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Cultivating self acceptance with invisible illness is tough. Learning how to love yourself when your body and mind are determined to tear you apart from the inside out is an overwhelming challenge that I wish on no one. But that’s what makes self-love and acceptance even more critical. And I can’t say I’ve got it all figured out. Yet, I have discovered how to extend grace and mercy towards myself in this area over the past year. In doing so, I’ve improved my self-esteem and developed a healthy relationship with myself that’s built on remaining present and taking things one day at a time. So, let’s talk about what I’ve learned so far on this journey.

 

Making Peace with My Invisible Illness

Accepting that I have multiple invisible illnesses has taken some time. I felt doomed and limited in the past because my performance level isn’t the same as others. There are limitations that I have physically and mentally. And I believed that these factors meant I was destined to live a second-rate life.

But that’s untrue. I’ve proven to myself time and again that I can flourish. I may go through heavy seasons and challenging times, but they’re just part of the experience of having an invisible illness. There will be high pain days, depressive episodes, and health struggles. But the only way out of these situations is to go through them.

I’ve learned to remain present and honor my emotions and feelings through each step. It’s ok to be upset, sad, and even angry. Healthily expressing these emotions is beneficial. But it’s also imperative to remain hopeful and use my voice to speak up for myself when necessary. This mindset gets me through the difficult times and prepares me for the future.

Additionally, a strong support team makes finding peace and self-acceptance with an invisible illness easier. Knowing there are people you trust to accept you and allow you the space to feel your emotions while helping you is a comfort.

These things have made it easy to create a peaceful co-existence with my invisible illnesses. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s peaches and cream, but I’ve learned how to go with the flow and remain fluid and neutral.

woman with dark hair and white sweater holding hand to heart as a metaphor for self acceptance with invisible illness

Educating Myself About My Illness

When I suspected I had endometriosis, I made it my mission to learn everything I could about it and understand it. Doing so allowed me to make lifestyle changes to decrease pain and improve my quality of life regardless of how little it was. In addition, I understood my symptoms and how endometriosis impacted me personally.

Furthermore, I learned how to track my symptoms and notice what worked to help decrease pain and what didn’t work. This is how I learned that nutrition played a significant role in pain reduction and symptom management.

Additionally, learning about endometriosis made it easier to advocate for myself in appointments and prepare for my surgery. I knew what would happen and what to expect, which made me a little less scared.

african american woman sitting on couch with gray sweater and blanket hugging self

This feedback revealed that something wasn’t right and gave me the courage to seek answers. It helped me find medical professionals that didn’t invalidate me and worked hard to heal me. I could share all that I learned and work with them to understand what was going on and find solutions.

Additionally, educating myself meant I could inform others in my life and let them know how to support me properly. I could correct misinformation and help them understand what my condition was about.

The more I understood my condition, the better I became at managing, tracking, and coming to terms with it.  Consequently, this allowed me to accept myself and what I was going through and not be so hard on myself during a difficult time.

Advocating for Myself

Self-advocacy is crucial when you have an invisible illness. Since no one can “see” your condition, it’s easier for others to dismiss and invalidate you. So, speaking up for yourself becomes a necessity. And it’s something I’ve become more comfortable doing.

I’ve developed a zero-tolerance policy with medical professionals. I look for another doctor at the first sign of invalidation. For example, last summer, I explained to my psychiatric nurse that I had an adverse reaction to my medication, and she didn’t validate my concerns. So I didn’t hesitate to seek a second opinion from a professional that would listen and validate me. And I’m happy that I did because I was indeed having an adverse reaction to the medication.

But advocating for myself isn’t just reserved for doctors and medical professionals. I’ve had to advocate for myself in friendships and learn to set boundaries. Boundary setting isn’t something I like because I’m a hopeless people-pleaser and don’t like to rock the boat.

woman with curly hair and nude cami posing in a side angle

However, I’ve recently discovered that boundaries are healthy and necessary. They let others know how to treat you and what you will and will not tolerate. Consequently, I found the strength to eliminate a toxic and unhealthy friendship that didn’t serve me anymore.

I’ve also learned how to create boundaries with myself. It may sound strange, but I’ve engaged in toxic, unhealthy behaviors and actions towards myself. Things like negative-self talk, self-deprecating thoughts, and limiting beliefs hold me back from accomplishing my goals. Learning to create boundaries and correct myself when engaging in these behaviors has been a game-changer.

Consequently, learning to advocate for myself in various areas of my life has improved my self-acceptance and self-esteem.

Honoring and Respecting My Body

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of self-acceptance is to honor and respect your body. I know this can be hard for me because my body has been through so much, and I’ve faced a lot of pain and disappointment. But learning how to take care of myself allowed me to create a healthy relationship with my body.

For starters, self-care has been vital for me. And when I say self-care, I don’t mean the commercialized approach to caring for oneself. Instead, I’m talking about becoming intentional with the small daily habits we often take for granted. Simple things like personal hygiene, staying hydrated, and nourishing the body with food.

An essential part of nourishing the body includes following a flexible and sustainable diet that includes fruits and vegetables—and moving the body not because I must but because I want to be intentional about my health and fitness.

african american woman in black camisole touching face and smiling

Additionally, I’ve learned to avoid pushing my body beyond its physical, mental, and emotional limits. Having to struggle with a burnout on top of everything else that life throws your way is never fun. So, I listen to my body, know when to rest, and understand that it’s ok to do so.

Furthermore, I don’t speak negatively about my body or myself anymore. Of course, bad days will happen, and it’s natural to be upset and frustrated. However, it’s not ok to take it out on myself with demeaning phrases and self-critical thinking. I must remember that my body is doing the best it can each day. And that I’m doing the best I can within the parameters set forth by my body. Speaking negatively only makes things worse and creates a toxic self-perception.

Instead, I focus on highlighting the good things like my body’s resilience the ability to get out of bed and move each day. And I also focus on non-physical attributes like my personality and sense of humor. Remembering these things helps me to respect and honor myself.

 

Self-acceptance with Invisible Illness is Possible

While self-acceptance with an invisible illness is a challenge, it’s not impossible to achieve. Learning to make peace with your condition, learn more about your illness, advocate for yourself, and honor and respect your body are vital actions that make it possible. Although the journey to self-acceptance is complex and filled with personal and external obstacles, it’s worth it in the end.


 

Related Reading

Mighty Well 6 Ways to Build Confidence Despite Chronic Illness 

Psychology Today Self-Compassion in Chronic Illness