For as long as I can remember, my sense of self worth was tied up with my body image. Growing up, I had many influences telling me I needed to lose weight to be healthy, or to be happy, to feel good, or to find a partner later in life, etc. I carried these thoughts around with me like the few extra pounds I was struggling to lose. Both were weighing me down and both were diminishing my self worth.
As I grew older, society’s influences began to change and suddenly I was seeing overweight women and men in the media. And not only were they overweight, but they were happy. They were in love, they were celebrated. Despite seeing people who looked like me living the life I wanted, I was still struggling to embrace who I was a person.
When cancer came into my life, my body changed even more and the mistrust I had for my physical being grew bigger and bigger. Now, not only was I struggling with my weight, but I had scars — both physically and mentally — and my illness was quickly becoming a part of my identity. The negative thoughts were starting to seep into areas of my life beyond my physical appearance and eventually, all the thoughts I was having about who I was started with the same three words: “I am not…”
I am not thin enough.
I am not smart enough.
I am not adventurous enough.
I am not talented enough.
I am not successful enough.
I am not wealthy enough.
I am not enough.
These phrases became obstacles and soon I found that these obstacles were in the way of being able to reach for the things I wanted to achieve out of life. I was consistently telling myself that I was not enough, and I honestly believed it. It was hard for me to see that I was holding myself back but in hindsight, I think it was easier for me to rely on these negative ideas when exploring the possibilities for my future than it was for me to challenge the thoughts I had been carrying around.
The more I doubted my ability to gain momentum in life, the more stuck I began to feel, and it seemed as if my existent would never reach that far beyond my illness. I struggled with this for several years, feeling torn between wanting a change and not having the confidence to make it happen. My lack of confidence made it hard to wilfully practice self care and before I knew it, not only did I feel stuck, but I was feeling burnt out and exhausted, too.
In 2018 I learned that my cancer had relapsed yet again and that despite having surgical options, the risks of the surgery would outweigh the current benefits. Ultimately, along with my medical team and family, I decided that I would not have the mass removed from my chest until it was necessary.
Knowing that this surgery will be hard on my body, I recognized that I needed to make some lifestyle changes in order to be in the best possible shape — physically and mentally — for the day we decide to proceed with surgery.
I allowed myself the time I needed to recover from the surgery and treatment I did have, and while I was going through the motions of recovery, I began to take a mental inventory of my life. I identified the areas that I felt needed to be changed, and the part that stood out the most were the negative thoughts and self doubt that I was holding on to. I read self help books galore, listened to podcasts and TedTalks, and almost every resource I found had the same message: the easiest way to get over an obstacle is to reframe it.
I knew that I needed to start reframing my life and I began by reframing these negative thoughts using a “but,” a big round “but’” can have a profound impact on the way we view an idea if we place it in a useful position within a sentence. In this case, when a negative thought would come to mind, I would add a “but” at the end and finish the thought on a positive note.
I am not thin enough BUT I feed my body healthy foods.
I am not smart enough BUT I am a fast learner.
I am not adventurous enough BUT I enjoy new experiences.
I am not talented enough BUT singing makes me happy.
I am not successful enough BUT I have a good job with a company that values me.
I am not wealthy enough BUT I have more then enough money to support my family.
I am not enough BUT I am worthy of loving myself.
Reframing thoughts in this way allowed me to see that the ideas I was carrying around with me for so long were not actually obstacles, they were just thoughts. Changing the way I finished these sentences lead me to finding that the parts I hated about myself for so long were the parts I loved most. Placing the word “but” in the middle of the sentence meant that anything that came before it was no longer true.
Since I was trying my best to leave untrue thoughts behind, I knew I needed to reframe again. I changed the “buts” to “ands” and removed the word that had been haunting me for so long: “not.”
I am healthy AND I feed myself good foods.
I am smart AND I am a fast learner.
I am adventurous AND I enjoy new experiences.
I am talented AND singing makes me happy.
I am successful AND I have a good job with a company that values me.
I am wealthy in what matters most AND I have more then enough to support my family.
I am enough AND I am worthy of loving myself.
It has been two years since I started on this journey to what I recognize now as self love, and sometimes it seems like an uphill battle. There are still days where the old habits of self doubt creep in and I must take a moment to remember where my “but” is. I would be lying if I said this was easy or came naturally. In fact, I recently had a session with my counsellor that ended with being asked to share one positive thing about myself and, despite all the work I have been putting towards loving myself, I drew a blank. But through cancer I have learned that behind every experience is a chance to grow.
I went home to my journal that night and wrote out a list of things I disliked and looked for ways to flip it into something I loved about myself. It was not an easy task, but the harder I thought and the more I reframed, the bigger my list grew. I know that overtime positive thoughts will become second nature but for now I am content with knowing that wherever I am, and however I am feeling, I am enough.