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How to be confident while being chronically ill

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

... and 5 reminders that can help you along the way!

Many people who suffer from chronic illness experience lots of doubt, scepticism and even medical gaslighting. All of these things can create a lot of self-doubt and internalized insecurities.

How can we overcome these insecurities and gain more confidence?

First I want to say that I can only talk about my own experience. My experience may completely differ from yours, as every story is different. There are things that I learnt and realized over the past years, things that helped me along the way, that I would like to share.

But confidence and self-love isn’t a thing that you gain once and then you have it forever, it something that may come and go, sometimes it’s easier and sometimes you need to work on it more. It’s an ongoing process that’s not always the same. That’s why I have these little reminders, that help me at times where it’s not so easy and maybe they can help you too.

Why is it so hard to have self-love while battling chronic illness?

We grow up in a world where there are a lot of expectations and stereotypes surrounding disability and chronic illness. Disabled people are often portrayed and talked about in a very certain way. This often leads to internalized prejudice around disability, like “People who are disabled look a certain way or act a certain way” but when become chronically ill or disabled ourselves, we may realize, that there’s a lot more to it and many of these stereotypes are just not true.

Becoming chronically ill can be an extremely impactful experience.

Our whole identity and the idea of who we are as a person might change completely. Especially if we had to give up other aspects of our lives that brought us joy and confidence, like our jobs or hobbies, that became inaccessible to us.

When i was diagnosed with ME/CFS, my whole life changed drastically. And it took me a while find out, who I was, now that so many parts of my former life were lost.

Becoming ill in itself is not easy. And then there’s also suddenly this need to explain to other people, even strangers, why you cannot do certain things anymore. People who doubt, if you’re really that sick. People who question if your experience is even real. We need to prove to other people that we are in fact really sick and in need of support, especially in the medical world, where patients are constantly being doubted.

Hearing things like “But you look ok to me”, “You’re too young to be that sick”, “It must be all in your head”, “Just get yourself together”, “If you would think more positive you would be healed”, are not rare and it is not only annoying, it is extremely painful to experience.

Doctors will suspect you of “faking it”, of being a “drug seeker” or being “hysterical” and it’s “all in your head”. Insurances will deny you treatments or benefits because they doubt that your illness is real. For every little thing that you need, you have to fight. You constantly have to prove that you are in fact in need of this support because your illness is very much real. The term for this type of treatment is called medical gaslighting. Most people with chronic illness have experienced this before. I won’t go into detail in this post, but being constantly doubted, your reality being questioned and denied, is horrible to experience.

It is extremely exhausting and creates a lot of internalized insecurities and self- doubt.

So the question is: Can we overcome this self-doubt and gain new confidence again?

In my opinion it is a difficult, but possible path that needs a lot of dedication and support, but I do believe that it is possible to be chronically ill and confident at the same time!

In order to overcome these insecurities, we need to dismantle our own internalized ableism.

This won’t happen from one day to the other. It is an ongoing process that will take constant work and effort, but with time it will get easier.

Whenever you struggle with these thoughts, there are five things you can remind yourself of, that might make this journey easier:

1. You are allowed to feel good in your own body.

Chronic illness takes such a toll on us. Being in pain every day, fighting our symptoms to get through the day is one of the hardest things. In this situation, you deserve to feel any sort of joy and positivity that you can.

Self-care is not a luxury; it becomes a priority in this situation! You absolutely deserve to invest time in self-care, find out, what things are good for you, make you feel relaxed and maybe ease some of the pain or offer a form of distraction.

You are strong, and you are a fighter. After dealing with so much pain, you deserve to feel something that’s good, whatever that is. And you are the only person to decide, what those positive things are.

Whether that’s a form of activity, a meal to treat yourself with, a TV-show you like to watch or a game you like to play, taking a bath or getting a massage, painting your nails, dying your hair, getting some cool clothes or comfy shoes- whatever it is that makes you feel good- you deserve it. And nobody can judge you for your choices, especially if they never experienced anything like this.

"In an ableist society, loving yourself as you are is an act of rebellion"

2. You are allowed to feel pretty.

People can look cute and be sick at the same time. Despite of what is often portrayed in the media when it comes to people who suffer from chronic illness, there is no certain way a sick person looks like or acts like. We are all individual and we are as diverse as any group can be- because anyone can become sick. No matter what you look like, how old you are, where you come from, if you are rich or poor, or what your personality is like. Anyone can become ill or disabled.

So, considering this fact, it seems silly to assume that all people who are ill must look or act the same way.

If an illness is chronic it means that it is a long-lasting thing, that on most days, people experience some sort of symptoms. You cannot expect people to not want to experience some distractions, or feel good about themselves. When struggling with symptoms all day, putting on some makeup or nice clothes can be incredibly uplifting! And remember: it’s your body, it’s your choice. You decide what you want to do with it. It is your choice how you want to present yourself. Nobody else gets to dictate that.

3. You are allowed to be you.

No matter what you are struggling with- be you. And be you unapologetically.

Maybe you got ill at a certain point in life- why would that change who you are as a person? Why would that change how you want to present yourself? What your interests are? The way you express yourself?

Of course, the experience of becoming ill as an adult will have an effect on you and maybe challenge or change your identity in some regards. As I mentioned earlier- losing certain aspects of your life may lead you to chance in certain ways and gain new perspectives, but in the core of your personality- you are still you.

And you are allowed to express yourself in any way you like.

4. You are allowed to feel joy.

You are sick, that doesn’t mean you are not allowed to experience joyful things in life.

You don’t have to fulfil the stereotype of the sick person who has to be miserable all the time to be taken seriously- you can’t fulfill everybody’s expectations of what a sick person must be like because everybody’s expectations are different anyways!

Don’t try to please everyone because that is a goal that can never be reached.

The only person you should try to please is you.

And why are we supposed to not have any more hobbies or interests the moment we become sick? Why should our lives only surround being miserable?

You won’t become better if you disallow yourself any fun activities that might bring you joy because of what it may look like on the outside.

You deserve to have moments of happiness, whether that’s going on a walk, meeting friends or putting on makeup.

Nobody can expect of a sick person to sit around all day being miserable. That would make anyone depressed and that has never helped anyone in their healing journey.

Whatever activities there are that fulfill you, that give you joy and make you forget your symptoms for a moment- do them, make them a part of your life and be unapologetic about that!

Remember. Your own wellbeing is always more important than what other people think!

5. You are allowed to feel sexy.

Sexuality in the word of disability and chronic illness is a thing that is never really talked about. People with disabilities are often viewed as desexualized beings that do not need or want to experience any form of intimacy. But that is far from the truth.

Being disabled doesn’t equal being asexual!

Sexuality is a big part of many people’s lives and it’s ok to want to experience and express that.

Experiencing sexuality can be extremely positive because it allows you to feel pleasurable feelings in a body that often feels painful. In moments of pleasure, people can forget about their pain and just focus on the amazing feelings their body allows them to feel.

Apart from that- intimacy can be a great way to bond with another person, and why would someone with a disability or chronic illness be excluded from that experience?

As I talked about in my last article- being chronically ill or disabled doesn’t make you a burden, or unlovable, or exclude you from being able to be dating or in a relationship. (Read my last article here: You are worthy of love

You are allowed to feel loved, wanted and desired and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

You don’t owe anyone anything- except yourself!

In moments of self-doubt, these are the reminders I sometimes need in order not to feel guilty or bad about myself. I still struggle with these feelings sometimes and as I said- the journey of self-love is always an ongoing process that comes with ups and downs. But these are the things that I keep reminding myself of, which makes it easier for me in those tough moments.

Remember: It doesn’t serve anyone if you feel miserable in your own body. You are allowed to experience self-love.

Feeling good about yourself, being able to experience joy and pleasure and feeling confident is not going to hold you back from your healing journey- on the contrary!

Pamper yourself, be kind to yourself, take time for self-care, surround yourself with good people, make room for pleasurable activities and allow positivity and joy as much as you can. Because that’s what you deserve.

Do whatever makes you feel good- and do it unapologetically!

Do you have any reminders or affirmations that help you in moments of self-doubt?

Please let me know!

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With love,


Black and white picure of Rea looking into the camera with a confident smile


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