So regular readers of my blog will know that I am a big advocate of ending the stigma of talking about mental health issues. Indeed I have talked about my past experiences with mental illness here. But one thing I haven't talked about is the role of mental health when you suffer from a chronic illness and because I've been feeling a bit glum lately, I thought now would be a good time to talk about it.
I believe in many sufferers of chronic illness that will go on to develop conditions such as anxiety or depression, that these conditions are secondary. They are a result of chronic illness. I also think that it can be difficult territory for an invisible illness sufferer to approach due to the belief of some medics etc that your illness is all in your head. Psychosomatic not physical. So if you start feeling psychological symptoms developing a fear could build up of being told "oh yes, well we know you've been suffering from depression all along. You're a classic case with the constant fatigue and not wanting to take part in any activities." Cue rage and more depression from not being taken seriously.
But think of all that we go through on a daily basis; the exhaustion, the pain, the brain fog, the isolation, the inability to do the simplest of tasks, the guilt of burdening others and the grief of losing who you once were. Lately I've been thinking a lot about how I barely recognise myself. Think about all those things and then think well that would make many a person depressed. I think back to the days when I was at my worst with depression and anxiety and sometimes think why were you depressed back then, you didn't have half of this to contend with? But depression doesn't work like that. It can strike whenever and thinking "why am I depressed when I have things to be happy about?" only makes it worse.
Having suffered mental illness in the past, when I was first diagnosed with M.E I thought "well that's it, the depression is going to come flooding back in. How am I going to cope with this?" But having recognised that and having sought help before I knew how to tackle it. I went to my gp and he arranged another appointment with the councellor I used to see. We talked about all the things that I'd learnt from beating depression, coping stratergies etc. It reminded me that I wasn't in the dark, I did have ways to handle it should I need to. Most importantly I had taken the initative to ask for help and that that can be the biggest step to taking charge. I had effectively said "no I'm not going down that road again".
I also went to a drop in centre ran by Mind, where a group of people with mental health issues meet for coffee and different activities. It felt good to be putting coping mechanisms in place. Unfortunately the more the M.E took hold the more obvious it became that having the energy to go to the drop in centre would be too much of a strain on my health.
What I did do though was get in touch with the admin on Mind's website and ask if they had any advice or leaflets for coping with depression with a chronic illness and they sent me links to the ME Association. And from there I started learning about the wider spoonie community, and all the support that they bring.
3 years later and I have to keep reminding myself to pat myself on the back for coping so well. For laughing and joking, even at my own expense. Ok in honesty some days, the worst days, as much as you feel like crying, you can't. You simply don't have the energy. And sometimes that's not good, because it means you're bottling your emotions. Lately I have been having a bit of a dip in symptoms, having those days where I want to cry because I'm so frustrsted because the stairs feel like Mount Everest and the weight of cutlery is just too much. But of course the energy wasn't there to cry. This has meant that as I've improved a bit those tears have wanted to escape.
I have some lovely friends now in the spoonie community but sometimes hearing that they're having particularly rough patches just upsets me more. It makes me think "what have we done to deserve this?" And that is just dangerous thinking. Because the answer is nothing. However, we are coping, we're fighting and laughing. We all need to give ourselves a huge pat on the back.
So I just need to keep telling myself that I am doing it. That it's ok to cry sometimes. You'd be insane not too. That I know where to get help and what to look out for. And that includes from other sufferers that are now friends. We're lucky to have found eachother and have people that understand completely.
So I am going to give myself that pat on the back and finish this post with another great quote (see photo.)