themighty logo

I Have a Chronic Illness, and I Won't Apologize for Putting Myself First


I won’t apologize for putting my well-being first. I was told at an early age that I was selfish, and did everything in my power to avoid that label; that label made me unloveable, that label brought shame, that label brought with it “should’s” and “ought to’s” that were, at times, unbelievably hard to maintain. For too many years, I put me second.

I put me second to win my parents’ love. I put me second to keep friends and maintain my first marriage. I put me second in raising my son. I put me second by wearing a mask every single day to be the person that fit everyone else’s expectations.

The fear of anxiety was a motivating force to keep me compliant; to be controlled, to stay immobilized in choices that didn’t serve my health or my happiness.

The sadness and despair of depression kept me locked in my own mind; a prisoner in an unlocked cage, too weak to break free from other’s boundaries.

The pain of fibromyalgia brought limitations, yet at the same time brought truths that my mind didn’t want to acknowledge.

Over time, the box became too constricting; the label became too heavy to bear.

When was I allowed to set the boundaries for what my life could or could not look like?

When was I allowed to determine who could or wouldn’t be a part of my life?

When was I allowed to throw off the mask and simply be me?

When would my well-being be allowed to come first?

Through many trying years of managing anxiety, depression and chronic pain. I’ve talked with many therapists and counselors who’ve taught me the same lesson.

Sometimes, it’s OK to put me first.

Sometimes, it’s OK to say no.

Sometimes it’s OK to step away from responsibilities, especially if they are harmful to my well-being.

Sometimes, it’s OK to put myself first for the purpose of self-care.

Sometimes, it’s OK to let people go from my life and set boundaries for what I will or won’t allow.

The label isn’t selfish; it’s self-loving.

Did I know this truth, all those years ago? Have the last 20-plus years of my life been an unlearning of everyone else’s opinions and expectations? Does having anxiety, depression and chronic pain make sure that self-love and self-care will always be at the forefront of my daily experience? Did “selfish” come to be my teacher?

Through too many breakdowns, too many panic attacks and too much pain, I have now come to be unapologetic about putting me first.

If I’m depressed, I will give myself the time to work through my sadness and say no to engagements that, even well-meaning, will steer me away from my sacred healing. If I’m anxious, I will do the same. I will honor my intuition and integrity and say no. If I’m in pain, I won’t try to push past it for someone else’s benefit and make sure I take the rest and recovery time needed to bring me back to health.

Now, my well-being comes first.

Follow this journey on Tracy’s site.

Getty image via isaxar