It seems like I have struggled with self-esteem in one way or another throughout my entire life. I can remember it started fairly early, as a young lady in middle and high school, comparing myself to other girls. I was too fat (and still am), my hair was too thin (and still is) and I didn’t fit in with the cool kids (and still wouldn’t). In college, I isolated myself in my studies and a few select relationships (the cool kids still weren’t that into me) and as a young adult, I found myself drawing a comparison in what I now know to be an all-too competitive job market. I continued to doubt my appearance (I needed to lose weight and wear my hair down) and found comfort in friends that weren’t the norm (I realized there was no such thing as a cool kid, anyway). I realized health was more important than appearance and running, for the first time since well, ever, gave my self-confidence a much needed boost. I treasured my family (of the two- and four-legged variety) and realized it didn’t matter so much what others thought about me as long as I was loved by them. I was getting somewhere – I started a career where I worked hard to be among the best in the field and, I even liked myself again.
I liked myself for about two and a half days when a blood clot in my lung (PE) not only almost killed me, but drastically changed how I thought about myself once again. I went from healthy, active and content with my life to gravely unhealthy, unable to walk unassisted and living in a state of constant turmoil. Relationships suffered, I lost my job and any faith I had in myself to be a valuable human being. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t function. Not working, I felt like I was not contributing to society and surely found what I could do was eat – the pounds piled back on and the warfarin pretty much killed any liking I had for my already way-too thin hair. I know I should count my lucky stars (okay, star) that my hair is still there, but the changes I saw in its color and texture – along with a severely discolored leg that will never see the light of day again – made it nearly impossible to find even one thing physically appealing about myself. I was a blob, barely existent and unable to see my way out of the darkness. My emotions were bruised – anxiety, fear and depression set in – and the energy needed to be happy were not worth the energy I did not have. I was sick, I was tired and I hated myself.
I found that the blow to my self-esteem was different than being fat in high school or at the bottom of the class curve – this blow was far below anything I had ever experienced in my whole life and one I hope to not experience again. It was devastating, it was overwhelming and it was deep. It is pain unlike any other –even the physical pain that comes with a PE. There is nothing anyone can say or do to help or make you feel better. When you are met with one obstacle after another, it’s easier to give up than to fight and there were times when give up was exactly what I did. It hurt too much, I was too tired and to me, it didn’t matter anyway. I think you reach a point when you just can’t take anymore – then more comes your way. Grief sets in and consumes you. You can’t see a way out, and for some time, there is no way out. I spent a great deal of time (the better part of a year) wholeheartedly believing my life would never, ever get any better than the moment I was in right then and there – consumed by pain, grief, sadness and anger.
It was not easy to get out of the darkness I was enveloped in and believe me, I still spend frequent periods there, but I can see a light. I know there is hope because I am a survivor. I am here for a reason – whether it is to raise awareness about blood clots, to help others, to spend time with the ones I love or something more adventurous like travel the world and bring awareness to those less fortunate than myself – I am here for a reason.
So, how is it that things started to turn around for me? Gaining back your self-esteem is not something I believe someone else can tell you how to do. It’s personal and it’s different for everyone. Although we share common threads of recovery, fear and sadness – our stories are inherently different because we as human beings are different.
What I do know is that reading stories about others, who had made it through similar challenges stemming from life-threatening or chronic illness, helped me to realize that there is hope for me to do the same. It started with a good day here and there – a sunny day that I was able to enjoy, a kind word from a friend, a good hair day or a job interview. Slowly, very slowly, I began to recognize pieces of the old me and of my old self-worth. When I found them, I nurtured them and sought out others to do the same. Maybe it came in the form of writing an article about blood clot awareness, providing support for someone still in the hospital or taking a walk in the park (that didn’t end in tears). As I started to allow myself to feel appreciated and valued, others did the same and from there, I have begun to build back my self-esteem.
It has been a scrupulously slow and painful process. And, almost as important as getting out of that horrible place lacking self-worth, self-care and self-love, is what you do with it once you start to break free. I have found that nurturing my self-esteem has been very important. Even if it is one small step at a time that I focus on, it helps me feel better about myself.
There are some simple steps you can take to feel better about yourself. They don’t have to be monumental (yes, they may look that way now) and they don’t have to happen right now. If you are ready, give them a try. If you are not, start thinking about them and when the day comes that begin to recognize how important you are, you have a plan for nurturing that significance.
7 Steps to Feel Better about Yourself
First, let me give you a peek into my steps:
I wanted purple hair. And I got purple hair. I have never done anything drastic with my hair. Purple hair was a huge change for me. As not quite the societal norm, it was a huge risk for me (I play by the rules). I saved up a little bit of money (once I had some coming in again). I didn’t ask anyone’s opinion first (okay, I texted my sister from the salon, but lucky for me she didn’t respond in time and I went through with it) and I went to the salon by myself. An afternoon just for me. I had a blast with the ladies there and left with a gigantic smile on my face. It was different, it was daring, it was the perfect boost I needed to like myself just a little bit more.
- Step 1: Make a change. It doesn’t have to be big for the rest of us, but it has to be big for you. It has to matter to you. It can be as big or as small as you want it to be. [Ideas: Get your hair or nails done; buy a new outfit; make a new friend; start a new exercise program; redecorate that space you’ve been meaning to; consider a career change; learn a new skill; start a new hobby]
- Step 2: Take a risk. Do something you wouldn’t normally do. As my best friend likes to say “Go big, or go home.” Do something exciting for you. [Ideas: Cut or color your hair drastically; travel to a new place; eat a new food; pursue your passion; do something you wouldn’t normally do]
- Step 3: Do something entirely for yourself. No ifs, and or buts about it. Do what you would like to do. Only for you. Don’t worry about what others will think (just this once). Enjoy yourself.
- Step 4: Create a cash fund to do it with. Chances are, your steps might cost a little money (although you can make it as inexpensive or expensive as you would like). You don’t have to spend a lot of money, though. I know how hard it is to come by extra cash when you are paying medical bills and worrying about income. Save a few dollars at a time, skip lunch out or take $5 out of your paycheck each week to save up for something special. Or, plan your steps at no cost.
- Step 5: Take small steps. If you don’t have the money for steps right now, plan something that doesn’t cost anything (think rearranging the furniture in your bedroom, writing that poem you always dreamed you would or learning to use Facebook) until you can save up for something that does.
- Step 6: Tell the world. You did it! Sharing (maybe even in the form of a picture, hard, I know, believe me) really makes you feel accomplished and excited about the steps you have taken. Your world can be big (the internet) or your most intimate family, but tell someone.
- Step 7: Repeat. One through seven. You’ve got them now!
You can do this. I know you can. Has the purple faded from my hair? A little. But, the boost my self-confidence got from the experience was worth it’s weight in gold. I’m already saving to go back!
Share your story. Are you struggling with your self-esteem more since your DVT or PE? Does it seem hopeless? Have you taken any of these steps to help yourself feel better? Tell me about it in the comments or commit to take a step today!
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,