This is the second in a 4-part series about my experience in living a full life with PPS. I believe that it is possible to have a progressive chronic illness and still enjoy life.
Love myself? What a strange idea! My religious upbringing taught me that the respectable and admirable thing to do was to put others before myself. To do differently was "selfish." Now I'm learning that if I want to be able to enjoy life in spite of my disabling PPS, I need to keep the focus on my needs first, then ... if I have the energy, time, and desire ... others.
My journey toward loving myself has been slow and awkward as I learn new thinking patterns and behaviors. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not advocating throwing the baby out with the bath water; I still have compassion for others and am willing to reach out to help someone in need. What I'm learning is that if I don't take care of myself first, I won't have the energy or the strength to meet my responsibilities, let alone try to be there for someone else. This is true for the same reason that at the beginning of a flight, the attendant instructs the passengers to put on their own oxygen masks first before helping someone else.
One of the first things I had to learn is that self-love means self-care. It implies that I value my dignity as a human being and respect my physical, emotional, and mental strengths as well as my limitations. It demands that if I'm invited to do something, I base my response on whether or not it would be good for me rather than on my desire to please someone else. If I ignore these basics, my health will deteriorate and I will lose my enthusiasm for living.
As a polio survivor who is now coping with PPS, I've found that I need to get plenty of rest, maintain a healthy diet, and limit my activities. Whenever I slip in any one of these areas, I become easily stressed out, exhausted, and depressed. Just as important is respecting my feelings. I used to stuff them because I was afraid to acknowledge and feel them. Today I know that feelings are neither right nor wrong; on the contrary, they act as my barometer, often alerting me that an emotional wound needs more healing or a past loss needs more grieving. I've discovered that when I'm clogged up with stuffed feelings, there is no room for joy or love; therefore, it's imperative that I address each feeling as it comes up.
One habit that I've developed during these past few years is keeping a gratitude journal. At the close of every day I write down 5 things that I'm grateful for. This has changed my life! It has helped me to appreciate the moment, keep my thoughts positive, and be content with my present life. I'm learning that my thoughts become my reality ... negative thoughts beget negative events while positive thoughts attract positive events. I feel grateful these days, and this goes a long way in keeping me healthy.
I've had to detach from people who live in fear, focus on the negative, and whine about how miserable they are. I do acknowledge their pain and I have compassion for them; however, I choose not to be around them today. Whenever I must be in their company, I try not to take on their negative energy; I let them keep it. I prefer to be with people who are trying to make lemonade whenever life gives them lemons; I get strength and hope from people like that. I've met many inspirational people at our GBPPA meetings, and I always leave feeling good about myself.
Another thing I do to take care of myself is to start my day off by reading something inspirational from one of my daily readers. This reminds me to be loving, gentle, and patient with myself. It often points out how unique and special I am and that I was created in perfect beauty and love. It tells me that I'm never alone ... that my Higher Power always journeys with me. Sometimes I meditate on these thoughts and let them fill my being with serenity and joy.
Finally humor is another way I can take care of myself. As my PPS set in and I became more disabled, I lost my sense of humor. My life became very serious, dark, and difficult. As I started on my path toward self-love, I actually had to schedule times for laughter and fun! A sense of humor and laughter immediately eases my tension and gives me new energy. It can magically turn a dismal day into a bright, cheerful one. I always feel so much better after a hearty laugh.
Loving myself has brought many blessings into my life and has made living with PPS more tolerable. It is proving to be one of the best healers in my life.
Next: Developing An Attitude Of Gratitude