When you are forced to change because of a serious health issue & don’t know where to start

When you are forced to change because of a serious health issue & don’t know where to start

Change is often an unexpected but constant presence when you experience the onset of a serious health issue. There is a lot you need to change, but also a lot you don’t know. So making that change can feel very difficult. Sometimes impossible given it’s hard to know what you need let alone where to find that information and support.

It’s understandable. You won a ticket in a health lottery you didn’t even know you were playing. If you had known that lottery was out there, you wouldn’t have chosen to play it. So the question is…

 

Where do you start?

 

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Whenever I have to make a change, whether it happened to me (enforced change) or one that I chose, I find this quote by MLK a form of support. Change can be destabilising because it introduces so many unknowns, and we humans often don’t like uncertainty. It can be scary. But taking that first step into the new world with all its uncertainty is key. You don’t have to know the final destination when you take that first step, i.e. see the whole staircase. Seeing that whole staircase rarely happens. We end up building the staircase as we go.

Another reason it can be hard to take that first step is it is acknowledging that the change has happened and the outcomes may have resulted in a lot of loss, i.e. of what your body used to be able to do, job, relationships, sense of independence and being in control, confidence, etc.

 

Making the change easier

return to wellness

I set up Return to Wellness to make taking that first step or first roll easier and to help you build your own staircase to where it is you want to go. (If you feel using a path metaphor is better for you, particularly if your mobility has changed, then use that. I appreciate the staircase theme might not resonate for everyone.)

This came from my own and a loved one’s experience of serious illness, plus witnessing many others with the same or similar condition as me struggling to find adequate support to make sense of everything.

I support you, whether you have the health issue or are in the caring role*, to:

  • Deal effectively with the emotional impact
  • Navigate the many changes
  • Create a ‘new normality’
  • Reclaim meaning and purpose in your life

I empower you to return to wellness, and stay there. Hence the name, Return to Wellness. It is definitely a return to something we once had and knew. A return to having hope and dreams for the future, restored confidence, having purpose and meaning in your life, a sense of happiness and wellbeing, work you enjoy, valued relationships, enjoyable hobbies, a return to yourself.

*Our carers need just as much support too. They are often the hidden heroes.

 

Why make this change?

 

Because you are important. Because your life matters. Because we have this one life for all we know. And it is precious. You know the value of life. So let’s live it, and live it as well as you can within your changed body.

 

How Return to Wellness can help

 

coping with serious illness newsletter

NEW! Return to Wellness newsletter

 

Return to Wellness can help you identify changes you need and wish to make and to navigate them whether it’s about managing the health issue’s impact and learn to accept that, finding an emotional balance, getting your needs met with doctors, returning to work or finding a new job, managing your career, reducing stress, enhancing relationships, creating a ‘new normality’, or something else.

Return to Wellness offers you this support through:

  1. 1-1 coaching where I help you figure out what is best for you to do. Clients have found this very empowering because they learn they do have their own answers of what will work for them and this restores a sense of control. I help you find those answers.

 

  1. Offering you the opportunity to take part in research about acceptance in the context of health issues. And by taking part in the research, you get a free 1-1 coaching session in exchange. It’s a great way to get a taster of this kind of support.

 

  1. I have also just started a newsletter which will give you first-in-the-queue access to these kind of articles, practical strategies and advice to manage your health and wellness, updates, offers and freebies. You can sign up here. You will receive the newsletter every 2 weeks. I don’t forward or sell your email to third parties.

 

  1. There’s a free Wellness Assessment coming soon which you can do on your own to identify your levels of wellness in various aspects of your life. If you sign up to the newsletter, you will find out when it’s available.

 

  1. I am developing an online workshop (not sure what to call it yet) to help you return to wellness in various aspects of your life. This will become available in 2018. But if you want to help shape what that programme could look like, how you want it to help you, get in touch here and we can have a chat about it. And if you sign up to the newsletter, you will also get updates on it there.

 

Make the change – Take that first step/roll

 

Support is available to help you take that first step or first roll in making the change you want. And you don’t have to do it by yourself. Return to Wellness can help and partner you on that journey.

Here is an important reminder when making change. It’s important to do it in stages. At each stage, you get used to where you are, you become comfortable with it, it starts to feel natural, and then move to the next stage. This helps make everything that much more doable because you are not trying to do everything all at once. This approach also makes it much more likely you will make your change happen. And that first step, it’s such an important step to take.

 

Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Martin Luther King

Taking that first step/ roll in faith is the best thing you can do for yourself.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What is the scariest thing you find about change? Or do you find it an opportunity? In the past when you have made a change, what enabled you to take the first step/roll?

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 take that first step in making change, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, share 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, 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

 

How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

A month ago I wrote a blog on the 10 ways in which a hobby can improve your mental health when living with the impact of a serious illness or injury.

But after writing the blog, I thought of something I did not address in it. It was a question put to me by someone living with a neurological condition.

 

How do I find the right hobby for me?

new hobbies after serious health issue

Finding new hobbies after a serious health issue changes your life.

 

Great question! You may not have a hobby or have found the right one for you. You could be busy with the routine of your health issue, work, family and/or life in general. Which is normal and happens to a lot of people.

But maybe you are at the stage that you like to find a hobby to give yourself a break from illness, family, work, whatever. Or you may want an activity just for yourself or to restore a sense of normality in your life.

So in this post I am going to continue the theme of how a hobby improves mental health by answering that question.

 

How do you find the right hobby for you?

 

First, a recap from the previous blog the 10 way in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life.

 

hobbies improve mental health

10 ways hobbies can improve your mental health

 

These 10 ways provide an insight into the criteria or questions you can ask yourself when selecting a new hobby. Not all may be a requirement for you. Nor are they all a requirement for a hobby.

 

1. You are interested in the hobby

 

The hobby has a decent chance of holding your attention and focus. This is particularly important if you are hoping for the hobby to provide a distraction from your symptoms for a time.

 

2. You can use existing skills which you value using

 

This can be a powerful reminder of your existing strengths, which we can sometimes forget about when we are in a difficult place. For example, I enjoy research because it allows me to use my brain in a way I value. A new hobby I picked up whilst seriously ill was genealogical research. Another advantage of that hobby was I wasn’t required to move too much, which was good because I couldn’t due to the illness.

 

3. You will be able to physically do the hobby or adapt your approach to it

 

Sometimes after a serious health issue, our bodies can permanently change and we may no longer be able to do previous activities or we must adapt how we do them. For example, a friend had a heart attack and due to having angina as a result, returning to their hobby of running was not possible. They chose a new hobby of photography as it would allow them to walk whilst taking photos.

 

4. The hobby can provide an opportunity to learn and get better

 

Learning a new skill or developing an existing skill further provides a sense of satisfaction and mastery, which contributes to improved mental health and quality of life.

 

5. There is an opportunity to achieve something

 

And do you value that kind of achievement? For example, knitting can result in a finished product like a scarf, hat, jumper or blanket that you can use or give as a gift to someone.

 

6. The hobby provides a sense of belonging

 

Does the hobby provide an opportunity to socialise with others in person? Or to connect virtually with people? Which do you prefer? As I said in the previous blog on hobbies, being with others fosters a sense of belonging, which can be very powerful as it reduces the isolation that can result from having a serious health issue.

However, you may want a hobby that allows you to be by yourself and that is ok too.

Sometimes this nature of belonging is looking after something or someone else, whether it be a child, plants, or a pet. Whatever it is, it depends on you to survive and flourish. The process of helping in this way can be very affirming of you and your abilities. This is powerful as often after the onset of a serious health issue, it is common to lose our sense of self-worth as we feel we cannot contribute or look after others as we used to.

 

7. Is the activity something you think you will enjoy doing?

 

When we enjoy something, we often relax. And relaxation reduces stress. A win-win all around.

hobbies improve our mental health

The impact of hobbies on our mental health is a virtuous circle.

 

8. What meaning does the hobby give you?

 

By ‘meaning’ I mean you value what the activity has to offer whatever that is, such as the activity itself, being with people, helping others, creating or collecting something, increasing your knowledge, playing a team game with others, just having fun or something else. Or maybe the hobby allows you to live a value of yours, something that is important to you. For example, baking could be expressing a value of creativity, or community if you share your bakes with others.

 

9. Does the hobby restore a sense of normality to your life?

 

A hobby can provide routine like ‘every Wednesday evening from April through March I go kayaking’ and this fosters a sense of normality.

 

10. Consider what you enjoyed doing in the past, what you are good at and passionate about

 

What we enjoyed doing in the past, and our existing strengths and passions can be the source for new hobbies. Even skills we use at work and our jobs can be used in a hobby.

Hobbies we had as a child may capture our interest again. Or we may adapt childhood interests to what we want to do now. For example, maybe you used to sew clothes but now you want to make quilts.

If you are skilled at organising events, many charities and local neighbourhood initiatives may require this skill. If you are an accountant, maybe you do the accounts for free for a local club or charity or bring that skill to a non-executive position of an organisation. You can channel a skill you use at work towards a cause you find meaningful.

If you are passionate about nature, keeping bees or letting a beekeeper keep hives in your garden, bird watching, or creating homes for hedgehogs in your garden can all become hobbies.

It might be possible to adapt your approach to previous hobbies so you can still enjoy them. For example, if you now have limited mobility and gardening was a favourite pastime, raised outdoor beds or potting and growing plants indoors could still allow you to enjoy the hobby.

Sometimes a hobby can grow out of another hobby. For example, a friend developed a passion for Word War I history whilst doing genealogical research. He has since contributed to his local council’s initiative to commemorate those from the area who fought and died in the war, and may even start leading tours of the battlefields in France.

So based on the 10 ways hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life, these 10 criteria and questions can be your starting point in finding new hobbies. Have fun trying out new activities in your search and when you find your hobby, share it here. I’d love to know what you choose and how you are finding it.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result of your health issue? What influenced your choice? And how is it helping to improve your mental health and quality of life? Share below as your comment could help 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 this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it 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

 

How to create dependency on the NHS – Don’t give patients information

How to create dependency on the NHS – Don’t give patients information

Dependency on the NHS can (unintentionally) be fostered at the start of the patient journey. How? you may ask.

  • By providing little information about a patient’s diagnosis and prognosis to them at the point of diagnosis and only providing it verbally. And communicating that diagnosis via an unscheduled phone call or letter.
  • By providing little information about possible treatment plans, and the pros and cons of them.
  • Not signposting patients to relevant information, charities and organisations which can provide the information and support they may need going forwards.
  • Writing letters summarising what was discussed at appointments and treatment plans in medical speak, a language the patient does not understand.

 

In my work with the Transverse Myelitis Society, I hear the above happening a lot. I have experienced it as a patient (got the name of my diagnosis in a letter; the name of the diagnosis opens a door to getting more info).

People are left to learn what it is they do not know during a stressful time. The not knowing and associated uncertainty can increase already high anxiety levels. It can feel like a battle trying to get info, and then determine if the info is relevant to you.

information reduces anxiety

When information would help you understand and reduce anxiety.

 

I’ve seen this foster a sense of abandonment among patients. They feel so let down by their healthcare providers. It can also foster distrust. If a patient feels they cannot trust their consultant, GP, or other healthcare professional to tell them what they need to know, then is this patient going to follow their recommendations?

A patient can end up becoming reliant on the NHS professionals to do things for them. That reliance breeds expectation that that will happen. That expectation can then be passed on to others (parent to child, friend to friend, etc.).

When the expectation cannot be met due to lack of money, resources, competence, services not being joined up, whatever, then you have patients potentially upset with their treatment and care and potentially less likely to follow their medication regime, exercise recommendations, etc. Their health issues may worsen as a result. They return to the NHS for treatment. The cycle continues.

 

Lack of information is an issue for neurology patients

 

Lack of information has been identified as an issue in the Neurological Alliance’s Patient Experience Survey Falling Short: How has neurology patient experience changed since 2014?

  • 41% believed that communication of their diagnosis should have been done more appropriately or was not at all appropriate.
  • 45% were unsatisfied with information they have received about their condition
  • 46% were dissatisfied with information they have received about their care and treatment options
  • 53% were dissatisfied with signposting they had received from healthcare professionals to sources of voluntary sector support. A lack of information, particularly at the time of diagnosis, was a common theme in the survey.

I am sure many other health conditions are similarly affected. Not providing information to empower the patient is still happening at a time when the NHS can least afford it, and there are calls for patient-centred care and empowering the patient to be a true partner in their treatment and care.

 

Information is power

 

We say that information is power. And it sure is when you are diagnosed with a serious illness, chronic illness, or have a serious injury. When you get ill or have a bad accident, it often happens unexpectedly. It is not something you search for; you don’t want to get ill or badly hurt. So there is a very strong element of you don’t know what you don’t know.

If the people in the know don’t give you the information you need to know, it is that much more difficult for you to ask questions let alone the ‘right’ questions, advocate for your needs, be a part of decisions regarding your treatment and care, and find non-medical sources of support and information. You are not empowered.

information is power

It’s hard to know what to do when there is a lack of information.

 

Empowering the patient requires action by the NHS, charities and the patient

 

NHS

Please write letters summarising discussions had during appointments in plain English. A neurologist I once met said such a letter is meant to be the ‘care plan’ when he was asked why care planning was so poor in neurology (85% of respondents to the Neurological Alliance’s Patient Experience Survey said they have not received a care plan). A care plan is of no use to me as the patient if I cannot understand it.

If the doctor’s letters are meant to be the ‘care plan’, then they can’t be one dimensional, i.e. only about the medical side of things. People are not one dimensional and so our care cannot be either.

Make it easy for healthcare professionals to provide patients with information of national and local organisations which can support their needs. Develop a national database of such organisations available to all NHS trusts. Set it up so healthcare professionals can add information about local organisations.

Until such a database is developed, make it routine in your ward/practice and during appointments to ask what other non-medical support patients require and signpost them to appropriate NHS and non-NHS services and organisations.

Explain to the patient how your local NHS trust/hospital/GP surgery works in relation to their needs. When you enter an NHS system as a patient, you don’t know the in’s and out’s of how it works. Here’s a recent personal example. A doctor initiated on the same day two appointments (in different clinics) for me even though one of them has to follow the other. The reason? The second appointment is in a clinic that has longer wait times than the first appointment. By the time the date for the second appointment comes through, it should occur not long after I have had the first appointment. This was a consultant using his knowledge of how the system works for my benefit. (His care was compassionate and patient-centred! Yay @UCLH!)

In my experience with a serious illness hospital in 2008, the neurologist looking after my care knew their stuff. They were good. And nice. But they didn’t tell me much about the illness and what to expect in recovery. I had to figure out the majority on my own. So this is a gentle reminder to give your patients information verbally and in writing.

 

Charities

Produce information that your members or beneficiaries would find useful. Ask them what information they need. In fact, they may want to help you produce it. Have relevant healthcare professionals review it for accuracy. Schedule a date for when you will review the information in the future to ensure it is still up to date and accurate. The Information Standard guidelines can help you produce good quality information.

Develop relationships with healthcare professionals and hospitals as they are the conduit to getting your information to the person who needs it. This takes time. However, it can go a long way towards helping someone newly diagnosed get the support they need sooner rather than later. And as a charity, this is often a key reason why you exist.

 

Patients

Google is a great gateway to information about your condition from expert sources and your peers. Keep in mind that what may seem like an ‘expert source’ may not actually be one. If you are not sure, make a note of the information you came across and its source and ask a suitably qualified professional at your next appointment or the charity who supports people with your condition.

Your peers can be a great resource for information. However, please do not make changes to your medical routine without speaking to your doctor first. Your peers may be experts in their condition as it relates to them, but they are not experts in how the condition affects you. And sometimes, the information they provide can be incorrect so they also cannot be the only source of information.

If you can, take your partner, another family member or friend to your appointments. They can be your second pair of ears and take notes for you. Thus freeing you up to ask questions and listen. Also, your family member or friend may remind you to ask the doctor about certain things you haven’t yet asked.

Prepare for your appointments. Keep a note of questions you and your family has about how your condition impacts you. Keep a diary of how you are affected. This helps the healthcare professional to help you. That is key. In the world of managing our health, the doctor-patient relationship is a two-way street. As much as we need them to give us information, we need to give them information too. Rather than have dependency on the NHS, it’s about sharing the dependency on the NHS, charities and patients.

empowered patient patient-centred care

Two way street = Patient helping the doctor to help them and the doctor helping the patient.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What has your experience been like learning about your health issue and how to manage it? What support did you get from healthcare professionals and charities?

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 this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it 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

How hobbies can improve your mental health when living with serious illness or injury

How hobbies can improve your mental health when living with serious illness or injury

Living with the impact of a temporary serious illness, chronic illness, or injury can be draining in many ways and adversely impact your mental health. The routine of illness/injury can quickly take over. It feels like the illness or injury dictates your life and is in control. It feels like parts of you are slipping away and you don’t recognise yourself anymore.

This is understandable. When you are living with the impact of a serious illness/injury, it’s not like you know automatically what to do. You have to figure out new ways of taking care of yourself and what works for you. That can be time consuming. Also, life continues to happen around you and you have to deal with that. It can feel like there isn’t time left to focus on fun things like hobbies and personal interests. Life is just too busy or you’re too tired to focus on them.

But hobbies and fun activities can be the very thing that will improve your mental health and quality of life. This is super important when you are living with a potentially life-changing health issue. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Having been inspired by my own and a colleague’s experience, and others writing about their experience, I share the 10 ways hobbies and personal interests can help you improve your mental health, and restore some normality to your life, your quality of life, and your sense of self.

hobbies can improve mental health

 

How hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life

 

Here are 10 ways in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life. Hobbies can:

1. Provide an escape from symptoms

In the early days of living with Transverse Myelitis, I had bad fatigue, neuropathic pain and major sensory disturbance (pins and needles everywhere in my body). I could only sit on the sofa and watch daytime telly, which I found boring.

So I opened my laptop and despite my hands being badly affected, I started genealogical research. I was quickly absorbed and distracted from the pain and fatigue for a time. Even though I made loads of typing mistakes because I had constant pins and needles in my hands and so could not feel things properly (still do just not as bad), I was so absorbed in my work I didn’t mind. My focus was on the hobby, less so on my hands.

I once heard a story of a person with Parkinson’s whose tremors stops when she picks up a camera to take pictures. There is a respite from the Parkinson’s symptoms for a time.

A colleague with Parkinson’s told me about how when she rides her bike, she is free of symptoms. She forgets she has Parkinson’s and values this sense of freedom. The cycling is also great exercise.

2. Remind you of abilities you still have

Being able to engage in research reminded me my brain was fine even though my body wasn’t. I could still do research and use my brain in a way which I valued.

3. Process of learning and getting better provides a sense of mastery

With many hobbies you learn even if you have been indulging in the hobby for many years. I’ve been doing genealogical research for 9 years now and I am often learning something new about my family or how to conduct the research so I achieve what I am aiming to. That process of improving is very satisfying.

4. Provide achievement

Hobbies enable you to achieve something of value to you whether that is drawing or painting a picture; completing a cross-stitch, book or bike ride; gardening; writing a poem or story; creating music; going for a walk; cooking a meal; winning a game; finding that one rare stamp to add to a collection, etc.

hobbies improve mental health

Hobbies can improve your mental health and quality of life.

 

5. Provide an opportunity to socialise with people

Some hobbies naturally lend themselves to being with other people and may even need others so you can engage in the hobby. Like a team sport. Being with others doing an activity you all have an interest in fosters a sense of belonging. This is hugely important as sometimes when living with a serious illness, you can feel very isolated.

I adore kayaking because it gets me out in nature, it gets me moving, it’s a mindfulness practice for me, it’s hugely relaxing, and most of the time I kayak with other people. I find paddling very therapeutic for my body and mind. As a hobby it ticks boxes of what is important to me.

6. Provide a safe way to deal with unpleasant feelings associated with the changes in your life so they do not end up dominating your life

This is important to do. It enables you to get in touch with the experience of your illness/condition/injury so you integrate it into the story of your life without it being ignored, shut away or owning you in an unhealthy way. I wrote about how you can do this here. 

7. Provide enjoyment

I enjoy genealogical research. I love the process of discovery it provides. I enjoy sharing what I learn with my family.

8. Reduce stress and provide relaxation

When we do something we enjoy that is just for us, we often relax. The stress leaves our bodies as we focus on our hobby. So when you feel stressed, indulging in your hobby is a brilliant antidote to it as @HannahEliza1 finds with playing the piano.

9. Provide meaning

Regarding genealogical research, I feel like I am the keeper of the family stories and it’s my job to record them and pass the on so current generations can do that too. That gives meaning to me and my life. It also allows me to live my value of the importance of family.

10. Restore a sense of normality to your life

Hobbies are part and parcel of life. Most people have them. So they bring a sense of normality. Although your life may have changed substantially due to a serious illness, hobbies can still be a part of it. They may be hobbies from pre-illness/injury days or new hobbies chosen due to the changes you’ve experienced because of your illness or injury.

Hobbies can provide all of this. And do you know what all this does?

 

Hobbies feed your self-worth

 

Those 10 things hobbies do for you are good for your psychological wellbeing. They improve your quality of life. They feed your sense of self-worth.

Hobbies allow you to be you, to do something for yourself, to express all the richness that is within you, and to feed that richness so you can keep expressing it.

So claim back time for your hobbies and interests. Your mental health and self-worth are too important. They matter because you matter.

hobbies improve mental health chronic illness

The value of hobbies to your mental health when living with serious illness or injury.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Has a hobby helped you to deal with the impact of your illness or injury? Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result? Or are you trying to adapt a hobby so you can still indulge in it or searching for a new hobby to restore a sense of normality to your life? 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 this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it 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

 

Why your mental health is important when living with chronic illness #ihavementalhealth

Why your mental health is important when living with chronic illness #ihavementalhealth

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.

handling emotions when living with chronic illness

The roller coaster of illness

 

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.

mental health #ihavementalhealth

Mental health is a neutral term.

 

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

 

parity of esteem #ihavementalhealth

A balanced focus on mental and physical health is needed.
#ihavementalhealth #weallhavementalhealth

 

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

Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury or onset of a long-term condition can take time and involve many mixed emotions. Your body has changed. Forever. You can feel it. You remember what you used to be able to do. And your body has that memory too.

You go to move in a way you want without thinking because it’s what your body does. So you think. But your body doesn’t comply. Or it does and you feel a lot of pain. You may feel betrayed by your body. You can’t trust it anymore. You may feel a sense of loss missing what you were once able to do. You may even feel anger.

I know the feeling. At times, it really sucks. I have osteoarthritis in both knees. Learning to trust my body again and what it can do now has been an ongoing journey. But I had a realisation about it whilst on holiday that has been so freeing, I want to share it with you. Keep reading to learn what it was, how it helped me and may help you.

 

Fear can get in the way of learning to trust your body

 

That was the first realisation. I had assumed my knees were no longer capable of hikes which involve a walk up a steep hill (steep to me, maybe not to others). I have missed hiking over the years. I used to do a fair amount of it when living in Central Asia where mountains were on my doorstep.

Central Asia Almaty Kazakhstan

Mountains outside Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo taken by B Babcock circa 1997.

 

This fear came about for several reasons. The long-term prognosis for my knees isn’t great based on the doctor’s verdict. I had become more tentative when I walk due to often feeling pain that can come on unexpectedly and for no obvious reason. So I take great care on uneven ground and when there is a high step. This is me being careful; I want to preserve my knees for as long as I can.

Yet I feel that carefulness morphed into a fear that wasn’t helpful. I feel at times I have chosen to let the fear hold me back, to give in and say no to activities rather than trying them to see what my body is capable of.

 

While on holiday, I had to face that fear and deal with it

 

I signed up my other half and I for a guided walk of the Mach na Bo (Plain of the Cattle) on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. The walk was deemed easy to moderate and would take 4 hours. I explained that I have osteoarthritis, checked if there would be any ascents and what they were like. I felt satisfied I would be able to do the walk and my husband and I would have a lovely time.

Just in case, I decided to bring the husband’s walking sticks.

Thank the gods I did.

It wasn’t until we had walked up the valley – an easy walk where I wasn’t using the walking sticks – that the ascent ahead of me became visible.

I expressed my concern. The guide was lovely and encouraging. My other half easily scrambled up like a mountain goat. I felt envious of his ability. But also surprised and proud knowing the health issues he has experienced. He was my example to aspire to on the walk. If he could do it, I was going to as well. (There is also a healthy sense of competition between my other half and I.)

I took out the walking sticks. I moved slowly and very very carefully. Looking over the edge, I could see that if I were to fall, it would be down a steep slope. I did not fancy that. I could feel resolve kicking in. I wanted to continue walking because it was great exercise, which I enjoy, in beautiful nature, which I also enjoy.

I got to the top. The ascent was approximately 330 meters. It may not be a lot for some people but to me it felt like a 1,000. I was elated with my accomplishment! (still am)

 

facing fear and trusting my body

Making it to the top of the hill on the Mach na Bo walk. You see that river along the valley floor? We walked along the trail next to it. Photo taken by the other half 2017.

 

Support is crucial when overcoming fear and learning to trust your body after a serious illness or injury

 

I could not have done that walk without those walking sticks. They enabled me to such a degree I could not believe! They took the pressure off my knees. I am still amazed at how much that simple piece of equipment helped me. I had no pain in my knees the next day!

The guide was incredibly supportive and helpful in such a friendly manner. He encouraged me, often happily saying, ‘Ah, don’t worry about that ascent. It’s not very long! We’ll be there just around that corner!’ Then proceeded to tell a story from Celtic mythology in relation to the area we were walking through.

My other half was patient. That 4 hour walk took us 7 hours.

 

Willingness to ask and use support is important too

 

A willingness to ask for and use support, whether it is asking someone to offer their arm or using mobility aids, can get your farther than you thought possible.

But I know you may hate asking for help or using equipment. It can feel like you are giving in to the illness or injury. You miss your independence. You may feel that everyone is looking at you as you move along with your walking frame/sticks/wheelchair. It is a common reaction to your situation and understandable.

So many clients have spoken to me about how things changed for them when they learned how and when to ask for help and use support. That willingness can be developed over time. If that is something you want to explore further, I’ve written a series of four articles about why asking for help can be so hard.

mobility aids give you support

What the support of walking sticks enabled me to do. Photo taken by B Babcock 2017.

 

Keep fear in check by minding your thought patterns

 

We get so used to thinking, ‘My body can’t do this anymore…I am afraid of…’, I think sometimes we can lull ourselves into a trap of vicious circle thinking. The focus is on what we cannot do and possibly fear to such a degree there is no room or energy left to focus on what we can do or might be able to do.

I realised after that walk I had gotten myself into that place. I just assumed I could no longer hike up a hill without even attempting to hike up a hill. That fear was having a protective function – maintain my knees for as long as possible. But I had let too much fear creep in and take hold so I was making my decisions from that place. I didn’t learn I was mistaken until I was in the situation.

To double check if you are making decisions from a place of too much unhealthy fear, listen to your inner self-talk. If hear yourself saying something like, ‘I can’t do this, can’t do that…, My body is no longer capable…, Oh, that is not possible for me!’ stop and ask yourself these questions.

 

trust your body after a serious illness or injury

Keep the fear in check to help you learn to trust your body after a serious illness or injury. Photo taken by B Babcock 2017 at Annascaul Lake looking back at the descent.

 

So Barbara, are you going to walk up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike or Snowdon?

 

No, that would be way too much too soon. For now, I will go on these monthly walks a friend organises. I will use the walking sticks. In between those walks, I will continue to do easy walks in my local neighbourhood. A few times a year I will try a more challenging walk. Having a go, building up bit by bit, checking in with my fears, and asking for help will be my way forward in learning to trust my body.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Have you overcome a fear as you learned to live with a changed body due to a serious illness/injury? What enabled you to do that? What worked and did not work for you as you learned to trust your body after a serious illness or injury?

If you are learning to live with the changes in your body due to a serious health issue and would like support to manage the fears and do what you want to be doing, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although these blogs are written 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.

P.S. A big shout out and thanks to Kevin O’Shea of Celtic Nature Walking Tours for his excellent guidance and support during our Mach na Bo walk!

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

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