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“On Gratitude for Illness” from Christina Tidwell


by Christina Tidwell, Autoimmune Association guest blogger

What if today, instead of diagnosing, monitoring, analyzing, treating and trying to fix your chronic illness you took a moment to step back, do nothing and simply be thankful for its place in your life. Yes, thankful for the thing that causes you pain, fatigue, confusion, loss of control and at times suffering. If you’re all “Yeah whatever lady, I didn’t ask for this, you don’t know what it’s like,” hear me out.

Illness is our body telling is that something is out of balance. It’s our body trying to get our attention so we can work towards fixing the imbalance. Having an illness in any form is not something anyone asks for, but if we can view illness as an opportunity to slow down, quiet down, and listen to what is going on internally it can be used as a great tool for healing and personal growth.

Illness, when simply observed with kindness and viewed without judgement can provide us with huge insights into the very core of ourselves.  It can act as a catalyst for personal awakening and growth because it forces us to become really aware of what is going on in our bodies and our lives at the most basic level.  As a busy society, we get pretty good at ignoring the subtle signals our bodies send us when we are burnt out and trying to keep up with the pace of life, and dulling them down when they become inconvenient. As Lissa Rankin eloquently states in her book Mind Over Medicine,

“Illness offers us a precious opportunity to investigate our lives without judgement, diagnose the root cause of what might be contributing to an illness, realign ourselves spiritually, and do what we can to make our bodies ripe for miracles.” – Lissa Rankin, MD

More often than not in life great catalysts of change come in the form of tragedy or sadness.  Illness can be one of these powerful vehicles of change if we let it.

Those who have chronic illness, whether you like it or not, have to become masters at identifying subtle cues in the body and strengthening this mind body connection as a survival mechanism.  This can come in the form of paying attention to food and what we put into our bodies, identification of environmental triggers for disease, knowing when to rest and when to keep moving, etc. Although this vigilance can be tiring, annoying, and cumbersome at times it’s ultimately one of the key pieces of living a healthy, robust life.


Here are a few things that having a chronic disease has given me personally:

  • A strengthened connection between how I feel and what is going on in my body in order to detect imbalances before they become unmanageable.
  • My life calling and career path in health and wellness.
  • The ability to be a better nurse and healer for others because of a deeper understanding of the illness experience.
  • A true appreciation for food and how it’s the key to good health.
  • Greater connection to nature and the world around me through using food as nourishment and medicine.
  • A more grounded outlook on life and the things that truly matter.
  • The deeper ability to understand who I am and what I value at my core (a work in progress).
  • The ability to know when I need to slow down and take care of myself rather than push through and the wisdom to not judge myself either way (another work in progress).
  • An open mind about the myriad methods of healing, conventional and alternative.
  • Connection to a community of like-minded individuals who want to change the way chronic disease is managed in our current health care system.
  • A fierce appreciation for health, energy and good times!

So today I give you permission (you may totally not need it from me but, hey, sometimes it’s nice to hear!) to give yourself a break, do nothing, and know that what you are doing is enough. Because, OMG it can get overwhelming to be in charge of monitoring and healing these complex bodies of ours on or own.  I encourage you to take a moment today to think about or write down what you are thankful for about having an illness.   Or if not an illness just something traumatic that happened to you where you made it out alive (and if you’re reading this you are most certainly alive). If anything just this act of positive thinking can pull you out of a rut if you are feeling stuck. As my girl Lissa Rankin says,

“Gratitude keeps you optimistic, and as we’ve seen, evidence shows that optimism improves your health. When you focus on gratitude, positive things flow in more readily, making you even more grateful. As long as you keep your gratitude vessel full, you’ll avoid the unhealthy plunge into dark places.” – Lissa Rankin, MD

You may not be in a place where gratitude feels possible right now. Maybe the burden of your disease is greater than anything else and that is ok. No matter where you are today, simply try to take one moment to listen to what your body is telling you without judgment. See if you come up with something you weren’t aware of before and see if there is a tiny space for gratitude just for having this moment. One day you will be able to find one shred of it and it may make all the difference.


xx Christina Tidwell, MN, RN

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