I look in the mirror and first see the blotches on my skin. They’re red, raised, they look horrible. Putting on powder doesn’t help. Now they just look dusty, that’s the best word I can think of now. I look closer, my knees are bulging. Little blue veins and white lines surround my knees. It’s a sign of all the ravaging this condition has caused on my body. The weight gain around that area, or should I say ‘liquid retention’ as the doctor tries to make me feel better about it, causes the stretching of the skin, thus the white marks. How do you feel beautiful when you have a chronic illness?
Creating my own definition of beautiful
Well and truly – how does one feel good about their physical attributes while having a chronic illness? Feel beautiful even in times when we think the mirror says otherwise. This blog post has been in the making for a while. I observed myself and my thinking. Basing my ideas around my own self-image and things I tried. And here is what I came up with. I hope you find the following ideas helpful in transforming feelings of being ‘beaten’ by something we can’t control into something that empowers us and makes us feel proud to be who we are.
I want to wear that skirt and not feel so conscious. You can call my thinking trivial, that it doesn’t matter and no one notices. But I have to admit, it hurts me looking at it. It’s true, on the grand scale of things it doesn’t matter. I’ve been through a lot, the aesthetic side of things isn’t so important. Only in some small way it is. It affects my confidence. A few people have actually asked me if I’ve beaten. Silly isn’t it? Of course, it’s not the truth. Well in a manner of speaking. You could say I have been beaten. Beaten by my own autoimmune system and here are the scars they leave. Emotionally mostly. I come out of this mostly triumphant, I’ve learned lessons that I would never take back because of my experiences with this condition. But in the meantime, working on how I view myself is going to take a little work.
Just like a member of the ‘Women with Polyarteritis Nodosa‘ group on Facebook shared: “Hate the scars and marks on my feet and legs! Always wore long items of clothing! Until my daughter said…why mum?...they are part of you and the story of the strong person you are”
My journey to healing my damaged self-image begins with forgiveness. Chronic illnesses such as autoimmune diseases are complex and usually when we are diagnosed there is a little (if any) explanation as to why they start. They can begin because of a series of events or reasons. They could be inherited, picked up or as some doctors will say, for some reason, it just happened to you. During this time we can feel angry at ourselves and even the world at times. Why me? No matter how serious the disease is from lifestyle changes to life-threatening circumstances, you will be affected. There isn’t so much to be “forgiven” as it’s not anyone’s “fault” but forgive yourself for the negative feeling you’ve had. It’s ok to feel angry. But it’s not ok to stay angry and let the anger overwhelm your mindset.
I found this simple forgiveness ritual you can do (and have changed it up a little to make it my own) this is based on Jennifer Louden’s ‘The Woman’s Comfort Book’.“Forgiveness is powerful stuff. We all have been hurt and we have all hurt others. Our lives are littered with should haves, could haves and if onlys. This emotional garbage plugs our hearts and minds and makes us very uncomfortable. Anxiety and guilt plague us. By practicing a simple ritual, we can get the juices of our spirit flowing again. We can unblock potent energy. As a regular spiritual practice, forgiveness helps us to be more loving, flexible, and understanding” (Louden, J.) As Autoimmunees, it’s important to start loving yourself again, to forgive yourself. Keeping a heavy heart makes the pathway to healing that much harder.
The Forgiveness Exercise:
You’ll need – your imagination and a body of water (a calm ocean, lake, swimming pool, bathtub…)
When to do it – when you are harboring much resentment towards yourself, feeling depressed for what has happened to your body and your feelings out of control; when you find yourself saying things like “I wish I’d don’t that” or “If only..” and in times when you especially can’t seem to give yourself a break, you can’t forgive yourself for a mistake, mishap or painful event and it keeps repeating in your head; when all you hear in your mind is negative comments about yourself
What to do
(This was based from: ‘The Woman’s Comfort Book’ on page 182-183 by Jennifer Louden)– this exercise is called a “Forgiveness Baptism”. Decide on a time on or near the full moon when you can privately visit a body of water or a swimming pool (or even a bathtub). You can also do this as visualization, without water. Begin by focusing on your breath. Feel how easily it glides in and out of your body. Imagine your breath moving throughout your body, easing every area of tension it encounters. Breathing deeply, walk slowly toward the calm energy of the moonlight finding its way deep into your soul. The moonlight and your slow, deep breaths mingle and relax your body completely. You reach the water. The moonlight gives the water magical powers tonight. Disrobe and slip in. Cup your hands together, fill them with water, and pour the water on yourself.
With each touch of the water, say, “I forgive myself.” “I forgive myself for (fill in what you need to forgive yourself for: blaming yourself, angry at the world etc) I am now releasing my remorse and sorrow. I forgive myself.” After you have forgiven yourself for everything you can remember, visualize someone that has hurt you. Splash water at this image, saying, “I forgive you.” Imagine others or what has been hurting you. Release them by anointing their images with water too. When you are finished, glide underwater. As the water closes over your head, say to yourself, “I am now cleansed. I am free.” Walk out of the water and dress. Take a moment to gaze at the moon and to be thankful for your new peace. Breathing deeply, return the way you came.
Another forgiveness exercise that I’ve practiced is something inspired from a show I watched on Oprah. There was an episode where women from all over America who had been through particularly hard times were invited to go with Oprah on a healing retreat. Some of these women had been beaten, suicidal, lost their families, gone through cancer and even some had chronic illnesses or autoimmune diseases.
At this healing retreat, there were a series of exercises the ladies had to go through, though I can’t recall of them, one exercise really caught my attention. So I decided to try it myself. It was liberating I tell you. In this exercise, you try something a little scary, something that symbolizes literally letting go of all the pain. In the example they had this lady jump (of course with ropes attached to her) from a high platform, she was instructed that when she did this, she had to consciously tell herself not only was she physically jumping, she was emotionally jumping.
So I did something similar. I went on a zip line. Now I’m not so good with heights so it definitely got the adrenaline running. When I finally pushed off, I opened my eyes and whispered to the wind, to the universe, but mostly to myself “I let go, I am limitless, I forgive myself”. It was a powerful experience, one I’d recommend to anyone who ever held their baggage so closely to them, all you really need to do is let go of it.
It’s time to start loving yourself again. Look at yourself in the mirror. Really look. See past any negative thoughts about your body and face. Look at the beautiful things. Your soulful eyes, all 10 fingers…the little things. Say thank you to your body and mind. They have kept you this far. You are fortunate to have the body you have, take care of it. From now on promise yourself to thank yourself for being uniquely you. I want you to look in the mirror and tell yourself you love you. Be serious, you can smile but don’t laugh at yourself. You know most women can’t look into the mirror without instantly finding something negative. We do it all the time. It’s time to stop putting ourselves down.
Have you ever stopped yourself from buying something because you didn’t feel you were ‘ready’ to get it? That beautiful dress in the window that ‘should’ be worn by someone with generous hips, or those shorts you absolutely fell in love but think only people with ‘skinny’ legs could wear.
Stop right there, missy. Whatever happened to sizes?
Not everyone has to fit in a size 0 if you love a piece of clothing but are saving it for ‘later’ or ‘never’ don’t deprive yourself. If you have goals to lose weight or gain weight, you can still keep them, you could give yourself the incentive to complete those goals by treating yourself with something special to wear too. But until then that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the body you have now. The worse that can happen is that you achieve those weight goals and you can either give away clothes that are too small for you that you bought before, or you could even get a bit creative and use the sewing machine changing those outfits to fit you in the future. The doesn’t have to be wasted.
Just do it
Do you want to wear that dress? Wear it now! Start feeling good now! Don’t save good feelings for ‘later’ because if you feel like crap until then who is to say you’ll feel good then? You might have lost or gained the weight but you won’t have the self-confidence that could have been developed while you were working towards your dream body.
Make an Effort!
This is something I’ve been guilty of many times. Sometimes when you don’t feel beautiful you feel like why try? But you know what, taking care of yourself, or as they say “leaving home with your best face on” making the effort to look and feel beautiful is important. It can transform your day. Don’t give in to the negative thoughts. Instead, put them in place! Beauty comes from within when you feel beautiful people notice it. Put on that bit of lipgloss, if you’re not so into makeup, still wash your face before you go out, brush your hair, don’t let yourself feel frumpy. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says if they say negative things about your body, it’s about how you feel. And let’s face it, we feel like crap when we know we haven’t taken the time to care for ourselves.
Are you ready?
Imagine, you go out to the grocery store, run into someone you haven’t seen in ages, and you feel like crap because you didn’t put the effort in to get ready since you thought you wouldn’t run into anyone. It’s not about running into someone. It’s that you should look and feel your best all the time, no matter who you run into. And when you do run into someone, you don’t get the thought of, oh god I have really let myself go, or I really look different than last time.
Another thing about making the effort is learning new things about beauty. New makeup tricks, try a new hairstyle, add some flavor to your usual beauty routine. Here are some websites that’ll inspire your sexy beautiful side: Tyra Bank’s Type F Blog, Annie Jaffrey, and The MakeUp&Beauty Blog to name a few.
Keep your goals in sight. Join the gym, the local swimming club, whatever it is you think it takes to feel like the healthiest you can be. Keep at it. I think an important thing when you have a chronic illness, is to still try to stay relatively fit. While we are limited for certain impact sports, we can still engage in things like swimming, yoga, and slowly bit by bit as you get more fit you can try other forms of exercise. Not only will you feel like your body is getting more in shape, emotionally you’ll feel great too. As they say, exercise gets the adrenaline pumping and the happy hormones endorphins flowing.
They say ‘confidence is the sexiest thing a woman can have’ and trust me, I get it, have confidence when you feel anything but confident? Well, there’s a few jumpstarts to make you feel confident. Start your day or outing with a playlist/music that gets you moving and feeling confident. It’s time to start embracing your reflection in the mirror and making the effort of loving yourself and youd body for all it is. You only get one, take care of it!
I hope these ideas help you guys feel a little more beautiful and more confident in yourself. I’ve had friends with other chonic illness ask me the same question, and I ask it to myself. What can I do to gain control over how I feel again? What can I do to show the world that I wear my condition with pride and grace, that I can get through this and still have a sense of self-worth. If you have any ideas or opinions to help others, please do share them below, I’d love to hear from you. Take care and Big Hugs, Camille xo.
Read more about my story: The Invisible Visitor and if you’re interested, check out my other posts 🙂