Facing your fears is not always easy. Looking at yourself and reflecting very honestly about who you are is extremely difficult. We all have our “elevator speech” about who we are and how we want to “sell” ourselves to both others and ourselves. It is nice to have a handy little speech about your interests, hobbies, likes, and dislikes – as long as it is not too personal and won’t offend anyone. While the elevator speech is mostly true and how you perceive yourself, it is just the tip of the iceberg. What is the rest that is hiding underneath?
The things underneath are down there for a reason. Some of those things are pain, disappointment, fear, insecurity, pride, ego, sadness, frustration, or assumptions. There are also phobias, broken relationships, hopelessness, loss, secrets, betrayals, and more. Some people are better than others at making sure to keep those under the surface. It doesn’t mean there is nothing there.
This is a topic about which I could write for days. I want to address some of those things hiding under the surface for individuals with chronic illness- whether the illness is invisible or not. One big question is often, “What will others think?” This is valid. Not everyone has information about your illness and sometimes respond out of fear or stereotypes. I can’t even count the number of times I have heard “He/She is so bipolar!” Usually this has a derogatory tone and is made to be a strong judgment. Living in Colorado, I often hear that our weather is bipolar. What!!??
For years, this has exhausted my courage to speak out about my mental health diagnosis. There is no comfortable way to respond to something like that. There is no way I have the energy to address every person who says something ridiculous like this. It isn’t my full-time job. What I must address is my fear. If I am able to find a way to not take this personally every time, I consider it a success. It is so easy to say, “Who cares what other people think?” To tell you the truth, I do. The more difficult question I have learned to ask is, “What do I think?” It is the only way to remember what I think about myself is way more important than what others think. I have often been told, “What others think about you is none of your business.”
Another question we ask ourselves is, “Am I enough?” First of all, what in the world does it mean to be enough? How is that measured? You certainly are enough. In the most basic sense, we are all enough just because we exist.
The last question I will touch on is, “How will this effect my success?” In so many careers, there is pressure to be the best, strive to move up, and work long hours. None of those things are my values. I want to be happy, help people, and create tools for success. I want to do this in my own time, in my own space, and in my own way. When I have a goal, I work hard to achieve it. Most of the time, I do achieve it in one form or another. My illnesses have made me stubborn, push hard, and fight. I am not fighting to be on top. I am fighting to go at my own pace, acknowledge and forgive my weaknesses, and celebrate my gifts. I am the first person to take a break when I need it. I ask for accommodations. I am honest about what I can do. If I need to, I will take all of my sick and vacation days. Isn’t that what they are there for? Isn’t that why I made sure to have a job with benefits (unfortunately, I am speaking of the past right now). It makes me tired to feel like I have to explain that I have different goals when I leave when my hours for the day are up and others are working tirelessly at their desks.
Whatever is below the surface will most likely stay there unless you look at it directly, invite it to come to the surface or tell it to go away because you just don’t need it anymore! I invite you to reflect on your goals and values- whatever they may be and see if they align with how you are living your life.