I believe that self-care is an important component of all-around wellness when you have a chronic illness. Many of us do what we need to get through each and every day, just so we can survive. It’s often difficult to prioritize ourselves and our health when there are so many other demands on our time and on our bodies. If you have a spouse, children, or other family members in your household, your needs often get sent to the bottom of the list, which can further damage your health. However, you can’t help anyone else if you can’t help yourself. It’s easy to say “Prioritize yourself so that you can improve your health,” but how do we do it? How do we practice self-care?
1. Recognizing and monitoring the boundaries
Setting boundaries is an integral part of living with a chronic illness and practicing self-care. You will never be able to prioritize yourself if you don’t set clear boundaries. Make it clear to your friends and family what you can and can’t do, and then don’t cave if you get pressured to break those boundaries. This is the hardest one for me, because I am at heart a people-pleaser and don’t like to say no. It took me years to learn this lesson, and only because I over-committed myself too many times and it took a significant toll on my health. Now my rule is that if I don’t think I can do something, I politely say no, without explanation. It’s not my job to justify my actions. I should have as much compassion for myself as I do others.
2. Changing your view of yourself
Having a chronic illness often comes with a lot of feelings of inadequacy, which can affect our ability to prioritize self-care. One day you’re a healthy functioning member of society, and then suddenly you can’t do everything you used to do. You may have had to quit your job, dropped your social life, and you can barely cook for yourself, much less maintain anything else in your household. Your friends are making great achievements, while your greatest achievement is taking a shower. Suddenly you may feel worthless. In order to survive, you have to change how you view yourself. You can’t base your self-worth on your career or your athletic prowess. You need to find a way to value yourself for the person you are, instead of valuing the things you do.
3. Self-medication — or connecting with yourself
When you have a chronic illness, you may sometimes be good at taking care of yourself on the outside by going to the right doctors, taking the right medicines, and eating the right things. However, it can be harder to take care of yourself on the inside. You may convince yourself you’re fine with your illness, while wondering if there’s any point to living like this long-term. You may tell people you are valuable, while wondering if anything you do will ever be good enough. You might say you don’t feel guilty, but inside you are constantly stressed about all the things you should be doing better. You may hide the pain and pretend it’s not there, but all the while it eats at you. Try to connect with yourself instead of hiding your feelings. Look at different ways to take care of your mind. My new favorite way to practice self-care is adult coloring books.
4. Pacing, planning, and prioritizing
When you have a chronic illness, all too often you wake up one morning feeling good and decide to catch up on all the things you’ve fallen behind on. This can result in burn out, which means that your next few days are going to be bad days, and you’ll fall behind again. This cycle is damaging to both body and mind, and can often be avoided with a little practice of self-care. Pacing involves setting reasonable goals for yourself and not heavily basing your activity on your pain level. Find your baseline for each activity and stick to it. If you can only walk for five minutes before you hit your threshold, only do it for five minutes. Honor your body. Don’t push through activities just to please other people. Prioritize yourself and your health.
There are many other components of self-care with chronic illness that are not within the scope of this article. What’s important is that you prioritize self-care. Self-care might even look different to you than it does to other people. Find what makes you feel better — that’s all that matters!
Follow this journey on Chronic Mom.
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