A Chronic Condition Is Not Just About Your Physical Health…
It is about the underlying stress that you feel when you do not have the energy to do what you need to do that day.
It is about the feelings of guilt that you have when you watch your loved ones try their best to help.
It is about not knowing how to explain that even though you “look good” on the outside, the pain and fatigue that you feel on the inside is REAL.
It is about feeling isolated and misunderstood.
And now, it can also be about hope, because your diagnosis does not define you. If you are struggling with a chronic health issue, whether it is a digestive disorder like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), cancer, chronic pain, major surgery or long-term diseases that we have not yet found a cure for such as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis), the impact on your emotional, social and mental health is not only substantial, it is also far-reaching.
When people experience severe and/or chronic health issues, they often struggle with physical or more biological symptoms, such as pain, difficulty moving or doing certain tasks and sleep issues. Your body may have less energy, less ability, less independence.
Over time, these take a psychological toll. You may begin to feel hopeless, helpless and sometimes, invalidated by those who love you most. You might begin to doubt or question yourself, growing more and more cynical about the world. To make matters worse, some health issues will compromise your hopes for the future and feelings of security. You begin to grieve your dream career, your future relationships, or even having time enough to live to see your children grow old.
These experiences can begin to seep into your social life, as you may withdraw from others and fear relational connection. People may also begin to treat you differently and respond to your needs in different ways. You may begin to feel that your calls or texts are being avoided by friends from whom you never would have expected such behavior, or you may experience “feeling smothered” by your loved ones, never getting space to breathe and be yourself.
These difficulties can all stem from your health issues, thereby producing additional life stressors. Some of the warning signs that someone is experiencing psychological distress due to a medical condition might include:
- Loss of purpose or meaning
- Bouts of tearfulness or sadness
- Anger or irritability
- Hopelessness or helplessness
- Isolation from friends and family
- Thoughts of death or ending one’s life
- Poor medication adherence (not taking medicine, skipping appointments, etc.)
- Difficulty with sleep
- Loss of motivation
Can Therapy Help With My Chronic Health Issue?
People suffering from chronic health issues are at a higher risk of developing emotional and psychological difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, and even suicidality. Chronic anxiety in and of itself can compound the negative effects on your health, as it can have an impact on your immune, nervous and digestive systems.
In most cases, an on-going chronic illness also becomes a “family affair”, as it is almost impossible to manage without the help or support of family or friends. All too often, the need to use or gather a support system leaves you feeling anxious, depressed and guilty for “burdening” those closest to you.
Without having the right frame of mind, strong coping techniques or strategies, managing a chronic illness can feel and be overwhelming, but with the right tools in your coping toolbox, you can reach beyond just “managing” and take back control of your life despite your chronic condition.