Friday, March 18, 2011

Low self-esteem vs. loss of self

In our nursing psych classes we learned a great deal about people with low self-esteem, particularly teenagers. It seems so common that it is almost considered a normal part of growing up and teenage girls tend to feel this more than boys. I'm not sure this is currently the case, but growing up in the 60's & 70's I would say that it seemed true. Many of my friends had low self esteem. And now, some of my adult peers tell me how they suffered these feelings as teens, and I feel sad for them. I don't know why, but I never had that problem. I feel very fortunate and I think I had a very strong sense of self; call it stubbornness or being strong-willed, I am thankful because it got me through some pretty rough times.

But having chronic illness can cause a loss of self and I have certainly experienced that tenfold. First, I lost my health, one of those things so easily taken for granted. Next, I lost my ability to practice nursing which was my life's work right when I was reaching the point of greatest achievements - all of which I'd worked so hard to get. I also lost the ability to be the kind of wife and mother my family was accustomed to; I couldn't make dinner every night; I couldn't go out to see a movie or spend a day hiking in the woods. And...during this time, my kids grew up and we experienced the empty nest. I don't know what that would feel like under normal circumstances, but for me it was another adjustment in a life already complicated by loss and adjustments that seemed too much to bear at times. For those without illness, it is difficult - impossible maybe - to really understand the losses; not knowing if you can commit to anything because you don't know if you'll even be able to get out of bed on a given day. Yes, we learned (in college) about the loss of self that people experience, especially the elderly or those who lose a spouse or child. A person's identity is completely rearranged and it's not easy to achieve a sense of balance.

I am definitely feeling the loss of self. Although I've certainly been blessed to have been given a reprieve, it's always in the back of my mind, "how long will this last?" I can't help but feel like a shell of the person I once was. At times, I feel lonely, forgotten and mistaken. I haven't quite adjusted to the new "me" because she does not resemble the person I was 10 years ago, but I work hard at it.

I'm definitely feeling the pull to finish writing the book. I think that the reading I'll have to do just to write the remaining chapters may help me understand these drastic changes. In life, we set out upon a certain path, with specific goals and dreams. It's hard to see them shattered and it's hard to change course. There's so much loss, grief, and feeling forgotten while we prepare for our departure from this world. If you know someone in my situation, especially during this Lenten season, just take a moment to let them know you are thinking about them. Life is not about the big things. The little things that make up each day are what really matter. When I spent the day Wednesday with my daughter and she commented on how lucky she was to have us for her parents, I held that close. It was a simple, offhand comment but it meant the world to me. I felt like someone; a mother who was loved and appreciated.