Today was a busy day at my house. And as I write that sentence, I realize I’m about to judge myself. I’m a single woman with no children, so can I really claim I’ve had a busy morning considering I don’t have kids (or a husband for that matter) to take care of in the morning.
And that gets to the heart of the matter with an issue that I’ve been dealing with for the last year and a half. Self-compassion.
Earlier this week I downloaded the Daily Burn app on my phone. You’ve probably seen the commercials. It’s an app/website that houses a huge library of exercise programs – and even live workout sessions – that range from easy yoga and pilates to hardcore burn-your-buns off workouts. I haven’t had a regular cardio workout program in a very long time. I practice yoga, as I’m quite flexible. However, I lack stamina, and I feel pretty weak when it comes to cardio. So the Basic Beginner program on Daily Burn has been pretty good for me so far.
I need to lose weight. I used to weigh a lot more than I do now. I was nearly 60 pounds heavier due to years of bad diet, depression, health issues, and medications – not to mention a toxic marriage. But I worked to get those 60 pounds off me by diet and exercise. And I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve held steady where I’m at and have not gained those pounds back. I had a trainer at my local 24 Hour Fitness gym, whom I loved, to initially help me lose weight. Adrian was awesome, and I nearly cried when he called me up one day to tell me he was moving away and unfortunately could no longer be my trainer. Oh, Adriiiaaaaan, I miss you. (Insert frowny face/tears emoji.)
So this morning as I’m doing my workout, I’m watching out my window as my dog, Arlo, wonders around in the yard. Two things have happened in our yard. Bees have invaded the outside electrical/cable box, and I wanted to make sure a swarm wasn’t going to get Arlo because he keeps sniffing and biting at them. Also, my neighbor is having her fence replaced, and the new gate being installed is not yet latched. I look out the window at one point and see that Arlo has gone through the gate and escaped into the neighbor’s backyard. I pause my workout, go to retrieve him, and I noticed he’s done his morning poo on the nice little pathway in her backyard. So I go get something to pick up the poo before I can finally get back to my workout, but not before I see his flea medicine on the kitchen counter and realize he’s a week overdue for it. I pop it in his mouth. And that’s where I screwed up. I gave this really heavy-duty pill to my dog on an empty stomach. Because in my mind, he always gets a little sick from it, he is supposed to get it on an empty tummy. Mind you I’ve been giving him this medicine for 6 months now, and why I couldn’t remember how to administer it to him properly from just 4 weeks ago….I don’t know.
When I finish my 30 minute workout – and judge myself for being so weak that I can barely finish a very basic workout session – I realize Arlo is no longer jumping around me like he was while I exercised. I go upstairs and see him standing in the middle of my bed throwing up and foaming at the mouth. I panicked, cleaned him and my bed up, then called the vet. He’s supposed to have his flea medicine on a full stomach, the vet tells me. Ugh!! And I knew that. I made my dog sick. I beat myself up for not paying attention, but I’m also angry with him for going into the neighbor’s yard and pooping, making me have to stop my exercise routine and basically throwing my whole morning routine off-kilter.
I jump in the shower, get ready for work and keep monitoring him. He’s fine. He’s going to be fine. But he’s going to think his doggie-mama tried to poison him! (Is that self-judgment no. 3 or 5? I’m losing track.)
I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve joined Weight Watchers, and I’ve gotten up earlier in the mornings this week to actually exercise. And anyone who knows me, knows that’s a huge accomplishment right there. I am so not a morning person. But I’m still beating myself up for going over my Weight Watchers points yesterday, and having a heck of a time trying to keep up with a very basic workout. I still can’t let that go!
Many of us have things in our lives we have to deal with on a regular basis. For me, I have a chronic illness. Part of dealing with this strange autoimmune illness is that I take prednisone, a corticosteroid, on a regular basis. Three months ago I had to double my dose because my illness acted up again. I really hate this drug, but I have to learn to live with it. It’s the bane of my existence. However, my body needs it, because without it I’m in a heap of trouble. And sometimes I have to increase my dosage, and it makes me feel like crap. But then when I have to tapper the dose down, it also makes me feel like crap because it’s a steroid. Any time the dose changes my body’s adrenal and hormone system (and everything else, really) has to adjust. When I increase the dose and decrease the dose, it takes time to feel better. And one of the things I hate during the process is the swelling I get from it. My legs swell in particular, and it makes it hard to feel motivated to do anything. It’s painful too because I get bad leg cramps.
However, I beat myself up relentlessly. If you’ve ever had to take prednisone or any other type of steroid, one of the biggest side effects is weight gain. Remember I told you I had lost 60 pounds? Well, that extra weight was from years of being on prednisone off and on, as well as the other things I mentioned.
About a year and a half ago I discovered a book called “How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers” by Toni Bernhard. At the time I came across this book, I was in the middle of a health crisis. I had a major kidney surgery in 2014 which kicked my autoimmune illness into overdrive. I suffered from several infections, I had a case of shingles and the cherry on top was losing all my hair. I was about to lose my mind. What the hell was happening to me, and why can’t doctors figure out how to stop it? What was I doing to make myself sick and miserable? I’d made major changes in my life. I got out of a very toxic marriage. I changed my eating habits. I lost a huge amount of weight. I was in a better mental state then I’d ever been in my life, and yet I’m getting sicker! What gives! What the hell is my problem?!
And then around this same time, I learned about the concept of self-compassion. Kristen Neff, Ph.D., one of the leading experts in the field, says that having self-compassion is really no different than having compassion for others. “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”
Sounds simple enough, right? Just go ahead and re-read the first part of this post. I’m the worst Judgy McJudgerson toward myself. Something that I’ve come to realize is that no one can hurt my feelings better than me, and no one can be the hardest on me but me.
Toni Bernhard’s book, “How to Be Sick,” was exactly what I needed when I was in the downward spiral of self-shame. I was sick, and I was tired of being sick. When was this hell going to end? With an autoimmune illness, your body basically attacks itself. Why was my body always betraying me, even when I was doing all I could to be good to myself? I’ve been dealing with this craziness since I was 24 years old. And looking back, I can definitely see many of the lifestyle stresses I was living under that heavily contributed to getting so sick.
Toni actually introduced the concept of giving myself compassion. Yes, I have an autoimmune illness, and yes, I have to deal with it. Sometimes it knocks me on my butt. And that’s okay too. When that happens, instead of raking myself over the coals, I can allow myself to take a moment to heal. I also don’t have to worry about what other people think, or worry that I’m letting someone down because I’m sick.
Let me pause for a moment to say that if you get nothing out of this blog post other than this take away message then please hear this…. Stress will slowly but surely kill you, spiritually, mentally and physically. My life is a case study on the negative effects of living a stressful life and not taking care of yourself. And now that I’m on a much better pathway, I know I will always suffer consequences of my previous life. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. And please know, toxic relationships are killers much like heart disease, diabetes and cancer because those bad relationships can stress your body to the point that you end up with heart disease and/or cancer. Science has shown this to be overwhelmingly true. My own experience has proven this to be true.
With a lot of therapy and a wonderful medical doctor, my health is getting better. But it’s up to me to take care of me. It’s no one else’s job! And that’s where I’m learning through self-compassion to show myself kindness, gentleness and love. I need to give myself space and time to heal when necessary.
Sure, I’m not perfect. I need to lose more weight. I need to make sure I exercise, not just to lose that weight but to be healthy and not live a sedentary life that will only contribute to stirring up my illness. But I can do that and still offer kindness to myself.
Justin, the guy who leads the basic work out video I’ve been doing this week, ended this morning’s session by saying, “Thank you for making the decision to join us this morning. It may not have been an easy decision, but you’re here. And you did it for you. So thank you.” I did do it for me. No one else got me out of bed this morning. No one else sweated through the workout. I did it, and hopefully I will do it tomorrow and the next day after.
So a lesson in self-compassion…motivate yourself with kindness. I can keep all those negative thoughts in my head like the ones where I judge my appearance. The negative thought where I tell myself I’m weak, and I need to get my lazy bones up and do something about. I can hold on to that ugly thought that I’m a burden and my illness is a burden for my friends and loved ones, and I can keep telling myself like a boot camp officer in the Army, “You need to get healthy and stop being lazy!”
Or I can listen to my new friend Justin and thank myself for making the decision to do something good for ME today. I can do this! I AM doing this!
That woman who looked back at me in the mirror this busy and stressful morning, she’s my friend and needs to know I got her back!
Oh, and Arlo, I still feel bad for giving you that medicine on an empty stomach. Sorry little buddy! I know you forgave me. We’ll go on a long walk this evening, after I take you to the vet for a checkup. I know you won’t like it….and I’m not trying to be mean…..but I need to make sure I’m taking care of you….
Oh boy, I need to end this rant and go re-read some self-compassion, chill-out, you’re going the best you can messages. I’m work in progress, y’all!
And if you’d like more information on self-compassion check out these sites: