We live in a culture where over-exhaustion has become a prize that we’re all somehow seeking. Life has turned into what seems like a race, where everyone is looking to do more, be more, accomplish more -- and somehow, that means that we’re doing things correctly. But if you’re anything like me, living with a chronic illness, you find that just living life at the bare minimum can be exhausting. That’s why I believe they key to staying happy and healthy is taking time for yourself and what you need in your life.
Living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease can at many times be difficult, stressful and can even be time consuming. When I find myself desperately trying to keep up with my healthy peers, I often find myself falling behind and then beating myself up for it. Lately, I have been working hard on changing my perspective about what happy and healthy looks like to me. I don’t want to spend my life, especially my “younger” years worried about how I can’t keep up, but rather focusing on what I need to do to keep myself going strong.
Here are some of the ways that I try to put myself first and take care of myself (even when the world is pushing me to do other things). Not only can this apply to those with IBD, but even those without a chronic disease, who just find themselves overwhelmed with life’s race.
Connect with others
How many of you get so wrapped up in your lives, jobs, and families that you often forget to talk to your friends? When I’ve had a long and stressful day, the last thing that I want to do is get on the phone or go out to dinner with a friend. Even when I’m stressed out, I tend to isolate and that never helps my psyche. Sometimes taking time for yourself just means spending your time with people who can make you happy or make you feel understood. I have found that connecting with other people helps keep me happy and uplifted.
For those with IBD, when your Crohn’s or UC is wreaking havoc on your mind and body, have you reached out for support from your IBD family? Have you worked to create a support network of people who you can reach out to when you feel like you just can’t take another day? Through my own experience, I saw how having a support network can be a life changer, and that’s why creating a support network is the number one focus that we have at Girls With Guts. I have a select group of friends that I can call when I’m at my worst, who will support me and guide me to a better place.
Over the past 6 months I have become a big supporter of self love. I’ve spent a lot of that time reading on the subject, about how it can change our perspectives and subsequently change our lives. Something that I am still learning every day is the difference between self esteem and self love. When I first started on the self love journey, I thought, “I’m awesome, of course I have self love." But the more I dove into the concept, the more I realized I didn’t have self love. I instead had self esteem, which was built up around my accomplishments and achievements. I put my worth and value into these accomplishments, so when I wasn’t accomplishing anything, I felt horrible about myself. This is where self love comes in. I’m now working to see my worth in every phase of my life.
Here is why this is crucial for chronic illness patients: What happens when someone like me, who derives their worth from accomplishments, can no longer accomplish things? What happens when my illness limits my abilities to do great things or even when I just get too old to set lofty goals? All of us will get to a point in life where we can no longer take complete care of ourselves, and it is because of this that we need to learn our self worth as a separate entity from our self esteem and keep a positive outlook.
When I started on the path to self love, I realized that it was going to be far more work than I anticipated. Learning to really love yourself means looking into the face of all your fears and accepting them for what they are. It's admitting your flaws, but also accepting them as part of who you are. It is actually a very scary process; one that I realized I needed a lot of help with.
There are many online web courses about self love, and I have taken a few that I thought were helpful. If you’re just starting on the journey to discovering self love, I’d recommend a very beginner level course by Akirah Robinson. While some of her steps may seem insignificant or trivial, it starts to create the mental muscle memory for being able to love yourself and treat yourself with kindness. There are many others out there and most of them are free or very inexpensive, but you do have to invest the time into doing the course work. This is the epitome of taking time for yourself. Take the time to learn to love yourself. It will be worth it.
One of the most profound resources that I have been consulting on my journey to self love is anything (and I mean, ANYTHING) by Brené Brown. Brené Brown is an author on mindfulness, self acceptance and giving yourself the permission to just do your best (and have that be enough). While some of her concepts are simple, others are mind bending. Some passages in her books I have to take days to really digest. I find her research fascinating, and most importantly, she writes like a real person with flaws and quirks just like the rest of us. Her books are not stuffy jargon filled research books, but rather honest accounts of her life experiences backed up by research she’s conducted. In my opinion, they’re brilliant.
There are so many activities that you can do - by yourself or with someone else - that will promote happiness and self love in your life. No matter which it promotes, these activities will in turn boost better health. But how do you find the right activity to start with?
Think about what you really love to do, Do you love yoga? Take a weekend yoga trip. Do you love reading? Spend some time along at the library picking out a few great books, and then commit to taking the time to read them. There are small gatherings, conferences and seminars about so many topics of interest that you might consider taking an afternoon or weekend learning about something that excites you. There is an undeniable link between mental health and physical health and the best activities will combine them both.
The Girls With Guts retreat is an event that we put on annually to bring women with IBD and ostomies together. The retreat itself not only connects people and creates support networks, but we spend a lot of time focusing on self love and taking time for yourself even when the rest of the world is asking so much of you. Keeping a healthy mind is a major step to keeping a healthy body.** This year our retreat will be held in Stroudsburg, PA on Sept 30th - Oct 3rd.** Each year we have approximately 70 women who come together from all over America, all at various stages of their diagnosis and disease activity, to connect and share their stories. For more information about our retreat visit the Girls With Guts site. We’d love it if you came and invited us to help build your support network!
Giving your mind and body time to rejuvenate is one of the most thoughtful acts of kindness we can give to ourselves. I hope that at the end of the day you are able to see how taking time for yourself is important for your mental and physical health. For me, when I start to feel crazy and disconnected I reach out to friends, I read helpful books, and I try to do something that makes me feel alive. I encourage you to take some time for yourself and find out what makes you feel alive!
_Jackie is an ulcerative colitis patient and the founder and Executive Director of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has been blogging her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community, and pays it forward as Social Ambassador of the IBDHealthCentral Facebook page. _