Here’s the thing about healing from chronic illness: Compassion for where you are in your healing journey and what you need is critical.

We’re inundated with stories of people who healed quickly or who kept powering through or who used the power of positive thinking to recover. That’s just not realistic for most of us. Even worse are the people who have dealt with something similar to whatever triggered our illness or pain, and since they didn’t also get sick, they (and we) question whether we’re making it up or if it’s all in our head.

All of these stories make it harder to heal and recover. These stories set us up for failure. They make us think we should push ourselves when really we should be resting. They make us think we should be better by now, when clearly we’re not. They make us think there’s something wrong with us, which only serves to make our symptoms worse.

Unless you’re incredibly lucky, recovering from chronic conditions you’ve had for years or decades is going to take time and work. The very act of going through all of these healing techniques can be exhausting.

If you want to get better, you need to acknowledge that you need more rest than you (or society) wants to allow.

As you start and continue through this work, you can figure out how to safely push the boundaries to retrain your nervous system to not shut down—a cause of chronic fatigue—but you’re still going to genuinely need a lot of rest. Processing heavy emotions is exhausting, and whenever you’re feeling symptoms, it’s a sign that your nervous system is repressing something, which can also be exhausting. And that’s okay! It’s okay to need to rest, and it’s okay to take all the time you need for rest. It took me a long, long time to accept that as truth, but recovery got easier once I did.

If you want to get better, you also need to acknowledge that it’s going to take more time than you wish it would take.

When I started this work, I recovered from my food intolerances in just two weeks. Even the long covid was basically gone after a couple of months (though that’s partly because I redefined my symptoms as all being the same nervous system condition, rather than multiple individual ailments). But then I had symptoms that dragged on for a year and a half. I kept having episodes where I thought I’d tapped into all of the repressed emotions, and then I’d have a big flare of symptoms. I’d get frustrated with myself, and then I would discover something big I was still repressing inside of me. Then I’d get frustrated all over again because I didn’t understand why my nervous system was still repressing stuff, when I’d clearly done so much work to prove that it was safe to feel all of these things.

It took me a while to finally recognize that even though I kept going through these cycles, I was drastically improving. More often than not, each cycle was a little less worse than the previous one. But even when one of the cycles led to a really bad flare up of symptoms, it usually meant I was about to tap into a big repressed issue. And once I’d processed whatever the big issue was, I’d feel even better. I just needed to acknowledge that this process takes a lot of time, and that’s also okay!

Finally, if you want to get better, you need to have loads and loads of self-compassion.

I kept hearing about the value of self-compassion, and I’d think, “Sure. Whatever.” But I had a strong resistance to reading Kristen Neff’s book Self-Compassion . That resistance should have been a clue. But I missed the clue. I’d been doing all this work for a year and two months before my library’s recommendation algorithm finally put her book in front of me. I was sick at the time, and had nothing else to do but lay in bed and listen to audiobooks, so I thought, “Sure. Whatever.” And I listened to her book. It. Was. Life-changing.

I finally understood why and how to change the voice inside me from one that was critical to one that loved and accepted me for me and that didn’t care about all the awful external messages that had previously made me think I should be something else and something better.

Self-compassion is the voice inside my head that says, “If you need to rest now, do it.” Or, “It’s okay that you’re not better yet. This work takes time, and you’ve made great progress so far.” Or, “It’s okay to focus on your needs.” Or, “It’s okay that you didn’t finish everything on your to-do list. You have so much going on right now.” It’s a sweet, caring voice that just wants what’s best for me and my nervous system. Allowing that voice in, cultivating that voice, created a seismic shift in my nervous system.

If there was a single thing that might have helped me recover faster, it would have been tapping into more self-compassion early on. And the self-compassionate voice inside of me is saying that everything worked out in any case: what matters is that I’ve tapped into self-compassion now 🙂