When adjusting to living with a serious or chronic illness, whether this experience is more recent for you or you’ve been living with it for some time and things have changed, you can experience a period of mental upheaval.
You may experience anxiety, scared of what your future will be like, worrying about every twinge and odd feeling in your body, feeling unbalanced emotionally, and are quickly moved to tears, anger or both. The rollercoaster of emotions is never-ending. You want to feel a sense of calm and balance. You want to feel normal again but are not sure if that’s achievable or how.
Firstly, it is possible to return to a sense of wellness and normality. I have helped clients successfully do this after they experienced a serious illness or onset of a chronic illness. Just a heads up that it often looks and feels differently from what it was like before.
Secondly, feeling the way you do because of the changes in your health is actually normal. These periods of adjustment are about transitioning from one way of doing and being to another. It’s about change. And when we experience change, we can experience all sorts of unfamiliar and unpleasant emotions, particularly when the change is not expected nor welcomed.
So you are not going crazy. You are experiencing another side to your mental health. Read on to learn why looking after your mental health is as important as your physical health when living with a serious or chronic illness. But first, let’s review that definition of mental health because it can sometimes get in the way of people seeking out support.
Debunking the myth of mental health
In our society, we have come to associate the words ‘mental health’ almost exclusively with issues such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, bi-polar, suicide, schizophrenia, other personality disorders, etc.
It is also often assumed that help is only for these type of issues. And if you don’t have them, you don’t need help, and should not need help. But if you access help, then you must have something wrong with you, like a ‘psychological problem’ and be ‘screwed up’.
That societal definition of mental health doesn’t do much for empowering people, who are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression (maybe for the first time), to seek help and support.
The definition also discounts the whole human experience and all the good things we experience and feel. It has resulted in lack of recognition that people with mental health issues can and do experience good feelings, good times and periods of happiness.
Just as our physical health can experience good and bad periods, so does our mental health. At times our mental health is ill, other times it is in good shape.
‘Mental health’ is a neutral term like physical health. Just as we have physical health, we have mental health.
The #ihavementalhealth campaign
Last week the #ihavementalhealthcampaign on Twitter reminded me of this and its importance to people like you and me who live with chronic illness or the ongoing after effects of a serious illness.
Dr. Ilan Ben-Zion (@drilanbz), a clinical psychologist in the UK started this campaign last week when he was sharing his NHS stories via the @NHS Twitter account. The campaign’s aim is to show how neutral the term ‘mental health’ is and that we all have it. In turn, this can reduce the stigma mental health has developed and normalise people seeking support when they feel they are struggling.
If more people feel able to seek support when they are struggling, then this can prevent issues growing into even bigger ones.
Your mental health is just as important as physical health
When living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious health issue, your mental health is just as important as your physical health. The reasons for this are several.
In my own and my clients’ experiences, stress can exacerbate symptoms. Learning ways to effectively manage the impact of stress becomes very important to reduce its impact on symptoms. I’ve had clients report feeling a reduction in symptoms due to addressing issues which caused them to feel stressed and learning to manage the stress differently.
Also, stress and anxiety can become more prevalent due to the uncertainty which often accompanies a change in our health.
Having support to adjust to any unwelcome and unwanted change with your health or any other part of your life can help you to work through the stress, anxiety, depression and emotional struggles more quickly and effectively. So you can return to that sense of calm and balance you’ve been seeking, and experience quality of life and normality once again. Timely support can also prevent issues escalating, allow people to appreciate and feel their self-worth, and to continue being a part of society.
Sometimes the physical health issue can cause changes in the brain which impact emotions, cognitive abilities and executive functioning. Side-effects of medications can also cause mental health issues. This is when it is important to have a suitably qualified healthcare professional involved who can formally assess the issue and recommend strategies and treatments.
These reasons show that mental health is ever-present, there is a complex relationship between our physical and mental health, and it’s super important and ok to look after it and seek support to enable us to do that.
To show your support for these ideas, get on social media, introduce yourself and use the hashtag #ihavementalhealth.
My name is Barbara and #ihavementalhealth
In fact, #weallhavementalhealth
What’s it like for you?
When you’ve been in a difficult period, what helped you to enhance your mental health? If you reached out and asked for help, what enabled you to do that? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.
If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.
Pass it forward
Although I write these blogs in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a family member, friend or colleague would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.
If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017