Welcome to the first Mental Health Monday post. As you all know, I am currently doing my degree in psychology and aim to become a psychotherapist working in particular, with people diagnosed with chronic illnesses. I really want to start helping people with my knowledge and also from my experiences as an ‘owner’ of several chronic illnesses myself.
That brings us to here. I thought a good place to start would be a regular feature on my blog talking about all things mental health. Eventually my goal is to start offering online therapy, coaching and courses to help people cope with a diagnosis as well as navigate their way thorough all the things a chronic illness can bring up. I do hope you enjoy this content. Please do get in touch and let me know what you think, what you would like to see me talk about and any recommendations you have to shape my future practice as I want it to be a place for people to really find what they want and need.
How many times have people been told this? At least it isn’t cancer, at least you aren’t dying, at least you aren’t infertile. The truth is – chronic illness means death, infertility and cancer are actual possibilities due to medication we take and how our disease affects our body. So aside from this being irrelevant and incorrect, what these statements are is completely unfair.
We are currently in an unprecedented situation. As a nation we are in lockdown to try and prevent the spread of Coronavirus which is bringing up multiple feelings and mental health issues. I have heard so many people say – well at least I am not a single parent, a key worker, have lost my job, have more children than I have, have a sick family member etc. While all these things may be true, that does not mean you shouldn’t be feeling whatever it is you are feeling, be it confused, scared, lonely, sad or mad.
When you acknowledge your feelings by telling yourself how your situation could be worse, you invalidate them. You shame yourself for feeling those things. You bury them, suppressing these emotions. The feelings of shame can become heightened and result in a critical inner-voice, feelings of unworthiness and being distanced from others.
These feelings are also very common in those diagnosed with chronic conditions. You may feel them yourself and in some cases, may have been told by someone else that you should be grateful it isn’t worse.
I am a huge believer and fan of online support groups but it is important to find a well managed one in which the ‘my illness is worse than yours‘ attitude is not accepted. There will many people with the same or a similar disease all at various stages of treatment, flare and life in general. People have different pain thresholds, support and personalities. When you are struggling with as aspect of your disease, the last thing you need is someone telling you how they have it worse.
Social media is a hotbed for comparison as it is. But remember, what we see posted by people is just a snapshot of their lives. Even those who post regularly are not sharing every single aspect of their day, we may see a mere 10 minutes. Bear this in mind when you scroll down your feed and don’t fall into the trap of comparing how you are feeling to what you see on there.
Studies have shown that negative emotions are linked to depression and in particular, negative-negative emotions may be particularly problematic. These include people feeling bad, guilty or shameful for feeling sad.
Firstly, by telling you to stop feeling guilty and making these comparisons does not mean you should not feel compassion and gratitude. Those feelings are a positive way of helping pick you up and getting you to carry on. You can look at another’s situation and feel grateful that your chronic illness is currently under control, or in the current situation, you are able to work from home. You can also still be compassionate and be there for others who are in difficult situations. But you also need to be compassionate with yourself.
Think of the things you would say to a friend in the situation you find yourself in. It is almost guaranteed that you wouldn’t shame them for feeling the way they are and you would offer kind and gentle words of support. Sometimes, a situation cannot be ‘fixed’ but by allowing those feelings to come out means they will not build up and cause further distress and problems such as depression, anxiety or sleep difficulties. Finding a person you can confide your feelings in is really helpful and this may be a family member or friend, or a mental health professional. Discussing these feelings can help you clarify what exactly it is you are experiencing – is it loneliness, hopelessness or fear?
Our feelings are also indicators of something not right in our environment. If you did not feel scared when confronted by a poisonous snake (or the possibility of catching the potentially deadly Coronavirus) you may be hurt. Your emotions can also serve as signals to others to indicate that you need some help and support. A close family member or friend may notice a change in your appearance or speech and be able to ask what is wrong.
Pushing away or burying our emotions can be counterproductive. By giving your negative emotions the space to come and go, and accepting this process of feelings coming and going, you will be able to move forward without the shame the negative feelings building up further.
Being vulnerable gives you the chance to just be yourself without needing to change anything. It is not a bad thing to be vulnerable, especially with yourself. Even though I am a generally positive person, I have days when I feel sad, frustrated or angry and I allow myself the time to have these periods. I know these feelings will either push me to make changes in a situation I am not happy with and even if I cannot do anything with them, they will eventually fade away. By trusting in the process and knowing that it it is impossible to be happy every single day, I don’t push those feelings away and bury them, which would cause further problems.
I really hope you have found this first Mental Health Monday post helpful. I am more than happy to answer any questions and you can post them in the comments below or pop them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, take care and stay safe,
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