::I’m happy to publish this guest post by the beautiful and talented Natasha Lipman::
A few weeks ago, I was sitting down in the shower whilst on holiday in Germany, singing along to Disney songs, when “Let It Go” from Frozen came on and I found myself bursting into tears as I sang/shrieked “I’m never going past, the past is in the past!”.
It was a somewhat weird sensation, and as I wrapped myself in a towel, I scolded myself for being so silly. And while I did feel very silly indeed for crying at a Disney song, it illustrated to me just how far I’ve come in how I view my relationship to myself, others, and chronic illness.
I’ve lived with chronic illness since I was 9, but I could hide it until my early 20’s, when it somewhat (read: massively) took over my life. It took a long time to see how it all started to chip away at my confidence, self-esteem and way I viewed myself. When every single step you take and thing you do is dictated by your health, it’s hard to separate yourself out and feel as though you have an identity outside of it.
I spent most of my time in bed, living in dark box, dependent on other people for company, entertainment, and support in everything from going to hospital appointments, preparing food, and even getting dressed.
I couldn’t keep a job, and the way I viewed ‘social time’ completely changed. Everything was obsessively planned and rationed so make the most of the few minutes a day I felt somewhat myself. But I didn’t feel like the ‘old Natasha’. New Natasha was (so I thought) boring, sad, and lonely. My confidence in my capabilities was shot, and I didn’t really know what I was when I couldn’t offer anything short of my occasional company and a whole lot of internet sarcasm.
All of this added up to a level of insecurity that makes me sad to think about. I felt like I was a total burden – undeserving of a job (how could I find one that worked for me, anyway?) and a relationship. After all, who would want someone that needs looking after in their twenties as much as I do that spent most of their time in bed. Not exactly the kinda person one goes looking for on Tinder, amiright? (But y’all should – we’re awesome!).
All of those feelings ate away at me for a long time, and I kinda come to terms with the fact that I was going to be freelancing when I could and alone for the rest of my life. So when I was offered my dream job and I found the most amazing, loving, and supporting partner – I was terrified.
I’d spent so many years questioning why anyone would want to be with me for anything other than friendship – it was so hard to accept that I had these wonderful things in my life. I was scared that a blip in my health (which happens pretty frequently) would be too much and it’d all come crashing down and I’d be left alone in my dark box once again.
So, it has been a process. I truly wish I had some kind of magical advice that would change the way those of us with chronic illness view our worth – but I don’t have any. I found that it had to come from external validation that I was deserving and enough, just the way I am. And whilst that goes against conventional ‘be kind to yourself’ Insta-wisdom – I found that until I was told this by people I loved and/or respected enough times, I just couldn’t believe them (I won’t get into the whole societal stuff around productivity=worth thing screwing with my mind – but that played a hugeeeeee role in all of this!)
Even now, my insecurities come into play – especially when I’m bed bound by a flare, going out is so difficult, I struggle to work, or I can’t contribute to the day-to-day ‘house’ stuff – both physically and financially. I question why I’m worth the hassle – and it sucks to feel so down on myself for something I have no control over.
But that’s exactly the point. I do everything I can to be in the best shape my health will let me be in – and no matter what, I know that it’s not my fault. And I have a personality, skills, and talents which are, of course, impacts by my health, but not complete overruled by it.
Spending time both on social media and off of it has completely changed my perspective. Online, reading and communicating with people who are managing to find ways to work and live and love that work for them and their bodies has made me realise that there are people out there who see beyond health – even if we can’t always. And offline, realising that I have so much to offer – even if it’s not the way I thought I’d be living my life has been completely game-changing.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that everything about me isn’t ‘in spite of’ my illnesses. I live with my illnesses and they are part of me. I can’t ignore that – they’ve shaped me more than anything else in my life has. And that’s ok. Because I rock it.
There are always going to be people who don’t get it. I choose not to spend my time with them.
It’s only when I take a minute to reflect on everything I’ve achieved (and for chronic illness those achievements can range from the big work stuff to the tiny ‘got out of bed and brushed my teeth), I realise that I am truly happy for the first time in my life.
I never know how I’m going to feel from one day to the next, but I’m hoping that I have let go some of that insecurity, and realised my self-worth is based on more than my output. I work so hard every day and try to be there for the people in my life that I love (and people on the internet who ask for my help) and generally consider myself a good person with a lot to offer. So why don’t I deserve the same in return?
Turns out, I do.