I received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) almost five years ago. Before the diagnosis, I had no idea how many people lived with invisible, exhausting illnesses as I went about my life.
While I was in the middle of my own whirlwind, trying to adjust to my new normal, many friends offered a helping hand. That was kindness, but it was also compassion. Some of them had been there themselves, so they understood almost precisely what I was going through. Their incredible empathy is a huge help for me, even now.
I'll admit it: until my MS diagnosis, I didn't really know what genuine compassion for myself or others looked like. I was even more oblivious to how empathy could help me through daily life.
Everyone deserves empathy and kindness.
Now though, my eyes are open. I soon realised that everybody in life, invisible illness or not, fights a battle I know nothing about. Only a set of circumstances separate me from another person, and life feels like one giant lottery.
Knowing this has taught me to be patient with others. I no longer sigh impatiently in the checkout queue when the person in front of me takes too long.
Other people's habits no longer frustrate me either. Their decisions are none of my business, as I don't know their circumstances. Chances are, they make those choices for reasons I couldn't even begin to guess at.
The bottom line? Compassion has taught me to relax and cut everybody around me some slack.
What does self-compassion look like?
Empathy towards myself isn’t that different from showing it to others. I’ve definitely learned to be more patient with what I can and can’t do. I now give myself time and space as I need it, to reflect and be kind to myself.
Sometimes, that can mean being “selfish” and doing things that are only beneficial for me. Of course, this isn’t easy, especially as a mother.
Yet, I’d argue that being “selfish” sometimes helps me keep functioning as a mum, wife, and co-worker.
Do I still long for a carefree life? Of course I do. I also know that the “perfect life” doesn’t actually exist.
Social media tells us that people live their dreams every day, but we all know that’s a facade. We understand that the “tough bits” of life are hidden from view. Most of us don’t see what’s truly going on underneath the smiling photographs and happy statuses.
Now I’ve become wise to the facts, I can stop trying to push myself beyond my capabilities. Striving for perfection is impossible, and I’m good enough the way I am.
Such a change in perspective has done wonders for me. I am happier, more content and peaceful. I’m no longer that angry, frustrated person, in a constant rush and easily annoyed at others.
In other words, I finally gave myself a break.
I hope my son learns to be compassionate and confident.
As my son grows up, I want him to learn and have compassion all through his life. Every day, I encourage him to look beyond the surface, to consider points of view that others don't notice.
It took me until the age of 35 to do this, and I want my son to understand and apply empathy before I did.
I teach him to never assume anything about others. Most people do what they do for a reason, even if they don't say it aloud. My son will learn to consider all angles and put himself in other people's shoes before forming judgements.
I hope empathy will also teach him to be confident in his own decisions. When he extends kindness to himself, he'll realise that he, too, is good enough, despite what life may throw at him.
Compassion has taught me to be kind to myself and others.
As a result, a vast amount of unnecessary drama has gone from my life. My eyes are now open to how much stress we put on ourselves when we place everyone on a pedestal.
Am I always good at being compassionate? No, but I'm far better than I was before, and that's good enough. I remind myself to be empathetic towards myself and others every day.
When was the last time you cut yourself some slack?
NPS-IE-NP-00304 July 2021