Living with a chronic illness, where each day is a battle, can wear on a person. Those with chronic illnesses have to manage a lot! Finding relief from symptoms while facing a chronic illness includes far more than just a little extra rest.
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For many people I’ve met in the chronic illness community, their treatment protocols have included dietary changes, an extensive list of supplements and prescription medicines, detox methods, rest, exercise, prayer, meditation, use of essential oils, and more. There’s often a mix of traditional and herbal treatment. Because each person’s body is different, the treatment that works for them will be individualized, even if they have similar conditions. It’s a matter of trial and error until they can find the right system.
I’m at the place in my treatment of Lyme, co-infections, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, etc. where I am worn down and need serious rest in addition to my current treatment protocol. I’ve been burnt out and depressed, feeling like I’m constantly on the verge of drowning. Stress and feelings of unmet expectations take me into a dark place where I feel like I can’t go on.
Because I’ve felt so terrible over the past several weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what I actually need in order to get better. What I’ve learned through personal reflection and prayer is that the most crucial thing my body needs right now is for me to be kind and give myself grace.
My Type A Personality keeps me on my toes. I have a natural drive and am constantly trying to “fix” myself or whatever is causing my struggles. However, I feel like God has been teaching me over and over about surrendering and resting in Him instead of racing to keep things afloat.
I need to slow down and recognize what it means to be kind to myself.
Here are 5 ways I’ve found to help us embrace self-kindness on our journeys with chronic illness:
1) Evaluate your priorities
The first step to being kind is recognizing what you actually need during this season of your life. What are your priorities? Is getting healthy the most important thing right now? If so, how does that top priority affect everything else?
Determine what’s most important right now, then release the desire to do more than what’s essential.
2) Seek to give yourself what you need
Once you’ve determined your priorities, start thinking about how to give yourself what you need. Caring for your well-being is important, so if you need rest to get to a healthier place, find ways to get rest and sleep. If you need to try new supplements, look into ways to purchase them or save money to buy them soon.
Those with chronic illnesses may be well-acquainted with the sacrifices that must be made for the sake of treatment, so this is probably nothing new. However, it sometimes feels selfish to care for ourselves. So, I want to affirm to you that getting yourself what you need so that you can live is not selfish. It’s what’s necessary at this point in your life.
You may need to get creative to give yourself what you need. Sometimes it means working more one week, so you can rest easily the next week. Other times it might mean missing out on experiences now so that you can have the energy for them later. As you look into ways to give yourself what you need, I encourage you to be prayerful in it. Ask God for guidance with decisions. Seek Him for comfort. Ask that He’d provide resources and healing. Praise Him for what He has already provided.
3) Be honest with the people in your life
Just like you need to be real with yourself about what you need, being honest with the people in your life is crucial. I have fallen into the trap of feeling like others don’t understand and don’t care, but when I’m honest and explain what I’m dealing with, many people are willing to help.
After you determine your needs, ask those in your life to come alongside you to help. It may feel uncomfortable or awkward at first, but you may be surprised with the number of people who do care.
Another important aspect of being honest with the people in your life is that when they know what you’re going through you don’t have to worry as much about unmet expectations. Be honest with your friends, family, church community, and place of employment about your health struggles and needs. Let them know what you are able to do and what you are not. This will help avoid misunderstandings.
4) Expect things to get derailed
Even if you have a solid plan for treatment and are being kind to yourself, things may get derailed. This could happen over and over again. If things don’t turn out as planned, it may be tempting to be discouraged and angry about the situation. But, understanding from the start that plans will likely be derailed can help lessen potential heartbreak.
It’s also important to refrain from self-blame when things don’t go as planned. If symptoms continue to worsen, it’s not helpful to dwell on what could have caused it. Instead, choose to do the next right thing in treatment. The train may already be off the tracks, but you can’t go back in time to avoid derailment. All you can do is move the train back toward the tracks and go forward with what you know to do.
5) Recognize what makes you come alive
Some people may think about this one in terms of what they need, but all too often I’ve found that callings and the things that make one come alive seem to be pushed to the back burner. If there’s something that makes you happier, recognize it and try to do it more regularly. This could be meeting a friend for tea, coloring in your favorite adult coloring book, going on a date with your significant other, reading a book, or traveling. What makes you feel more fully yourself?
When you’re sick and in a place where discouragement is a regular occurrence, it’s a time when your soul desperately needs to breathe and come alive. If you’re not sure what makes you come alive, start thinking about what you enjoyed in childhood or what always puts a smile on your face. Writing is the thing that makes me come alive. Every time I write and connect with others through writing, I feel a little more like myself.
These are just five things to consider as you seek kindness in your battle with chronic illness. When it comes down to it, choosing to be kind to yourself is choosing to be intentional with the life you’ve been given. Right now, things may be rockier than you ever would have chosen, but you can choose to be kind and to give yourself grace even when it feels like everything is falling apart.
Because I understand brokenness and feelings of grief while battling chronic illness, I wrote a short eBook guide that can walk you through how to find hope during life’s darkest moments. I’d love to give you a free copy of Finding Hope Through the Fog.
You don’t have to do this alone. :)