“You shouldn’t be sitting around all day. If you don’t get up and do something, people will think you’re just lazy.”
“You shouldn’t use your illness as an excuse to rest and take a break.”
“Why can’t you get the energy to go out for drinks after dinner like everyone else? They won’t want to go out with you anymore because you can’t keep up like everyone else.”
“Why could you work out yesterday but you can’t even move today? Mind over matter. Don’t let this limit you.”
This dialogue sounds like an abusive, degrading, and extremely negative encounter. Although it may seem like these are being said to me by someone else, the truth is, these are the inner thoughts that I tell myself. Living with a chronic illness takes a toll on the body, but also affects the mind.
On days I am physically feeling down and frustrated with the state of my health, I become self-critical. The dialogue taking place in my mind leaves me feeling defeated and ashamed of having a physical illness. I compare myself to others who are more physically able, judge myself based on what others my age can do, and try to convince myself that if I “just tough it out,” I could overcome how I’m physically feeling.
None of what I tell myself is true. As I manage my life with a chronic and life-altering condition, my worst critic is myself.
The reason many of us with chronic illness have inner conflicts is we feel our bodies are failing us. It’s easy for my mind to say there’s no one to blame but myself. When fueling my thoughts with self-blame, I try to remind myself that having a chronic illness is not something I have control over. The only thing I have control over is how I care for myself day-to-day.
Filling my thoughts with self-blame and criticism, and telling myself to “just move on,” is not how I should care for myself. It’s important to realize that chronic illness is not my fault. Feeling I have to hold myself responsible negatively impacts my mental health. It hinders my ability to care for myself in the best way possible. When my mind fills with negative thinking, I easily feel as though I’m not worthy of self-care.
I’m extremely hard on myself when it comes to how I’m physically feeling, and also how I’m mentally coping. I tell myself, “You shouldn’t feel sad, you’re going to get depressed. There are people out there who have it way worse than you.” My critical side tells me that feeling depressed or overly anxious is a sign of weakness. Because of this, I fail to acknowledge my feelings of anxiety and depression as they arise.
With the help of a therapist, I am working on allowing myself to feel the sadness, frustration, and anger on days when it seems like my body isn’t doing what I want it to do. Recognizing these feelings as they arise allows me to express them appropriately and not store them away.
Managing a life with chronic illness is difficult. It’s easy to look for someone or something to blame when feeling out of control. When the body I am living in fails me, it’s no surprise that the easiest person to blame is myself.
I have a reason to feel upset about my illness. My anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration is valid. But when the inner critic voice creeps into my mind, I shouldn’t give into it. When I feel like giving in, I stop and think about the advice I would give to a friend in a similar situation. I would never tell someone struggling to “just get over it” and would never compare their bad day to someone else’s. I’ve learned that practicing kindness toward myself and being OK with not being OK is the greatest form of self-care. It’s time to silence the voice of my inner critic.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.