I sense extreme pressure that builds up in my chest and makes my nerves tingle from my heart all the way to the tips of my fingers. Pressure that makes me fear the future and gives me a severe distaste for my present. Pressure that brings tears to my eyes when I least expect it and leaves me looking at myself in the mirror wondering who that girl is.
I'm not completely sure where this pressure comes from, but I have a slight notion that it originates from past traumas. Memories of insufferable pain from Lyme disease for long nights. Recollection of people that I love making promises they never intended to keep. Thoughts of being hurt by the harsh words and actions of people who don't even seem to understand how much effect you can have on another's human heart. This odd awareness for past experiences flashes through my mind when I least expect it, and leaves me feeling like something inside me is crawling up my spine. I can't stand it, and for once I'd like to just be me and not have to worry about being crushed again by the insensitive human temperament that so many seem to possess.
I want my heart back, and I want to feel comfortable in my own skin again around other people.
When I'm occupying my own space, I get to experience a sense of acceptance of the girl that screams to be free. In my sanctuary, I have the privilege of being that girl that doesn't eat sugar and experiences a thrill from eating healthy food. I'm that girl that can sense things that others can't and is allowed to be highly sensitive to smells, tastes, sights, and the little beauties that are all around us, and it's not crazy, it's insightful. I'm that girl that sings her favorite song as she's walking down the street and wears maxi-dresses for no special occasion, just because she can. I'm the girl that jumps up and down when she gets excited over seemingly insignificant things, and I'm that girl that obsesses over to-do lists and loves schedules, but also loves feeling free as a bird! I'm the girl that never does anything half baked, and it doesn't matter if everyone else executes everything in their lives with half the effort, because she can be happy living in her full and vitalized life. I'm the girl that lavishes my entire heart in her endeavors and thoughtfully verifies that the beautiful living creatures that she comes in contact with can experience the intense Divine love that she can bestow.
I'm also that girl who can be smiling one minute with gratitude that she's not in pain and crying the next because coping with trauma from illness is SO HARD. I'm that girl that can laugh at the humor in life one second and be on her knees in prayer the next praying for release from severe anxiety and depression. I'm that girl that can be on my feet and doing yoga one day, and in bed with a heating pad hardly being able to move the next, because Lyme disease sometimes breaks you. But when I experience my whole being in a safe place for myself, I don't feel completely insane for the various and rapidly changing ups and downs. When I'm safe, I can accept that I'm just a girl with a chronic illness who is trying to learn how to heal to the best that she can and sometimes she's dissatisfactory and defective at it, other times she thrives, and that's okay!
In the presence of large groups of people, everything changes and I often find my indestructible and merciless brick walls building up around my heart as a protection against the naysayers. I often can feel the lock and key as I stuff my personality in a corner for the meantime. I often feel trapped to be like everyone else, and if a little part of me comes out it could be dangerous in the hands of people who disagree or misinterpret. I often find myself performing the act of the perfectly composed woman who wasn't just in excruciating pain the night before and can be wherever it is I need to be because I'm expected to be there, even if my body cries otherwise. Concealing my thoughts, holding my tongue, not venturing too close... Because if you unexpectedly get too close to someone who bites... you're left suffering on levels that they don't understand simply because they haven't experienced their severe adversity yet. Protecting myself is chaining, exhausting, and lonely. And for that reason, I choose my safe space as often as I can.
Everything changes in the presence of people who misunderstand and misinterpret. And the unfortunate truth is that so many people throw wrath and fear at others simply because they lack the ability to reach their hearts into someone else's. So many lack the ability to be raw and honest with themselves and others about their lives. We all struggle, and if the human struggle was a shared effort where we all sustained each other, there wouldn't be so many who feel the need to live a double life.
I often wonder what it would look like if it were possible to compile all the tears from human suffering into a box, how big that box would have to be. And if people had a chance to witness how large that box was, if it would soften their hearts in a way that made them slightly more sensitive to the people around them and slightly more aware of the hearts that are crying out for help. If we knew how deep other people's waters were, would we take extra time to stop and help them so that they don't drown? And if everyone stopped and helped the people in deep water, maybe all the water as a whole would be lessened to the point where we could all patiently wade through less troubled waters together. Maybe if we all decided to be a little more real, and a little more honest... then maybe those who suffer wouldn't feel the need to live a double life because then they would know that they weren't along and that there were strong hands waiting to lift their aching hearts.
God doesn't expect us to live out our lives in cold hard shells so as to not let other's notice our pains. God desires us to love and lift the hands that hang down. God wishes us to let love penetrate so deep that we can all feel His Divine love through each other. I hate the pressure I feel to live a double life as a chronic illness warrior (and I know I'm not the only one), and I've found that I'm more effective at bringing light into other's lives when I'm simply striving to be my best self. Maybe all of us could come to that realization in a way that could change the world.
For this post Chronically Beautiful teamed up with The Hello Lovely Project. The Hello Lovely Project exists to promote self worth in young girls and women illustrated through pictures and stories. In a day and age when women's contribution to the world is so often objectified and diminished, it's more important now more than ever that every woman recognizes her Divine worth. The heart of this project rests in the fact that women are so much more than what you see on the outside. Women are human beings that have hearts that pump blood and determination through our veins, lungs that breathe air and influence throughout our society, and minds that hold treasures of knowledge and wisdom that ought to be recognized. Every woman has Divine gifts and Divine worth that makes them absolutely amazing, and for some it's incredibly difficult to see the beauty and worth that lies within. For the Hello Lovely Project, we strive to let that truth penetrate the hearts and minds of women all over the world.
Let's face it... the years that we all walk as a teenager are always the most difficult, and my road to discovering my individual worth began here. Bottom line: I hated the mirror and I never felt like I was ever enough. I spent countless amounts of time in Sunday school lessons and seminars about beauty and worth and yet I couldn't quite seem to visualize in my head how it all applied to me. I was told time after time by my peers how I wasn't smart enough or how I lacked in one thing or another. Due to physical disability, I wasn't as quick to think on my feet as some of my friends were, which lead me to believe that I was just plain stupid. Stupidity was also implied multiple times through that sarcastic comment that rolled off the lips of my peers on multiple occasions: "It's a good thing you're pretty because you don't have much else going for you." Those words cut deep as I let them penetrate my heart and allowed them to affect how I viewed myself and my worth. For these reasons, I rotted in the belief that if I could look "perfect" then maybe I might have something to offer in the world.
At this time in my life, I spent a lot of time watching beauty "how-to's" on Youtube, and wondering why my hair never seemed as shiny, or my teeth as straight, or my lips as full, or my skin as clear as all the girls in the videos. How did they master this idea of "perfection" and yet no matter how hard I tried, I would never be enough. No amount of makeup or hairspray could help me reach the level of physical "perfection" that I could see in others. And yet I didn't pause a minute to strive for anything less than excellence in my appearance.
As you can imagine, living in a way that makes everyone else happy and comfortable with you can be very exhausting, and I often wondered what it would be like if I ever resolved to show up to school as someone who was comfortable in my own skin (without all of the extra makeup and hair care). The truth was that I couldn't ever get myself to take that step due to fear of what others would think. I was often told by women that "beauty is pain" anyway, so I figured that it was normal to never find true comfort in my appearance. The truth was that I never was comfortable in my own skin. I didn't like my own face. And I didn't want to think about what I actually looked like because my looks were seemingly "all I had to offer."
Let's fast forward to post-graduation and my first taste of young adulthood. How does one's self-worth play a part as a young woman attending college who had just been diagnosed with a debilitating disease? I was diagnosed with Lyme disease soon after I began college, and naturally, the obsession I had with looking perfect came to an end. I lost 15 pounds my first semester of college (keep in mind that I already only weighed 125 lbs and I'm 5'9" in height), and could often feel and see my spine, wrist and ankle bones protruding from under my skin. When I came home from college I found unnatural amounts of hair coming out in my brush and I remember standing in front of the mirror in tears as I'd pull the hair out of my brush to throw it away. I remember my face, neck, arms, and back very frequently being broken out in lesions and rashes that would itch and hurt to the point where I had a constant relentless urge to pick at my skin whenever I felt nervous or panicky.
Naturally, the makeup, hairspray, and the need for "perfect" appearance quickly vanished. Suddenly my drive to stay alive became more important than my desire to look like society's ideal woman. Naturally, I felt horrible about myself day in and day out. I was useless. I had to stay in a bed and participate in laborious treatments that frequently made me feel worse. What could someone with Lyme disease ever have to offer in a world that pushes work, education, money, traveling, exercise, and looking amazing while doing it?
Eventually, as I learned to find comfort in my own face and my own skin, I learned the answer to that question. I had to come to a place of acceptance in my life. Acceptance of who I am no matter where I happen to be or what I happen to look like in my life. A place where I learned that the worth of a woman has nothing to do with how she looks. The worth of a woman doesn't equate to how smart or stupid society tells her that she is. The worth of a woman isn't about what men or other women think of her. The worth of a woman isn't drawn based off of her abilities or her disabilities. The worth of a woman isn't determined by how perfect she can get herself and her life to look.
I didn't realize when I was younger that my worth comes from my heart, not from my body. To say that one's worth comes from their physical appearance doesn't make sense simply because the heat of life being turned up doesn't equate to the worth of a soul being turned down. If my body determines my worth, then when my body breaks down from physical illness I don't have any worth! I know now that this perception of 'worth" just isn't true. I suppose it's true that "beauty is pain" not because of eyebrow plucking and long hours of makeup application, but because my illness does not make me "less beautiful." If anything it makes me more beautiful because of the extra strength and resilience that is accompanied with all the painful aspects of Lyme. I choose to not let Lyme define me, and even though it's incredilbly difficult... it doesn't determine who I am or my worth. Every single one of us is blessed with innate worth and ability when we are born, and that worth doesn't merely vanish when life gets hard, or when we feel inadequate in various aspects of our life.
In God's eyes, every single one of us has an undeniable amount of worth. When I can see that my worth comes from God, then I can also see that my worth is enduring and eternal. The glorious message from that is that every single one of us has the power to take our worth in our own hands and create something beautiful with it. I never was stupid. I never was ugly. I never was useless. I simply perceived myself to be that way which held me back and made it so I was living way beneath my privileges.
I've always been beautiful, smart, and capable. I've always had something to offer to the world. It is so with every woman if they so choose to discover and realize their internal worth. God loves His children. God loves His daughters. That doesn't change because of things that others say or expectations of society. My hope is that all women can come to an understanding of who they are and the innate beauty that is instilled in there own hearts and souls wherever they may be in their lives.
*This post was inspired by #thehellolovelyproject. You can learn more about the incredible woman who started this project by visiting her "About Me" page here.
Do you want to get involved with this project? Here's what you can do!