The Powerful Realizations That Helped Me Heal from Chronic Illness

Relaxation

“No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do.” ~Dr. Paul David Tripp

Living with chronic illness can seem like an insurmountable challenge. I felt completely broken and helpless. Amidst my tumultuous journey, I found that mindset is critical to restore vitality.

For years I dealt with debilitating fatigue, severe joint pain, vertigo, loss of balance, and sleepless nights. I pleaded for help over and over, usually in tears. Oftentimes, people blamed my physical symptoms on my mental health. “You need to get more sleep.” “You are probably depressed.” “You are too anxious.”

Ironically, I was in the prime of my life, feeling on top of the world. I had a great career, a wonderful husband, and three beautiful little girls. I couldn’t (and didn’t) ask for anything else.

Eventually, each symptom intensified. Over the course of eight years, I was referred to specialist after specialist. My long list of diagnoses was growing rapidly. Raynaud’s syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological Lyme, and hypoactive thyroid.

A short while later, there I was, with MS in a wheelchair, unable to care for myself let alone my family. I was missing the milestones in my children’s lives. After countless steroids and immunosuppressants, I gained forty pounds of fluid and lost vision in one eye. I developed kidney disease so severe that I was expected to be put on the kidney transplant list within six months. I developed an aggressive tumor leading to complex regional pain syndrome. I nearly died.

Having a chronic illness changes you. Almost losing your life changes you. At first, I had a new outlook. I was more grateful for the little things. I reprioritized my life without even realizing it. Suddenly, the dishes being put away didn’t matter as much as it used to.

At the same time, I became angry and resentful. Angry with the practitioners. Why couldn’t they help me? Infuriated with the medical system. Hurt by the lack of actions and phone calls from friends and family. Devastated by others’ judgments while I was secretly aching for their understanding and compassion.

Ultimately, I healed my body. I stopped taking what I read at face value. I began to explore the research presented on the internet, podcasts, and influencer platforms. I found that my body was severely depleted in nutrients and that I needed to detoxify the low-grade pathogens and environmental toxins I had been exposed to.

I got out of the wheelchair and even avoided the kidney transplant list, but my soul was still shattered. I hadn’t yet worked on healing my mind. This inadvertently left the door open for a reoccurrence of disease.

Initially, life went back to normal. I felt renewed and grateful to be alive. But I still felt profound anger and resentment, and I still hadn’t learned how to navigate overwhelm. Then it happened. Another tumor popped up, and my MS symptoms started to return.

Choosing to focus on my mindset and my thoughts ultimately played a profound role in my healing and recovery. In our fast-paced world, I don’t think we generally appreciate how significant a role this plays in our well-being.

Your Life Is Always Moving in the Direction of Your Strongest Thoughts

I often read in scientific literature that humans have a negativity bias, and that negative events imprint on our brains more quickly. Like a well-walked path, once you think a negative thought it’s easier to think that thought again.

When someone is dealing with chronic illness resulting in a significantly decreased quality of life, the negative events are easy to attach to. Especially when you were never taught to think about what you are thinking.

In hindsight, I see that I internalized my illness. I let it define me as who I was as a person, which led me into a continuous negative loop. The ongoing self-talk, the thoughts I said to myself over and over, created negative neural pathways and, very literally for me, negativity became a habit.

This isn’t fair. I hate my body. My body is attacking itself. I am so lonely. I have no friends. I must be a terrible person. What an awful wife I am. My kids deserve a better mom. I am so ugly now. I cost us our home. I am no fun to be around now. I should have eaten better, acted better, known better, did something better… This became my constant inner dialogue.

If there is one concept I wish I was taught before I became ill, it’s this: What you think impacts what you believe, which impacts how you feel, which impacts what you do and the results you get.

This one truth was the final piece of healing. Learning to be a witness and inquire about my own thinking took conscious effort. I had to learn to think on purpose, questioning my thoughts to see things differently.

With big emotions comes big work. It takes time, space, and commitment to work through and identify the (sometimes subconscious) thoughts behind an emotion. But this is the work that broke my overwhelm and need to control. This is the work that disarmed my negativity and has brought me peace. I believe it has helped me remain disease-free for over four years now.

While the following realizations helped me navigate my beliefs around my chronic illness, they have now become foundational in all areas of my life.

1. Everyone else’s opinions and actions have everything to do with them and nothing to do with me. If their opinions and actions were based on me, then everyone’s response would be the exact same. 

Realizing this was liberating. The time I spent thinking about and trying to work around a stranger’s possible judgment of me took me away from being present in the moment with my husband and children.

Rather than trying to figure how Iong I could walk through a store using a shopping cart instead of my wheelchair, trying on a dozen different pants to cover the swelling in my legs or the eight-inch scar on my knee, and trying to conceal the rashes on my face and hide my thinning hair, I could have been playing with my kids. I used up all that time I will never get back on the chance that one person might make a judgement of me that really had nothing to do with me at all.

2. Our deep-seated belief systems are subjective, but we get so convinced on the rightness of how we feel that we don’t realize that we see things as WE are and not as THEY are.

I believed that my family and friends should have checked in more often than they did. I felt lonely and isolated not being able to leave the house. This loneliness hurt deeply. In my mind, I thought that if someone I loved was sick, I would visit often. I would call weekly. But that was my standard. My subjective metric that I placed upon them. It was a belief system I didn’t realize that I had.

I felt so deeply hurt and lonely that I was convinced I must have been right. I saw everything as I was, not as reality was.

In reality, I had no idea why there were less visitors than I expected. Their standard was fulfilled for them according to their beliefs. My standard may have been too high compared to another’s. It could have been too low. Struggles behind closed doors could have been occurring that I was unaware of. My negativity could have been too much for another to bear. Being around someone ill could have been uncomfortable. The possibilities are endless.

3. Arguing with reality is pointless. It just brings suffering. Learning to accept what is brings peace.

You might say that learning to accept a chronic illness or, in my case, a terminal illness, is unthinkable. I never made it to the point of having to do the thought work to accept that. With each diagnosis and every morbid prognosis given, I recognized it as the doctor’s limiting belief. At the time I was in the mindset of my diagnosis being a barrier that had to be overcome.

My suffering stemmed from all the other realities around chronic illness. I recognized this every time I said the word “should.” Doctors should be more open minded. I shouldn’t be sick. The health care system should bring in more holistic treatments. My body shouldn’t be compartmentalized when addressing disease.

Each time I used the word “should,” I sat down and did the thought work to create a new belief that brought me a feeling a comfort instead of dis-ease.

I conceded that I had no control over an entire health care system or the way someone thinks. But I could find a practitioner who was open to alternative treatments, and I could review the literature myself and make a decision about my care. I could accept what is because hopelessly trying to change the world according to my “shoulds” wouldn’t solve my problem.

4. Freeing your mind is not about never having a negative thought. It’s about opening up to what else could be true.

One of the most damaging experiences I had was being told to think, feel, and be positive. This toxic or false positivity dismissed the profound turmoil I was going through emotionally and physically. I ended up feeling more alone. I wondered, why can’t I be positive? I added this lacking skill to the list of things of what was wrong with me.

The physical pain of my diseases put it in the forefront of my mind. How could I not have a negative thought about pain? How on earth was I supposed to be positive about being in pain?

This consumed me until I realized what else is true about physical pain. When we feel pain, it’s supposed to be there! It’s our body’s way of communicating that something is wrong and needs our attention. Recognizing that there was another truth brought peace because I could let go of that fight to be positive and believe something I wasn’t ready to. It was a stepping stone to get me out of the negative loop and into a neutral state of mind.

5. We cannot judge our way into healing. It’s all about compassion.

As human beings we judge. It helps keep us safe as we assess a potentially dangerous situation; it helps us decide who to keep around us, how we navigate our careers, what medical treatments we’ll undergo, and even what vehicle we drive.

Unfortunately, we are usually our own worst inner critic. When that inner critic is not driven by an open mind and curiosity, it can derail our healing both emotionally and physically.

Having compassion allows a sense of grace to guide our thoughts and decisions. Instead of forcing, it implies allowing things to unfold naturally and responding with patience and kindness. I like to say, “Pave your path with grace.” First, identify what your judgment is. Can you absolutely know that it is 100% true? Next, ask: Is it helpful? Is it kind? Would you believe this if it were about someone else?

Restored and Revitalized

Everything we take in becomes us on a cellular level. Our food, our products, our environment, and even our thoughts impact the chemical reactions in our cells.

To recover from chronic illness, I had to put out the fire with nutrition and lifestyle first. Only then could I do the work to deconstruct my fundamental beliefs. Once accomplished, my thoughts about the events and people involved in my diseases lost their power over me. Suddenly, I felt freer than I have in my entire life. I felt empowered and I regained the energy of my twenty-five-year-old self.

In the beginning I looked to the outside world to make me better. I tried to control everything around me, and it brought me a false sense of joy. Now I look to the inside. As a result, I went from a woman riddled with despair and chronic illness to a woman that became filled with love and appreciation.

I’m not suggesting that changing our mindset can keep our bodies disease-free, or that all people who are sick are focused on the negative. But shifting the way we think can change the choices we make. And sometimes the smallest choices can make the biggest difference for our health and well-being.

**Image generated by AI

About Kim Eallonardo

After almost losing her life twice, Kim Eallonardo was able to avoid a kidney transplant, rid herself of the MS wheelchair, and become a certified holistic integrative nutrition health coach. She now helps women with autoimmune and kidney disease optimize their immune system and kidney function so they can actively enjoy their lives. She has been featured in Forks Over Knives and PB with J. Visit revivetothrivewithkim.com for free resources and to learn more.

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