As a recovering perfectionist (to borrow phrasing from Brene Brown), I’ve had a long struggle with my own perceived imperfections. That critic in my head is nearly always around to butt in and tell me what I should be feeling lessthanworthy about. I’ve spent a lot of time learning to talk back to her, and a lot of the time now manage to keep her shut up, or at least turned down to a small whisper that I can mostly ignore. The good news is, I’ve really learned to take to heart that You Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Be Loveable. What a concept! There are so many (often conflicting) messages about how we’re supposed to perform to be socially accepted and (yes, even) adored. And boy can that stage be exhausting and lonely.
The way I see it, life likes to present us with new and lovely (sarcasm here) opportunities to practice self-compassion as we learn to accept that which is “imperfect” about ourselves. My most recent grand opportunity has come in the form of chronic pain. Out of the blue, The Day came where I woke up in pain and now, nearly three years and a bajillion doctors visits later, it’s decided to stick around with me for good in the form of Fibromyalgia. As a young, visibly healthy person, who yet is unable to perform as such, I find I regularly fall short of the expectations I’d like to fulfill:
- No, I’m sorry old friend, I can’t make our vacation plans, because out of the blue I can’t physically sit right now.
- No, I’m sorry boyfriend, I can’t do the grocery shopping, because the devil invented those huge metal shopping carts.
- No, I’m sorry classmates, I’m going to stand here awkwardly, because I can’t help move the tables into a circle.
- No, I’m sorry new friend, I can’t grab a beer with you because driving+barstools= death.
- No, I’m sorry elderly neighbor lady, I can’t help you carry in your heavy groceries.
- No, I’m sorry trainer at the gym, I can’t risk doing your “fitness assessment.”
- No, I’m sorry potential boss, I can’t take a job with regular local travel.
No, no, no, no, I can’t do all these things that a “normal” young person can do. And on harder days, boy does the critic in my head like to have a field day with that! This experience has challenged me to learn new ways of viewing my self-worth as something completely divest from my worldly performance. It has also been challenging to figure out how to let people know my limitations. I know this is an important step in creating a life that is asfullaspossible… but, how do you breach an uncomfortable and often misunderstood subject with others? Fibro is just one example of this kind of invisible struggle. Other forms of chronic pain, mental illness, learning disabilities, eating disorders, among others, present a unique challenge in their physical invisibility – which only serves to exacerbate misunderstandings based on stigma and rampant misinformation. When is it appropriate to tell someone about your unique self and when do you just make up an easier excuse? How much should you share? Will people just see it as complaining or attention-seeking? And then how do you deal with their reactions? Am I ready to respond to (well-meaning, but ignorant) comments like:
- “I use a heating pad when my muscles are sore, you should do that.”
- “You’re young, you should be able to do this better than me!”
- “Maybe if you just made yourself do more you’d feel better.”
- “Why are you so tired? I’m a mom, you should have way more energy than me!”
Or then the less well-meaning responses like:
- “I can’t believe you canceled on me, you ruined my plans.”
- “But you looked fine yesterday, whatever, I guess you just don’t want to do this.”
The good news is, I’m learning that when you let people in on your so-called imperfect parts, its a pretty good screening tool for weeding out those who are less compassionate, less open, less flexible, less lovingyouforwhoyouare people. It’s also a valuable opportunity to practice self-compassion and connect with your inherent worth as a human being doing the best you can in this brutiful (brutal+beautiful – coined by Glennon Melton @ Momastery) world. Rejection and misunderstanding always sting, but then you find yourself in a circle of bighearted people who are ready and willing to rock out to life with you, one silly imperfect dance at a time.