Self-care with a chronic illness

What I do to check in with my heart, mind, and body each day


Written by Cathy Kramer, a buddhify user since 2016

In my continuous journey with rheumatoid arthritis, taking a little time each day to practice better self-care is something I make a priority. Meditation is one simple way I can show myself some love and appreciation.

Living with a chronic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis, you realize that pain has a way of taking up a lot of space in your head. It’s not only the physical pain experienced by joints you never even realized you had, but the constant fears of what this disease has in store for you. Will I be able to continue working? Will I be a good parent? A good wife? Will I live to my full potential?

Meditation is a way to refocus the pain and quiet the fears. Stress has a way of inflaming a body that is already upset. Taking a little time each day to shift my thoughts to positive ones greatly benefits my body.

As I prepare for my morning walk, I think, “What do my heart and body need today?” This can vary. Sometimes my body is flaring, and I need to deal with all the emotions that come with not feeling well. Other times, it’s been a difficult day in the news, I am experiencing stress as a parent, or I’m feeling drawn to focus on self-care just for me. I try to listen to what my heart is telling me it needs at that moment. Whatever it is, I can use meditation to work through how I am feeling before I get back to my day.

The insights I have during meditation return to me throughout the day and remind me to be kind to myself and others.

Before starting a meditation, I often feel my thoughts are fighting each other for space. As an introvert who craves quiet, this weighs me down and affects how my rheumatoid arthritis does that day. After a meditation, I feel like myself again. Taking a break for meditation allows all of my various thoughts to file themselves in my brain so that I am better organized to deal with them.

Transforming a love/hate relationship with meditation

In the past, I had a love/hate relationship with meditation. I loved the way I felt afterward and knew I needed more of it, but with a family that seems to never sleep and a highly energized dog, finding a quiet place to sit by myself was a struggle.

When I discovered the modern mindfulness approach, I was instantly hooked. I now can practice mindfulness sitting in a traditional meditation pose, or on a walk, while cooking or eating, in the car, and even while enjoying a bubble bath. The simplicity of this approach and the ability to make it my own is what draws me back each day.

Peace, gratitude, and love

The insights I have during meditation return to me throughout the day and remind me to be kind to myself and others.

My favorite type of meditation is loving-kindness. It is a nice way to focus on people I know, strangers, and myself. When I practice in this style, I often imagine kindness being dropped into my heart. Throughout the day, I might have a student who is challenging my patience and the image I saw during meditation of kindness in my heart comes back to me. I take a deep breath and feel my patience being restored. With a new mindset, I see my student feeling heard, which makes him/her feel happy and in turn, makes my body relax and smile inside.

When I practice in this style, I often imagine kindness being
dropped into my heart.

There are three words that come back to me over and over as I pass through my day — peace, gratitude, and love. A fellow driver needs to be let in, I have the peace and love in my heart to do that. I see a neighbor on my walk that looks to be in pain, something I understand well, I have the peace and love to say a kind word or give a simple smile. As I drive to work, I have the gratitude practice to say “thank you” for a job I love, for allowing me to get this far in life, and to have a home and family I get to go back to every day. All in all, it’s a nice reminder to hone in on what really matters in life.

Cathy Kramer is based in Naperville, Illinois, where she is an adult ESL/GED teacher. As a big fan of loving-kindness meditation, her favorite track is Kind (Meditation 101), which she often listens to on her daily walk. For more on the topics of rheumatoid arthritis, chronic illness, and self-care, check out her blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo.

If you feel you have learnt something important through your meditation practice and you’d like your share your insight or experience, we’d love to hear from you. Let Dana know via and she’ll get in touch.