I Am Enough

Every once in a while I come across a string of words that rocks me to my core.

A few months ago, I had that experience while watching a Ted Talk given by Brené Brown. A research professor who studies courage, shame, and vulnerability, Brené Brown is something of a recovering perfectionist. In her talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” she shares her own struggles and research findings about the feelings of inadequacy and ensuing vulnerability that plague most of us. To compensate, many people increase pressure on themselves to perform, which leads people to feel even more inadequate. She suggests that rather than stay in this counterproductive loop, we instead tell ourselves, “I am enough.”

When I heard her say those simple words, I gasped.

As soon as Brené Brown said, “I am enough,” I instantly realized I give myself the opposite message dozens of times every day. I imagine most Americans do the same. We think, “I’m not rich enough, thin enough, pretty enough, successful enough, etc.” as we charge online shopping purchases to credit cards and stress-eat snacks late at night. We are bombarded with advertisements telling us we aren’t enough of whatever it is that their foisted products will supposedly make us. We watch tv and our neighbors and colleagues and think, “I’ll be happy when I get a nice car, lose 15 pounds, get a boyfriend/girlfriend, get a promotion, buy a bigger house, etc.” Meanwhile, we run the rat race of earning a living and raising families, all while trying to attain the perfection we see on Instagram and Pinterest, telling ourselves that if we just throw the perfect holiday meal or birthday party we will be okay. Most of us live an existence of always trying to attain what feels just out of reach.

The "not-enoughness" that comes with a chronic illness

These societal messages have a powerful impact on most people. When a chronic health condition like rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) comes into the mix, there is an additional, thick layer of “not-enoughness.” While our healthy friends are scrambling to keep their heads above the waters of intense expectations, we’re doing it wearing a heavy vest of pain, inflammation, and fatigue.

Time and time again I read stories and comments on this website of people sharing that they feel that they are disappointing others in being unable to meet the expectations of their spouses, their children, their supervisors and colleagues, and their friends. I’ve felt that way so often. Yet, I’ve come to realize that most of the time it’s actually my own expectations that are the harshest.

Having an autoimmune disease like RA/RD, I can never be sure of when a flare or an infection will strike. I’ve had to cancel so many plans that were important to me because I was too ill or in too much pain to participate. As hard as that is for me, I also tend to focus on who I’ve let down by canceling.

Then there are the chores and the errands that go undone when I’m not feeling well. When a flare strikes, laundry piles up, bills get paid a couple days too late, stacks of clutter accumulate. It’s so easy to look around at all the things I’m not able to do and berate myself.

Living with RA/RD creates a constant dissonance between what I feel I should be accomplishing and what I’m able to get done. That opens up a disappointment rabbit hole that is easy to fall into, spinning in thoughts of all the things I should be able to accomplish that I’m not, and of all the people I believe I’m letting down along the way.

This deficit mindset is self-defeating. Not only does it make everything feel worse, it isn’t really true.

I am enough

Instead of berating myself for what I’m unable to get done, I’m trying to look at all the things I am accomplishing in the face of my physical challenges. That may be getting out of bed in spite of crippling morning stiffness. It may mean reading a story to my kids from the other side of a pillow barrier because it hurts too much to let them sit on my lap or lean against me. It may mean sending a friend who’s having a hard time a loving text when I don’t feel up for a phone call. Instead of thinking, “I should have gotten up earlier, I should have cuddled my kids, I should have called” I’m instead working to think, “I’m doing the best that I can, and it’s enough. I am enough.”

This shift from a deficit mindset to a sufficient mindset is powerful. Not only have I started saying, “I am enough” to myself throughout the day, I had a bracelet made with these words engraved on it that I now wear daily as a reminder that I am worthy, I am doing the best that I can, and I accept myself. I’ve extended it to saying, “I am enough. I have enough. I have enough time.” Rather than focusing on what I didn’t achieve, I’m focusing on what I accomplish in the face of enormous challenges.

“I am enough” helps me realize that in spite of barriers, I am not giving up or giving in, and I’m not going to keep falling into the trap of bullying myself for being imperfect. Instead, I am choosing to acknowledge that I have forged my physical weakness into emotional strength, I have faced hardship with grit, and I am proud of myself for it.

I am choosing to believe, to see, that I am enough.

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