March is National Autoimmune Diseases Awareness Month, and instead of focusing on the negative aspects of my disease, I want to tell you how my Hashimoto’s has changed my life for the better. Here are 5 positive ways autoimmune disease changed my life.
By the way, you can read more about my whole Hashimoto’s journey here: My Hashimoto’s Hell – And My Journey Towards Healing
Eliminating Emotional Vampires From My Life
Emotional vampires look like you and me but their negativity can be life sucking, leaving you feeling drained and depleted and weary.
Simply put, an emotional vampire is someone who zaps you of your emotional energy, according to Dr. Judith Orloff, author of the 2010 bestseller Emotional Freedom. “You’ll know you’ve encountered one if you’re immediately tired after talking to them, like you need a nap, or if you’re feeling anxious, worse off than you were before,” she says. “Your eyelids will feel heavy, you’ll feel drained, and any negative physical symptoms you have will be exacerbated.”
You know the kind. The smallest issue is a major crisis to them. They want to complain but do not want to change their circumstances. So they continue the same cycle of mistakes and you get the joy of counseling them in perpetuity. They will keep you on the phone for hours without even asking how you are feeling or how your family is doing. They post passive-aggressive messages on Facebook looking for sympathy, validation and attention. Many have an all-or-nothing attitude expecting the highest form of loyalty and attention from you without giving anything in return.
Pre-autoimmune, I had a few emotional vampires in my life. After my autoimmune disease was “activated,” each interaction with them always left me feeling depleted of energy and exacerbated my anxiety and fatigue.
Initially, I set strong boundaries with them. I took fewer of their phone calls. I set time limits on our conversations. If the conversations continued to be one-sided or they continued their cycle of self-inflicted drama and saw me as a free counseling session, I removed them from my life. I simply can’t afford to let people drain my finite resources (time, energy and health) and leave me with anxiety and fatigue.
Learning To Say No Without Guilt
“You can be a good person with a kind heart and still say no.” — Lori Deschene
My entire life I have been a people-pleaser. I based my self-worth on the praise of others. I was terrified of letting someone down, or worse yet, making them angry if I said no.
This has led to a lifetime full of over commitments and putting my needs last. No wonder I ended up with Hashimoto’s Disease!
But I’ve had to learn that saying no does not make me a bad person. I realized that if I continued to live my life depending on other people’s approval, I would never know my true self-worth. If I depended on other people’s approval, I am basically saying, “Their opinion of me is more important than my opinion about myself.”
So now I say no… a lot. But I don’t say no for the sake of saying no. I evaluate all my resources including time, energy, strength and health. If I can do it, I will. If it’s going to stress my body or deplete my resources down to a level that will make it hard to bounce back, I say NO.
I still struggle with this because it has been a lifetime of saying yes, even if I really needed or wanted to say no. But learning to say no has been one of the best things I have done for myself. Not only has it challenged me to overcome my fear of rejection, it has helped me to feel in control and more importantly it has helped keep my autoimmune symptoms at bay.
Making Self-Care A Priority
Ok, so pre-autoimmune I was the woman who rolled out of bed at 5:30 each morning ready to kick-butt and take names. I was VP of Marketing at a high profile non-profit and I could juggle more balls than a professional circus clown. I was Baseball Mom chauffeuring two boys to multiple practices and games each week. I volunteered at my local church. I said yes to EVERYTHING. My nickname was Wonder Woman.
Because of that, self-care was not something I practiced. I put everything ahead of my needs. I usually went 8-10 months before I got a haircut. Spa days were non-existent. Nap on the weekend? Yeah right, I was driving all over the Metroplex chauffeuring kids to their various activities, fighting the crowds at Walmart to stock up for the week and trying to catch up on laundry. I constantly felt burnt out and overwhelmed.
When I developed Hashimoto’s, all of that went out the window. I did not have a choice, because physically, my body would not let me abuse it like before. I was not able to put everyone before myself. And when I stopped putting others first and began placing my well-being as a top priority, I became much happier, my stamina increased, and my relationships improved.
I also developed a loving relationship with the person I had been ignoring for years, myself!
Now, I practice guilt-free acts of self-care every day. If I’m tired, I take a nap or go to bed early. I drink more water. I hide annoying people on my social media feeds. I take long baths because they relax me. I spend time coloring with my toddler. And yes, I do have an occasional spa day as well.
Learning To Ask For Help Without Shame
I used to believe that asking for help made me weak or less accomplished. I would see other women on social media doing it all and making it look easy; therefore I should be able to handle everything on my own as well. Women live with the unnecessary burden of trying to be superwoman.
The first time I let my superwoman façade slip and I asked for help, I was embarrassed. But in my head, I heard the wise Mr. Chow (< sarcasm) from The Hangover ask, “…but did you die?” No Mr. Chow, I didn’t die. Asking for help was not as bad as I had imagined.
Now, if I am having a particularly bad Hashi day, I ask my husband to take care of dinner and the kids and I go to bed at 7. And he does, God bless him. Or if I feel overwhelming fatigue on a day that my son has baseball practice, I ask my ex-husband to take him. And he does, God bless him. I am grateful that I am surrounded by good people who don’t mind helping. I bet you are too, if you start asking.
Asking for help is a wonderful experiment. It challenges your “must be superwoman” mentality and demonstrates that asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. And the more often you do it, the more confident you’ll become in your ability to handle a little bit of embarrassment or awkwardness.
Slowing Down And Living In The Moment
I have a chronic lifelong disease. But it is held in check by medication and lifestyle changes. Even so, at times I live in fear of the next big flare up. And stress can bring on a flare like nothing else. Like I said, I simply can’t afford to put myself last any longer.
So, I’ve learned to give myself grace: to slow down and truly enjoy all of life’s experiences around me. A slower-paced life means taking time to enjoy whatever you’re doing, spending time just being with your children, seeing the beauty in nature, being mindful in the moment, focusing on whoever you’re talking to — instead of always being connected to a device, instead of always thinking about work and emails. Slowing down is a conscious choice, and not always an easy one, but it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness.
5 Positive Ways Autoimmune Disease Changed My Life
- I eliminated emotional vampires from my life.
- I learned to say no.
- I made self-care a priority.
- I learned to ask for help.
- I slowed my frantic pace and started living in the moment.
These five things happened organically during my Hashimoto’s journey. My disease forced me to make these changes and I am forever grateful! Even though I will always struggle with my illness, my life has infinitely changed for the better.