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

Via elephant journal
on Mar 13, 2013
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Photo: 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 ThorntonShawnee 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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7 Responses to “Why You Should Make Friends with Your Chronic Illness. ~ Shawnee Thornton”

  1. Francine Hardy says:

    I’m not an expert on yoga, but this article sheds light on a novel approach to a life-altering fact-of-life for many people: we may have an illness that cannot be eradicated or ignored, but, as Shawnee puts it so personally and succinctly, that illness and I, well, we are “going to have to live together for the rest of our lives”. If this is so, then as with any permanent relationship, the light from her article exhorts us wisely to dig in, invest time to gain knowledge, explore, be in unelaborated sensate touch with the best way our body, mind and spirit can deal with and live with this illness. This does not nullify nor ignore the other remedying or mediating therapies that are available to us in our healing journey, but rather, this attitude will give us the firm foundation of returning and resting, of stillness that cancels out the “noise” of typical living that assaults our senses continually. Herein lies the secret to being “in tune”, being “aware of the subtle cues” and thus responding “to those cues in a nurturing way” as she encourages us. Thank you Shawnee!

  2. ZoePhaedra says:

    What a gentle, wise soul this writer is! And how generous with her time, her effort, her life as she hunts and gathers to provide for so many others under her care!

  3. Tina Nemeth says:

    This is an incredible concept. How true! Thank you for your wisdom and compassion. This is just what I needed to hear. Thank you Shawnee!

  4. Paul says:

    Paradoxical! First impression of Shawnee's approach is counterintuitive…….until you re-read her article. I know I was raised to seek outside intervention when illness strikes instead of tapping the power of mind-body. Revelatory.

  5. lisa says:

    thank you for this article. I can relate to this on many levels. Seventeen years ago, at age 29 I was diagnosed with hepatitis C. I was a single mom to a then 5 year old, and at the time, the death-sentence type of prognosis was, in my mind, akin to an HIV diagnosis. I went through a similar process of grief before I was able to shift from the "poor me" into a proactive mode. Long story short, I too eventually was able to make peace with the disease…I know now that HAVING a disease does not mean I AM that disease. Yoga has been one of the many pieces of my holistic approach to my overall well being, and without the gift of all the challenges in my life, including my chronic illness, I may never have gotten to where I am today..at peace on the inside and living a life helping others as a holistic nutritionist and yoga instructor. And I like this place…..

  6. Shawnee says:

    Thanks for sharing. I can understand the challenge of being a single parent and struggling to manage a chronic illness. Even though whether or not we have the illness is not in our control, we can control our attitude towards our illness. So great that you are sharing your passion for healing through your own experiences and wisdom!
    Blessing of health and happiness to you!

  7. lisa says:

    thanks again Shawnee! and you are most welcome too… :~)