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When My Health Requires Me to Be Selfish

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I’m not a selfish person naturally. Not in any way at all. But since going through the motions of being diagnosed with various things such as hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, anxiety disorder and adrenal dysfunction, I’ve had to learn to do more things for me. I’ve had to become more selfish in order to gain some of my life back and manage my health conditions better. 

But being selfish is generally seen as a bad trait to have, with Google’s definition even suggesting this:

lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

But sometimes it’s crucial. Sometimes we have to be “chiefly concerned with one’s own personal pleasure” in order to look after ourselves, especially if we live with mental or physical health conditions. I’ve reflected on some occasions where I’ve had to be selfish for my health, below.

Learning to Say “No”

Learning to say “no” to others and becoming more assertive in what I felt was important, so as to better manage my health, has been a big step to take. Knowing when I need to potentially let someone else down on plans because I’m not well enough to leave the house, need to rest up or otherwise feel that saying “no” is more beneficial than pushing my body further, is really important. My health is a delicate balance and taking on just a tad too much can cause it to topple and set me back for weeks or even months.

I’ve had to say “no” to friends in regards to social plans and invites, “no” to taking on an increased workload, “no” to doctors wanting to lower a medication dosage I finally feel really well on and even “no” to people offering me food my body doesn’t tolerate well, such as gluten. You wouldn’t believe how many people think “just having it this one time” is OK when I have an adverse reaction to such substance.

Removing People Who Negatively Impact My Life

There are certain people in life that can zap your energy, bring you down or otherwise make you feel rubbish. They can be people close to you, breeding negativity and perhaps even being nasty to you. If they cause you any kind of stress or negative emotions, it sure doesn’t help in managing your health and since stress levels seem to impact a lot of health conditions – physical and mental – you really need to evaluate if they’re worth compromising your health and taking up your time.

I’ve selfishly removed a lot of these types of people from my life over the years, even blood relatives and immediate family, because they seriously made my health a lot worse. The most stressful period in my life, caused by those closest to me, actually triggered all of my mental and physical health conditions at just 17 years old. In one swift move overloading me with stress, I said hello to Hashimoto’s, hypothyroidism, adrenal dysfunction, depression and anxiety disorder.

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize these kinds of people much earlier on in the relationship and distance myself from them or “cut them off” swiftly. It’s often not that simple for others though and it can be a lot more complicated. If you’re going to do it, make sure you follow through and keep your word. Letting these people come back in and out of your life will tell them they can keep treating you badly. You’d be amazed at how much extra time you have when you’re not stressed or dealing with issues caused by these energy suckers.

Learning to Step Back

Something else I’ve had to consider with other people in my life is drawing back on some of the effort I put into relationships. As someone who feels a lot and cares a lot for their friends, I’m often the default “mum” of the group, arranging all meet-ups, parties and initiating conversations, so much so that friends can become reliant on this and start letting you make all the effort. Or at least most of it. Learning to draw back on prompting them so much for replies on whether they want to go to the cinema to see that new film, come round for some Netflix bingeing or even just always being the person who starts the conversation, when they may not make the first move on any of this or even bother replying to your messages or prompts, can be realllllly tricky. There always tends to be that member of the friendship group who acts as the glue in keeping the circle together, but it really shouldn’t always fall to one person.

If you find that this is you and it’s draining your energy mentally as well as physically, then you need to be selfish and start asking for others to pick up some of the slack too – organizing get-togethers or responding to your messages more often, so as to save you from all that extra energy you’re spending on it needlessly. Expressing that you feel as if others should make more effort if it feels quite one-sided is also fair to do and most people tend to respond with surprise, not actually aware until it’s brought to their attention but equally happy to contribute more.

Reducing My Work Hours

This one really wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s been a really important one. I worked full-time for the first five or six years of living with chronic illness, but it was never easy. I’d drag myself out of bed (on the days I could), sit at work in pain and try to at least get something done. Towards the end of me working full-time, my work-life balance was completely uneven, with me going to work 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on weekdays, sleeping as soon as I got in from work each night and then spending weekends trying to recharge my spoons too, just to turn up on Monday morning again. I barely had any quality of life and, after a lot of discussion with my other half and doctor, decided to make the transition to part-time.

My doctor suggested giving up work for a while until I got my health back on track. Not wanting to commit to giving up work completely, I initially compromised to dropping one day a week and working four, but ultimately came down to two and a half days a week which has become my known manageable amount, so I can benefit from not only the financial income of working but also the social aspect of interacting with others, getting out of the house, putting my mind to good use and keeping up communication skills. For some with chronic illness though, they can’t commit to any regular hours of work since their conditions can be so hard to predict or manage and so to be able to do half of what I used to, I’m very grateful for.

woman standing between strands of lights outside in the snow

Reducing my work hours was selfish in a few ways. Selfish towards my employer, who was then faced with hiring someone else to job share with me. Selfish in terms of other people’s expectations of me to remain in a full-time job when I was only 23 years old and they didn’t understand my health situation. And selfish to a certain extent of putting more pressure on my (amazing) other half in becoming more responsible for our incoming money, since my salary dropped to match my new part-time hours.

Leaving a Job That Was Making My Health Worse 

I strongly believe that we spend so much of our time and lives at work, that if we’re unhappy with it, we shouldn’t be there. It’s such a waste of not only time but also energy and potential for how happy you could be in a role. After a bit of a battle with trying to make an existing job work with my declining health, I eventually left, putting my health first and taking back some control. The role and environment worsened my conditions in various ways and essentially, I had to come to the decision of whether it was really worth it and whether a solution was going to be reached. I couldn’t see it ever resolving and my employer was not as understanding towards my health concerns as they should have been. I found a new role which suited my abilities better (taking into account my limited energy levels) and had a more supportive environment and work culture.

Not Being Able to Contribute to Household Chores

It’s not only in the workplace but also at home that you may need to be more selfish, too. I’ve written before about my struggles regarding keeping up with housework, cleaning, maintenance and even grocery shopping. I’ve had to be selfish in saying I don’t have the energy to go to the shops, do certain chores or home maintenance, which has then impacted my other half, who has had to pick up the slack or use more initiative in what needs doing. If you live alone, you may benefit from considering asking a friend or family member for help with these tasks, instead of pushing yourself further than you should.


Learning to be more selfish can be difficult. I’m still getting there. But if you don’t put your health first, then eventually you may not be able to commit to or take on anything at all. We need to learn what is manageable for us as an individual and not necessarily be selfish in the sense of having a lack of consideration for others, but in putting ourselves first where it matters and where it counts. Knowing your own limits could benefit you greatly in managing your health conditions. Physical or mental. Please learn when you need to be selfish.

Follow Rachel on The Invisible Hypothyroidism.

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Originally published: December 15, 2017
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