Thursday, 17 April 2014

“…To be good great and joyous, beautiful and free.”

Regular readers will know from previous posts like New Horizons, Rainmaker and "All you have to decide..." that I have some very strong feelings on the topic of self confidence whether related to chronic illness or not. It’s a delicate and sometimes elusive sense of self that I believe everyone has the right to be able to find. Poor or shaky self confidence can have a negative impact on so many aspects of a person’s life, and I really think it’s something that should be treated with more importance and compassion than it generally is.

In approaching the question of whether suffering with a chronic health condition affects self confidence, I think it would be incredibly foolish to suggest otherwise. No matter what it does to you physically or mentally, it’s not likely to go away or if it does it won’t do so for a long time. Some people’s conditions can be managed well; others can barely be contained at all. Often the health professionals we go to for advice cannot help and long ago ran out of options for suggestion.

I think one of the particular ways this can manifest is when you have a partner, and even more so a healthy one. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into the trap of comparing everything they do to what little you might be able to manage and wondering at the fact you come up so short. It’s entirely human for both them and you to feel some frustration with this – but should any inkling of that surface then those feelings of anxiety and insecurity are only amplified.

One of the key things I think is incredibly important for this (and in a wider sense also) is to not put your self esteem into the hands of another person, whoever they are. In the same way you shouldn’t let the opinion of strangers have power over your confidence, although it’s harder it is the same logic to be applied to a partner or a close friend ill or otherwise.

More notably in the case of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, it is important to remember the difference between the illness talking and the person behind it. There have to be boundaries in terms of unacceptable behaviour, but there should also be carefully guarded walls around yourself and your own confidence.

(Now this my friends is a wall.... The Wall From the South, Game of Thrones Wiki.)

I wouldn’t insult anyone by suggesting this is an easy lesson to learn. It isn’t, and I’m still in the process of learning it myself from both sides of the situation.

Furthering that note, for the ill person it’s equally as important to only be living within your own expectations and not those imposed or implied by others. Nobody knows your own body, your own condition and its entirely individual limitations the way you do – you live in and with it. Therefore you are the only person who should be setting expectations, and your thoughts on the matter are the only ones you should be paying attention to. When the expectations of others are unrealistic, you are not bound beyond all reason to attempt to achieve or exceed them. As important as it is to push and to try when dealing with long term ill health, it’s equally important to know when to say “no” to something and have the confidence to refute it and walk away before you risk yourself and your health.

When I say other expectations, mostly what I mean is the condescending kind lacking in any compassion. If you’ll excuse the vulgarity for a moment, it’s what I like to call “fix it bullshit”.

You’re too ill to hold down a job out of the house – make a job for yourself! You’re unemployed? Move to where there are jobs! You’re ill? Think yourself better! You’re unhappy with your life? Change it! I did X Y and Z which means everyone else regardless of circumstances can do the same!

I think that’s enough illustration of the attitude I’m talking about – which in other words means I’m going to stop typing it before I become too enraged with the stupidity of it all. In other words, it’s a complete refusal to live in the real world and understand that said world will not always dance to their tune no matter how self important they are.

That kind of attitude and expectation is potentially damaging to give heed to. We are all different and all faced with different challenges and situations in our lives. Not all of them are of our doing, and not all of them are within our immediate power to alter. Some things just have to be borne and cannot be fixed by just willing it to be so. There’s nothing wrong with tenacity and the will and drive to change your situation for the better, but it cannot be applied across the board to every circumstance. One size never fits all.

In the case of the chronically ill, our bodies and immune systems don’t want to stay in rhythm with the tune that we would prefer, and so we have to learn a new dance. That is a very different discipline altogether to the “fix it” approach – tapping your heels together three times and being whisked off to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard to fix it would be about as effective as “think yourself better”.

(I am unashamed to say that at six months away from a quarter of a century old, I still want a horse of a different colour.
Image from

There comes a point when you need to be able to recognise that working within your own limits and occasionally stretching them is still something to be incredibly proud of. The fact you can’t necessarily achieve what a healthy person could in your shoes should in no way be a cause to lessen that pride in yourself. You alone know your spoon count for the day, so you alone know what you can potentially achieve. You alone know when it’s time for a well-deserved day off also. You’re allowed those. Who is to tell you otherwise?

Your self esteem is yours and yours alone, and it is within your power to be kinder to yourself and to not entrust that esteem to the hands of others, no matter how close they are to you. You can reject what the wrong people tell you, and you can reject words said in anger and pain if you wish to. You do not have to listen.

In all the world there is only one you, and there will never be another. Each of us has a unique viewpoint and voice, and perhaps something only we can do. Each person has their own kind of magic. Each of us has it within ourselves to be as the title of this post – good, great and joyous, beautiful and free.

If your path to that doesn’t suit the expectation of those around you, maybe that isn’t worth worrying about after all.

Wishing you all many spoons, and just a little magic xxx

*The title for those who are wondering is an excerpt from the end of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. “This, like thy glory Titan, is to be good great and joyous, beautiful and free. This is alone Life, Joy, Empire and Victory”.

It’s a quote I’ve been quite fond of for some time, and for extra trivia it’s also a part of symphonic metal band Nightwish’s pre-stage ritual.

Don’t say I never tell you anything completely useless.

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