When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness self care becomes a very important part of your life and your health. You quickly learn to prioritize your physical needs, but it’s easy to forget to prioritize spiritual self care which is crucial for all around wellness. Most people think of spiritual self care encompassing just religion, but it’s more than that. It can mean being more connected to the present, connectingto other people in a meaningful way, connecting with nature, having gratitude, finding purpose and meaning in life, or connecting to a Higher Power.
I’ve long struggled with the spiritual aspects of my life as I tend to be a logical, facts based person. I was raised in a very religious household and for years I wondered what other people were seeing or feeling that I wasn’t. One day I ran across the idea of spiritual languages and it was like a light went on. Just like people communicate in specific love languages, we also have spiritual languages which we use to communicate with the divine or the universe. There are many different kinds of spiritual languages such as: music, service to others, nature, prayer, meditation, church worship, or teaching. For me in order to take care of myself spiritually I need nature. Nature brings a peace to my soul in ways that attending a church service never has. Filtering out the distractions of life and the obnoxious sounds that come from living in the city and being surrounded by beauty feed my soul.
I currently live in an area with a population of about 6.5 million people, consequently nature can be hard to find. I’m surrounded by concrete, noise, and ugliness and it takes a toll on me. Every so often I’ll notice that I’m feeling out of sorts and trapped because I haven’t sought out nature. The other day I decided I’d had enough and that I needed to spend some time outside not surrounded by houses and people. I tracked down a trail at a local park hoping for some peace and quiet that would allow for contemplation. At first I was less than inspired thanks to the “beware of snakes” sign and the prevalence of flood water, but as I walked along the trail I could feel myself relaxing.
There’s nothing like being totally alone and surrounded by beautiful trees and sunshine. As I wandered around the trails, I couldn’t help but think how happy I was. I felt closer to myself and the universe than I had in a long time.
Looking into the magnificent blue sky I couldn’t help but feel that life is beautiful. The stress of every day living, the pain of my illness, for just a moment it was gone. For a moment I didn’t have to justify my limitations, explain what is wrong with me, or worry about my next doctor appointment. It was just me and the sky, and I felt strengthened. I realized that my life is a story and my illness is just one chapter. I need to not read that chapter over and over again. I need to progress to the next chapter, while still living with what happened in the previous chapters.
Enjoying nature by means of a walking trail almost sounds counterproductive because walking often causes me pain. However, though I was in more pain for a few days after this, I felt stronger for having connected with myself. The pain became less of a burden and easier to bear because I felt spiritually fulfilled. I felt more peace about my illness and less anger towards the people who misunderstand it.
When I don’t take care of my mental and spiritual health I tend to start getting down on myself. I blame myself for my illness, I feel guilt about all the things I can’t do, or I start wishing for the person that I used to be. However, when I practice self care I find that connecting with nature and using that time to reflect helps me to become more centered. Which is why I am glad that the self care movement is spreading. The self care movement is seeking to change perspectives about chronic illness and how to manage it, to celebrate the greatness in ordinary accomplishments that patients face everyday. They seek to do this by highlighting the stories of real patients and the accomplishments they achieve every single day. This movement towards self care helps me to remember that my life is a story, and my illness is only one chapter.