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I’ve Learned Self-care. What About Self-love?

Last updated: September 2023

When we experience chronic illness, particularly a rare disease, I believe it's common for us to have trouble not just providing ourselves with self-care but also self-love.

We can easily get bogged down by all the medical appointments, tests, and treatments required just to keep our bodies functioning. We often enter and stay in a state of survival, not a state of thriving.

Chronic illness and mental health

Our main goal becomes not just to survive but how we can maintain or improve our quality of life. When mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or medical post-traumatic stress disorder, complicate our survival state, it can be even more challenging to allow ourselves self-care and self-love.

Chronic illness and mental health conditions can induce severely harmful thought patterns of guilt and self-judgment related to how chronic illness affects our bodies, minds, and lives.

This or That

Self-care is...

I struggle with loving myself

In a previous article, I shared that I had finally learned self-care and, through trial and error, was learning the next important step of maintaining self-care. In this process and through my mental health counseling, I've discovered that I still haven't fully loved myself.

Yes, I love myself much more than I ever did as a child when my medical experiences began. However, as far as I have come in self-love and acceptance, I am still incredibly harsh and critical of myself. I struggle not only with loving myself but also with giving myself grace and forgiveness.

Getting to the root causes of my self-judgment

Through continued mental health counseling, I am slowly chipping away at my resistance to self-love. I now understand the root cause of my intense self-judgment and the root cause of my resistance.

I am implementing ways to build my self-love. I am slowly changing my mindset towards myself. Change is not always fast, especially regarding mental health, and therefore, maintaining my efforts has been key.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, I'll see a sign of my mindset starting to change.

What is self-love, really?

Building acceptance, allowance, and patience with myself has been essential for these progressing mindset changes. In the beginning, I really had to spend time intentionally reflecting on what self-love means and realized that I didn't have any idea what it meant.

Next, I needed to ask what self-love means. What does it look like? With direction from my mental health counselors, I learned that self-forgiveness and grace are parts of self-love, too.

Once I knew what to aim for and what to look for, I could begin implementing practices to build self-love, starting with learning how to give myself grace.

Ways I give myself grace

For me, these practices include visualized meditations focused on forgiveness and love, giving these virtues to myself, taking them back from those I felt robbed me of such qualities as a child, followed by literally breaking through my resistance to self-love.

Reframing my negative thought patterns by simply catching them and slightly tweaking a negative thought to become more hopeful, compassionate, and understanding has also been a key practice.

Sometimes, this was as simple as telling myself, "Oh, well!" when something would happen that I was judging myself about. Journaling my uncensored thoughts and feelings and then later reflecting upon what I had written and journaling in response to each analyzed entry has also been enlightening.

Seeing the work pay off

I recognized a mindset change when I went from judging how I was meditating to viewing my self-judgments as learning opportunities. I realized I was becoming less judgmental of myself when I could stop and reflect on myself and others instead of reacting.

I am still actively working on breaking through my resistance to fully loving myself, but with each breadcrumb sign, I know I'm on the right track. As frustrating as it can be when healing is a slow process and we just want to fast forward to when we've achieved our goal, I am reminded to sit with myself and not give up on myself. I deserve at least that – to not abandon myself and instead to believe in myself.

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