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5 Things That Help Me Cope With Chronic Illness and Depression

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Depression is not simply about feeling sad. The darkness comes out of nowhere, a wave of fierce and thunderous depression that sweeps over me like a tidal wave. I feel strong most of the time, but I get days where I don’t feel so strong. I have several chronic physical and mental illnesses and sometimes I feel mentally and physically drained by my battles.

Having depression is nothing to be ashamed of and it doesn’t mean that you’re weak. Depression can occur alongside your physical illnesses, either as a response to dealing with a chronic illness or as a symptom of your chronic illness. I have primary depression, but I also experience depression as a response to being housebound, being in pain and isolated, fighting doctors to get the care I need and dealing with other people’s negative attitudes towards my illnesses.

Are you experiencing similar battles? Here are some things can help:

Build a support network and surround yourself with supportive people

A while ago, I felt like I was the only person in the world who was battling my physical and mental illnesses. I was very lonely. Eventually, thanks to social media, I started reaching out to others on social networks. I have friends all over the world now. We understand what each other is going through and support each other. I have made friends with the most incredible people I have been blessed to know. They are my inspiration and my motivation, and are like family to me. Reaching out to others and getting support is essential to healing. For me, it has literally been life-saving.

Dealing with negative attitudes and comments

Unfortunately, if you have a chronic illness or mental illness, you may encounter other people’s negative attitudes, ignorance and prejudice towards our illness(es). Such comments that have hurt me in the past include:

  • Others have it worse than you, so just suck it up.
  • It’s all in your head, because I don’t see anything wrong with you.
  • You don’t look sick… aren’t sick people meant to be in a wheelchair or something?
  • You just need to think positive, it’s just mind over matter.
  • Pull yourself together and just get on with it, push yourself.
  • Get a backbone.

These comments hurt. Words are powerful weapons; they can tear people down or build them up. I typically respond by subjecting the negative person to an education about my illnesses. If educating them does not work, or they simply don’t care, it is time to move on. Some people’s opinions are set in concrete, no matter what you tell them.

Share your feelings

You’ve heard this a million times before, but there’s a lot of truth to this. We all have feelings. We are only human and we have every right to voice how we feel about our illness(es). Hiding our feelings can be harmful; they will build up like a pressure boiler, burning you from the inside, until you explode. There are many ways of sharing your feelings, such as keeping a journal or blog, screaming, beating up a pillow (if you have the energy), talking to understanding friends, joining support groups online where you can share your feelings, or speaking with a counsellor. Personally, I find writing a blog helps me a lot, but everyone is different. Talking with understanding friends helps me the most.

Educate yourself

Knowledge is power. Learning about my physical and mental illnesses has empowered me to take a proactive role in my healthcare and understand what is happening to my body and mind. The knowledge has helped me accept my illnesses and help others going through the same thing as me. The more I have learned, the better and stronger I feel. Reading up on my illnesses helps me combat my fears and worries. Most charities that deal with your particular condition will have a list of recommended resources for you on their websites, which will include books, leaflets, information packs for yourself and your doctor, other websites, journals and awareness materials.

Express yourself creatively

I find that expressing myself is creatively an effective way of dealing with my feelings. I express all my rage, anger, fears, despair and helplessness in my arts, crafts and writing. Being creative helps me vocalise my feelings and untangle the chaos in my mind. Getting wrapped up in creative work takes my mind off my illness. I have spoken to many chronically ill people who find that creativity is helpful tool for promoting mental and physical well-being. There are many things that you can do. It depends on your pain levels, mobility and personal preferences.

It has taken me a long time to accept both the good and bad days. I try not to beat myself up for having bad days. It’s natural to get these. Do not listen to those who say “Other people have it worse than you,” which is like saying, “You have no right to feel scared or worried or upset, because someone else has it worse than you.” If we applied that logic to happiness, are we not allowed to be happy because someone else is a lot happier than us?

Physical and mental pain are subjective experiences. One person’s pain is not the same as someone else’s pain. Do not judge your feelings or coping mechanisms based on someone else’s pain. You are you and nobody else. Ride with your feelings and never feel ashamed of feeling sad or afraid. Everyone has different coping methods. Everyone is different and each person copes differently.

Dealing with chronic illness and your emotional health is an ongoing process of healing. The most important thing to remember is to be kind to ourselves.

This story originally appeared on World According to Lupus

Getty photo by Grandfailure

Originally published: May 6, 2018
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