Get up now and exercise! Lying in bed is lazy. And what's up with this messy house? Shameful. You need to clean this weekend. Speaking of messes and inefficiency, can't you get your email under control? Your inbox is going to explode. You better deal with those emails while you're working out on the Stairmaster... or read some medical journals. You do realize you aren't doing enough to keep up with the medical literature, right?
On and on she goes.
Believe it or not, she has chilled out over the years. Having MS has helped me to suppress the drill sergeant and sometimes have a little self-compassion. But I'm still a work-in-progress.
I reviewed a section of my upcoming memoir with my editor recently. I had written about how my return to work after my MS diagnosis 11 years ago helped me stop my "self-absorbed wallowing."
"What? 'Self-absorbed wallowing?' You're being way too hard on yourself," my editor said. "You had just been diagnosed with MS… You wouldn't treat a patient that way – or a friend."
Of course not. I hadn't even realized I was being harsh. But she was right. After my MS diagnosis, I should have allowed myself to feel disappointment, despair, even to "wallow" without this hypercritical inner judge telling me to hurry up and get over it.
I'm not going to psychoanalyze myself to get at the root cause of my commandant mentality. My drive to work hard has helped me achieve important goals and feel a sense of purpose. But I am learning to gently push back against regular self-criticism. MS is an extra good reason to cut myself some slack. I can befriend and cheer myself on with a more congenial tone:
- I can only do what I can do.
- I'm doing the best I can.
- I'm doing enough, I have enough, I am enough.
Self-compassion does not need to mean self-indulgence. Even when I want to, I don't skip my workouts or binge on Ben and Jerry's. But it's a new mindset, and it's helped me create small rituals that brighten my day: I light a candle at my desk. I take short walks around the block or to the community garden between conference calls. On Wednesdays after my run, I go to Caffe Medici for a chai latte, and I pick up tacos for my kids. On afternoons packed with meetings, I treat myself to dark chocolate. With rare exceptions, I don't work on weekends. On infusion days, I pack snacks, listen to good music, and wear fuzzy socks.
I still spend too much time in my home office, on Zoom/Skype/Teams calls, reviewing reports and spreadsheets, or plowing through email. I feel guilty that I'm not working hard enough and then guilty that I'm not spending enough time with my family. But like everyone, I'm stuck with a 24-hour day. It is OK. I'm doing enough, I have enough, I am enough.
Please share your thoughts on self-compassion in the Comments below and any recommendations you have for me and others.