When we're young and not feeling well or when we've had a particularly big disappointment, our parents or a caregiver was there to give us a cuddle and help us feel better. When I was little, my mom would always make a special trip to the store and get me my favorite foods and go to the video store (back when there were video stores!) and rent me a couple of movies. I felt pampered and cozy and it made me feel better.
But when we get older, we no longer have a parent at our sides to shower kindness upon us when we get sick or when we have setbacks. In fact, I've found that as an adult, when I get sick, I tend to just get frustrated with myself. I grumble to myself and feel upset that I am not super-human and able to ignore the needs of my earthly body. I often force myself to keep struggling along even when I know I need to slow down. And if I can't get everything done that I need to get done, I beat up on myself.
The old adage says, "Treat others as you would treat yourself." But as I get older, sometimes I have to remind myself to actually treat myself as I would treat others. If my daughter or my husband get sick, I want to do special things for them to help them feel better. If they've had a disappointment, I want to soothe them and remind them to keep the experience of one disappointment in perspective.
And that's what I need to remember to remind myself to do when I am feeling badly. Instead of heaping more blame or pressure on myself, I need to take a step back and try to remember how I would treat others in my situation. I need to try and look at myself through my own mother's eyes and remember that she would want me to be nice to myself.
So what do I do to treat myself kindly? I let myself stay in my pajamas all day because if I'm in my pajamas, I don't feel pressured to get things done. I am less likely to decide I need to clean the bathroom or run errands. Sometimes, I'll take an extra shower. Standing in a hot shower is relaxing and feels luxurious when I don't actually need to take a shower. Sometimes I'll buy a book I've really wanted for a while, or I'll ask my husband to stop for take-out on the way home.
Most importantly, I tell myself it's okay that I'm not feeling my best, and it's okay if I need to cancel plans or reschedule a meeting. And that my family will survive if I'm not able to meet their every need for the day.
It doesn't always work. I usually still feel guilty for feeling poorly or for feeling as if I've disappointed others or been unsuccessful at something. But even just reminding myself to tell myself that it's okay, and that I might try to be kinder to myself helps—even if I don't manage to fully convince myself!
So what are the things you do for yourself if you aren't feeling well, or if you simply need to give yourself a boost?
Questions for Toni:
During your illness, you've had many health-related setbacks: unsuccessful treatments, your cancer diagnosis, etc. How did you manage to overcome the emotional setbacks that went with this?
Well I didn't do very well at first. When a treatment for my chronic illness didn't work, I would get so frustrated and disappointed that it did cause emotional turmoil. It took several years for me to realize that the emotional turmoil was only making my physical condition worse. I think this applies to anyone who's struggling with a health issue—getting frustrated and angry only makes us feel worse.
Your dad often says something I really love. I actually put it in my second book: "When things are tough, at least we can try not to make things worse." That's one of his themes in life—to not make things worse. So the question is how can you do that?
The first way is not to blame yourself when life doesn't work out the way you'd hoped, whether it's the fact that you got sick, or that a treatment failed, or that a doctor was disappointing. Illness comes with being human It's not anyone's fault. It's one of the conditions of being alive. I like being alive, so I work hard on accepting that illness is one of the conditions of living.
Thinking about overcoming emotional setbacks in terms of my having had breast cancer, something comes to mind but it may not resonate with everyone. If it doesn't, ignore it. I hung out a lot in breast cancer forums when I was diagnosed and during treatment. They were helpful in so many ways, but I also noticed that a lot of people cope with it by saying "F*#@ Cancer." They talk a lot about how much they hate it, as if it's the enemy.
This is obviously helpful many people, but it wasn't for me because the cancer was part of my body and so it felt like focusing hatred on the cancer was actually hating my body. Instead, I allowed myself to feel sad, and wish it weren't so, and even be scared, but then instead of moving toward negative feelings—what worked for me was to move toward kindness and compassion for myself over what had happened to me.
I often say there's never a good reason not to treat yourself kindly. When I think about being kind to myself, I often think about my Nana, who lived with us when I was growing up. She was the person I went to when I needed comfort. I can still smell her perfume. I would go to her room after school if I was feeling down or under stress. She'd be crocheting and would put it down and let me just sit in her lap. I don't remember if we even talked, but it was so comforting. So I'll sometimes say to myself "What would Nana do?"
Or I'll ask myself "What would I do if someone I loved were suffering?" And I always answer, "You would be nice and be comforting." So that's a good way to turn the tendency to be negative around. Think to yourself, "Is this how I would treat someone else?" Then treat yourself as you would treat others.
Do you have certain things you do to treat yourself kindly if you're having a particularly hard day?
Yeah, I do. The first thing I do is re-prioritize. I put aside anything that I don't feel like doing, unless it's a have-to. We all have have-to's. But think about something like laundry. We always say we simply have to do the laundry. But really? Is there ever a time when laundry can't wait one more day? Even if it means you have to wash a pair of underwear by hand. So, on a day I'm feeling awful, I re-prioritize and I don't do things I don't want to do unless it's something essential. Then I think about what might ease my physical or mental pain. I indulge myself and don't make demands on myself.
I think a lot of people don't realize they can do this. I say that because, when I was younger, I didn't realize I didn't have to do every single thing that I thought I did. We're so programmed to be productive and take care of business immediately, but sometimes it's better to put things aside for another day.
So that's what I do. I let go of all the things that aren't crucial, and pamper myself. And if people reading this are thinking to themselves that they don't deserve that kindness, I can't emphasize enough that everyone deserves kindness from themselves. Life can be hard. It's hard for everyone. The very least we can do is ease our own burden by being nice to ourselves. That's one thing we can control. We control so little of what happens to us, but we can control how we treat ourselves.