Perhaps the best gift you can give yourself today — and every day — is self-love. “Valentine’s Day is often focused on others — but the first person you need to shower is yourself,” says Sarah Shaw, BIPOC Patient Advocate, Community Outreach Manager at the Global Healthy Living Foundation, who lives with chronic migraine.
Self-love is a bit different that self-care. It’s a general feeling of self-appreciation, of valuing yourself and your place in the world. That said, having self-love can be a great motivation for self-care.
We asked members of the CreakyJoints and the Global Health Living Foundation (GHLF) patient community to share how they practice self-love — and how these acts help them to live better with chronic illness. Several patients shared that they have learned to say “no” in order to say “yes” to their health and well-being. Others have made a more conscious effort to toss out the “supposed-tos” and focus on self-acceptance and activities that make them feel happy and whole.
We hope you will take away some inspiration for practicing self-love from these heartfelt responses.
Do What Makes You Feel Good
“Self-love is accepting myself as I am but also trying to learn and practice things that made me feel happy and good. Exercise, meditation, spending time with friends. I do things that showed me that I have a full life and that I am whole. My health is a challenge — but it does not define me.” — Zucy A., who lives with rheumatoid arthritis
“I use positive words, actions, and thoughts that are good for my mind and body. I pay attention to what betters my life and what makes me happy. I started to see myself as a sacred temple that only allows worthy thoughts and feelings to enter my space.” — Mario M., who lives with RA and type 2 diabetes
“I’m a pianist. While I can’t play as much as I used to, I greatly enjoy any time I get to spend on the keys. Alone time while practicing is an effective way to close out the world for just a little while and sink into something enjoyable, productive, and quite pleasant. Playing for specific events like church or Christmas gatherings gives me a feeling that I’m helping others and that I can still be useful despite chronic illness and pain. It also gives me hope that while my illnesses have taken many things, and even piano on some days, there are still many days when disease doesn’t win.” — Elisa C., who lives with Sjogren’s and RA
Accept Limitations, Avoid Comparisons
“I found self-love when I decided that things were in my favor. How? Accepting myself, acknowledging the personal and professional achievements I had achieved, not being strong with myself, changing my attitude to a positive one, and trusting in the process. I internalized and understood that I must be well with myself because I am the one with whom I am with most of the time and that’s the relationship that I should take better care of.” — Wigna C., who lives with RA
“After I was diagnosed with RA, it took a long time to realize that I can’t compare myself to those around me. RA in your 20s is not something that is common where I come from. When I could no longer run down a soccer field, or couldn’t finish my first year of college, I thought there was something wrong with me. I always thought that I needed to go to college and get the best job I could because ‘that’s what everyone does.’
I am not ‘supposed to’ have arthritis in my 20s. Comparing myself to others started to having a negative effect on me. I started to dislike the person I was, and it affected how I treated my RA for a while. Loving your new self can be difficult while living with a chronic illness. I knew I had to change the way I thought of myself. I started by telling myself, not everyone’s journey is the same. My journey is going to be different than my friends — and their journey is not going to be like someone else’s.
The more I told myself this, the more I accepted having RA. When I stopped comparing myself to those around me, I started to accept that having limitations is okay, and not being perfect is okay. By doing this I can give myself my weekly shot without hesitation and I can wake up the mornings of my infusions knowing this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and if I kept trying to be like those around me, my situation would be much different than it is now. Every morning when I wake up, I remind myself ‘I have RA, but RA does not have me. I am more than my illness, and even though I can’t do the things I once could, doesn’t mean I won’t achieve great things in life.’” — Michaela M., who lives with RA
Connect with Others for Hope, Motivation, and Inspiration
“Having rheumatoid arthritis is hard, but it’s even harder when you go through it alone. Like so many things in life today, it takes a village to manage RA. Essential members of my medical support system include my rheumatologist, my primary care provider, my physical therapist, my psychologist, and my pharmacist. In addition to these essential health care professionals, I have a supportive spouse, two small children who are well-versed in RA, and a handful of kind, non-judgmental friends. Lastly, I have developed a network of other RA warriors through social media and support groups. Connecting with other RA warriors brings hope, motivation, and inspiration to my life every single day. This also gives me opportunities to pay it forward and give support to others with RA. Remember: You are never alone with RA.” — Stefanie R., who lives with RA
Replace Negative Thoughts with More Positive Ones
“I pour into my mental well-being by keeping a gratitude journal. I write in it each day, and it helps me replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. It helps me see a bigger picture than just what’s right in front of me in the moment. Perspective through gratitude is one tool that keeps me grounded and in a healthier mindset, which leaves more brain space and energy to fight against disease itself.” — Elisa C., who lives with Sjogren’s and RA
“I practice self-love is by speaking positivity over my life. Daily positive affirmations throughout my day help me focus on the things I have control over and embrace my new normal (lifestyle). This is the most helpful tool I have in my self-care × self-love toolkit. It helps me see my life from a different lens — one filled with the love and admiration I have for myself. No matter what I’m facing my favorite mantra is “you got this, sister girl,” — and I end it with a high five in my mirror. That motivation has me feeling like I’m in the bright lights and big city on the town in New York with my stilettos and little black dress. Shoes are my thing, so you know I’m feeling myself if I mention a stiletto.” — Shantana H., who lives with RA
Show Yourself Grace and Kindness
“After having surgery in 2017, I had to show myself self-love. I was down and depressed and my peer in physical therapy told me ‘You’re not where you want to be, but you are better than you were before.’ She was right, I was too hard on myself.
Surgeries, medications, injections, and pain can be a lot on one’s body. Now I practice self-love daily. I speak affirmations to myself, I advocate for me, and I listen to my body. Listening to my body is most important because it helps me determine how I feel. The more I pay attention to my body and what it wants, the less stressed out I am.” — Raven M., who lives with RA
“One of the ways I practice self-love is to extend grace and kindness to myself. Doing so has afforded me with an inner love of myself that exudes in everything I do. I even celebrate myself for honoring and nurturing my body especially during those challenging flares. It’s okay to not be okay. I always say embrace your emotions as they come so you can process through them — mind, body, and soul. Extending myself grace means leaning on my sister girl support tribe for help and using the word ‘no’ as my full sentence, period. If I’m kind to my mind, I know my body will thank me and my soul will appreciate me, which is most definitely celebration worthy.” — Shantana H., who lives with RA
Set and Honor Boundaries
“One way that I practice self-love is by setting and honoring boundaries with myself and others. This is a huge one for me, especially as a young professional trying to get my service-based business off the ground. During my first year in business, I was dealing with chronic inflammation issues that became exacerbated by stress. And, unfortunately, I found myself in extremely stressful situations when it came to being tasked with excessive workloads, tight deadlines, and poor compensation.
However, I always did whatever I was told or asked of me even if it was stressful because I wanted to build my rapport as a professional. But being a ‘yes girl’ absolutely impacted my chronic inflammation and health conditions. On some days, I found myself so depleted after completing all that was asked of me that my eyes would be bloodshot with inflammation and my lower back in so much pain from sitting in front of my computer all day that I couldn’t even move.
Practicing boundaries has changed everything for me. Over time, I’ve learned to practice boundaries by saying ‘No’ to anything that doesn’t serve me well or that stresses me out for no valid reason. I’m preventing flare-ups by not allowing myself to engage in stressful situations as I try to live by the golden rule that ‘your emergency is not my urgency.’ There is no imaginary deadline so important that can make me compromise my health and well-being — and if a client needs me to do that, that’s going to cost extra.” — Elisabet G., who lives with chronic eye inflammation, hypothyroidism, and interstitial cystitis
“In terms of self-love, I have learned to prioritize my needs and say ‘no.’ As someone who is a bit of a people pleaser, ensuring that I put my needs first before others was a jungle to navigate. This had rubbed people the wrong way, as they had acclimated to a certain way I would adhere to their wants and needs. I even lost some relationships. But, in turn, this helped reduce the levels of stress in my life, and the regularity I was experiencing gout attacks.
Saying no also gave me confidence in myself and my abilities. It gave me agency to reassess how I dealt with issues and where I could manage situations. Working in [the acting] industry where image plays quite a large part, allowing myself to be comfortable with how I look and being confident in my abilities as a creative.” — Lawrence O., who lives with gout
Want to Get More Involved with Patient Advocacy?
The 50-State Network is the grassroots advocacy arm of CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation, comprised of patients with chronic illness who are trained as health care activists to proactively connect with local, state, and federal health policy stakeholders to share their perspective and influence change. If you want to effect change and make health care more affordable and accessible to patients with chronic illness, learn more here.