I'm Carolyn Rivkees, longtime GNI fan, member of the Lounge, and the voice behind @chronically_cheerful, an online community for anyone seeking support, solace, and a safe space while navigating wellness challenges — especially those with a chronic illness or invisible disability.
I’ve spent the past three years as a professional patient, exploring treatments and techniques across Western and Eastern medicine in an effort to help my chronic pain. Over this time, “taking care” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. For now, I’m working to accept that careful investments in my well-being don’t need to manifest physically to be meaningful. One of my biggest lessons learned is that the unspoken idea that good health results from making good choices perpetuates the stigma that illness is a personal failing.
To be honest, most days I still struggle with having so little to outwardly show for my exhaustive (and exhausting) efforts to feel better. On the one hand, I know I have nothing to prove. On the other, it’s hard to let go of the impulse to defend my pain as independent from how I take care.
Because I know others are in the same boat, I wanted to share some small reminders that have helped me separate my wellness from my worth as I navigate my chronic pain. I hope they'll help you, too:
1) Reaffirm yourself. 💗
Constant vigilance toward and tracking of one’s bodily “problems” can make it feel like there's a need to “fix” yourself as a person. Associating inherent value with your state of well-being is a surefire way to trigger misplaced guilt whenever pain resurfaces. However you feel, you are enough.
2) Let go of the shoulds. 🙅
You know your body best. Some of the most important ways you take care of it can stem from self-trust in knowing what works best for you. By letting go of some of the external pressures of what you should be doing — whether it's work or otherwise — you can actually sometimes get closer to what you really need in a given moment.
3) Reimagine rest. 😴
We place a huge premium on productivity, but rest IS productive. Especially for those of us with chronic illness, we can’t afford to slow down only when we’re tired or as a reward for accomplishing something. You are not lazy for taking the time you need to recharge and restore yourself — you’re proactively building up the strength to show up as your best self.
4) Give yourself some grace. 🌿
Chronic pain is more than physical: it can have a profound, negative impact on your emotional and mental well-being. Fear of judgment or disappointing others can create internalized pressure and insidious shame, whether over a perceived inability to tough it out or to “just get better” once and for all. Remember to watch out for those critical thoughts and be kind to yourself as you navigate the good and the bad days.
5) Recognize your resilience. ✨
One of the most frustrating aspects of chronic illness is you can do everything “right” (eat nourishing foods, meditate, follow a sleep schedule, exercise and try a range of different medications and holistic therapies), yet STILL be plagued by unpredictable, frequently incapacitating pain. You are doing your best, but measuring success by recovery isn't giving yourself enough credit.
Remember, the only standard you need to live up to is your own. And if you need to keep reminding yourself of that, I’ll be right there with you, doing it too.