I’m taking part in WEGO Health’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge
Day 10 #HAWMC – It’s often hard to like pictures of ourselves – post your favourite picture of yourself. Though today is technically “Wordless Wednesday,” tell us why it’s your favourite and what it means to you.
Being wordless is sometimes difficult for a writer, so I’m glad they asked us to elaborate on our choice.
There was a period of at least two years in my twenties when I avoided having my picture taken. Due to the pill, various psychiatric drugs and possibly my illnesses, my adult body weight doubled in the space of just 4 years. Looking at myself was indeed like looking at a stranger. I looked at that stranger with revulsion. Even though I rode my bicycle, walked everywhere, and did circuit training, etc, I never lost the weight. Strangers began to yell insults from cars, and people I knew began to make not-so-oblique comments about my size. In 1994, following a brief hospitalization for depression, I dyed my blonde hair black. I don’t have a photo of the stranger with black hair. Over the following 16 or so years, I learned gradually to look at myself with neutrality. I came to accept that the stranger in the mirror and the photographs was me. I was no longer so dissociative.
In 2010, I met a counsellor who taught me the simple but profound Buddist practice of metta (a Pali word that translates as loving-kindness). I began investigating other practices including self-compassion as taught by Buddhist teachers, Tara Brach and Toni Bernhard. I didn’t become a Buddhist, although I embraced many of the practices. Sometimes I was able to look at myself through the forgiving eyes of self-compassion and could even find beauty in what I saw.
This photo is one of my favourites for many reasons. This is what I see when I look at myself through the eyes of self-compassion and loving-kindness. I took it during one of my now essential afternoon rests. Most days I have to sleep for at least 3 hours in the afternoon, as well as at night, which tends to be broken due to pain issues. I know the rules of sleep hygiene, but my experiences are closer to those shared by Toni Bernhard in Sleep Hygiene for the Rest of Us.
I also love this photo as it shows me treating myself compassionately by taking a rest when my body demands it. I used to beat myself up over needing to rest to get through the day as just one more thing I couldn’t do like a ‘normal person’. Now (for the most part) I honour that need as a practice that actually helps me to get more done.
Finally, I like looking into my eyes in this photo. It feels like in some way I am seeing myself for the first time.
I love this picture of you and I agree it is also precious because you are practising self care and compassion. Chronic illnesses rob us of so many things and it often doesn't let us see ourselves with love and to recognize the beauty and gift we are to the world. You are beautiful and make my life worth living. I love you!
Namaste – I love you so very much for all the good things you have nurtured in me. <3
Thank you once again for your post. I still struggle with accepting and loving my body which has changed so much since I got sick. You have reminded me to practice more honestly at being compassionate with myself.
I understand your struggles so well. I can tell you that since I started practising self-compassion my attitudes toward myself have softened and become so much kinder. The key word is practising. I still have days when I become mean to myself, but that's okay: I just have to remind myself to practise again. It takes time, but we are most worthy of our own kindness and love.
One of the books that helped me a lot with this is Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. She talks about the trance of unworthiness, where we get so caught up with the fact that "something is wrong with me". I know I have always felt that throughout my life. It's only relatively recently that I find myself thinking, "I am okay as I am." It's hard work rewriting those tapes!