One of the most important lessons I’ve learned because of chronic illness is the necessity of self care. Self care is vital when you have a chronic illness because you can’t help anyone else if you don’t help yourself. I learned this the hard way when I first got sick. I stretched myself to my limits and beyond so I could take care of others, and it backfired on me when my body gave out completely. After that experience I decided that I needed to prioritize my physical and mental health, stress levels, and find a balance between all my responsibilities and the needs of my body.
Self care means something different for everyone, but here’s what it means to me:
It means connecting to what is important
Life comes with so many distractions it can be hard to focus on the things that are the most significant. Chronic illness can often hinder your focus on what you want your life to really be about while simultaneously forcing you to make tough choices. When you have limits to what your body can do you have to find out what’s really important and let everything else go.
It means practicing self compassion and kindness
I am my own worst critic. I often feel guilty for not being good enough, for not trying hard enough, not being responsible enough, and for not meeting other people’s standards. When I take the time to practice self care I can remind myself that I am not broken. I make mistakes like everybody else, but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure or that my life isn’t as meaningful as someone who is healthy. If I can overlook mistakes in others I can learn to forgive myself for my own blunders.
It means doing the things that make me happy
Life can drain everything out of you if you don’t take time for yourself. When I’m having a bad day I take the time to do something that makes me happy. It might be something small like taking a bath, or something bigger like going out with a friend. No matter what it is I’m acknowledging that my needs are fundamental to my well being.
It means setting up boundaries and following them
When you have a chronic illness you have to prioritize your health or you’ll never be able to function. To do that it is important to set up boundaries and stick with them no matter the pressure from others. I practice self care every time I tell somebody, “No, I am unable to do that right now.”
It means maintaining my mental health
Having a chronic illness is brutal on mental health. There is so much baggage that comes along with an illness that alters the arc of your entire life. I’ve always been a fairly even tempered person, but since my chronic illness I have at times lived with depression. It’s hard to be happy when you’re in incredible pain and no one believes you. When you’re in that place self care becomes vital. When I feel myself getting depressed I know that I need to take better care of my mental health. I like to take walks outside so that I can enjoy the beautiful things happening around me. I also like to practice yoga as I find it has a calming influence on my busy mind. If I don’t do these things on a regular basis I can often feel myself sliding into depression.
Self care means something different to everyone because we all have different needs, wants, and desires. This is why we each need to find what self care means to us an an individual. Self care for you may involve making a list of strategies to follow when you feel yourself getting worn down, maybe it means you stop ignoring worrisome symptoms and go to the doctor, maybe it means that you learn to accept your illness, or maybe it means changing your mindset to prioritize yourself. Have you found a way to practice self care that helps you with your chronic illness?
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