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Chronic Disease: Losing Self-Esteem

Chronic illness can erode self-confidence, so it helps to focus on the positive

I walked what for me was a fair distance. My legs began to shake, as I began to feel tired and I still recognized nothing. I sensed a familiar panic mixed with strong self-recriminations: How could I have let this happen — again?

My cell phone rang.

"Where are you?" Meredith asked, concern in her voice. I chose to hear that as impatience. "I don’t know where the hell I am," I half-shouted into the phone. "Tell me anything you see," she instructed softly. Stay there, she told me after I identified a nearby shop: "I’ll find you." That familiar feeling of helpless dependence washed over me. "Don’t let me out of your sight without a babysitter," I instructed Meredith bitterly once we had reconnected.

On the long flight home, I sat wondering why needing the help of another feels so emasculating to me, as if I am less of a man when these things happen. I have to force myself to remember that I do many things well. I function efficiently and effectively, and that is what is important.

I covered wars and wrote best-selling books under difficult circumstances, taking chances and succeeding where others with physical limitations might not have made the effort. There should be emotional currency in the bank by now. More important is that I helped raise a family and was a strong force in my children’s lives. I took on the responsibility of helping them choose colleges they wanted to attend.

As my condition worsens and my body takes leave of me, I need to hang onto all I have accomplished. I was not merely a passenger. I have to stop allowing my worst fears to define me in my own head. I know I am deeply fearful of losing cherished independence. Control left long ago. Friends and acquaintances tell me that, when they look at me, they see only my strengths. I seem to be the only person who sees a cripple in the mirror.

"That’s sad" is about all Meredith will say. "You don’t even see what a strong role model you are for your own children." I have felt like a survivor for so long I probably do not see more than my private nightmares. Maybe I should lift my eyes and see what a good life I have.

Also of interest: 6 ways to feel happy — and healthy.

Emmy-winning TV producer and author Richard Cohen has lived with multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years. He writes bi-weekly about living a full life with a chronic disease.

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