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Why Self-Acceptance is Important When You Have a Chronic Illness

Last updated: 06-23-2020

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Why Self-Acceptance is Important When You Have a Chronic Illness

*Note: Self-acceptance is one of my favourite subjects to discuss and talk about, so when Kelsey offered to write a guest post about this topic, I was excited. As the tagline of this blog states, ‘articulating lifelong illnesses from various perspectives’, I am always eager to hear your point of view. There are thousands of chronic illness and symptoms out there, and everyone struggles and copes with them in their own ways.

Acceptance of chronic pain and a seemingly ‘lesser’ life can be a bitter pill to swallow. I get it. When I was 14 I swore (and back in those days my parents said I should never swear because it’s un-Christian to do so), but I swore to fight it to death. 20 years later, I have changed my stance a little.

For me, I had to hit a wall that I could no longer bash through on my own before I sought professional help. The psychologist I selected played a huge role in my mental recovery. It’s still an ongoing process – healing and acceptance – and I’m definitely not going to insist that self-acceptance is the one and only way to cope with chronic illness and pain. But I also think there’s no harm listening to a different point of view, and giving it some consideration. We can look at perspectives as tools, and keep them in the same toolbox. Different tools can come in handy for different days, different pains, and different circumstances. Context is important. Without further ado, I’ll let Kelsey share her point of view on self-acceptance, and why it’s important when you have chronic illness:

Let’s face it, most of us struggle with self-acceptance even without chronic illness. Negative self-talk is so easy to engage in, and pretty much every human being does it. When you have a chronic illness, it can be even easier to be extra hard on yourself, or blame yourself for what you’re going through and how it’s affecting others.

I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with self-acceptance at several points in my life, and most recently for the first two years after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I spent a lot of time over the past few years thinking about self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love, all of which have become priorities to me. Does that mean I never engage in negative self-talk? No, it means that I am aware when I do and try to reframe it in my mind. Learning to accept yourself as well as your illness is incredibly important in your over all wellbeing, both body and mind.

To even have self-acceptance, I’ve found that it’s important to start with two other concepts. First, self-love, because if you don’t love who you are and forgive yourself for any mistakes, how can you expect anyone else to do so? And yes, loving yourself means you with your illness, not you before your illness (though you can love her too).

Second, self-compassion is a necessary ingredient in the self-acceptance recipe. Your illness may mean you need to make a lot of changes to your lifestyle or in your life and relationships in general. Being compassionate with yourself will make this process easier. With these two components you can begin to accept yourself, your life, and your illness as your reality has changed.

It can be a process and a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Whether it’s something you can do on your own, through reading self-help books and blogs, or you need a therapist to help you with, if you aren’t engaging in self-acceptance it might be time to reflect and see if you can.

Self-acceptance leads to better mental health. Sometimes when we struggle with our physical health we forget about our mental health, and yet the two are closely connected. As I have been studying psychology for the past year, I see more and more how the two are related.

For many illnesses, stress can set off flares, just like having an illness can itself cause anxiety and depression. Letting go of expectations, mistakes, and how your condition has “changed you” is a start in accepting yourself and will help your mental health. Journaling, especially in gratitude journals, is a way to put this into practice, and you might be amazed at how easily you start to feel happier.

Self-acceptance makes it easier to communicate your needs to others. If you have a chronic illness, you no doubt have a lot more needs than you did before you were sick. There are many times when you may have to let your family, partners, friends, employers, and doctors know what your needs are. The more comfortable and better you feel about yourself and your illness, the more easily you will be able to share with people who can help you.

Self-acceptance helps set boundaries. How can you set up boundaries with anyone if you don’t care enough about yourself to accept your current reality? I don’t think you can, at least not properly. I’ve found that my boundaries around dating, friendships, sharing my story and my needs, and trying new things have been easier to set the more accepting I am of myself and my capabilities. You have to advocate for yourself because no one else truly can.

Self-acceptance will allow you to continue to fully live your life. That’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? I want to lead the best life I can, chronic illness or not. I also know that I can, but it took the work of truly accepting who I am to start living it as full, or arguably even more fully than, I was before I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The only thing that can stop me is myself, and the only thing that can stop you is yourself. If you’re not practicing self-acceptance regularly, now is the time.

*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.

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