Mental Health & Chronic Illness: Why It’s Critical We Discuss them TOGETHER.
I share openly about my chronic illness, Multiple Sclerosis, and my struggles with chronic pain, fatigue, and brain fog. Why? Because if my story can help one other person feel less alone, or help someone to be kinder towards a person with an invisible illness, then it was worth sharing.
While I’ve mentioned it, I don’t think that mental health, including depression and anxiety (two conditions I have), are talked about enough in today’s society. Sadly, there is still a stigma against mental health conditions.
“At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.”Michelle Obama
As we enter May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to share some statistics from Mental Health America. Does the fact that 80% of people struggling with a ‘traditional’ chronic health condition also struggle with a mental health condition surprise you?
It certainly doesn’t surprise me.
Chronic illness is isolating, exhausting, frustrating, and unpredictable. I cannot imagine living with MS and not also dealing with depression and anxiety. Actually, I had been receiving treatment for depression long before my MS diagnosis.
I’m extremely grateful that I learned some coping techniques and found a medication that works for me before my first MS flare. Plus, I’m extremely lucky that my family and friends never stigmatized mental health conditions and have always supported me.
The Struggle Is Real
According to Mental Health America, “For those dealing with a chronic health condition and the people who care for them, it can be especially important to focus on mental health. When dealing with dueling diagnoses, focusing on both the physical and mental health concerns can be daunting – but critically important in achieving overall wellness.”
Well, daunting seems like a bit of an understatement to me! I do agree that mental health is critically important in achieving overall wellness. Personally, I know that the worse I feel physically, the worse I tend to feel mentally too. Yes, I know that the opposite can be true as well.
Unfortunately, when you don’t have as much control over your daily energy or pain levels as much as a ‘normal’ person does, you have to make harder choices. Doing things that are good for your mental health, like going for a walk in the park or meeting up with friends, can be physically impossible.
What CAN We Do?
Well, although I spend a lot of time at the doctors’ office, I am not a doctor and not giving you any medical advice. However, I am confident that by sharing our own stories, struggles, and successes, we can all help each other.
No matter what you’re dealing with in life, you deserve to be happy. You are enough. I do think you can find joy in life with chronic illness and that includes mental health conditions too. I wrote a blog post sharing some of my favorite strategies here, but a few of my go-to ways to find joy are:
- Snuggle with your favorite pet. Dixie, my rescue dog, is critical in my life and brings me so much joy!
- Talk to someone. I have personally found that meeting with a professional therapist is helpful, and worth the time and energy.
- Find an online support community if you can’t get out of the house. Join us on Facebook in Full of Grit and Grace if you’d like.
- Readjust your expectations, try to think of the little feel-good moments, and celebrate the small wins in your life.
- Try not to waste your precious energy on beating yourself up mentally. Life is hard enough without us being harder on ourselves.
- Don’t have enough time for self-care? Download this free tool to help you reclaim your schedule.
- Recognize that doing your best is always enough. Is breathing all you accomplished today? That is enough.
What are your best strategies for living well with chronic illness, depression, anxiety, or other health issues? I’d love to hear them!
And if you’re struggling, please know that you are not alone. Visit http://www.mhascreening.org to check your symptoms. It’s free, confidential, and anonymous. Once you have your results, MHA will give you information and help you and tools and resources to feel better.