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The Mental Health Symptoms That Can Arise When You Have a Chronic Illness

As someone who has lived with multiple sclerosis (MS) for over 25 years, I have experienced and dealt with my fair share of symptoms. Spasticity, fatigue, mobility difficulties and “cog fog” all affect me on a day-to-day basis. All of these symptoms are difficult to live with; they cause me pain, limit my ability to maintain a social life and lessen my capacity to be an active, hands-on parent.

My neurologist only talks about my physical problems – how far I can walk, the changes talking place in my brain. But as my health worsens, new, more challenging symptoms are arising. They are hidden and invisible, but I would guess that most people with MS – and indeed other chronic illnesses – have encountered them. These symptoms are emotional in nature and for me include:

  • Feelings of being scared – scared of the future and what is to come
  • Feelings of regret  – could I have helped myself more by looking into diet and exercise when I was initially diagnosed?
  • Feelings of grief – mourning the person I once was and the person I envisaged myself being in the future
  • Feelings of guilt – of the impact my MS has on my loved ones

I spend time dealing with my physical symptoms – stretching out my aching limbs and taking medicine to help with spasticity. But prioritizing emotional and mental health is also so important. This looks different for everybody but may include:

  • Taking time out of your day to do something you enjoy, such as reading a book
  • Taking part in exercise
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Enjoying a lovely meal

My personal mental health prescription includes: eating healthy, meditating, taking time out to crochet and enjoy good movies and sharing my worries and fears with my friends if it all gets to be a bit too much.

Chronic illness can be scary and lonely, but making time to treat yourself and put yourself first will pay dividends to your mental health. I hope for a day when it is standard for medical professionals to treat chronic illness in a holistic manner. Perhaps then, everyone dealing with on-going symptoms (physical and mental) will feeling listened to and supported, regardless of their diagnosis or prognosis.

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