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.

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Learning to Love Yourself…

Credit: WP.com at Gfycat.

I am a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. In my low emotional moments, Ash reminded me of what RuPaul says to her queens at the close of every episode: “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love anybody else?” I laughed at the reminder, but he was right. Loving myself is a form of self-soothing and a great way to manage my chronic illness.

If I don’t learn to love myself and treat myself right, how am I expected to care for anyone else? An easy form of showing love for ourselves is to engage in the act of self-soothing.

Not Just for Babies

Look up self-soothing on your search engine of choice, and you’ll find tips to teach babies and toddlers to self-soothe. I am in the middle of this milestone as I work with Jai to find appropriate self-soothing techniques. Because of this, it’s fresh in my mind of how important self-soothing emotionally and physically.

At its very core, self-soothing is finding ways to calm ourselves down. Parents are encouraged at the beginning to provide healthy tools for children to care for themselves. Sometimes these techniques carry into adulthood. But some people use less healthy means to soothe, chemicals and unhealthy behaviors can distract from negative feelings.

As we grow older and life experiences get in the way, there is a tendency to forget or dismiss the important stuff we learned as children. If you were never properly trained to healthfully self-soothe, this concept is completely foreign. Rather than looking at self-soothing as something for babies, look at it as a healthy way to manage your emotions with love and compassion.

Self-Soothing for Adults

I still sleep with my childhood teddy bear because it feels weird to not use him as a pillow or cradle him in my arms. It’s something that brings me comfort and helps me fall asleep faster. And as a mother of a toddler, more sleep = more energy in the morning.

I mention this because it’s a form of self-soothing I’ve carried over since childhood.

You may not still have your childhood stuffed animal, or partners might make us feel uncomfortable if we start reaching for childhood comforts, so consider more grown-up techniques to soothe yourself:

  • If you have an oral fixation, consider drinking an herbal tea. Use honey as a sweetener (if you aren’t vegan) as this will help relax you.
  • Grant yourself a few minutes to veg out on your phone, tv, computer, etc. Instead of feeling guilty about it (“I should be doing this…”), set yourself a timer and give yourself permission to escape for a few minutes.
  • Pick up a new hobby that is both fun and stress-free. If you’ve never had the opportunity, consider doing a group painting night or paint ceramics. Make something that you can appreciate and reminds you of the fun you had while creating it.
  • Give yourself a hug. This could be a bath (if your illness allows it), getting a mini-massage, or taking yourself out to coffee.

Self-Soothing as Chronic Illness Treatment

So how can self-soothing help as a chronic illness treatment?

If you recognize warning signs of an attack or feeling overwhelmed, take this time to soothe yourself. While the above section works if you have a chronic illness, there are a few more ideas that are specific to chronic illness:

Because, well, You’re Worth It

The key concept is that you are worth taking the time to care for yourself.

Chronic illness can beat us down and make us feel bad about ourselves.  Sometimes these feelings are a secondary response to the illness or in the case of MS, the illness directly impacting brain function.

Self-soothing is a way to regain control over the uncontrollable situation and saying that I am worth my love. If you struggle with loving yourself, consider taking the baby steps of self-soothing as a means to get to a place where you are able to more actively take care of yourself.

Loving Yourself

Self-soothing boils down to loving yourself and telling yourself on a daily basis that you are worthy of that love. It’s also acknowledging that there will be low points and so you need to take the time to mitigate that.

How do you take care of yourself? What makes you feel better when you are feeling low emotionally? Leave your thoughts and comments below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


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Where to Start with Self-Compassion

There is a lack of control when it comes to a chronic illness. For many of us, that lack of control gets frustrating and lead us to take our frustrations out on ourselves and those closest to us. True, society doesn’t blame us for feeling frustrated, but I hate feeling like I am mad at everyone, the world, and myself. I had to figure out where to start with self-compassion to help feel better about myself.

I am not going to be discussing anything groundbreaking, but I do want to spend this post detailing ways you can start the process to love yourself in spite of your chronic illness. The person most in need of love is yourself and I want to give you permission to do so.

Chronic Frustration & Struggles

Chronic illnesses lead to feelings of frustration with self beyond the normal struggles people face daily. Some typical struggles may be:

  • Figuring out what is wrong
  • Knowing what’s wrong and not knowing/wanting to deal with it
    • I know that this is an attack, but I really don’t want to go to through the doctor hassle to deal with it. Maybe it will calm down after a few days…
  • Feeling singled out with symptoms
    • Karen has the same illness as me and she seems to be doing better than me. That’s so unfair.
  • Frustration over limitations brought on by the illness
    • I took it easy yesterday so I could do a bunch of stuff today, but I still feel like I was hit by a semi-truck

This is just the tip of the iceberg for frustrations and struggles, but they are very real and impact how we live our lives. Our thoughts hold so much sway over how we act and interact with the world. When we listen to the frustrations and give into perceived limitations, it can impact how we manage our illness and possibly the degree the illness affects us.

We may direct our anger towards ourselves because we feel like we have no one else to blame. We may not want to take it out on loved ones because it’s not their fault. We also may not have anyone to talk to, despite having a possible support group, because chronic illness feels so isolating.

Feeling out of Control

All of this is to say, there’s a complete lack of control over what is going on when dealing with a chronic illness. You may have your illness so well-managed with medication, complementary therapies, and wellness-based living that you feel in complete control of your situation. But all it takes is one slip up, like a bit of unknown gluten slipping in your diet, or just life throwing an unplanned curveball for an attack to arise and make you feel completely out of control.

That’s the problem with chronic illnesses: there isn’t always a concrete reason for the attacks or symptoms. What minimally affects one person may be completely overwhelming for yourself. When I first received my diagnosis I couldn’t help but feel like the universe had it out for me and was so frustrated by the lack of control over my symptoms and disease.

What many of us want in our chronic illnesses is to control the uncontrollable.

An unproductive way to feel in control is to focus negativity inward. Some of us feel a lot of self-loathing and act on that in unhealthy ways, while others may just want to be down on themselves because it’s a “go-to” coping mechanism.

Where to Start with Self-Compassion

Some ways to begin incorporating more self-compassion in your life:

  • Recognizing the moments when you are unnecessarily harsh on yourself. I know that these moments can happen at the most random times for myself, but are highest just before or in the middle of an MS exacerbation.
  • Once those moments are identified, just start saying to yourself “it’s okay, I’m okay, I’m only human and that’s okay.” Come up with a silly, but the memorable mantra that works for you. Positive forms of humor may help shake you out of your feelings of frustration.
  • Talk to yourself like you are soothing a small child. This isn’t a condescending practice, for many of us, there is an inner child needing special love and attention. If you never received guidance on how to speak with a hurt child, think about what you would want a grown-up to say to you when you were younger.
  • Seriously consider looking into therapy for yourself. Sometimes the hurts run too deep that you need an objective third party to sit down and speak with you and provide positive guidance in your journey. Using therapy isn’t defeat, it’s using tools available to you. Ask if they promote self-compassion.

Beginning to see your Self-Worth

The first, and hardest, step you will need to take is acknowledging the following: I am worth loving myself. I am worth caring for myself. I am worth forgiving myself if I feel like I need to.

When you mentally accept that you are worthy of love, particularly your love, you begin a journey down a healing path. You will start to see things differently: relationships, perspective, life-management; all will shift into a more positive and healthy space.

You will get push back and that will be hard.

That’s why saying “I’m worthy” is the first step in the self-compassion journey. When it’s time to care for yourself because someone or something hurt you, you already know that you are worthy of that self-care. You can own your decisions as being what’s best for you, and curtail internal concerns that you are responsible for others.

I have found caring about what others think and how they respond to me puts me in an unhealthy mental space. Saying that I am worthy of positive interactions helped me phase out negative individuals with minimal guilt. The guilt is still there because that’s still ingrained, but I no longer back-track and allow the negativity back into my life.

Do you see your self-worth? What works for you to see it?  Leave your thoughts and suggestions below.


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Self-Compassion and Chronic Illness

I’ve spoken about self-compassion on the MS Mommy Blog before and what a positive impact it’s had for me as a personal coping tool. When I first read Dr. Kristen Neff’s book, Self- Compassion, I fell in love with the concept as a life philosophy. I recognized that self-compassion and chronic illness go hand-in-hand, and should be recommended by our healthcare professionals as part of our disease management regimen. It’s easy for us to get self-critical when trying to manage our illness that we don’t remember that part of our care should be loving ourselves no matter how “broken” we might feel.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is exactly what it sounds like: taking compassion (i.e. understanding and empathy) and turning it inward. Practicing compassion for ourselves is the first step of successfully being compassionate towards others. If we can love and care for ourselves, we are able to extend that love to others in our life.

Self-compassion is about forgiving ourselves even when we don’t need to: sometimes we take on responsibilities when it’s not warranted. I know I’ve mentally beat myself up over perceived missteps and learned to “forgive” myself so I could move forward mentally and emotionally.

As humans, we suffer. It might as well be the third absolute truth of life: death, taxes, and suffering.

So when we engage in compassion, we are recognizing the suffering and do what we can to help mitigate it for others. Sometimes helping others who are suffering dampens our own suffering, but the caretaker tends to be the one in most need of care.

Treat Ourselves as We’d Treat Others

There’s the golden rule we’re taught as children: treat others as you would want them to treat us. I think we forget that if we don’t’ treat ourselves well, how can we expect others to treat us well?

I know that if I don’t think very highly of myself, I  prone to let others take advantage and bully me. I feel like I deserve it, even if it makes me angry and I lash out in response. Once I began to say to myself: “no, I don’t deserve this treatment,” I found that the negative relationships went away.

And I felt better about myself for it.

Meaningful life changes come when we acknowledge our own importance in the world, something that is hard to do if we’re conditioned to feel unimportant. When we treat ourselves well,  we’ll be able to treat others well.

Tell yourself that you are worthy of your love and see how that alters your perspective.

Self-Compassion and Chronic Illness

So what does self-compassion have to do with chronic illness?

As I’ve previously mentioned in the blog, it’s easy to beat ourselves up and feel massive amounts of disappointment over something we cannot control: our health. Refocusing our anger and frustration to loving and caring for ourselves when we cannot control the situation is a better use of our emotional energy.

If your chronic illness is like mine, undue emotional stress, especially when controllable, leads to attacks. Rather than engaging in the behaviors that put me at risk for an attack, I reject the desire to blame myself and choose to love myself is a means of managing my disease.

An Invaluable Tool for Life

If you don’t have a chronic illness impacting your day-to-day life, engaging in self-compassion is a wonderful way to healthfully handle all that life throws at you. I have found that it’s a tool I wish I used more prior to my diagnosis. My overall satisfaction level with my life is up, which is something I could not say seven years ago.

Looking forward this month, the blog will discuss more in-depth the importance of self-compassion, ways to remember to use it, and reviewing the book Dr. Kristen Neff’s book that started me on this journey.

If you haven’t already, please sign up for the weekly newsletter so you don’t miss Friday’s posts and free materials to help you along your wellness journey this year.


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Setting Reasonable Long-Term Goals

One of the hardest parts of having a chronic illness is the uncertainty that comes with it. How long will my attacks last? How long do I have before I get permanently worse? What’s the point in setting reasonable long-term goals if I don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

It’s very easy to go to a negative place with a chronic illness. Even today, after feeling settled about my diagnosis and where I am in life, I have moments where I get negative about my situation. There are days where it feels like the MS is overrunning my life.

That’s why taking the steps for self-improvement can be hard because it feels hopeless to even start. But I want to say that no matter where you are at in your illness, there’s always an opportunity to set goals for personal growth.

Long-Term Goals as Complementary Treatment

The very act of setting a long-term goal while dealing with a chronic illness is a declaration that you are fighting the disease. It’s acknowledging that the disease will not be completely control your life – but you will be getting the control back.

Recent studies focused on the importance of setting goals, specifically with patients diagnosed with a chronic illness. Working with healthcare providers to establish long-term care goals related and unrelated to chronic disease management found that patients benefited from patient-centered care.

Additionally, setting goals outside of disease management, such as making lifestyle and wellness changes for overall health, found that patients positively benefited when no longer focused on disease management metrics.

When we focus on creating beneficial long-term goals either with disease management in mind or not, there are positive outcomes that manifest from the simple process of making the goals. It’s saying “I am going to be here a while and I am not accepting defeat in my disease.”

Hope, while there seems to be very little of it nowadays, does play a role in disease management. It’s not about being unaware of the reality of the situation or not being realistic about the diagnosis. Rather, I would argue it’s a statement that you make to yourself and with others that you are not allowing the illness to have the upper hand despite the ways it manifests.

By maintaining hope and setting long-term goals, you are taking on a more active role with your care and helping to stack the odds in your favor by doing what you need to do to get the best possible care given the circumstances.

Setting Reasonable Long-Term Goals

If you are taking the 2019 Wellness Challenge with MS Mommy Blog, you probably have a long-term goal you’re working on this year. Why am I bringing this up now, at the end of January? Mainly because if you are like me, and I am admittedly average, it’s around this time that I struggle to maintain my resolutions and goals.

I am also bringing it up because it’s to recognize and honor the importance of long-term goal making. I think it’s normal for people to discount the importance of goals, especially when coping with a chronic illness of sorts.

If you haven’t established a long-term goal for 2019, it’s never too late to start. The key is to set a reasonable goal that you know you can undertake.

Even if the goal is to have a five-minute conversation with your healthcare provider about the direction of your care and you know it will take all year to work up the courage to do so, this is a reasonable long-term goal to set for yourself.

This is why I settled on the S.M.A.R.T. method to work through this year. It keeps your goals grounded and applicable to whatever you are looking to do for the year. Make sure you sign-up for the newsletter to get the latest information on how to help set up reasonable long-term goals for the rest of the year.

This Coming Month

February will be focusing on the importance of self-compassion and chronic illness, especially when it relates to self-improvement and wellness. It’s easy for us to get caught up in feeling frustration with our limitations and chronic illness. But if we practice self-compassion and go easy on ourselves whenever possible, we’ll find that maintaining our goals will be easier.

Stay tuned for February.


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Featured photo credit:  Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash