What’s best for me
Once upon a time I used to worry about everything. I worried about the big things: loved ones who were ill, finances, the state of the world and whether or not I would achieve what I thought I wanted to achieve.
I also worried about small things, although at the time they felt mighty big too. Was I good enough? Did I wear the right clothes? Should I have my hair long rather than short? Would people accept me if I allowed myself to just be me?
Funnily enough I never worried about my own health because I was never ill – or so I thought.
I was thirty-two when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and initially that verdict lead to more worry and stress. And to be fair, for once I really did have something to obsess about. After all, Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition; I would be stuck with it for the rest of my life so giving the subject a lot of thought made perfect sense. Until, that is, research showed me that while nobody knows what causes Crohn’s disease, everybody agrees that stress triggers an episode.
I would love to be able to say that I tackled my worrying the moment I found that piece of information, but unfortunately that’s not how it works – at least, not for me. And to be fair, Crohn’s disease itself gave me quite a few good reasons to be very worried. An operation to remove about two feet of my intestines was almost immediately followed by a hernia. Less than a week after they tried to fix the hernia I had another one and this one required emergency surgery. And then I got an infection which forced me to stay in hospital for almost a month. Oh, did I mention my daughter was only three years old at the time and that we were in the middle of moving from the Netherlands to Ireland?
That first year in Ireland was a nightmare. I’ll spare you the details but the short version is that while we needed two incomes to live comfortably there was no hope of me working. And then my husband lost his job because my health meant he couldn’t work overtime. An allergic reaction to steroids triggered a problem with the circulation in one of my legs which meant walking became next to impossible. I was stuck in the house and in my head and I worried. Of course I had very good reasons to be stressed, but the more I thought about the situation I found myself in, the sicker I got which lead to more worries which incapacitated me more, which.... you get the idea.
Almost exactly one year after arriving in Ireland I found myself back in hospital, sicker than I’d ever been before. In fact, while nobody told me, the doctors were so worried about me they advised my husband to get my father to visit because they weren’t sure I’d survive. Since I’m writing these words seventeen years later it is safe to say I did manage to stay alive. But those two months in hospital were the start of a change in me and my attitude towards life.
Of course it didn’t happen overnight, but I knew with absolute certainty that unless I could change my views of myself, my health, my life, my dreams and my expectations I’d spend the rest of my life going from bad to worse health-wise. It wasn’t easy but I made changes. I stopped worrying about what others might think. And the better I got at that the more I realized it had never mattered.
I don’t need others to agree with me in order for my opinion to be valid. I don’t need others to like me in order to like myself. I’m allowed to say no when saying yes is going to make me uncomfortable or stressed. And, most importantly, I learned that it is possible to decide to not worry about almost anything, or to not think about it right now.
The funny thing is that being forced to come to this conclusion is probably one of the best things to have ever happened to me. I didn’t realize how much of my time was used up trying to please others until I stopped doing it. Of course there are people who frown upon this behaviour and accuse me of being selfish. And, up to a point they are right. If putting myself first in order to stay as healthy as I possibly can is selfish, I’ll wear that label with pride.
Next month I’m going to the UK GLBTQ Meet in Bristol. Considering I’m an introvert at heart this could cause me all sorts of stress, and chances are I won’t be able to avoid it completely. But I’ve decided that the rules I’ve outlined above will still apply. It is okay for me to stay on the sidelines if that’s where I’m most comfortable. I don’t have to go up to people and start conversations because there’s nothing wrong with waiting for them to come to me should they wish to do so. And if they don’t that’s fine too. And should stress get the better of me regardless of my defence mechanisms, there is no reason why I can’t take myself away from proceedings for the hour or two I’ll need to settle myself and my body again.
It took me more than thirty years and a horrific health scare but now I know the following is true...for everybody.