IBD & Mental Health - Hope & Help
The content includes information related to mental and emotional distress and it might be upsetting to some people. If you or someone you know have thoughts of suicide, have attempted suicide, or experience emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1–800–273–TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat.To get general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, contact SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline – 1–877–SAMHSA7 (1–877–726–4727).
This week, during National Suicide Prevention week, I've shared several posts on why mental health awareness is of incredible importance to me.
I wrote here about how suicide first impacted my life, the growing importance of awareness in the world we live in today, and of having and challenging the conversation around the mental health stigma. Then, I shared the way that I have felt, experienced and observed the overlap between IBD/chronic illness and mental health/the need for mental health care to be addressed. More specifically, I wrote about the things I have personally struggled with - including depression, anxiety, and previous suicidal ideations. I also shared two incredibly important phone numbers - the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and the Crisis Text Line, both of which are irreplaceable resources, available 24 x 7 x 365.
Hope and help
I felt like it was really important for me to share one more aspect of IBD and Mental Health - the perspective of hope and of help, and the ways in which I have learned how to take care of and maintain my mental and emotional health, even through challenges with my disease status and physical health.
First off, I think about the times that fighting to stay alive, that wanting to stay alive, was all I could think about. That it was the only thing on my mind. It made getting better, getting a diagnosis and seeking treatment, all seem that much more critical to me. But looking back, I realized that knowing now that I have Crohn’s disease, or being on Remicade, those things don’t take away from the impact that the symptoms of IBD have had on my life and more importantly, my emotional health.
I'm not the only one
What I did learn, however, is that I’m not the only one. I’ve learned that so many people who share a chronically ill journey with us have struggled, have committed every ounce of energy to surviving, and to overcoming, and the gratitude for that realization sometimes makes me feel like a warrior instead of a victim. I think about all of the incredibly strong patients I stand beside, not just here in the inflammatoryboweldisease.net family, but across all of the Health Union sites and chronic illness communities alike.
Next, I think about the things that I have been using, building up and modifying over the last several years to support my mental health, ever since I spent time in the Intensive Outpatient Program. I’ll be the first to suggest resources such as a compassionate, understanding, chronic illness versed therapist and psychiatrist - that is what started laying my foundation back to wellness. Once my medication for depression and anxiety was straightened out, I experienced a significant increase in my ability to function daily, to make decisions, to take care of myself. And, by having a regular, non-biased individual to brain dump with, I found that my mind felt less overwhelmed, less cluttered, and overall, I experienced less fear.
The term “self-care” seems to get thrown around an awful lot in today's society, but I think it’s so important to know that self-care encompasses more than face masks or bath bombs or spa treatments. It’s taken me a long time, and a lot of trial and error, to figure out which components are key for my emotional health, and for me to retain balance, but I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t taken the time and given myself the chance to do so.
Currently, I put my energy/time/focus into the following self-care practices:
- Drinking a lot of water - it makes a difference, to my body and my brain and my clarity, I swear!
- Keeping both a gratitude and a shit list - I have found it instrumental to help me focus on the positive, while also not ignoring that there is negative.
- Random acts of kindness - it can be really easy for me to get stuck in my head, so reaching out to others, doing small gestures, it brings me back to love.
- Selective texting - During times when I feel overwhelmed mentally and emotionally, I allow myself to make a choice about who I communicate to, when, and about what. I have found that certain people may add to feelings of distress, but that not sharing may lead to feelings of isolation. Following my gut has been integral in this self-care strategy.
As we close out National Suicide Prevention Week with the idea of hope and help, I would love to hear the ways in which you have treated your mental and emotional health alongside your IBD.
Other articles in this series for National Suicide Prevention Week:
Which aspect of awareness week are you most excited about?