How to move on from being depressed about your illness

How to move on from being depressed about your illness

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… Click To Tweet

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 Click To Tweet

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.

Pass it forward

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.

What to do when a health issue strikes at the most inconvenient time

What to do when a health issue strikes at the most inconvenient time

It sucks when a health issue strikes at the most inconvenient time. You’re busy, you got a life, work to do, people to see, family to take care, fun to have. And a health issue can stop everything. Or maybe not stop everything, but it can take up time and energy you would much rather be doing something else with.

Back in June I wrote about getting a diagnosis of arthritis in my hip, how that felt like a loss to me and moving on from feeling sad and bleh about it.

More has happened since then

In relation to my hip. And my breast.

All whilst trying to sort out our temporary accommodation, moving house, starting a full house refurbishment, organising and running a family weekend for children affected by rare neurological inflammatory conditions and their families, coaching, facilitating, trying to keep up the exercise (did not succeed at that), friend’s 50th birthday celebration in Majorca (that was nice), etc., etc.

Basically, during my busiest period of the year. Most inconvenient.

But health issues wait for no one and nothing

When a health issue strikes, it just strikes. That’s it. It won’t wait for you to finish that really interesting project, or have that party, or go on that holiday, or even have your baby. Health issues are genuinely non-discriminatory like that.

A picture of a couple discussion what they are doing on the weekend and their schedules. There are little green and red shapes near the woman's hip and breast. They are impending health issues she knows nothing about because they haven't yet manifested themselves or they are just a niggle. The point here is that health issues wait for no one and nothing. When a health issue strikes, it is going to strike.

So what do you do when a health issue strikes?

I came up with ten things you can do which will help. And I was using them myself last month.

Lesson One – You get on with it

This one we learn pretty quickly. We can’t do much about the fact that the health issue has happened. So we have to get on with it. And for many of us, that feels like the best and often times the only option.

Sometimes the other option of doing nothing can lead to death, ongoing disability or a feeling of powerlessness. So doing nothing doesn’t feel like an option. We want to live and live as well as we can.

Lesson two – It’s ok to get upset

I did about my hip. When I got back from Majorca, I had an appointment with the consultant. That was needed as the diagnosis was severe progressive osteoarthritis in my right hip.

Admission here: I did not mention the severe and progressive bits in June’s blog. Just felt too dramatic to me at the time in the context of how my hip affects my life. But I’m mentioning it now because I think I was downplaying things at the time.

The consultant’s verdict – It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s a question of ‘when’ a hip replacement needs to happen.

I’m not even 50. I feel too young to have a hip replacement.

But health issues don’t discriminate based on age either. Or gender. I shed some tears.

And it’s important that if you are upset, to express your upset-ness in a way that works for you. I wrote about this not long ago.

When a health issue strikes, it’s just gonna strike

Two days after hearing that verdict, I went to the GP regarding a pain I had been having in my right armpit for the past three months.

I know, I know. I should have gone sooner. But between everything happening and focusing on my hip, I didn’t have the capacity to deal with that too.

But whilst in Majorca, I was having discharge from my right breast. (Sorry if this is too much info.) My body was speaking to me. When I called to make the appointment with the GP, one just happened to be available that afternoon. I felt lucky.

The GP did a breast examination and referred me to the local breast clinic.

The breast clinic called me four days later on the Monday morning saying they had scheduled me for the coming Friday, but someone had cancelled and an appointment was available in two hours. Was I free to come? I felt lucky again. The universe was sending me a message.

I made myself free. And off to the hospital I went. Packing a soft easy-to-wear bra just in case.

When a health issue strikes. I was wondering if that was happening when I had to go to the breast clinic for pain. And one did. They had to do a biopsy and after that it's always good to wear a soft bra after it.

This is how the breast clinic works

Regarding preliminary scanning that is. I was in this clinic last year being scanned and biopsied so I got to know the routine.

I saw the nurse practitioner who took my history, details of my issue and did a breast examination. A sample was taken of the discharge.

Then I had the mammogram. It’s like having your boob squashed in a machine. Am Ample of Bosom so there’s a lot to squash. But it is necessary squashing because it helps to tell you if something is amiss.

Picture of a woman having a mammogram. When a health issue strikes you may have to have medical procedures that hurt and can be embarrassing. But they can be lifesaving.

Lesson Three – Humour can help you get on with it

It helps me.

If they see something amiss in your mammogram results, you get called back for an ultrasound.

I was called back for an ultrasound.

‘You’ll be ok Barbara, you’ll be ok. You can do this.’ I kept telling myself, to reassure myself.

Lesson Four – Find 101 ways to reassure yourself

At least 101. Maybe more. Because you’re going to need it to get through scans, biopsies, treatment, rehabilitation, and life itself.

How do you reassure yourself when the going gets tough in relation to your #health issue? #seriousillness #chronicillness Click To Tweet

The consultant radiologist scanned me as they found an ‘indeterminant area’. You got to love the language they use. As I enjoy language, am pretty good with it, and good at asking questions too, I launched into curiosity question-mode.

‘So, tell me, what exactly is an indeterminant area?’

And using my best probing question approach to get info.

But those consultants are pretty good at remaining evasive. And they need to be. They have to get samples of what is going on and get those tested before they can definitively determine what that ‘indeterminant area’ actually is. They don’t want to worry patients unnecessarily or tell them the wrong thing either.

But she did use the word ‘lesion’ and of course I pounced with a probing question to try and find out a little more about this lesion.

Lesson Five – A breast biopsy is MUCH better than a lumbar puncture

So I had a biopsy. My sense that I had better bring my soft bra just in case was a good one.

I chose not to watch because it was just all a bit close. And I was grateful I knew what to expect this time around. This was my second biopsy on my right breast in two years. The universe is trying to tell me something I think.

I chatted to the consultant and nurse a bit and the consultant remarked on how well I was doing. I responded, ‘This biopsy is MUCH better than a lumbar puncture, trust me.’ But this is just my opinion based on my experience and there are people who may feel a breast biopsy is the worst procedure.

Lumbar punctures are awful procedures. When I had one done when in the acute phase of Transverse Myelitis, it took three attempts to get a sample of my cerebral spinal fluid that didn’t have blood in it and they had to get a bigger needle. It was weirdly painful, and I had a hangover headache for a week afterwards.

That finished, I was bandaged up, put the soft bra on and went to see the nurse practitioner. She explained that they would hope to know by the following week at the latest what was going on and they would either call me with the results or make an appointment.

That is code for, ‘If it’s good news, we will call you. If not so good news, we’ll make an appointment to see you.’

They’re quick to get you seen, efficient, professional, and kind. Kudos to the Sir William Rouse Unit at Kingston Hospital.

Lesson Six – You focus on what you can control

Scans and procedures done, it’s a case of waiting for the results.

It’s like living in a no-man’s land. You don’t know what will be or happen so you don’t know what to do now and how to prepare. Living with the not knowing in that interim time is not easy.

It’s not uncommon to feel you are not in control, but actually you can focus on what you can control in the here and now. I reminded myself of that. I couldn’t control that I was having pain in my armpit and breast nor that I was having breast discharge. I couldn’t control what the diagnosis was going to be. But I could do something about the here and now.

And I reminded myself of that. It’s one of the ways I reassure myself. (Lesson 4) So I consciously focused my energies on my work and the many other day to day stuff that was happening.

When you feel like you’re not in control due to a health issue, stop, bring yourself into the hear-and-now, breathe and remind yourself of what you can do in the here-and-now and focus on that #takecontrol #seriousillness Click To Tweet

Lesson Seven – Get help. Receive help

Despite being matter of fact about it all, I did shed tears. (Lesson 2) And speak to my therapist about it. I have a weekly therapy appointment so I used that to get and receive help. I received cuddles from my husband.

This is really important. Our society unfortunately prizes doing everything yourself. When a health issue strikes, sometimes being able to do everything yourself is not possible. You may need help with the kids, making meals, keeping yourself relatively sane. Receiving help doesn’t mean you are ‘less than’. It actually helps you to get things done and continue living your life.

A side benefit of all this is if you have the right people helping you, i.e. they want to help you and have the capability to help you, it benefits them as much as it benefits you. Win-win.

When a health issue strikes it is important to get help. The Willingness and Capability Matrix helps you to choose the people who can help. If they have low or no capability or aren't willing, find other people to help you if you can. If they are very willing but not very capable, think about the tasks they can help you with. If they are very capable but not willing to help you, think about when you ask for their help. And if they are very capable and willing, then ask for their help.

Lesson Eight – Prioritise what you’ve got on

Sometimes when a health issue strikes, you may be too unwell to do much or you can do most things but not some things. And you may have more appointments than usual. (Had three in one week for three different things.)

So prioritise what you can and need to do. If you can’t do it because physically you are unable to, get help if you need to. Otherwise, it will have to wait.

If it’s something you need to do, like look after your children or do a piece of work because it puts food on the table (to feed yourself and said children), do what you can. It doesn’t have to be to your usual standards.

Make sure not to overdo things. Doing less does not make you less than as a person.

Lesson 9 – Do nice things for you

Take a warm relaxing bath. Or chat with a friend. Read a book you’ve been wanting to. Light a candle. Make yourself a posh coffee or tea. Give yourself time and do nothing.

These are the little things that can be 5 minutes or 60 minutes. It doesn’t matter how long they are. The key thing is you are doing something you want for you.

Lesson 10 – Figure out what the universe is trying to tell you and do something about it.

One thing that repeatedly comes to me is taking time out for me by doing a body meditation. When I’ve done this, I have felt amazing benefits. I need to do more of it.

The other thing that comes up is inflammation. I notice I tend to get health issues that end in -itis, which means inflammation. Transverse Myelitis. Arthritis. What is it about inflammation and my body? 

Those two things have occurred to me so far. It may take a bit of time to figure this out and that is ok.

What is it like for you when a health issue strikes?

How did you handle it? What worked for you? Or if you are in the midst of it, what kind of support would help you?

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

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

Depression and serious illness are not a good combination, aim for positivity

Depression and serious illness are not a good combination, aim for positivity

Depression and serious illness or injury is reckoned not to be a good combination. Being positive is often seen to be the better choice.

For example, I often hear people say, ‘Well, you can either get depressed and upset or you can be positive,’ in relation to living with the impact of a serious illness or injury. Many times, the person presents it as being happy is the right choice. Because who wants to be depressed and upset, right?

I get that. The fear that depression and sadness can overwhelm us and once we go there, we won’t be able to get out, is very real. So, we don’t go there at all. We shut that door and double lock it. Depression and serious illness won’t get us.

Picture of a person trying to lock out the depression and sadness of their serious illness

Locking depression and sadness out

I acknowledge this works for people.

I also want to acknowledge that for others, ignoring how sad and/or depressed they feel and striving to focus only on being positive may not. And I want to tell you why.

If you are one of these people, you may find what I share here will help your thinking around this and restore calm in how you feel about yourself.

Is it wrong to feel depressed when living with a #seriousillness #chronicillness #seriousinjury? Is it better to focus on feeling positive? What are your thoughts? tell a friend

Why the choice between depression and serious illness or being positive may not work for you

It’s a choice between two ways of being. An either-or choice. Be sad or be positive.

You only have two options.

On top of this, depression and sadness can have a negative connotation in our society so being positive is the ‘correct’ choice.

Your choices are laced with judgement

Have you selected the right choice or the wrong choice?

It’s not fun to be seen as the person who selected the ‘wrong’ choice, i.e. being sad and depressed. It also assumes that is an active choice we make. But sadness and depression doesn’t work like that. They can creep up on your unnoticed. Or come unexpectedly to be your new companion.

Pic of a person telling a sad person to snap out of it

If you only you could just snap out of depression and serious illness. But it doesn’t work like that.

So of course you plough on, trying your damndest to be positive, because you can’t let the illness or injury ‘win’. Yet inside, there is a well of sadness filling up that you keep trying to push down.

Pic of a person trying to keep a lid on the sadness they feel.

Pushing down your sadness means it will keep coming up to the surface and spilling out.

You are expending your often times limited amounts of energy in these opposing directions. How long will your energy last? In my experience, not forever. Here’s an alternative.

Rather than give yourself a dilemma, give yourself a trilemma

This is what a tutor from my first coaching qualification told me. This was an important learning that has helped me (and others) in coping with difficult situations like a serious illness.

When we say we have a choice between this or that – being sad or positive for example – we give ourselves two choices, or a dilemma. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘black and white thinking’.

What if you gave yourself a third choice? Or a fourth choice? So you have a trilemma or a quadlemma.

This is about moving from

either this or that


either this or that or that or…

You can give yourself as many choices as you wish.

Pic of the either-or dilemma and giving yourself more choices

Giving yourself more choices

When you have more than two choices, you give yourself more possibilities.

When you have more than two #choices, you are giving yourself more possibilities. #seriousillness #seriousinjury #chronicillness tell a friend

These possibilities open up new ways of being and doing which may better meet your needs. You are no longer stuck with two choices neither which may be right for you.

When you have several possibilities, you have a choice to select one that is appropriate for you at that time. This helps to build your muscle of flexibility. And the ability to be flexible and move among choices is so important to living well with the impact of a serious illness or injury.

More possibilities also help to take away the judgement of seeing your choice as being right or wrong. It becomes the best choice for you in that moment.

Giving ourselves choices acknowledges the many ways we feel

Importantly, when we give ourselves choices, we are acknowledging that there are many ways we can feel at any particular time.

If we just give ourselves only two choices laced with the judgement that one choice is correct and the other wrong, then we discount something very real we may be feeling.

It is NORMAL to feel incredibly sad when we are dealing with the impact of a serious illness or injury. Acknowledging how you feel gives validity to your experience. This validity can be very healing.

Acknowledging how you feel about living with a #seriousillness #chronicillness or #seriousinjury gives validity to your experience. Validity helps the healing process tell a friend

Acknowledging your sadness, depression and serious illness also develops your self-awareness. You are in a better position to recognise what you need and then make a choice to meet that need.

When you meet your needs, then you are much less likely to end up unpacking and living in the sadness and depression.

So I encourage you to acknowledge the many ways you feel – desperately sad some moments or days, hugely depressed on others, sad but not huge amounts at other times, pretty good on other days, downright happy and thrilled in other moments, etc, etc.

Give yourself choices in how you feel, your needs and how you meet those needs.

Pic of a person saying that acknowledging their feelings brings benefits of validity and choices

What’s it like for you?

How do the thoughts in this article resonate with you? How are you at acknowledging the many ways you feel in relation to your, or a loved one’s, serious illness, serious injury or chronic illness?

If you are living with a serious health issue, which may be a serious illness or injury or chronic illness, or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

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 2018

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