My Own Best Friend
When I’m with a friend who makes a disparaging comment about herself, I often respond, “Hey, don’t talk about my friend that way.” I hate to hear people I love being hard on themselves. Yet, when it comes to self-evaluation, I too am often guilty of focusing on the negatives.
I have plenty of personality traits and habits on my “list of things I’d change about myself” that have nothing to do with my health. That being said, the impacts of rheumatoid arthritis add several line items on that list.
For instance, sometimes when I’m really achy but not quite in a full blown flare, when the pain is simmering but not at a boil, I’ll lie on the couch and read a book or watch a movie to rest my body and distract my mind from the pain. Our house, occupied by two small children and two working parents, is in constant need of attention. There are always dishes to do, clothes to wash, floors to sweep, and meals to cook. If I take the time my body needs to rest, it means chores are neglected. Sometimes in such moments, I chastise myself for being lazy and tell myself to get up. Yet, if I take the time to reflect, I become aware that the truth is, I’m almost always busy, and I’m anything but lazy. There are so many days where I push through pain from morning until bedtime. Even when we have a family movie night, I still fold laundry while we watch the film. So if I’m lying on the couch and not “accomplishing” anything, it’s either because it’s one of the rare occasions when I’m treating myself or because I’m feeling pretty darn bad.
If I had a friend in the same circumstances, I would tell her to rest, to take care of herself, to give her body what it needs. I would remind her that everything on her to-do list will still be there tomorrow, but today her body needs to recharge. Yet, it’s so much harder to tell myself that.
Another self-deprecating thought that can creep in is the worry that I am a burden to my loved ones. My husband often has to carry more than his share of the load when I’m unable to carry mine. Sometimes my parents, who are in their seventies, help me out by running an errand for me or watching the kids for a couple of hours. I hate having to rely on others, and the thought that I make my loved ones’ lives harder is tormenting. Yet, when I take a step back and assume a more objective perspective, I know that’s faulty thinking.
If I had a friend who was sharing those kind of thoughts with me, I would remind her that rather than being a burden, her loved ones want to help her because they love her. I would recall for her all the times that she has helped others when they are in need. I would have her think of the many ways she supports people in the non-physical ways she is able. While she can’t do the literal heavy lifting, she frequently is the source of moral and emotional support her loved ones rely on. I would remind her that no one makes it through this world on their own, and that she is just as worthy of receiving the support that she so frequently gives others.
It’s pretty clear which of these voices lends itself to more positive thinking. RA can’t be wished away, and it’s crucial that we take care of ourselves in this fight for improved health. While I do a good job of taking my medications, eating healthy foods, and setting aside enough time for sleep every night, I don’t always give myself the emotional support I need to maintain a positive attitude. I’m striving to get better at taking care of my emotional needs as well as my physical ones. Yet, sometimes I catch myself saying things that only my worst enemy would say about me. I need to be the friend to myself that I am to others.