Karen Horneffer-Ginter
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The True Test of Self-Love

It's easy to love yourself when life is going great. The true test of self-love is if you can still love yourself when life becomes difficult. This is the difference between conditional and unconditional self-love. This is the difference between Ego-based and Spirit-based self-love.

Personally, I am having a difficult time in my life. My Mother has Alzheimer's and I am helping my Dad care for her while I am also dealing with my own health issues. My first response to this challenge was to have doubt in my ability to physically and emotionally survive. But then I asked myself , "Can I still love myself and my life? Can I still love myself and my life even while I am helping to care for my Mom and watching her suffer from this horrible disease…and while I am watching my Father suffer as well." The answer I chose was yes because I knew that unconditional self-love would help me to welcome all that is healing into my life. And so with this unconditional self-love, I began to search for ways that would help me to survive.

Some people go to support groups to help them cope with the stress of care-giving but my allergy to perfume wouldn't permit me this option since there is usually one person wearing perfume in any group. So I had to find another way to cope. Luckily I am an artist and writer so I chose to paint and write as my therapy.

As I began to write, I would ask myself, "What are the most difficult parts of this experience?" Answering this question would help me to release some of the grief, fear and frustration that I was feeling. Then I would ask, "How can I think of this experience differently in a healthier and positive way? And, how can I find the inner strength that is within me?" Answers to these questions came slowly over a period of years and as they did I would write them down in a journal that I call my "little advice book".

I am a highly sensitive person and depression is a challenge for me but each time I write in or read my "little advice book", it takes a sense of heaviness away from my heart. Here is a sample of the advice, that I have written, that helps me to shift into a more positive perspective.

•When you doubt that you can physically and emotionally endure your Mother's illness, remember that you will always love her no matter what the disease does to her brain. Your love for her and her love for you will give you the strength to endure. This love has given you the strength needed so far. The Mother-and-child bond is fiercely strong.

•When you wish for this to be over, you are disconnecting to the fact that this is a person you deeply love and will deeply miss when she is gone.

•There are times in life that are harder than others. There are times in life that take you to the edge of what you think you can survive. Breathe. Have faith in yourself. Have faith in the human spirit. Have faith in your body and brain. And know that deep down inside of you there is a reserve of inner-strength.

•Don't try to anticipate how things will turn out with your Mom's illness. Don't try to imagine what this will turn into. Deal with only today and the condition she is in today.

•When you are not physically with your Mom, try not to be mentally with her either. Give yourself a break from the stress. She needs you well and strong more than she needs you to think about her suffering.

•Your Mom is holding on to herself as best as she can, and she is doing it as graciously as she can. If she loses that ability, remember when she tried so hard and how she suffered as she tried to do it.

•When your Mom gets upset, validate her feelings, and then reassure her that she is safe and loved by all the family and then redirect her thoughts to something more pleasant. Also, help her to stand up and move around to burn off some nervous energy.

•The more involved you get in life and in doing things with people, the more support life and people can offer you.

•You don't have to feel strong to be strong.

•Some of your suffering comes from over-thinking. Remember that the mind is powerful. It can be used to help you or it can be used to hurt you. Think about how the Tibetan monks use their minds for peace. Envision yourself in a monastery sitting in a circle with chanting monks and imagine their peaceful presence calming your anxiety.

•Always have something fun to look forward to.

•Take good care of your health. The healthier you are the better you will be able to handle the stress.

•You must look beyond your Mother's suffering. You must see the light as well as the darkness. You must see the good as well as the bad if you want to look at this fairly. One way to see beyond the suffering is by practicing gratitude. Be grateful for what you wish your Mother could be grateful for. Be glad that she is safe, loved, fed, clothed and sheltered. Be glad that she has a bed, she has medical insurance, she is not alone and she has help. Be glad that things are not worse. Be glad that she has you.

•You must always remember to love yourself with thoughts, words and actions that are kind, supportive and fair. Ask yourself every day, "What do I need today? What do I need in order to be more healthy?"

Rita Loyd is a watercolor artist and writer. The message of her work is about the healing power of unconditional self-love. Rita began painting in 1996 as a way to cope with chronic illness and depression. Through this journey, the creative process became her teacher, healer and friend who would guide her to find the true meaning and experience of unconditional self-love. Rita writes about this experience and all that she has learned about self-love in her book, "Unconditional Self-Love: What It Is, Why It's important and How to Nurture It in Your Life." You can purchase this book and her unconditional self-love message card deck on her website.

Read more from Rita Loyd at her website.

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June, 2013:  The True Test of Self-Love

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