. Leigh A Peltier at 4:26 am

    Thanks Jenni. I needed to hear this today. I’m off my RA meds because I’m having surgery in 3 days and it’s been much tougher than I thought. My pain level is 100, moving is difficult and I cry daily. I’m tired of pushing and tired of excuses. Thanks for reminding me I’m human. And a good one at that

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