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If I had to sum up this list in one point-blank statement, it would be this: Chronic illness has taught me that self-love is the ultimate survival tool and the singular building block toward whole-bodied healing and happiness.
Self-love seems to have become yet another jaded catch-phrase, akin to “gluten-free” and “eco-friendly” (both of which have been an honest and deep part of my life’s ideology for several years now, long before their “popularity”), and I’m not so sure we’re grasping the physical and emotional importance of imbibing and enacting this as an authentic way of life.
RuPaul’s famous words couldn’t ring any truer in my mind’s ear here: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” To this I might add: “or anything else.” I believe that, to truly love your life and the many components that make it up, you must truly love yourself. Now, in no way am I implying that this is an easy task (I mean how could it be when the entire structure of society has been built to tear down this love of self?), but I am stating that it is imperative for thriving rather than just surviving.
Being chronically ill with Crohn’s Disease for exactly half of my life now has led me directly on this path, through what may appear to be the unlikeliest of entry points: self-loathing. I had learned to foster a deep hatred of my body and the constant pain and otherness it held; the socially unacceptable symptoms that have been deemed embarrassing (because, yes, Crohn’s Disease is the manifestation of one’s body attacking itself, specifically the intestines and or colon, which can result in a variety of symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting, and intestinal or rectal bleeding, as well as the deep emotional shame attached to each one).
Watch: Ideas for building resilience. (Post continues after video).
However, as I finally transitioned into adulthood, I learned the power of being on my own team, of understanding my mind and body as unified, and the peace of seeing meaning-making and wisdom-sharing as my ultimate place in the world. This struggle has been my greatest gift, and it is only expands with my ability to share what I’ve learned about self-love from having a chronic illness with our beloved readers (as well as including several self-portraits I began taking during my infusions of medication).
1. Sometimes self-love isn’t about getting that hot stone massage; it’s about missing the appointment.
This can be one of the hardest lessons to learn, because although we are taught in this culture that things such as manicures and massages are representations of self-love (which I am not disputing here), self-love represents so much more. At its deepest level, it requires the ability to let go of external attachments in service of the self, and for someone with chronic illness, it can often mean recognising your boundaries and allowing your body to express its need over any plan you may have already had.
2. Choosing "self over other" can be really hard when it comes to one's life partner, but it is also imperative to this process.
Simply put, sometimes we love someone so fucking much that we don't even realise that we are putting their needs over our own in a way that is not only detrimental to ourselves, but to the relationship as a whole. Yes, relationships are all about a balance, but your relationship to yourself should be included in that equation. Sometimes when I'm feeling exhausted and depleted, I remember this most — I literally must restore before I can be more fully engaged in certain aspects of the relationship, and I have learned to accept this as a positive ability in service of self-love.
3. ALWAYS side with your body against the misunderstandings, judgments, and cruelty of others.
This includes knowing that those others could even have the highest of medical credentials in the case of your doctors. It can even mean the closest-knit people in your life, such as your family and friends. (Post continues after gallery.)
4. Refer to Spoon Theory as often and as needed in your daily life.
Spoon Theory provides the most coherent explanation of chronic illness I have ever come across. Share it with others, but don't expect it to magically make them understand what you're going through (as I once made the painful mistake of doing. It is totally understandable to feel this way and difficult to overcome).
5. When you have extra of said spoons, save them for inevitable moments of self-advocacy (and potentially advocacy of others with chronic illness, if that resonates with you as much as it does with me).
This might look like a verbalisation of your needs with a belittling nurse, writing about a facet of your illness and sharing it on social media, or the frequent insurance appeals and medical testing required to treat your illness.
6. Avoid self-blame at all costs
There is absolutely no benefit to self-blame, but there definitely is a heavy emotional tax to expending energy in such a way.
What have you learned from your battle with chronic illness?
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