As a young woman I always had issues with confidence. Let’s just say I sorely lacked it. I still do, although certainly not to the same extent. This lack of self-confidence wasn’t all in my appearance; (I was a late developer), but also in my own abilities. To do anything really, and certainly not to do it well. Can you imagine?! I also struggled with friendships and relationships as I got older, and probably naively allowed myself to be taken advantage of on more than one occasion. I suppose I assumed (internally) that anyone who wanted to associate with me must have had something a little bit wrong upstairs; in the common sense department. That old 'if you don't love yourself, how can you love anyone else?' chestnut reared its head on too many occasions.
Now of course I love many people. Too many to mention without upsetting someone by forgetting to include them I’d wager. My family, my friends, my love.
I don't love myself as much as I'd like, but maybe enough, now. I tread that fine line between vanity and self-assured. I no longer need or want validation from people around me, or strangers, as I once did. I merely need to be able to look in the mirror and like what I see. Be that a glass or metaphorical mirror.
But what of that elusive self-confidence and living with chronic illness?
I'd say with certainty that my own diagnosis led to several steps back in my search for confidence. I was suddenly thrust from being a young outgoing woman in the prime of her life, to a bed-bound-misery-guts. (Quite literally on the guts front).
I was ashamed of whom I saw when I looked in the mirror: generally Skeletor in heels. I felt 'unclean' somehow. Tarnished. I'd been pushed through the medical ringer and come out looking and feeling utterly washed out. I didn’t even smell like fabric conditioner.
Chronic illness leaves you exhausted. It's a priority in the morning for most of us to GET OUT OF BED, shower and dress in an allocated time. Things which were once done on auto-pilot suddenly become massive feats of superhuman strength and endurance. Most days I'm half way into my bus journey before checking if I've remembered to put a bra on or apply mascara. Our day ahead is almost always entirely dictated by how we feel when we wake up. Therefore where is the time (or enthusiasm) to be found to make an effort to look more like Naomi Campbell and less like Stig of The Dump? It's intangible for me most of the time.
Lately I've been trying to focus on getting a little fitter. Now that my Infliximab is well under-way I'm starting a little more daily exercise. It's difficult and tiring but I have noticed I'm gaining more energy and feel a lot more positive about myself afterwards. Maybe it’s those happy endorphins or maybe just being proactive helps. I'm not going to become one of those women who only talks about Smoothies and Yoga positions don't worry, I'm just trying to get a little more into the shape and into the state of my mind I feel comfortable in. So far it's working - although I do get a little disheartened on a daily basis when that IBD bloat rears its bulbous head. How's a girl supposed to wear a body-con dress with a baby bump made entirely of mashed potato and swollen guts?
Body confidence (and otherwise) is a constantly evolving process. It can be stunted by illness, and frequently is. It can be knocked down with negativity (from inside or outside) and it can be chipped away at by your own doubts. But essentially what's important is who you want to be. Or even just initially convey. You can take everything a step at a time. Baby steps. Unless I'm behind you in a busy shopping centre, then GET OUT OF MY WAY SLOWCOACH. Don't push yourself to be someone you're not too soon. Let yourself grieve for the former ‘you’ if you need to. I know I did. I often feel like 'Kathleen (Pre-Crohn's)' is a stranger I vaguely remember from my past who used to be a lot of fun then got sick. I don't see her anymore though because she's not important. I look to this new version of myself and how to make her the best I can be, Crohn's or no Crohn's.
She’s doing pretty well. And so are you xox