March 13, 2013

Why You Should Make Friends with Your Chronic Illness. ~ Shawnee Thornton

Photo: Shawnee Thornton

I know this sounds a bit odd and it’s not the message we are used to hearing.

When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness you hear messages like, “you’re going to beat it,” “you’re stronger than it,” “you’re just going to have to fight it.”

The it—your illness—becomes the enemy, the destroyer of your life’s dreams, the one who gets in the way of your happiness.

The moment you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, you go through the phases of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.

What if we not only accepted our illness, but rather embraced it as if it were our friend, our ally?

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I was always an active person; then I began to experience extreme lethargy, numbness and tingling in my legs, popping joints, rapid heartbeat and several other symptoms.

When I was finally diagnosed I felt relieved at first, but then it settled in that I had an illness that would never go away. Essentially, my immune system was attacking my thyroid and my doctor told me that eventually my thyroid would be gone. I went through a phase where I felt sorry for myself—I didn’t want to accept that I wouldn’t feel as much energy and would have to live with the side effects of my illness.

In a way, I was letting my illness define me.

It was not until I began to practice yoga that my feelings toward my illness began to shift. I found that practicing yoga helped me feel better. I felt energized from my yoga practice and found that a consistent practice decreased the side effects of my illness.

Along with the physical shifts, I began to feel a shift in my relationship with my illness—yes, I said relationship. We subconsciously develop a relationship with our illness. It becomes this entity in our lives that we more often than not despise, hate, fight against. There was a point in my practice that I decided to make friends with my illness—yes, friends.  I decided that rather than fighting against my chronic illness, we would become allies. We would work together to create a more peaceful, balanced and healthy life together.

I decided to be in tune with my illness, to be aware of the subtle cues in my body, to respond to those cues in a nurturing way and to treat my illness with kindness and compassion. After all, we were going to have to live together for the rest of our lives.

I have learned in my practice of yoga that resistance creates suffering.

Living with anger, resentment and negative feelings towards our illness only creates more suffering.

Through my ability to let go of resistance and by acknowledging my illness as part of me, my illness no longer defines me. Instead, it has become my ally, my friend that will help me be in tune to my physical body and will share in my life experiences, through sickness and in health.


Shawnee Thornton is passionate about nature, art, music, photography and the richness life has to offer. She is a lifelong learner and enjoys adventure and travel. She enjoys teaching and sharing thoughts, ideas and knowledge with others. Shawnee is a yoga instructor in San Diego, CA. Shawnee’s style is vinyasa-based with attention to alignment and breath.  She infuses restorative postures and carefully designed sequences that help with anxiety, depression and reducing stress. Shawnee also provides specialized yoga therapy for autism and special needs. Shawnee is 500-hour RYT YA certified through YogaWorks and has been teaching Special Education for over 13 years.


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Asst Ed:  Terri Tremblett
Ed: Brianna Bemel


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