by Catherine Duffy
I’m paying more attention to my upper eyelid these days.
Last month I’d noticed what looked like a small blemish beginning to form between a couple of eyelashes on my left upper lid. Preparing to leave for a week-long Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) teacher training, I made a mental note of how I would care for my lid while away and figured the little nodule would work its way out by the time I returned home.
Two weeks later and two doctor visits behind me, my left upper lid looked more like a mini-version of an overstuffed rice and bean burrito than its typical smoother version.
"my left upper lid looked ... like a mini-version of an overstuffed rice and bean burrito"
A ‘chalazion’ or stye was the diagnosis: a clogged follicle or two that I likely got as a result of “bad luck,” my eye doctor said. And to top it off, what I thought might end with a prescription for eyedrops to make this all better in a couple of days turned out to be a directive for warm compresses four-times a day, for a month.
“A month?” I questioned. “I have to go a whole month with this thing on my face?”
Oh no, I thought, not this type of public scrutiny of my eyes again.
Ten years ago, I experienced mega-doses of painful self-consciousness when my eyes were ravaged by the effect of the auto-immune deficiency called Graves disease. This condition can cause a person’s eyes to protrude unnaturally. Once diagnosed, any corrective surgeries can’t be scheduled until the disease ‘burns out,’ so to speak, and stops pushing the eyeballs forward.
For me, the burn-out took five years of waiting through plenty of challenging social moments. You know the feeling: that sense of ‘otherness’ when you walk into a room and your difference feels so obvious.
I often wasn’t sure if I should say something about my eyes, explain my predicament, or just try to ignore the obvious confusion on the faces of people with whom I interacted and who didn’t know my story. I remember one instance when I was looking for an item at a store and saw an old friend from a distance who I hadn’t talked to for years. Feeling deeply self-conscious about my eyes, I turned and left the aisle rather than put myself into another painful social encounter.
Thanks to my MSC training, I have new tools and capacity to help me navigate these types of situations. Not that I am perfect at employing the three self-compassion components of mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. But I am learning that embracing my human life as imperfect, and accepting my small and large challenges as a normal part of the human experience, is much healthier than resisting the fear, shame, or other painful emotions and memories they bring to my awareness.
Choosing to practice openness to and allowing of my eyelid’s tenderness is a very compassionate gesture to offer myself. Being open to whatever is here in this present moment without judgment is practicing mindfulness. Then, if I start to feel that ‘otherness’ notion creeping in during social situations, I remind myself of our common humanity: That all of us struggle with life on many levels, every day. And when someone asks about or winces at my puffy red eyelid, I practice being my own best friend and offer myself words of kindness that I would especially like to hear in that moment.
Is it easy for me to allow and be with whatever arises each day? Not always, but I’m getting better at it as I continue to practice MSC. As much as I would like life to go well rather than have pieces feel like they’re falling apart, I find that my life’s struggles – big and small – actually create connection to others. We’re really all in this together.
I’m still paying attention to my eyelid these days.
The chalazion was removed last week and is healing nicely: my burrito has softened into a gently-rounded quesadilla for now and should be back to normal in a couple of months. Sure, I feel self-conscious some of the time but so does everybody, if we’re being honest. And if I can allow myself to experience life’s sensitivities with openness and kindness rather than judgment and resistance, I’m practicing and getting better at embracing my humanness and the beauty of mindful self-compassion.