“I’m learning to love myself, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
The above quote is as accurate to most people (myself included) as to how sad it is. We live in a society of rush, rush, rush. We are taught at a young age that in order to succeed we need to do well in school. I remember thinking in elementary school that anything less than a BIG Smiley Face on my homework meant that the teacher thought I was not good enough and I had to do better just to get a big smile. I have been somewhat of a perfectionist since I was a young child. My bedroom always had to be perfect: I vacuumed my room every day, dusted my dresser with Pledge daily and made sure everything was put away and in order. Growing up there was a lot of chaos surrounding me and I felt the need to control what I could: my grades, my organized bedroom, and being liked by my peers. My accident happened a few months before I was going to enter a new school. I had been going to a private school for the first seven years of my life and was about to enter the public school system. I was nervous before I even fell off of my bike but you cannot imagine the immense anxiety I had entering the Seventh grade with half a shaved head, bruises, bumps, and a face that looked totally different than the one I had prior to falling off my my cute pink cruiser. I will never forget waking up in the ICU at Cooper Hospital in Camden, NJ and seeing my dad breath as if he had been holding his breath for days, which in many ways he had been. I realized I had tubes running through my entire body and all I heard was the beeping of machines, nurses running around, and finally my dad announcing I was awake. I would find out a few moments later that my bike accident did not only cause broken bones but the accident resulted in brain surgery as my brain had been bleeding on the inside for more hours than I care to think about. After begging my dad for a mirror he finally allowed me to see what I looked like but warned me to be prepared because my body had been through a lot. I looked into the mirror and did not recognize myself. Half of my long brown hair had been shaved off, the left side of my face had swelled up to the size of a balloon and I truly felt like I was looking at a monster. I knew than that I had lost any control over my life and I could never be “perfect” at anything again.
One would think that this was the worst experience in my life, health wise at least. However, honest to God this was a cake walk compared to the years to come. After the physical scars healed and my hair grew back I looked “normal” and was “healthy.” Well so people thought but I was FAR from it. The invisible illness that came from that accident: chronic pain is what truly made me question my life, self-worth, and the self love I did have. I hated my life, my pain, my brain, my higher being, and worst of all myself. How did I handle my situation: aside from living in doctor’s offices, taking medications, and searching for a cure? I tried to be perfect in school, amongst my peers, and in anything I tried to do. There is a huge correlation between chronic pain and perfectionism. However, I would not learn this for many, many years. I do not know how but I received A’s and B’s in school despite the negative self talk in my mind: “No matter what I do, I’ll never be happy because of this physical pain” “You are such a loser Jessica, who would want to be friends with you!?” I could go on and on but perfectionism was a way of control for me. I had no control over my chronic pain and I thought as I had during my young years that if I could just be perfect at something, people would like me despite my invisible illness. Here is the thing about perfectionism: there is no such thing as perfect. Your self worth becomes dominated by your achievements instead of your true essence of being and the value you have to give to the world around you. Add on chronic pain and your unhappiness and physical pain become much higher because you try to do everything in your life perfectly: impossible for everyone in this world: chronic pain or no chronic pain. You have no moderation in your life because you keep going and going and do not remember to pace yourself. As you try to make all the pieces in your life appear perfect, your life begins to slowly unravel because instead of focusing on YOU and your health, you are trying to make the outside circumstances in your life perfect: work, relationships, looks, friendships etc. You then begin to lose jobs, relationships, your health, and most of all your life. It is a terrible cycle with no end until one begins to put themselves first and starts the process of self love I have learned to accept chronic pain and manage it naturally and I am still working on loving myself.
Self love is something we should be taught at a very young age whether it is from our parents or the schools we go to. We as a society are so focused on being perfect, we end up growing up being miserable because perfectionism does not exist. Start learning to love yourself now. You are not your illness. You did not ask for chronic pain. You CAN love yourself despite your invisible illness. Start loving yourself as soon as possible. There are so many things your invisible illness has not stolen from you: remember all the good in you. You are loved by so many people so start remembering who you truly are because I promise you there are so many things to love about yourself: chronic pain WILL NOT take that away from you.