Making Space for Self Compassion
Last updated: June 2023
Being kind to yourself is important when you have a chronic illness like ankylosing spondylitis.
Some days self-compassion means cutting myself some slack when I feel too tired, sore, or foggy-headed to do what my calendar says I should. On those days it’s better for me to cancel or postpone than push on through, especially as experience has taught me what comes of soldiering-on.
On other days, self-compassion means acknowledging my need for social connection and happiness, and allowing time on a busy day for coffee with a friend or a phone call to my sister.
I can easily beat myself up for the areas of short-fall in my life, many of which exist because I have been navigating the world with a chronic illness for over 20 years. I don’t have the career success I once imagined. My body is not in the shape I would like it to be. The house could certainly be cleaner most days.
Finding a kinder voice
Applying self-compassion means replacing that inner critic with a kinder voice which reminds me of the challenges I’ve faced and assures me I’m doing just fine.
Managing my AS is a 365 day a year responsibility. I don’t take time off from the ever-present work of keeping on top of my health because I can’t afford to. From the moment I wake I’m drinking a certain amount of water, suffering through a cold burst in the shower and taking my supplements.
Throughout the day I’m sourcing or preparing the nourishing food my body responds well to, managing my thoughts to avoid unnecessary stress and fitting in some form of movement. At night time I’m conscious of not sitting in the one position for too long and making sure I take my meds before getting to bed on time.
Supporting my health
So much of what I do these days is driven by the desire to support my health. These self-care habits have taken time to develop and come from knowing I deserve to live with minimal pain and limitation. Acknowledging that is another form of self-compassion, even when the supplements might be expensive or the time I take to exercise eats into my day.
Pushing back against the guilt that naturally comes up when I say no to things, or prioritise myself, or confront a healthcare professional who is giving me bad advice is another exercise in self-compassion. It does not come naturally, but it is behaviour I have learned over time to be essential in winning the war I fight every day against AS.
Back when I was lost in pain and couldn’t imagine my future I often blamed myself for whatever it was I had done to develop AS. It cast a shadow over my family’s life and I hated myself for it. In time I shifted that perspective entirely and grew to have empathy for myself and what I have been through.
Self-compassion means continually reminding myself I am worthy and significant and that I did not deserve the diagnosis I ended up with.
Are you able to speak to yourself in this way too?
Has changing your diet helped manage your pain and flares?