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What I Mean When I Tell People With Chronic Illness to 'Be Selfish'

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If you’ve spoken to me intimately or follow my story and you’re chronically ill, you’ve probably heard me tell you to “be selfish.” After a conversation with an able-bodied friend who didn’t quite understand why I would tell people that, I thought I’d elaborate.

I know this may be an unpopular opinion, but when you’re chronically ill, every little thing in your life can affect your illness. Stress with friends, arguments with family, drama, even being uncomfortable can cause problems with your health. A flare up, a hospital visit, extra medication — all things we dread and don’t need. Which is why when I say be selfish, what I really mean is that we have to be.

We may not be able to handle your drama so we can handle our health. We may have to cut you off after repeated arguments to preserve our mental health to make sure we can battle our illness. We may miss small family gatherings to rest. You might not be able to come and stay at our house for six hours because sitting up that long is draining.

See, it’s hard for people who don’t have to endure it to understand how difficult it can be to battle your own body. The one thing you’re supposed to be able to depend on betrays you with pain every day. Add on to that normal, everyday stuff, and whew, no wonder we’re exhausted all the time. So if we have to be a little selfish to have more strength to win against our bodies, then so be it.

Honestly, in a way, it’s not only for us, but our loved ones as well. Being selfish at times allows us better days and more time to spend with them. So ask people to leave when you need to rest, exit stressful situations, don’t allow anything to disturb your peace, be selfish for you, for them, for your well-being. The right people will understand and if they don’t, they don’t need to be around anyway. Take care of yourself so you can be there for those you love and simply because you deserve it.

Getty image via Punnarong

Originally published: April 12, 2021
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