Seeking Mental Health Help As a Chronic Illness Patient
It has only been recently that society has began looking at mental health as something important. There are still a lot of people and communities out there who believe you should be able to handle anything and everything that comes your way without the need for a medical professional. There are those people who consider seeking help for an emotional struggle a weakness. I think/hope you all know that admitting you need mental health help is one of the hardest and bravest things you can do for yourself.
Life is hard! Even without a severe chronic illness to deal with, the pressures of life are enormous in so many ways. I personally believe every single human being could benefit from talking to someone outside of their immediate support network.
Looking for someone who really gets it
When you suffer from a chronic, invisible illness like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), it can be difficult to find a therapist who really gets it. After all, unless a therapist has personally been through or knows a loved one with a severe illness, that is not where their training lies. Obviously, having patients with medical problems may help someone gain more insight, but at the end of the day, if the person you are confiding and speaking to doesn’t really understand what you are referring to when you share certain aspects of your disease, the odds of it being a beneficial relationship are fairly slim.
I have seen a lot of therapists over the years and have really learned a lot. I started seeing my first one at the age of 17, four years following my ulcerative colitis diagnosis. This was the first time I spoke to someone outside of my immediate family about what I had experienced with my IBD.
I have always had a difficult time being in therapy when my physical health was beyond awful. I just couldn’t handle dealing with the emotional aspect of what I was going through when there were so many physical issues at play. I didn’t have the strength or energy to tackle both at the same time. So, if you are someone similar, please know you are not alone.
Fast forward to now…
I had been putting off making an appointment with someone new for a while but finally did it in October 2017. I really liked the woman I saw but she didn’t understand most of what I was saying regarding my disease. She asked questions and I could tell she was trying to get it but I felt like my explaining was taking up too much time. Many people can understand the textbook definitions of a lot of the things we as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis patients experience, such as ostomy, colectomy, abscesses or obstruction but that doesn’t mean they truly can grasp just how much these things can impact a person’s psyche and life.
When I realized I kept making appointments with her when I was having a particularly difficult day, only to cancel them days later, I realized I didn’t have any true desire to talk to her. I merely had the desire and extreme need to talk to SOMEONE who could potentially help me navigate some of the things I was struggling with emotionally.
I ended up looking on PsychologyToday.com and found a couple of names of people who took my insurance, were fairly close to my home, and whom I got a good “vibe” from. Psychologytoday.com allows a therapist to share a little bit about themselves, in their own words, so anyone looking for specific services can gain a little more insight into how the person approaches therapy. You are then able to email or call to get more information and/or make an appointment.
I have been seeing the social worker I found through that website since early December 2017. I have seen a lot of mental health professionals over the years and this is the first time I feel like I really found someone who can help me. I would always dread appointments but with this doctor, I look forward to them. I also feel like I could talk and talk for hours whereas in other appointments, I couldn’t wait for them to be over. I feel as though this social worker has a true understanding of the big picture of all I have been through and continue to struggle with that it doesn’t matter much if he has never heard of the term “fistula.” I appreciate the dialogue he provides, his insights and feel as though we are working as a team.
Trial and error
I have had a psychiatrist literally yell at me at our first appointment. I have been prescribed medications that caused me to feel so terrible that I actually wrote suicide notes, all while my doctor knew of this, saw me cowering in his office (among other things) and never said a single word about how this could be a side effect. I have just had doctors look at me and all they could say to the things I shared was “omg I can’t even imagine.” Basically, I had every reason in the world to not want to speak to a mental health professional ever again. But, I knew I needed to keep trying. I needed to keep trying to find that person who could help me work through things that were plaguing me. I needed to keep my hopes up that there was someone out there who I would click with and who would be a great asset to my life.
I guess the point of me sharing this with you all is because I know how frustrating it can be to know you need mental health help, finally find someone who you think may be right for you, actually drive to the appointment and start the process of getting to know each other… all for it to feel like a waste of time. I know so many of our struggles are insanely complex that it takes a special kind of person to really grasp all that we endure. Because there aren’t a ton of people who have the ability to truly understand the seriousness and complexity of our lives, it can feel hopeless and useless to attempt to talk to someone.
Please understand that it is worth continuing to try and find that right person. In my opinion, it is all about timing. There is absolutely no pressure on you to seek mental health help now or even in the future. Seeing a therapist is something that should be helpful to you. It should be a positive experience, not one that causes more angst. Difficult things do come up in therapy so it absolutely is a tough process but you should at least be feeling someone good about the situation. You should feel like even though traumatic things do come to the surface, it is necessary in order for you to move forward and evolve as a human being. I think you get the gist. Just remember… There is never any pressure on you to seek counseling of any kind. It has to be the right thing for YOU.