Compassion for a Friend Far Exceeds Compassion for Myself

A friend has had severe, constant back pain for several months. She's doing at least four hours of physical therapy each week, as well as faithfully doing her exercises at home, resting, applying ice, and using a TENS unit. She felt better enough to take a vacation until her back flared up and she had to cut the visit short to return home for diagnostic tests and more treatment. My first thought? "That's so unfair! She's working so hard and is doing everything right."

"You know, kind of like the way you work yourself to the bone and follow the rules and still have chronic migraine," was my next thought, followed by a pained chuckle at the irony.

I can see the work my friend does and be frustrated by the lack of reward she receives. With myself, I minimize my effort and think that not getting better must mean I'm not working hard enough. Maybe my friend slacked off a bit on her exercises and self-care while she was traveling; instead of judging her, I allowed that she can't always follow her regimen strictly. When my migraine attacks worsen, I look for the mistakes I've made and beat myself up over any potential contributing factor.

When you're getting down on yourself, How to Be Sick author Toni Bernhard recommends asking yourself "What would I say to a friend in this situation?" I practice befriending myself to quiet self-criticism frequently, but this spontaneous reversal of the situation really brought home the technique's value. Knowing exactly what I would have said to my friend in a situation similar to my own made me see how much more compassionate I am toward her than toward myself.

My thoughts toward my friend are reminiscent of when I imagined my niece's chronic daily headache and migraine progressing down the same path mine have. Instead of the oft recommended technique of putting myself in someone else's shoes, putting someone else in my shoes made me see just how tough life is with chronic migraine. I was heartbroken for my niece's imagined plight in a way I've never been for my own.

Why is it so difficult to see what I live with every single moment of every single day? Why do I not respect how incredibly hard I work? Where's my compassion for myself? Having chronic migraine is hard enough; I could do without the guilt and blame I heap upon myself.

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