Mental Health & Chronic Illness: Why It’s Critical We Discuss them TOGETHER.
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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. Sometimes just traveling to therapy seemed like too much for me, which is why I’m so glad I discovered TalkSpace virtual therapy.
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 for finding joy here.
Strategies for Managing and Improving Your Mental Health
- Snuggle with your favorite pet. Dixie, my rescue dog, is critical in my life and brings me so much joy! Is it harder to have a dog when you’re chronically ill? Yes, but here’s why I recommend it anyway!
- Talk to someone. I have personally found that meeting with a professional therapist is helpful, and worth the time and energy. I am very happy with TalkSpace and I love that I can access my therapist without even leaving my house.
- Find an online support community when you can’t get out of the house. Join us on Facebook in Full of Grit and Grace or one of my favorite advocacy platforms.
- 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.
Remember that Self-Care Isn’t Selfish, It’s Critical.
Don’t have enough time for self-care? I use the Desire Map planner which highlights self-care and gratitude daily and helps me to live more intentionally. Danielle LaPorte, the creator of the Desire Map Planner, also has some excellent blog posts, podcasts, and meditations that have helped me to readjust my mindset and feel more joy each day. According to a 2018 Harvard study “A regular [meditation] practice can help your brain better manage stress and anxiety that can trigger depression.“
Feeling too anxious to sleep well despite doing your best to take care of yourself? Me too. I’ve found that a weighted blanket, this is the one I use, is surprisingly helpful! It’s soothing without being too hot or uncomfortable. Here’s more info on why weighted blanket work! And of course, I know that I feel much better, mentally, and physically, when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.
Having easy to grab healthy food available for yourself is another form of self-care that helps me. I know that sometimes I’m far too fatigued to cook for myself and then I eat junk food and end up feeling worse mentally and physically. Personally, I love Daily Harvest meal deliveries.
Remember, You Are Enough.
Regardless of what you did or didn’t accomplish today, try to 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.
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