Yesterday, I wrote about how depression and chronic illness often go hand in hand. Today, I wanted to explore mental health issues in more depth — particularly those that are considered chronic conditions.
We all know that chronic illnesses can be quite invisible to others. And this can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration upon hearing the words, “But you don’t LOOK sick.” It can feel as if people don’t believe us as our suffering is minimized.
When a mental health diagnosis is the chronic illness, those feelings can increase exponentially. Often, people with mental health concerns don’t want to share their diagnoses with others. Unlike with well-known diseases such as diabetes, lupus, COPD or arthritis, mental health conditions are the great unknown.
Very few people know much about mental illness unless they have been directly affected. Others are frightened of mental health conditions and hold lots of unfounded beliefs about them.
If you have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other life-long illness, not only do you live with the knowledge that there is no cure. You also endure the stigma that society unfairly places upon you. The lack of education leads to baseless fears and discriminatory behavior.
It’s no wonder that some people with these types of diagnoses keep their health concerns to themselves. Even though the general public may not be completely informed about illnesses such as diabetes, they do tend to be much more accepting of what they deem to be a “physical” illness rather than a “mental” illness.
Most don’t realize that many mental health conditions are simply the result of altered brain chemistry, which does make them biological illnesses. Even the trauma-based diagnoses such as post traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and some anxiety disorders result after life-altering traumatic situations changed the way people’s brains process information.
Another aspect of mental illness that typically doesn’t occur with other types of diseases is blaming. With mental illnesses, sufferers may be told they are responsible for becoming ill or for not getting better.
This adds insult upon injury to those who are already suffering greatly and are facing a lifetime of medication and therapy in an attempt to live a somewhat normal life.
And sometimes mental health diagnoses occur simultaneously with other chronic illnesses, giving individuals even more to overcome.
Here are a few tips for living a better life despite a mental health diagnosis:
1. Keep taking your medications, even if you feel better. I know that our instinct is to stop medications when we feel well. I would be willing to bet that at least half the people reading this can remember hitting day 5 of a 10-day course of antibiotics and wanting to call it quits. Unfortunately, with any chronic illness, some medications may be necessary to maintain the level of wellness you are feeling right now. Stopping the meds can lead to a relapse. Please consult your physician before you make any changes to your medication schedule.
2. Remember that your illness is no different from “physical” illnesses. Sure, uninformed people will consider your illness to be completely separate from other chronic diseases. They may blame you for it. But mental health concerns are biological in nature, just like other chronic illnesses. Always remember that. Your illness is no less credible than diabetes or heart disease.
3. Seeking the support of others with similar issues can help. Whether it’s online message boards or local support groups, being around other people who have the same feelings and challenges can help empower you and help you to feel less alone.
4. Some people’s opinions simply do not matter. If someone is completely uneducated about mental illness and says something hurtful to you, consider that his or her opinion is not relevant. Your doctor, your closest friends and family members, and your peers know the truth. That is what matters the most. Harsh words can hurt. If someone upsets you often and is not “teachable,” then consider eliminating that person from your life. You deserve better.
If you are suffering from a mental health condition, please know that you have my deepest respect and compassion. I know that you face additional challenges that those of us with “physical” illnesses don’t have to contend with. You are welcome here within the BeChronicallyWell.com community, and I look forward to empowering you and providing you with continued support.