Lifestyle / My Personal Experiences / Work

When I’ve Had to Be Selfish for My Health Conditions

Originally published on 9th January 2018
Last updated on 26th February 2024

I’m not a selfish person naturally, however, since going through the motions of being diagnosed with various things such as hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s and mental health conditions, I’ve had to learn to do more things for me.

I‘ve had to become what other people have called ‘selfish’, in order to gain some of my life back and manage my health conditions better.

But being selfish is generally seen as a bad trait to have, with Google’s definition even suggesting this;

lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

Rachel at Christmas

However, sometimes it’s crucial to be ‘selfish’. Sometimes we have to be ‘chiefly concerned with one’s own personal pleasure’, in order to look after ourselves, especially if we live with mental or physical health conditions.

I want to clarify though, that when I use the term ‘selfish’, what I really mean is learning to do things that have helped me to take care of myself, and preserve and improve my health.

‘Selfishness’ often means to have no regard for others and is usually a choice, but with my thyroid conditions, if I don’t look after myself first and foremost (or at least strike somewhat of a balance) I cannot be of benefit to anyone else.

I use the word ‘selfish’ in terms of how other people viewed my decisions and behaviour, which are detailed below.

Living Free of Thyroid Symptoms

Learning to Say “No”

Learning to say “no” to others and becoming more assertive in what I felt was important, so as to better manage my health conditions, has been a big step to take.

Knowing when I need to potentially let someone else down on plans because I’m not well enough to leave the house, need to rest up or otherwise feel that saying “no” is more beneficial than pushing my body further, is really important. My health is a delicate balance and taking on just a tad too much can cause it to topple and set me back for weeks or even months.

I’ve had to say “no” to friends in regards to social plans and invites, “no” to taking on an increased workload, “no” to doctors wanting to lower a medication dosage I finally feel really well on and even “no” to people offering me food that my body doesn’t tolerate well, such as gluten. You wouldn’t believe how many people think ‘just having it this one time’ is OK when I have an adverse effect to such substance.

So learn to say “no” to anything that stops you living a well-balanced life with a thyroid condition.

Removing People Who Negatively Impact My Life

There are certain people in life that can zap your energy, bring you down or otherwise make you feel rubbish. They can be people who are close to you, breeding negativity and perhaps even being nasty to you.

If anyone causes you any kind of stress or negative emotions, it sure doesn’t help in managing your health and since stress levels can impact your thyroid health – as well as mental health – you really need to evaluate if they’re worth compromising your health over and taking up your time.

I’ve “selfishly” removed these types of people from my life over the years, even blood relatives and immediate family, because they seriously made my health a lot worse. The most stressful period in my life, caused by those closest to me, actually triggered all of my mental and physical health conditions at just seventeen-years-old. In one swift move, overloading me with stress, I said hello to Hashimoto’s, Hypothyroidism, depression and anxiety disorder. And I couldn’t recover without removing those who caused them.

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognise these kinds of people much earlier on in a relationship and distance myself from them swiftly. It’s often not that simple for others though and it can be a lot more complicated. If you’re going to do it, make sure you follow through and keep your word. Letting these people come back in and out of your life will tell them that they can keep treating you badly.

You’d be amazed at how much extra time and energy you have when you’re not stressed or dealing with issues caused by energy suckers.

Learning to Step Back

As someone who feels a lot and cares a lot for their friends, I’m often the default ‘mum’ of the group, arranging all meet-ups, parties and initiating conversations, so much so that friends can become reliant on this and start letting me make all the effort. Or at least most of it.

Learning to draw back on prompting them so much for replies on whether they want to go to the cinema to see that new film, come round for some Netflix bingeing or even just always being the person who starts the conversation, when they may not make the first move on any of this or even bother replying to me messages or prompts, can be really tricky. There always tends to be that member of the friendship group that acts as the glue in keeping the circle together, but it really should’t always fall to one person, and especially so if it is having a detrimental effect on their health.

If you find that this is you and it’s draining your energy mentally as well as physically, then you need to be selfish and start asking for others to pick up some of the slack too; organising get togethers or responding to your messages more often, so as to save you from all that extra energy you’re spending on it.

Expressing that you feel as if others should make more effort if it feels quite one sided, is also fair to do and most people tend to respond with surprise, not actually aware until it’s brought to their attention but equally happy to contribute more.

Reducing My Work Hours

This one really wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s been a really important one for me.

I worked full time for the first five or six years of living with chronic illness, but it was never easy. I’d drag myself out of bed (on the days I could), sit at work in pain and try to at least get something done. Read my blog about the difficulties of working with thyroid disease here.

Towards the end of me working full time, my work-life balance was completely uneven, with me going to work 9am-5pm on weekdays, sleeping as soon as I got in from work each night and then spending weekends trying to recharge my spoons, too, just to turn up on Monday morning and do it all again. I barely had any quality of life and, after a lot of discussion with my other half and doctor, decided to make the transition to part-time work.

My doctor suggested giving up work for a while until I got my health back on track. Not wanting to commit to giving up work completely, I compromised to dropping one day a week and working four days a week instead, so that I can benefit from not only the financial income of working but also the social aspect of interacting with others, putting my mind to good use and keeping up communication skills.

For some with chronic illness though, they can’t commit to any regular hours of work since their conditions can be so hard to predict or manage and so to be able to do some of what I used to, I’m very grateful. Read how other thyroid patients have had their work lives affected.

Reducing my work hours was selfish in a few ways. Selfish towards my employer, who were then faced with hiring someone else to job share with me. Selfish in terms of other peoples’ expectations of me to remain in a full-time job when I was only twenty-three years old and they didn’t understand my health situation. And selfish to a certain extent of putting more pressure on my (amazingly supportive) other half in becoming more responsible for our incoming money, since my salary dropped to match my new part time hours.

Leaving a Job That Was Making My Health Worse 

I strongly believe that we spend so much of our time and lives at work, if we’re unhappy with a job, we shouldn’t be there. It’s such a waste of not only time but also energy and potential for how happy you could be in a role.

After a bit of a battle with trying to make an existing job work with my declining health, I eventually left, putting my health first and taking back some control. The role and environment worsened my conditions in various ways and essentially, I had to come to the decision of whether it was really worth it and whether a solution was going to be reached.

I couldn’t see it ever resolving and my employer was not as understanding towards my health concerns as they should have been. I found a new role which suited my abilities better (taking in to account my less-than-perfect energy levels) and had a more supportive environment and work culture.

Not Being Able to Contribute to Household Chores

It’s not only in the workplace but also at home that you may need to be more selfish, too. I’ve written before about my struggles regarding keeping up with housework, cleaning, maintenance and even grocery shopping.

Related article: Tips for Keeping on Top of Housework with Thyroid Disease

I’ve had to be selfish in saying when I don’t have the energy to go to the shops, do certain chores or home maintenance, which has then impacted my husband, who has had to pick up the slack or use more initiative in what needs doing. If you live alone, you may benefit from considering asking a friend or family member for help with these tasks, instead of pushing yourself further than you should.

Learning to be more selfish can be difficult and ‘selfish’ shouldn’t always be viewed as a negative word.

After all, if you don’t put your health first, then eventually you may not be able to commit to or take on anything at all. We need to learn what is manageable for us, as an individual and not necessarily be selfish in the sense of having a lack of consideration for others, but in putting ourselves first where it matters and where it counts. Knowing your own limits could benefit you greatly in managing your health conditions. Physical or mental.

Do you have an example of when you’ve had to be ‘selfish’ for your health?

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.

Please remember that if you’re a thyroid patient living with poor mental health or lingering physical symptoms, that you don’t have to live this way. To address why you may still be feeling unwell (often despite being on thyroid medication too), please see this article and go through each suggestion, putting your thyroid jigsaw back together.

Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate Book CoverSee also:

The book Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate: When You’re Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tiredwhich builds on this article in detail. Reclaim your thyroid healthy life.

About Author

Rachel Hill is the highly ranked and multi-award winning thyroid patient advocate, writer, speaker and author behind The Invisible Hypothyroidism. Her thyroid advocacy work includes writing articles, authoring books, producing her Thyroid Family email newsletters and speaking on podcasts and at events about the many aspects thyroid disease affects and how to overcome these. She is well-recognised as a crucial and influential contributor to the thyroid community and has a large social media presence. Her bestselling books include "Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate" and "You, Me and Hypothyroidism".


  • Lynn
    June 17, 2023 at 10:37 am

    Thank you for this enlightening article. It has opened my eyes and heart to my friend’s issues. Hopefully, now I will be a better friend. Again, thank you. Many blessings to you.

  • Mindie
    July 8, 2022 at 2:12 pm

    I feel this on so many levels! Working has been very difficult because I can’t physically do what I used to. Mentally, it has been worse. I have been looked at as very selfish because I did have to walk away from a long term toxic situation surrounding many immediate family members. It was really rough, but I realized at that point it was necessary and I should’ve done it so so much easier. Thankfully, mentally I’m doing better. Physically, I still have limitations and I have an enormous amount of guilt that goes along with it. I’m working on that. I used to be strong enough to handle all the bs, but it got to a point where I could barely function, and nobody was listening. Thanks for always sharing your stories! They help!! ❤️

  • Kratika
    May 10, 2019 at 11:38 am

    It’s a great article with lots of learning. Thank you for writing this. I can relate to this.

  • InvisiblyMe
    January 9, 2018 at 7:29 am

    This is a fantastic post, and a great reminder that we need to do more to help ourselves sometimes, to say no to certain things, to put our health first even if it seems ‘selfish’. Taking a step back and moving away from things like relationships that are draining or only one way (where you give, but get negativity in return all too often), and recognising when it’s time to cut back work hours or move on from a job that makes your health worse can be so hard to do, yet so important. You show great courage is doing these things and you should be proud – thanks for the inspiration here! 🙂
    Caz x


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