Striking a Balance Between Self-pity and Giving Yourself Grace
Self-pity is impractical, while grace is practical, writes Ben Hofmeister
They say that if you happen upon other people talking about you, you shouldn’t listen in. I have no idea who “they” are. I’ve searched for a quote to give someone the proper credit, but have had no luck.
The most likely scenario that comes to mind is that I once read something along those lines in one of James Herriot’s books. Of course, I can’t find the passage now, but the point of this (badly) summarized idea is that you are likely to be disappointed by candid talk about you.
I have found this also applies to things written about you.
Even before my diagnosis of primary progressive multiple sclerosis, I kept a careful eye on my medical records and tried to always have the lead role on my healthcare team. For the most part, the other members of the team have been great. Most of them know much more about my various body parts and their ailments than I do, but no one cares about me quite like, well, me. And that makes me my best advocate.
This is why I recently found myself reading a very detailed assessment of my condition and abilities, or lack thereof. It was incredibly in depth and, like most medical documents, a bit dry. By page two, it had begun to slip my mind whom I was reading about, and by the end, I was feeling sorry for this poor guy.
When it occurred to me that I was that poor guy, I was a little taken aback. I suppose I still sometimes think of myself as being independent and accepting help only for the sake of convenience. However, seeing my dependence in writing was almost like eavesdropping on a private conversation about me. Through that staccato medical prose, I was seeing myself through the healthcare team’s eyes and, like a look in the mirror on a bad hair day, I didn’t like what I saw. But I had to admit that it was me.
Learning to give myself grace
I don’t feel sorry for myself — OK, sometimes I do. I certainly did after I first came to terms with my MS diagnosis, and again after each new setback. With a chronic, unpredictable disease, it seems perfectly rational to me to feel self-pity sometimes. I’d probably be wallowing in it the majority of the time if I hadn’t learned the difference between feeling sorry for myself and giving myself grace.
When I first learned of the concept, my cynical side assumed that it was just this week’s positivity phrase, a new feel-good way to justify being lazy and miserable. Through the examples of others, however, I began to understand the difference. Self-pity is impractical, while grace is practical — and I always thought of myself as being practical.
I doubt anyone ever said my name and “productive” in the same sentence, but giving yourself grace is productive, while self-pity is anything but. I honestly get more done with the abilities I have by being realistic than I ever did by stubbornly pushing through.
If no one else has a claim on it, I think I’ll call this gracious practicality.
I like to encourage others to be their own advocate, and I like to think of myself as being my own best advocate. Advocates give grace to their charges. I didn’t understand that at first, but I’m working on it.
A good advocate will also call you out when you’re really just being lazy and drag you, kicking and screaming, to therapy, appointments, etc.
There’s a delicate balance between being both a patient and an advocate. Grace is what keeps the scale centered.
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