August 10, 2022
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Collage design by Ryan Hamsher; Photo contributed by Natalie Kelley
If you live with a chronic condition, it’s important to remember that you are worthy of love and respect — from others and from yourself.
Welcome to Mindset Matters — a space to learn about the mental and emotional aspects of living with chronic illness. Mindset Matters is led by Nat Kelley, a certified life and mindset coach and founder of Plenty and Well. For Nat, mindset work was the missing puzzle piece in her journey navigating ulcerative colitis, and she’s passionate about helping empower others in their journeys.
I always say that chronic illness made me empathetic, self-aware, compassionate, full of zest for life, positive, compassionate, kinder to myself, and so on. This is partially true.
Navigating life with a chronic illness has helped me uncover these things about myself that were there all along. Chronic illness forced me to finally get quiet, slow down, and ask if I actually liked how I was operating in this world.
Finding silence and slowing down helped my true self come to fruition.
“Self-love is about learning to choose yourself, even in the hard times (
Building a relationship with yourself starts now. Not when you’re out of a flare or feeling better, not when you have this or that diagnosis, not when some external factors align.
You deserve to love yourself now. And it’s important to prioritize this relationship because it will help carry you through all of the big moments, changes, low points, and high points.
Self-love is about learning to choose yourself, even in the hard times (especially in the hard times!).
You’ll need to really get to know yourself in order to figure out how to nurture these pieces of yourself. I know that can sound silly — because how can you not know yourself when you are yourself? But it’s very possible to feel distanced from ourselves, especially if our vision is clouded by a new diagnosis.
Knowing yourself means knowing your boundaries, tuning in with your intuition, and understanding yourself on a deeper level. I try to ask myself questions like:
The best way to start uncovering these pieces of yourself? Time.
By time, I mean less time doing and more time being with yourself.
For me, this looked like spending time meditating, journaling, and reading personal development books with the specific intention of learning more about myself. But this “time” could also mean quiet time doing crafts or coloring, time spent in nature, or time lying in bed reflecting.
However you spend the time is up to you. Just make sure that you slow down and give yourself space in the present moment to reflect on the real, truest you, outside of who you used to be or who you thought you “should” be.
Another mental block I noticed while exploring my relationship with myself was falling into the comparison trap. This is totally normal because finding our true selves often requires us to deviate from societal norms we have tried so hard to fit into.
Who am I without my 5-year plan? Who am I without the fancy job I pictured for myself? Who am I if I’m not following the same timeline as everyone else?
You’re you. And soon you’ll be you minus the societal pressure to be someone you’re not.
You’re you without the feeling that you have to hurry up and do what everyone else is doing. You’ll still be you, but you’ll also be able to better meet your actual needs, not the needs of society.
When you live with a chronic illness, it can feel like you’re behind. This can make the idea of “slowing down” even scarier. However, there is so much beauty and YOU-ness to discover.
When I notice I am starting to compare myself to others, I repeat to myself “I choose to release the timeline and meet myself where I’m at right now.”
The present you deserves your full attention. Comparison and other people’s journeys do not.
Discovering who you are with chronic illness comes with actively seeking a healthy relationship with yourself. Just like you wouldn’t accept the bare minimum from someone else, you shouldn’t accept that from yourself.
One great way to start practicing self-love is figuring out your love language. Once you learn what your love language is you can find ways to express it to yourself.
You may have heard of the five love languages that were introduced by Dr. Gary Chapman, a marriage counselor, in 1992.
According to Chapman, the five love languages are:
If your love language is “words of affirmation,” try writing yourself positive notes and leaving them around your house, writing letters to your past and future selves, or tuning into any negative self-talk habits and practicing rewriting them in your mind.
If your love language is “physical touch,” maybe curl up in your comfiest clothes, buy new fuzzy socks or a weighted blanket, or try a self-massage.
If your love language is “acts of service,” perhaps this looks like asking more openly for help with chores or, if finances allow, hiring someone to help with tasks that take too much energy.
If your love language is “quality time,” spend more time with yourself! Create a morning or evening routine, journal (what better way to spend quality time with yourself than by giving your full attention to your thoughts and feelings), or take yourself out on a date.
Lastly, if your love language is “receiving gifts,” treat yourself to small things that bring you big joy.
Other practices that can help foster a loving relationship with yourself are:
It’s important to remember that you are worthy of love and respect from others as well as yourself. Having a chronic illness doesn’t make you worth any less and doesn’t mean you need to settle for any less.
Who you are now because of your chronic illness is not a lesser version of who you used to be. It’s a new version, and you get to decide how to let that version of you flourish.
The sadness and grief you feel over older versions of yourself is valid. Hurting and healing and grieving and growing can coexist.
Here’s to the new you, chronic illness and all.
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