For those living with debilitating chronic illness, the idea of thanking your body may well elicit reactions such as, “Thank my body? For what?”  Or even a “WTF?” Trust me, I know.  Growing up in an abusive household with Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, I not only learned to put others before me but to treat my body with disdain.

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Kirsten Schultz (r) with her sister

But all of this unexpectedly changed during the months I was planning my wedding in 2014. Indeed, it started with the unconditional love from a terrific guy who got me to see how important it was to love, value and care for myself—problem was, I had no idea how to do it.  It was a heck of a lot easier said than done.

Then I thought of my sister.

It was thinking of my sister that helped me with the hard process of learning to actually make changes towards loving myself. Something I think you can do, even if you are sans a sis.

It can be very difficult to make changes in our lives. I find that, for myself, this is even more accurate when making changes that benefit me over others.

In learning to love my body, the first thing I did was to try and step back during flares and other times when my body was not functioning as well as it could. I tried to be patient with a body that wasn’t functioning correctly.

I started trying to treat my body the way I might treat my sister if she wasn’t feeling well – making sure to keep myself warm enough and fed and really taking care of myself.

As time went on, I even started to thank my body.

Yes, thank my body.

Our bodies work so hard to keep systems working, to keep us alive, and so many parts have to work so much harder when we’re ill or flaring. By separating myself from my anger at the fact that I have malfunctioning cells in my body, I was able to appreciate the work these cells do to keep me alive.

Developing that self-compassion has completely changed how I look at myself.

It was not an easy process, though.

I started once a week and set aside around an hour. Each week, I picked a new spot to observe and inspect from my right knee to my left arm. I was as specific or as broad as I wanted, but made sure I was focused enough to really stick to that area.

If you try this process know that it may be emotional at times.  Like me, you might see something like a scar that you didn’t focus on or notice before. These things can bring up difficult memories.  If the memories are too difficult, I suggest stopping and seeking some help, whether it’s the company of friend or family or a mental health care professional.  And always end the period of time you spend on your body with something to pamper yourself—paint your nails, take a nap, or even eat some chocolate.

I often went through periods of negative self-talk where I had to force myself to find positive things about my body. Whenever this happened, I would think of someone I had cared for when they were ill—my sister—and how I might say a similar thing to her—or even if I would.  Thanks sis.

I hope you have someone you had cared for when they were ill.

And please always remember how amazing that body you live in is, flaws and all. Thank your body. And thank your own sis, whoever he or she is.

A young adult thriving while living with chronic illness, you can read about Kirsten’s struggles and enjoy her musings and wit at notstandingstillsdisease.com. Make sure to join her for #chronicsex chats Thursday nights at 7 pm EST on Twitter.