Tuning Into Self-Worth While Chronically Ill

A lot of the time when I'm speaking to people with AS (and other chronic pain conditions), they mention that their disease has made them feel worthless. This always breaks my heart. I'm immediately consumed with the desire to "fix" their perspective, to convince them otherwise: No, you're wrong. You are worthy! You shouldn't think like that!

And yet I know, in my heart, that validation and acknowledgment is its own kind of medicine. It doesn't take the pain away. It doesn't make anyone feel any more worthy. But it does give someone the right — and pathway — to experience and express their feelings. In a society where we're told to get better, get back to work, suck it up, and move on, this can work wonders.

The thing is, AS doesn't "get better tomorrow" and there's likely no "moving on." The next best thing is to accept that this reality is ours and to do what we can to make it more tolerable. I think part of this is being honest with our feelings, even the uncomfortable ones.

When I feel unworthy or like I've "lost value" — often due to having quit my full-time job due to AS, or not having the energy to create or play or be engaged as I used to — there are a few things that help me. Perhaps they will help you, too.

Just be in the feelings

Look at them. Examine them. Sit with them. Talk to them. Feel them. Write them. Embody them. Embrace your storm and give yourself the outlet. The shadow self is responsible for all the dark, subterranean feelings we have, and ignoring it means denying any potential to move past it.

I try to adopt the idea that our thoughts ("I am worthless") aren't necessarily real

They exist within our internal worlds, but they have no real form. They are not fact. And yet the energy and intention we bring to them can help them alchemize, which is why I try to reroute my thinking when it gets to a place of unworthiness. If I feed these thoughts, they grow. If I let them pass like sticks down a flowing river, I can nod and let them go.

I'm proud of writing to you, here. I'm proud of developing greater empathy. I'm proud of using what energy I do have to nurture my creative pursuits. I'm proud of being able to enjoy rest, silence, and pause. I'm proud of intuiting my body's needs. Even though these are not the things I used to talk about being proud of, they're real, valid, and valuable things — and I know you have things to be proud of, too.

I tap into gratitude

At this point, the gratitude argument can go two ways. Being told to have some gratitude can be one way to bypass someone's suffering. On the other hand, gratitude is a way of taking stock of the present moment and orienting myself in the reality around them. Gratitude is my north star and always sets me right when pity and self-neglect come into play.

How do you conquer these sorts of feelings? Comment below and let me know!

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