Rising to the Occasion

“Could you write about how to deal with either ugly remarks or looks from people?” writes a woman from rural Colorado.  “I have a disfiguring disorder (neurofibromatosis) [and have] masses of small tumors on my face, neck, arms and all over.

“In winter, I can hide most of them (long sleeves, turtle necks, etc.) but in summer it’s hard to cover up.  I’m not offended if someone says ‘what is that?’ or ‘what’s wrong?’ but to hear ‘yuck’ or ‘look at that ugly broad,’ it’s hard.  I didn’t always look like this.  My skin was smooth and nice.  Even friends who have known me all along sometimes stare.  There’s no cure and no medicine.”

“I’m able to work and do everything everyone else does, but I’m different looking.  When faced with something chronic like this, got any tools, or salve for wounded feelings?”

What you are asking is about how to deal with life’s bummers and take life’s hits with grace, strength and courage.  Some people are insensitive and unfeeling, and can be very mean, as if they are children and they don’t understand the adult implications of what they’re saying.  They don’t understand their words can hurt, and they cannot or do not attempt to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.  Practicing the Golden Rule is still the very soundest behavior toward other people.

I have several suggestions for how you might better deal with the dilemma you are facing: 

  • You cannot stop people from being insensitive and unfeeling, but you can make sure you don’t feel badly about yourself, and that you feel as good about your life and yourself as possible.  Therefore, keep your self esteem and sense of self worth as strong as possible.  Continuously do things that are emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually nurturing, and that feed your sense of self.
  • To avoid being and feeling isolated, you need a group of people who know and accept you.  Join a choir, a tennis club, a bridge club or something where you are able to not feel isolated and alone.
  • Cultivate at least one good friend, therapist or family member who will be on your side.  You need an empathetic friend, ally and sounding board so you can talk out your feelings.
  • Take classes and continue to learn, grow and expand yourself as a person.
  • Don’t retreat into your own shell, and don’t permit yourself to feel helpless or hopeless.
  • You might check with a plastic surgeon to see if the problem can be cosmetically remediated.  Also, covering up in the summer does not look that out of place.
  • You might find a support group for people in similar life circumstances (burn victims, cancer victims, etc.)  Contact your community or county mental health center, hospital or doctor for local support groups.
  • Keep a journal of what you are feeling and thinking.  It will provide you with another form of emotional release, and you won’t feel as isolated.
  • Keep your chin up.  You can rise to the occasion and stop this from destroying you and your spirit.  Don’t let cruel people get you down.

“Everything precious including our dignity can be taken from us but the one thing that cannot be taken away is our power to choose what attitude we will take toward the offense that has happened.” Viktor Frankl

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