6 lessons chronic illness is teaching me about self-love

6 Lessons Chronic Illness is Teaching Me about Self-love

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6 lessons chronic illness is teaching me about self-love

I never expected that chronic illness would be a blessing in disguise, and that through the pain I would learn to love myself on a deeper level than ever before. Chronic illness and self-love don’t really seem to go together, but being sick has actually been one huge lesson in self-acceptance for me. 

For more than a decade I’ve been dealing with migraines, chronic fatigue, brain fog, food intolerances, stomach problems, depression, anxiety, unexplained weight gain, and a host of other symptoms. About a year ago those symptoms escalated to include joint pain, and even more debilitating fatigue.

Thankfully, I’m now on the road to healing some of these issues, but I’ve uncovered deeper emotional layers that I hadn’t even realized were below the physical symptoms. In truth, my illness was a wake up call that I needed to love myself a lot more.

6 lessons chronic illness is teaching me about self-love + FREE Self-Care Printable 

1. It’s okay not to be okay

For me, the worst part of being sick isn’t the pain and discomfort, it’s the constant self-judgment. When you aren’t feeling well, it’s easy to fall into the negative spiral of feeling bad for feeling bad. Of course when you’ve hit that low emotional point, you only feel worse about yourself. After falling into the spiral myself many many times,  I realized I had to start cutting myself some slack or I would end up sabotaging my healing efforts. 

Instead of criticizing myself and my body for not being healthier, I committed to focusing on being grateful for all that my body does for me each day. I’m making an effort to focus on the things I can do, even if I don’t have as much energy as I’d like while doing them.

The truth is no one feels 100% all the time, and that’s okay. This has helped me release a lot of pressure, stress, and anxiety. The more I accept myself, the better I feel mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Self-love action tip:
When you’re caught in a negative spiral, write down all the reasons why you’re feeling bad about yourself. For each one write the following, “even though I (insert thing you feel bad about), I love and accept myself completely.” Say each sentence out loud until you feel better. 

2. Slowing down does NOT make you lazy

Even though it’s not true at all, I used to believe slowing down meant I was lazy. I’ve been a part of the “push through” and “make it happen” camp for most of my life, but after burning out a couple of years ago and not fully recovering I’ve had to learn to embrace the other side.

Part of feeling better is doing all you can to heal, including getting lots of rest and saying no to anything that drains your energy. Weird as it may sound, slowing down actually helps you speed up your healing.

The more protective you can be of how you spend your time and energy, the better. I now prioritize what’s most important and cut out the rest. Another win: I live more in the moment now that I’m not always rushing onto the next task.

Self-love action tip:
Write down 3 healing activities that you’re currently not making time for, and figure out where you might need to slow down in order to make room for them in your schedule. Remember: Your needs are priority #1.

3. Feeling “negative” emotions is healing

I’ve mentally told myself, “be strong,” for so long that my body automatically shuts down anything negative before I’ve had a chance to truly feel it. I subconsciously protected myself by numbing my emotions with alcohol, casual sex, chocolate, overachievement, overscheduling, etc. – basically I would do anything to avoid what felt uncomfortable. 

I mistakenly believed that I could move on from hurts by simply pushing them under the rug like they never happened.  In reality the emotions just got buried deep inside until my body began expressing them through pain and illness.

I now realize that running away and pushing down those emotions isn’t the answer, but oh how I sometimes wish it was! Living a full healthy life involves feeling everything fully- the joys and the pains.  We were never meant to hold all of it inside. 

Self-love action tip:
When you notice an emotion rising to the surface, stop what you’re doing and feel into it. Go to the place in your body where it’s located. Try to describe the sensations you’re experiencing. Rather than pushing down the feeling, go deeper into it even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Feel it fully and then when you’re ready, let it go.

4. Listen to your body

The body is our most reliable source of wisdom, and yet we rarely take the time to listen to it. I know I didn’t for a long time! Not only did I numb my emotions, but I also ignored how my body felt in all types of situations.

I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I felt bad after eating certain foods or after spending time with certain people. I said yes to things that I really didn’t want to do, because I didn’t want to rock the boat or be a burden.  I pushed myself and my stress levels to the brink in the name of achievement. Ultimately, I ignored what my body truly needed and wanted, prioritizing what made me feel comfortable in the short term.  

Now I know that part of why I’m sick now is because I didn’t pay attention to those needs and wants. I’ve had to learn how to speak my body’s language again. I do that by tuning in consciously each day to learn what feels good and what doesn’t feel so good. Certain foods, like gluten and soy, make me feel awful even though they taste really good so I avoid them.  Certain people, experiences, and environments give me more energy, and some totally drain me. I try to limit the things that drain me and do more of the things that give me life.  When making decisions, if something doesn’t feel like a “hell yes!” in my body,  it’s a “hell no!”

The more I pay attention to my body and what it wants to tell me, the less stressed out and anxious I feel. Everything just flows and feels a lot simpler. This process has been the ultimate act of self-love for me.

Self-love action tip:
Try allowing your body to make the decisions for a full day. Before you make a decision (big or small), pay attention to how you feel. This will help you determine what feels like a yes and what feels like a no. Don’t worry if it’s difficult at first to pick out what you’re feeling. It takes practice.

5. True self-care is more than a spa day

Self-care isn’t always as pretty as a luxury spa day or an Insta-worthy bubble bath. True self-care is about putting yourself and your needs first even when it’s not easy.  Chronic illness taught me what happens when you don’t do this, and for that I’m grateful.

Over the past few months I’ve had to make significant lifestyle and diet changes in the name of healing. I’ve learned that self-care is not about a routine or ticking a box on a to-do list. It’s even simpler than that.

If I get stuck all I have to do is ask, What is the most loving choice I can make for myself in this moment?

Self-love action tip:
Journal on the following: What are my body’s needs and wants? What needs are getting met regularly? What needs are not getting met? Why? Identify one thing you can do to change that.

6. Be your own advocate

I’ve felt like something was “off” about my health for a long time, but every time I went to the doctor my symptoms and concerns were brushed off as not important. The bare minimum testing they did showed that I was in normal ranges so there was nothing to be done but deal with it.  At 15 years old,  I didn’t know there were other types of doctors out there who would be willing to dig deeper.

When I started feeling worse than ever last year and received yet another clean bill of health from a traditional medical doctor, I decided to take matters into my own hands. It finally hit me that no one knows me and my body better than I do

Through my research, I found an entire online community of women who had similar stories and symptoms. It was through this community that I discovered the differences between functional and traditional medicine. Armed with new information and options, I found a doctor who was willing to dig deeper with me. If I hadn’t taken an active role in my health, I would have continued to feel worse and worse. From now on, I refuse to work with any medical professional who doesn’t view our relationship as a partnership where both of our views and experiences are valid.

Self-love action tip:
Take everything you read and hear with a grain of salt and most importantly, filter it through your own intuition. If something feels off, trust yourself and go dig deeper. Do your own research. You are worth standing up for, promise.

As you can see, there are two ways to look at chronic illness: 1) as the worst thing that’s ever happened to you or 2) as the best thing that’s ever happened to you. I’ve learned so much about myself that I never would have discovered had I not gotten sick. I’m coming home to myself, my purpose, and who I really am on a soul level through this process. I started this blog, because I realized I missed expressing myself creatively and who knows where that will lead?

Bottom line: Every life experience has something to teach you, including illness.

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14 thoughts on “6 Lessons Chronic Illness is Teaching Me about Self-love”

  1. Yes yes yes. I definitely needed to read a lot of this today. It’s so applicable even without a chronic illness. Thank you for posting this. I’m looking forward to more!

  2. What a beautiful way to see yourself through all the pain and frustration. You’re an inspiration and will help so many people.

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Britny West

      Hi Tammy! Thank you for your beautiful words 🙂 I am so happy this post is resonating.

    2. What a well-written, informative post! You’ve passed on some wonderful and practical ideas about how to slowi down and listen to what your body needs. Thank you!

    1. Britny West

      Hi, Gwen! Thank you for reading and also commenting! 🙂 I’ll be writing more soon!

    1. Britny West

      Thank you Brianna. I love your blog! You have great style. I’m always a sucker for a good gallery wall 😉

  3. What you said about true self care is so true – its way more than a spa day. It’s saying “no”, setting boundaries, practicing mindfulness, etc. I think the popularization and COMMERCIALIZATION of “Self care” makes people think it requires a bath bomb and a candle, haha. Thanks for sharing your tips and your journey.

    1. Britny West

      YES! I mean I’m all about taking baths and lighting a candle, but it goes so much deeper than that! I also think it sends the message that self-care has to look pretty for it to be meaningful which is really not true at all. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  4. Amazing! I really like the way you write and I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. Finding home withing yourself is more than halfway through a happy life!
    I am looking forward for your next post! 😊

    1. Britny West

      Wow thank you, Carolina for the compliment on my writing 🙂 And I totally agree about finding home within yourself. As someone who has traveled the world looking for that feeling of “home,” I’ve had to learn the hard way that it’s not a place but a state of mind.

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