You are a Badass… With Autoimmune Disease

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I’m a huge fan of the work of Jen Sincero, author of the bestselling You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Live an Awesome Life. Her work encourages us to set aside our fears and fiercely own our lives through awareness, intention, and gratitude. Through her use of real life examples — and with plenty of good humor — she helps the reader to feel empowered amidst the challenges we all face, elevating our lives to a place that is more authentic and loving.

It shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog that this work resonates in the world of autoimmune disease. We know the value of positioning ourselves in empowerment rather than victimhood. We understand the importance of intentionally creating our lives each day and nurturing a mindset of healing. These messages are resonating with my health coaching clients across the board in large part because they haven’t been present in our traditional approach to healing autoimmune disease. I am so grateful that books like You Are a Badass are gaining a foothold in our cultural consciousness because they encourage everyone, sick or not, to show up in their lives with power, owning their own personal brand of excellence.

I bring this up now because I have noticed that there are a few ways that we tend to “do” autoimmune disease, and many of them are decidedly not badass. Here are a few mindset traps you may find familiar:

  • “Woe is me.” This is a common pitfall at all stages of navigating autoimmune disease, whether we have received a diagnosis or just suspect we are sick. “I’m so frustrated, I’ll never feel well again, I feel like a stranger in my own body, there’s nothing I can do to feel normal, my skin is driving me crazy, I can’t enjoy the foods I love, my social life sucks because I just have to sit at home and eat soup, why would anyone hang out with me, I must have done something to deserve this…” and the list goes on! Most of my clients have experienced at least one spiral of this nature, and some of them live it every day before they learn the tools to avoid it.
  • Ignorance is bliss. It’s often such a huge effort to get to the bottom of autoimmune disease that we decide it’s just not worth it. Out of sight, out of mind, we say, while we fill our plates with foods we know we’ll pay for later or burn the midnight oil even if we know it will cause our energy to plummet. Frequently, I see clients who just don’t want to change their lifestyle because it’s too hard, so they ignore their symptoms. We all know that this is a temporary strategy at best. What’s the most surefire way to make sure you keep feeling the same symptoms? Don’t change a thing.
  • Pop a pill. A close cousin of tactic number two, this strategy also often sidesteps true healing. Let me be clear: I believe that many medications, when prescribed properly, can and do help plenty of autoimmune patients feel better and even thrive. That said, pills alone are rarely enough to alleviate all symptoms of Crohn’s, Hashimoto’s, or rheumatoid arthritis. When we let ourselves get away without making changes that require more effort than filling a prescription, we miss the badass train entirely.
  • Fight it. This strategy is perhaps the most aggressive way to do autoimmune disease, but — pro tip — there is no healing at the end of this rainbow. We come out swinging with all the tenacity of a drunk looking for a bar fight, throwing everything we’ve got at the disease: endless visits to every practitioner you can think of, hours of scrolling online forums and message boards, constant obsession over everything we eat. We tell ourselves we can’t stop, won’t stop until we find the one root cause to rule them all. Rather than nurturing the parasympathetic state of the nervous system, we pile yet more stress on top of our already full lives. This is no way to heal.

But there is another way! You can approach autoimmune disease like a badass. We get to own our power in the process and choose ways of being that support our health. You are a badass at autoimmune disease when you…

See your body as working for you.

It’s tempting to think negatively about our body when symptoms flare up, viewing it with frustration and anger. “Why is my body working against me?” we ask. But consider this perspective shift: “My body is trying to tell me what it needs. There’s something happening that is not supporting my health. Now I get to figure out what it is so that I can feel better.” See your autoimmune symptoms as exclusive intel from your body! The bloating, constipation, brain fog, fatigue, and/or anxiety you feel might be nudging you to be mindful of the foods you consume, to slow down and shift how you respond to life’s stressors, or to get more rest and maintain healthy boundaries. All of it allows you to get clear about who you want to be in this life and focusing on what really matters most.

My clients often tell me that they actually develop an appreciation for their autoimmune disease because their symptoms have taught them to live life more mindfully and with awareness of all the ways they have abused and ignored their bodies in the past. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that we only get one body, and learning how to listen to it can significantly shift how we show up in this life. Your body gets to be your closest friend and confidant that is gently (and sometimes loudly) telling you what is needed. Try thanking your body for the information it gives you and honor the messages by having the courage to shift and change.

Master your mindset.

Sincero refers to our subconscious as “the little prince” because it contains so many lessons we learned as young children that we’re still using to direct our lives. The thing is, our little prince often has a LOT to do with autoimmune disease in terms of how we respond to stress. As we build our awareness of our inner thoughts, we start to see where we’re getting in our own way — and we set the stage for healing. What limiting beliefs has your “little prince” bought into that are keeping you small, fearful, distrusting, anxious, unworthy, and unwell?

Create new stories about your disease.

“I am hopeful, I am a strong person, I am learning what my body needs, I am vibrant, I am healing…” All of these examples will support your healing better than K-BULL radio. Even if they don’t feel true quite yet, keep practicing!

Focus on ways of being.

I have been writing a lot about “ways of being” lately. And, that is because it is so critical to start noticing the ways in which we show up internally to face the world. When we are living from a place of trust, freedom, possibility, passion, and confidence, our bodies naturally spend more time in a parasympathetic state of recuperation. Ground yourself in these (and other supportive) ways of being and you will have tools to get you through exacerbated symptoms and you will notice that practicing them will actually impact the frequency and intensity of your symptoms.  Why? Because how we show up internally directly impacts how our nervous system supports or sabotages healing.

Get real—with yourself, your family, and your friends.

Authenticity is one of the hallmarks of Sincero’s work, and it’s something so many of my clients struggle with. I get it. For one thing, many of the symptoms of autoimmune disease are flat out unpleasant. Flakey, itchy skin? Ick. Raging diarrhea? No thank you. Constant gas? You get the idea. But I believe that openness and honesty about these symptoms helps to normalize them, removing some of the embarrassment and shame they can cause. This paves the way for positive thoughts, connection, and—you guessed it—healing.

Ask for support.

So many autoimmune sufferers have a tendency to isolate themselves, but connection with others is a key contributor to the nervous system’s parasympathetic state. Let your teammates in, and tell them what you really need! Practice honesty even if it’s hard for you to ask for things. They’ll be so glad to be able to care for you in the way that you need, even if it’s something as simple as watching a movie at home rather than going out, or making sure there are some snacks you can eat at a party.

Choose love over fear.

This is one of the simplest ways to sum up how our reactions to life help us get better. With any decision we make, we can ask, “did I make that choice from a place of love, or was I doing it out of fear?” As much as you can, choose to take care of yourself and respond to your needs from a place of love. It’s a constant practice, but it promotes healing more than just about any other tool in my toolbox. We’ve discussed it before: you are what you believe and you have choice in what you create. Your intention and motivation behind what you do and what you choose are key players.

Above all, I encourage my clients to remember that life is now and they have a choice in each moment to put their energy into healing or into suffering. You don’t have to wait to start living and enjoying life when your disease is in remission or when “x” symptom is gone. You get to practice doing autoimmune disease from a place of courage, empowerment, trust, love, gratitude, forgiveness, grace, and peace. You will not only feel like a badass, but you will set your nervous system up for powerful healing to take place. Win-win!

What are some badass ways that you approach autoimmune disease? I’d love to hear — please share in the comments!

About Sarah Kolman

Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN is an AIP Certified Coach, Registered Nurse, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Contemplative Psychotherapist, wife, and mom of three boys. Sarah offers unique one-on-one health coaching that blends her nursing and psychotherapy experience with holistic and nutrition-based health concepts. Learn more about Sarah’s coaching services by visiting her website, www.this-one-life.com. Her book Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World is available on Amazon and her website. You can follow Sarah on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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