As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, I thought I would write a post to give people an insight into some of the mental health struggles people living with a disability face! Disabled people are often forgotten about when it comes to mental health issues and it needs to change!
People living with a chronic illness, often feel as if they have no control over their future due to the unpredictable nature of their condition (something I can totally relate too). The stress of learning to navigate the medical world, cope with physical changes and manage your new daily life, can often lead to excessive worry, panic and depression. Even long after a diagnosis, the daily demands of living with a chronic illness can continue to present challenges and generate anxiety. Loss of mobility or other abilities can lead to worrying about your safety, employment, or financial independence. Some adapt to the changes in their lives more easily, others may feel overwhelmed with anxiety and struggle to cope. But you don’t receive a guide book when you are diagnosed, so there is no right or wrong approach! Many people assume anxiety and depression is easy to treat or overcome, but it really isn’t that easy. Especially when you are surrounded by triggering situations.
I suffered with bouts of anxiety during my childhood, particularly when transitioning from primary to high school. I assumed I had grown out of it, until I was suddenly thrown into a world of pain, hospital trips, medications, treatments, carers, wheelchairs and more! All of which made me incredibly depressed and extremely anxious. I tried every medication, form of therapy and alternative treatment, but nothing worked. I felt as if nobody truly understood how difficult it was to go from a very active and sociable teenager, to chronically ill and dependant on a carer. For me the big turning point was talking to others living with similar conditions online and eventually meeting my partner Felix. (You can read more about our we balance my disability and our relationship HERE!)
Even though my mental health has now drastically improved, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have days where everything gets the better of me. Particularly when my health is in a flare, as it means I can’t do the things I had planned, I rely on my carers more and face being admitted into hospital. Every hospital admission is a horrible experience. I often don’t talk about the difficulties I endure during these admissions, but it leaves me feeling very anxious just thinking about the place! I feel sick when I hear ambulance sirens now and I can’t stand anything over my face or someone holding my arms; as it reminds me of doctors pinning me down to get emergency access and having breathing masks forced onto your face. The fear of whether the doctor on call will understand my needs, believe my condition and follow my care plan often prevents me from going, when I have really needed it! Another trigger is crowded places. I have been bumped many times in public, which to most wouldn’t be a big deal. But to me it can cause pain, dislocations, faint spells, breathing problems and even allergic reactions if the person is smoking. I try not to let this fear stop me from going somewhere, but it doesn’t mean that going is easy. However, Fliss has massively helped me in these situations, but I will save the long list of reasons why for another day!
I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks it’s almost impossible not to feel down, stressed or anxious during the tough times. But thankfully now I am able to recognise those feelings and know that I have to give myself time to ride out my emotions, before getting back on track mentally.