Getting Mental Health Support with a Chronic Illness
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Events such as World IBD Day and ME Awareness Week have also taken place. It is the perfect time to focus on part of chronic illness life, which can be overlooked. The mental health effects of living with a long-term chronic condition. After my Crohn’s diagnosis, my focus was initially on the physical impacts. Symptoms, treatments, hospital appointments. When you research chronic illnesses online, the physical side is what appears first. However, a lifelong condition impacts your mental health in many ways, so it is important not to ignore this. As someone goes to counselling, believe me when I say that getting mental health support with a chronic illness is not something to feel ashamed of. You are not weak. You should not feel guilty. It is 100% fine to ask for help. You do not need to struggle in silence because…
Guess what, it is natural that a chronic illness diagnosis has an effect on mental wellbeing.
Adjusting to life with any long-term condition is no walk in the park. Life suddenly looks different, and learning to accept and adjust to life with a chronic illness takes time.
The physical health symptoms themselves cause mental health repercussions. When you are having to deal with flare ups, hospital trips, tests, etc., plus sometimes not being able to do everything you want, it becomes incredibly frustrating. There are times when I get tired of feeling tired!
I know I have felt like my body is letting me down and I have blamed myself for this. You are not the cause of your illness though. You did not choose it. Getting support to overcome any feelings of guilt is so important.
A struggle that is common with chronic conditions is feeling isolated. Sometimes it seems like you are the only one dealing with your illness. Sometimes plans have to be cancelled because you need to rest. Making sure you have a good support network around you is key, and seeking help can teach us where to find that support during tough times.
My biggest mental health battle is with anxiety. I have struggled with health anxiety since my teens, but my Crohn’s diagnosis brought it to the surface again. I became anxious about having flare ups and how to manage away from home. After experiencing hospital admission with flare ups, I got scared of them happening again and this has led to becoming hypersensitive about any pain or unusual physical sensation. So many thoughts and feelings about my health started playing on a loop in my mind.
You may also like: Lessons Learnt After a Year of Living with Crohn’s Disease
Getting Mental Health Support – My Experience with Counselling
After realising how much I needed that mental health support, I decided to go down the counselling route.
Different things work for different people.
If you are someone who decided to go down the medication route, that is fine. It works for you and that’s what counts.
Due to personal reasons and other health conditions, counselling has always been my preferred option, but until now, I had never seen anyone long-term.
For the past few months now, I have regular counselling sessions, and although my journey is far from over, I have realised that I have already made some progress with my mental health and how I deal with anxiety and my chronic illness.
I welcome the opportunity to be able to talk about how I’m feeling without holding back any details.
I love being able to offload and get my thoughts out in the open, rather than them being confined to my headspace and not knowing how to manage them.
Counselling helps me to manage my feelings and reflect on them in a calm manner. It is a long process and there is no quick fix, but I am learning to accept any negative thoughts, reflect on why I am feeling that way, so that I can then find the best solution to deal with them.
I am learning to live with my chronic illness and anxiety, rather than have them control and define my life.
As I said above, this is a long journey and I am still getting support. I still have times when I struggle and get really anxious, but that is natural and I am getting better at managing any harder times.
When I first started counselling, my counsellor and I used an analogy which I have found really useful. Imagine you are carrying a backpack and that backpack represents your life. For a while, it felt like my health conditions were filling up all the space in the bag and there was no room left for anything else.
Since I have started getting help though, I am realising that there is space emerging for other things in life.
For anyone out there struggling, please know that it is ok to get mental health support with a chronic illness, or for mental health struggles in general. You are not alone and there are people out there who will help.