Learning to move on from being depressed about your illness is not a small project. It can feel nigh on impossible. You may feel stuck and sad more than you feel happy, and you wonder if you will ever feel better about yourself, your body and your life.

If this helps, it is normal to feel this way. Your feelings are a documented part of the change process a person goes through particularly after an unwanted change such as a serious illness or injury, relationship breakdown, death of a loved one, etc. (Kubler-Ross, 1969).

You have to rebuild your life and reinvent yourself. And as I’ve said before, no one gives you a manual in hospital on how to do that. But it is possible to do and to look forward to the future again. So I’ll share an important step to help you do that.

A picture of a woman sitting down and crying. She has a serious health issue and is thinking, "Things will never be the same! What does my future hold?" It is normal to feel a lot of sadness when dealing with a challenging health issue. It can feel hard to move on from being depressed about your illness or injury.

But before I share that, I want to share something else

I am writing this blog for me too. As a reminder. We all need a reminder of what we know from time to time.

I received a diagnosis I was hoping not to get – osteoarthritis in my right hip. I was hoping for bursitis but no. The doctor says I’m so young to have this level of arthritis.

I’ve also had arthritis in my knees for 6+ years now. Over the years I’ve had to stop doing a variety of activities I enjoyed due to it. Sports requiring multi-directional movement. Then running. Six years ago the doctors advised me not to go on 10-12 mile walks even.

The arthritis is not life changing but I do find the issue challenging. The arthritis explains the chronic pain I’ve had in my hip for the past year. My walking has gone downhill. Some days I wonder if I need to use a walking stick.

What will I have to give up next? I feel sad about this. But I notice that having to give up something is an assumption on my part. I may not have to give up anything.

The future is also uncertain regarding my hip and mobility. In the meantime, I am holding on to the fact that I can still exercise and do my physiotherapy and I am very grateful for that.

Picture of exercise equipment including a yoga mat, resistance bands, weights, a stepper, foam roller and Fit with Frank online bootcamp videos. Exercise and physiotherapy can help you move on from the depression about your illness or injury.

The first step you can take to move on from being depressed about your illness

This isn’t the smallest step so this blog only focuses on this step. I am starting with it because it is such an important step. It is the game changer I have seen again and again with clients and in support groups.

Acknowledge what has happened to you.

Tell your story in your words of the illness or injury you had/have. What happened to you, what was the timeline, what the medical professionals said, what were people’s reactions, what has changed, and what has your recovery and rehabilitation been like so far.

Talk about the downright ugly, the bad and even the good. Don’t forget the good parts. They are important too. Someone may have shown kindness to you or you had good treatment for example.

When I sat ‘tell your story’, you can do that in a number of different ways. Write it down. Talk to someone. Draw it. Paint it. Dance it. Run it. Whatever medium you use to tell your story is fine. Try several different mediums if you wish. Do what works for you.

An important early step of moving on from being depressed about living with a challenging #health issue is to acknowledge what has happened to you including the downright ugly, bad and even the good bits. It’s important you tell… Share on X

But acknowledgement can be hard

I want to be up front about this. There’s no point in hiding information.

Acknowledgement is hard because you are facing up to the reality of your situation. And chances are, you don’t like your new reality. It may bring up a lot of emotions which feel difficult. And in our society we stigmatise the difficult emotions. The stigma reads:

Difficult emotions are bad so they don’t help and therefore must be ignored, denied and/or pushed away.

But society is lying

The difficult emotions have their place. In the case of a life-changing illness or injury or even a challenging health issue, these emotions are often associated with what you have lost. And not just what you have lost already, which is in the past, but also what you had hoped and expected to be part of your future. Carrying a lot of loss is not easy.

You end up going through a grieving process. So these difficult emotions are part of being human. They are also a documented part of the change process people go through when they are dealing with loss. For more information about this, check out Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work on acceptance here.

Kubler-Ross identified this change process when talking to people dying from a health issue and their loved ones. Although she did this work in the context of death and dying, it is applicable to challenging health issues, relationship breakdown and more as the common theme is loss.

No wonder it can feel so hard to move on from being depressed about your illness or injury.

It can be hard to move on from being depressed about your illness or injury as you can be carrying a lot of loss. This picture shows a woman carrying various historical and anticipated losses. Past losses she is holding are loss of job, health issue, loss of parent and other losses. Anticipated losses due to her health issue include her dreams, expectations and hopes. She has dropped the ball 'my hopes'. She just has too much to carry.

This is what will help

Let yourself feel the difficult emotions. Grieve for what you have lost. State how you feel in relation to your new reality and what you have lost.

I feel sad about…

I can no longer do… and I feel… about that.

I am afraid of these emotions.

And if you need to cry, do that. Let yourself mourn. You may wish to do this on your own or with someone else. And you can do this through talking, writing, making art, walking, running, whatever.

You’re not being difficult for letting yourself spend time with these emotions. And it’s ok to be afraid of them. Our fear can come up because we have not spent much time with such emotions in the past and so it can feel all new and not a nice kind of new either.

Ignore the people who say you are being too negative and have to be positive. Their definition of the word positive most likely subscribes to the societal stigma that only being positive will aid your recovery. I want to offer a different definition of being positive but that is a blog for another day.

The difficult emotions are actually needed to help you move on from being depressed about your illness or injury.

Letting yourself feel the difficult emotions in relation to your or a loved one’s #seriousillness #seriousinjury is actually needed to help you move on from being depressed about it Share on X

Acknowledgement is this weird sort of paradox

You have to go through the swamp of difficult emotions to lessen their impact. When you have done that, you find over time these emotions visit less. They may still visit on anniversaries. Or when you experience something else that is difficult or are reminded of something you used to do.

But the difficult emotions don’t stay as long. Because you have gotten familiar with them. They aren’t as scary. You’ve let them express themselves. You’ve learned to visit with them to identify what they need. Many times, those parts of you just want a listening ear. To be heard, recognised and validated.

Spending time with your difficult emotions is key to help you move on from being depressed about your illness. Doing this helps them feel much less scary because you become more familiar with them. This picture shows a woman welcoming Depression and Sadness for a visit. Depression is saying, "We're here for our visit. And Sadness is going to need tissues." Sadness is of course crying and tears are forming a puddle around his feet. Sadness is saying, "I need a tissue." The woman responds, "I can only do 15 minutes today. I'm meeting friends for lunch."

This frees up your energy so you can move on from being depressed about your illness

Rather than using all of your energy to focus on what and who you no longer are and to avoid the swamp of difficult emotions, your energy is freed up to explore who you want to become, what you can do and what you want to do. You move into an exploratory and experimental phase where you start to look for and try out possibilities for yourself.

A friend who experienced a serious illness resulting in an organ transplant had to adapt to the illness’s impact on her body. She had to make some lifestyle changes. In some cases, she had to find new friends. She had to find a new sport she could do. She described this process as reinventing herself.

So the process of acknowledgement is not easy. How long it will take you, I do not know. It is different for every person. But it is so freeing. It helps you to move on from being depressed about your illness, injury or other health issue to rediscovering and reinventing yourself.

To move on from being depressed about your illness or injury is a journey. The picture shows a woman's former life where it is sunny and flowers are growing. There is the bridge of illness and injury and there is a gate across it on which is written 'No go area'. So you can't cross the bridge back to your old life. You can only go through the swamp of unfamiliar emotions. A woman has come out the other side and she is building a brick path. It is her path of wellness. She is saying, "My path is looking nice! I'll continue working on it tomorrow." The sun is starting to come out of some storm clouds.

What’s it like for you?

What helped you to move on from being depressed about your illness or injury? And if you could give the earlier version of you advice, what would you say? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to deal with the issues raised in this blog, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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Has this blog made you think? Helped you in some way? Share it so it can do the same for someone else.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019


Kubler-Ross, E. (1969) On Death and Dying, UK: Tavistock Publications Ltd.

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