As young person living with serious illness, I was constantly worried that people would tell me my symptoms were all in my head. I thought that if I acknowledged my mental health struggle, people would assume all of my health problems were emotionally driven. So instead dealing with them head on, I spent years ignoring the mental health implications of living with a chronic disease.
As I’m sure you can imagine, that didn’t go so well. It took me longer than it should have, but I’ve come to learn that my mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. When mental health declines, physical health follows. When physical health declines, mental health does the same.
On our darkest days, we need to take steps to care for our whole selves – both mentally and physically.
At the the start of this year, I spoke to some of our Friends in the Fight™ about how they have overcome their hardest days while also living with a chronic illness.
Feed Your Brain
“I try to engage the analytical parts of my brain,” says Frankie Foltz. “Puzzles, organizing files on my computer, doing homework, or studying, helps me get my mind off things. In the other direction, I go for pure distraction and watch funny sitcoms like Parks & Recreation or Galavant.”
Depending on what you are able to physically tolerate, brain stimulation can help combat dark thoughts and emotions. Try pushing yourself to watch a movie or read a book that you love. It may take some of the pressure off, at least in the moment.
If you are able, exercise can help with this too. “Last year I discovered yoga and that has really changed my life,” says Kristen Curtis.”Just taking a few minutes out of the day to do some light stretching and just focus on your breathing and the movements really helped clear my mind of any unwanted negativity and just overall helps reduce my stress and anxiety, which then in the long run helps with my physical health.”
Seek Out Positivity
“I like to consume positive social media,” says Melanie Lamothe. “This might not be for everyone, but it helps to motivate and inspire me.”
There is so much negative media on our news feeds these days, and getting consumed by that news can contribute to mental health spirals. Don’t underestimate the power of positive media. Watching a quick Upworthy video, connecting with a friend over Instagram, or reading inspiring news story can be healing in more ways than you may think.
“I turn to my best friends and talk to them,” Brook B says. “I also try to avoid negative people.”
Building relationships with people who really understand my experience has been such an important part of my emotional healing. Social media and groups like Friends in the Fight™ are a great way to find people to talk to, even if you don’t have someone with you in the moment. When you need some extra support, reach out. There will always be someone who wants to listen.
Get the Support You Need
“There have been many instances where giving up has sounded easier than continuing to fight,” says Hannah Olson, founder of Chronically Capable. “But I think it’s important to remember that depression and anxiety may be part of your disease. If I’m fighting to beat Lyme, taking all these pills to control the symptoms, then I need to always fight my mental symptoms as well. There are always going to be highs and lows, but the important part is how you persevere.
In terms of advice, I truly recommend seeking external help for your mental health needs. For me, I found this help in a therapist. For others, this could be a good friend or a mentor. It’s important to talk about how you’re feeling, and be open with your loved ones, so that people understand what’s going on and you won’t feel as isolated. It can be hard to talk about your mental health, but it’s powerful when you do.”
Allow Yourself to Feel
Mellie White, model and chronic illness warrior, tells us, “What I find to be most helpful even in my darkest moments of physical health is allowing myself to feel every single emotion that must be felt. If I need to cry then I will cry. If we just hold those emotions in as if they are abnormal that is what really can cause a horrible meltdown.”
What has helped YOU?
How do you balance your mental and physical health? What techniques do you use to rally through your hardest days?
Everyone is on their own journey and their self-care and management techniques will reflect that. If these tips haven’t worked for you – we hope you’ll let us know what has. Sharing your story can inspire others to do the same.