(This blog post has been created by Lori and has been written voluntarily!)
As we see life around us gradually start to resemble what we remember as the old ‘normal’, we’re bound to be experiencing a complex array of emotions. Perhaps relief, perhaps dread, maybe even excitement - but as someone living with a chronic illness, I can say with utter certainty that I’m feeling overwhelmed, burned out, and frustrated with the entire situation. But what can we do about this?
In this blog post, I will be exploring how people with chronic illnesses can attend to their mental health. But first, some quick statistics regarding the relationship between chronic and mental illness. (Mental Health Foundation, 2020)
Those living with chronic illnesses experience prolonged, or even life-long stress regarding their health, their future; all whilst grieving for the life they once thought they’d have and fighting to be accommodated. Our health becomes our full-time job, in which we get no breaks, holiday or pay. Even though it’s incredibly hard and non-negotiable, it is important to acknowledge that we experience joy and happiness and that we learn to recognise victories and accomplishments which able-bodied people simply overlook. However, we also face obstacles and barriers which those without LTHC’s don’t - and the mutual challenges we encounter are more complex because of our illness. Something the current pandemic has highlighted, and as helpful as this may be in some instances, it can also be a detriment.
Many of the vulnerable people who I know, myself included, have felt as if our lives have been disregarded during the pandemic because of our state of health - which has been profoundly difficult and can result in us feeling invalidated. We’ve also found it incredibly hard to watch the news and see the ever-changing death toll and case numbers, as we typically don’t share the mindset of ‘I’ll be fine if I catch the virus’, even though this belief is disillusioned and shows a sense of complacency. Leaving those of us in the vulnerable categories fearing that we will be a statistic.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise if you are feeling trepidation to begin integrating back into society. After all, we’ve been suffering as a result of being inside so much and not having the liberty of enjoying the outside world from a safe social distance. So if you are well enough to do so, I think it’s important to get back in touch with the outside world, as we can end up despising the same four walls! But as we all know, mental wellness starts from within, and going outside every now and again isn’t going to be the key. There isn’t a singular solution, but rather a collection, and they’re all slightly unique to us, our lives, care requirements and personal needs.
Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique defined as a mental state, which is achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. If you’re like me and suffer from anxiety, find yourself overthinking, feeling disconnected from your environment or that your mind is racing, then the practice of mindfulness is bound to help.
We have recently heard this term thrown around a lot on social media, and everyone’s definition of what constitutes self-care is different, but it’s definitely not glamorous. It’s self-preservation. Looking after ourselves is a necessity, even if this means we have to fulfil these needs with assistance. By accepting help and supporting our health, we are engaging in self-care. Making sure we’re taking our medications on time, making sure we’re ordering our supplies from the pharmacy on time, using pain management strategies to reduce suffering, getting as much sleep as we can, taking time for ourselves, and practicing the art of saying no if we feel like we’re taking on too much.
You aren’t weak for asking for help, and you aren’t weak for feeling weakened. In fact, asking for help, acknowledging how you are feeling, and that you need the help is a strength. This goes for both physical and mental health support; because if we don’t ask for help in navigating daily life as a less-abled or disabled individual, then it’s certainly going to be a detriment to you. When we ignore the signs that we are overdoing it, powering through is never the option, as a physical and mental toll will be taken. If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health, please talk to someone. You matter and are worthy of support. As someone who has been hospitalised in the past for a mental health issue, I can say from the bottom of my heart that if I had any advice for my younger self, I would have stressed the importance of reaching out and that there is no shame in suffering from mental illness. You certainly aren’t lesser for having one.
Mental distress is hard, there’s no doubt about that. It can negatively affect our relationship with ourselves, but even when this is the case, we have to talk to ourselves with the same support and consideration that we would show someone we love. So whenever you feel stressed or anxious, have negative thoughts about yourself, or your abilities, practice affirmations.