When you have a chronic illness, the physical and emotional pain can be overwhelming. You can feel like your life is spiraling out of control, and that there’s nothing you can do. I call this “victim mode.” We’ve all been there. I spent many months in “victim mode” after I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and other related health issues. I thought “What did I do to deserve this?” ”Why are all of these bad things happening to me?”

When we are in victim mode, we are giving our power and energy away to our illness and others. Once I realized this, I was able to change my perspective in order to take my power back. Here’s how I’m owning my power:

1) Listening to my Body

By listening to our bodies, we are listening to our innate wisdom, which always knows best. I used to live with a go-go-go mentality and suffered from major FOMO. I pushed myself to go out and do things at times when my body needed rest. It finally got to the point where I crashed and became bedridden and was forced to rest and do nothing. It was during this time that I finally began listening to my body. I constantly checked in with myself, asking what I needed in that moment. If I needed to sleep, I slept. If I was craving a certain food, I ate it. If I needed to cry, I cried. If I didn’t have the energy to return a phone call, I didn’t. I had to make myself a priority- I had no choice. I released people-pleasing tendencies and the guilt that I can’t make everyone happy all of the time. I put up healthy boundaries instead of giving my power away to others. I got to the point where I was OK with just being and allowing. Constantly giving ourselves what we need is how we heal and how we take our power back.

2) Not Taking Things Personally

How many times do you get triggered when someone makes a judgmental or ignorant comment about your illness? Every time you react, you are giving your power away. When this happened to me, I used to become angry, anxious, defensive, and depressed. But finally I realized that what people are saying is a reflection of them, not me. If they are judging you, they are probably judging themselves. If they are criticizing you, they are probably critical of themselves. It’s so liberating and empowering to realize that you can’t control what people say but you can control how you react. When you trust your own intuition rather than seeking validation from others and being influenced by what other people are telling you, you are owning your power. Every time you choose to respond rather than react, you are taking your power back.

3) Loving Myself

It can be easy to love ourselves when we feel healthy, happy, or beautiful. But having a chronic illness is the ultimate test- can we love ourselves when our body is failing us? When we are curled up in a ball in pain? When we are shaking with frustration, anger and worry that we aren’t going to get better? Imagine your friend is seriously sick. You might say “I’m here for you” or “Let me know if there’s anything I can do or help you with.” But are you there for yourself? Are you helping yourself- making yourself a priority? It’s easy to forget that we need to love and care for ourselves the way we would love and care for a loved one. We can be gentle and patient with ourselves. We can shower ourselves with love when we are having a bad day. We can remember how far we’ve come when we feel hopeless. We can give our inner child a hug when s/he feels scared or unsafe. It’s easy to put ourselves last, thinking we need to take care of other people, but the truth is we need to care for ourselves first. We can send love and healing to the parts of ourselves that need it the most. By loving ourselves, we are giving ourselves more power, just as our self-loathing is giving away our power to fear.

4) No Longer Identifying With My Illness

When I was first diagnosed, Lyme Disease took over my life- every aspect with it. All of my time was spent reading articles about Lyme, asking for advice on online communities, and obsessing about every symptom, which sent me into a sea of hopelessness and depression. All of these things are healthy and normal to a degree, but there needs to be balance. I learned yes, I have Lyme Disease, but it’s just one aspect of me. Instead of focusing on my illness 24/7, I choose to find joy when I can- by listening to music, baking, coloring, drawing, writing, dancing, talking to a friend, taking a bath, or taking a walk. Lyme Disease no longer defines me. I like to see myself as a person who is temporarily dealing with Lyme. Even if “temporary” is longer than I would like. I’d rather be defined by my kindness, honesty, authenticity, and love rather than by Lyme. It doesn’t mean I won’t talk about it, spread awareness, or feel angry. It means I know I am more than Lyme. In this way, I allow Lyme Disease to be part of my identify but not have power over me.

5) Staying Present

When you have a chronic illness, it’s really challenging to stay in the present. It’s easy to reminisce about better times in the past and worry about the future. But when we dwell on the past, we are giving our power away to a time we can’t change. And when we worry about the future we are giving our power away to a time that doesn’t yet exist. Staying in the present allows us to focus on the now, which is the only time that actually exists. It is in the present where our power lies. We can focus on the present by practicing mindfulness in all aspects of our lives and taking one moment at a time. And when we focus on taking care of ourselves in the present, we are actually creating a better future.

6) Feeling My Emotions

For so long I suppressed the emotions I didn’t want to feel. Chronic illness brings up so many emotions- fear, anger, rage, worry, anxiety, grief. Every time they came up I pushed them back down. These unexpressed emotions just added to my physical symptoms and I was letting them have too much power over me. When I allowed myself to sit with the emotions and actually feel them (as unpleasant and painful as that might be), I realized I could release them and make more room for love and healing. And realizing that I can actively choose to experience and release these emotions made me feel more empowered.

7) Being Vulnerable

When we are vulnerable we open ourselves up to more pain, fear, and judgment, but at the same time we are opening ourselves up to more love and power. Being vulnerable is difficult when you have a chronic illness. You may find it easier to suffer in silence than be raw and honest to others about what you are experiencing (especially when you have an “invisible illness” and don’t look sick.) For a long time I wasn’t completely honest to others about the hell I was going through. I was afraid to be seen and heard. I didn’t want to appear “negative” or seem as if I were complaining. But by hiding these true emotions, I wasn’t being honest with myself. We are truly empowered when we are our authentic selves, no matter what that looks like to others. And by being authentic, we will attract others who are meant to be in our lives. The moment I started to become more vulnerable is the moment I began becoming more empowered.

As we heal, it’s possible to strip away the fearful stories we tell ourselves in order to uncover what we are truly made of- love, truth, and power. And as we slowly take our power back from our illness, we end up becoming empowered in all other aspects of life too.