chronic-illness-and-self-care

…Before Loving Anyone Else

On Monday, I discussed the importance of self-soothing as a means of disease management. Chronic illness and self-care go hand-in-hand, but sometimes we are asked to care for others when needing to care for ourselves.

As a mother, I have to put my needs aside for Jai, but sometimes that’s impossible to do. If I don’t take care of my own needs, I won’t be able to take care of Jai’s. Which is why granting ourselves permission to be selfish is a good thing.

Self-Care Goes Beyond Self

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, caring for ourselves first is the best way to care for others. If I am emotionally incapable of taking care of Jai’s needs because I am so worn out from dealing with other issues, I won’t be able to provide the care that he needs. Rather, if I acknowledge that I need to take a few moments for myself, even if Jai is running around and super active, then I should do so.

If you want to be an effective partner, parent, or friend – take care of yourself first before taking care of others. It’s hard to accept or even want to do because being “selfish” gets a bad reputation. When we say “I must put myself first,” we are being selfish, but selfishness can be a good thing. Especially when we are dealing with others.

Self-Care When Others Don’t – Friends

We are destined to be around people who can’t or won’t take care of themselves.  If you are a parent, a child is incapable of taking care of themselves until they reach a certain age.  Some grownups are incapable of taking care of themselves for a variety of reasons as well.

Other adults in our lives are toxic, but we are not able to extricate them from our lives for specific reasons. It will never be our job to get these individuals to engage in their own self-care, no matter how much we’d want them to – especially if we know they need it.

The trouble in these situations is knowing if we can be frank with them to suggest self-care, but many times broaching the subject is more trouble than it’s worth. So what are we to do? Take care of ourselves as a means of caring for them.

If the person is so toxic and there aren’t biological/sentimental ties keeping you in the relationship, removing the toxic individual temporarily might be the best course of action for you. This temporary removal is to give you clarity about the nature of the relationship and what you want out of the relationship. I have found that while people have toxic tendencies, I still want to be around them because I enjoy their company most of the time.

With a break from these particular people, I am able to separate myself from them and realize that my self-care is setting boundaries in our relationship.

But ultimately, you will find that while you might want to help them, you will also recognize that they are not your responsibility.

Self-Care When Others Don’t – Family

Friends are “easier” to manage because while we might feel obligated to them, there isn’t the same level of Obligation that comes from family. If you are in an intimate relationship with someone or have a family member with toxic tendencies, it’s much harder to take a self-care break.

How do you manage these relationships?

First: if the relationship is toxic to the point of abusive, it’s important to cut them out of your life immediately for your own safety. I am not equipped to talk about these relationships, so I encourage you to seek help from a healthcare professional or therapist if you are in an abusive relationship.

I had toxic family members in my past and found the best way to handle them is to recognize the toxicity and remove myself from the situation as much as possible. As a teenager, when I was in the same place as the toxic family member, I knew enough to leave the room until I felt ready to be around them again. When I was ready to reconnect with them, I did so on the level I was comfortable (i.e. setting boundaries). As an adult, I have no contact with them.

Some things to remember with family members or loved ones:

  • Despite love or blood connection, you owe them nothing. Other family members may (and some will) put pressure on you to give into the toxic person, but your chronic illness dictates that your needs must come first.
  • Additionally, you are not responsible for their actions. You may have to care for them for a variety of reasons, but how they behave is not your responsibility. Your reaction to them is your own, but how they behave is completely on them.
  • Try not to take their actions personally. This is really hard because if it’s a parent, sibling, or adult child, they will know how to generate a negative response from you. Separating yourself from the situation and engaging in self-compassion during those moments will help provide the strength you need to handle the situation.
  • Being selfish is not a bad thing. If you need to lower stress in your life and this person is causing stress, then you are following your Healthcare Professional’s orders. I had my neurologist direct me to temporarily cut toxic family out of my life so I could recover from a  bad exacerbation.
  • Set boundaries and time limits. Your boundaries will vary from person-to-person, but setting time limits will help you regain control over the situation. If you are expected to visit a family member, set a mental limit of one-to-two hours (whatever your threshold may be) before giving yourself permission to leave. Use your illness as an excuse if you need to (“sorry, but I am really tired today so I can’t stay long”).
  • Hold to your boundaries as much as possible. This is easier said than done, but it is the only way to take care of yourself. Remember, if you care for yourself, you will eventually be able to care for others.

Self-Care as a Means of Protection

When we deal with toxic friends, family, and strangers – it can wear us down emotionally. Self-care can be used as a means of protecting yourself from these individuals because you can use your illness as a reason, without lying or being deceptive/manipulative, to take a break from the toxicity.

Toxic relationships cause stress which can exacerbate your illness. That is why finding ways to care for yourself in light of having these relationships is paramount.

It can be hard to allow ourselves to do this, but sometimes we have to use our illness as a means of caring for ourselves.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton

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