Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was four years old means that I grew up with a very unique lens on life. I also grew up watching my mother battle fibromyalgia, manic depression and bipolar disorder. She fought fearlessly every day, she was the youngest of her siblings, yet matriarch to all. And although she was loved by so many, she kept fairly quiet about her diagnosis - the very experiences that shook her entire world and eventually took her life.. She always stood up for what was right, loved unconditionally, and showed up for others more than she showed up for herself. My mother taught me the very meaning of compassion and inclusivity. Two of my biggest lessons were to 1) build and nurture my community and 2) never fight your illness alone.
I was recently interviewed by a young JRA warrior working on her senior project. She posed one of the greatest questions I’ve ever been asked in an interview, “what breaks your heart?”
My heart breaks when someone reaches a point of such intense pain that they see no way through. They feel alone. They yearn for inspiration or purpose, something that gives their fight some kind of meaning yet find nothing. I’ve been this person. While I have always had many tools in my box, without the incredible community that I’ve cultivated over the years, I’m unsure if I’d still be here today.
Community, to me, means strength, safety, support, and freedom of the self - no matter what that may look like. A place where compassion and love are abundant, and that which makes us different only serves as a catalyst for opportunities for growth. Community makes me feel like anything is possible, from surviving mental health hurdles to starting my own business from scratch. I believe that the relationships we build are a reflection of what we give to the world. As lucky as you are to have those around you, the world is lucky to have you too.
So how does one begin to build such a community? How do you find your people? Looking back, I’d have to break it all down to three basic principles:
- Speak your truth.
- Choose love.
- Show up.
Speak Your Truth
Building trust and strong relationships requires you to get pretty vulnerable. Yes, this includes normalizing and talking about all the things that make you, you! When you open up, you’ll find that the people you have the strongest connection with will open up to you as well. This is a sign that you’re in good company!
Chronic pain is something we often mask, however, giving yourself permission to take that mask off and simply say “I’m struggling today” can help lift the internal weight off your shoulders. The more we talk about what’s going on, the more we can normalize it and de-catastrophize it all together. Speaking your truth helps us discover those we feel safest with. In safe spaces, our anxiety decreases and we lean into the present moment.
I say to myself, “Choose Love” as a reminder that the situation at hand calls for more compassion. It begins with having kindness and compassion for yourself. How you love yourself directly translates to how you love others. I experience it most when I confront depression and anxiety or when my body needs a break. I choose love by reminding myself that what I’ve done is actually enough.
The ways in which you practice self-love ripples into relationships when conflict arises or when you have a chance to be the supportive party. It allows you to empathize with your loved ones and hold space appropriately. Choose love and take the opportunity to learn from one another as we’re all students of our experience.
Show up for you. Show up for your community. Chronic illness demands that we find balance between caring for ourselves and for others. Burnout is always within reach, and in order to care for our community, we must care for ourselves first. Plain and simple.
If you’re like me, you might have felt guilty for canceling plans or lovingly saying “no” to birthdays or other celebrations. It’s absolutely okay! When you can show up, do so. When you can’t, don’t. When you find yourself in communities of people who love and respect you, you’ll notice that they commend you in these situations, and trust that you’re doing what’s best for you. That’s what a chosen family feels like.
Community is like a garden. You must tend to it in order for things to grow. For every seed that doesn’t grow, you learn. For every plant that thrives, you’re well fed. The power of community can change your life. If you’re still searching for yours, I encourage you to continue planting seeds wherever you go and see what happens. Be patient and continue showing up as your truest, most honest self. Your community is there for you!
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by HealthBeacon plc and the author was compensated and was given a Smart Sharps Bin free of charge. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of HealthBeacon or Hamilton Beach Brands.