Why I See a Therapist About My Ulcerative Colitis
Most of us have heard of the "mind-body connection," a term often used to remind people that their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can have an impact on the physical body.
When it comes to inflammatory bowel disease, I see the term weaponized when people tell me that the disease is all in my head or that I have caused it. Naturally, I felt nervous seeing a therapist to talk about my ulcerative colitis, because I wasn't sure if I would be heard.
How therapy helps me handle my ulcerative colitis
I came to find that as much as I need a doctor for my body, I need one for my mind as well. Chronic illness can really take a toll on us, and having a space to share, as well as brainstorm solutions and pathways forward, is vital. I often recommend to those who have been recently diagnosed to consider seeking mental support for several reasons.
Therapy helps me manage the grief associated with chronic illness.
With a disease like ulcerative colitis, I have lost out on a lot. Sometimes these are smaller things, like skipping out on dinner plans, and sometimes they are bigger, like losing all my hair in the span of 48 hours. I used the bury this pain deep inside and just tell myself this is how it is.
Over the course of therapy, I began to realize that all this loss had compounded into real grief. I had to learn how to acknowledge and accept my grief and feel it. Now, I am much better at identifying when I am grieving, giving myself the time and space to do it, and then moving forward without bitterness.
I often discuss my relationships with others in therapy.
My relationships with my friends and family changed a lot when I was diagnosed. Some people were thoughtful and understanding, while some people were overbearing. Others acted like I was always doing the wrong thing. This has led me to need to create some boundaries with some of my close connections.
My therapist has helped me to first, see things from their perspective and second, has encouraged me to communicate with them and ask for exactly what I want out of the relationship. This has helped me strengthen many of my ties.
Therapy is a place for me to discuss strategies around doctor's appointments.
Like many people with chronic illness, I have to go to a lot of doctor's appointments. Sometimes it is hard to manage my time when I have to be going to the doctor all the time. Plus, it can be hard to organize what questions I have, especially when I need to advocate for myself.
My therapist is often able to help me clarify my intentions and goals for appointments, so that each time I meet with a doctor I am using the time effectively. My therapist also supports me as I figure out what other priorities I have on heavy appointment days, and she assists me in figuring out how to manage those priorities.
I have learned to better manage my anxiety about the future through therapy.
Like so many people with ulcerative colitis, I am afraid of what will happen to my body one day. Will I need surgery? Will I have more autoimmune diseases? Will I get so sick I can't do the things I really want to do? If I have a child, will I pass this on to them? The questions are endless.
Through therapy, I have learned to how to talk to myself about the future. Before therapy, I used to try to logic out what the likelihood of each scenario is. Now, I focus more on knowing that this uncertainty will exist, and I have to keep living regardless. It took a lot of time to get here because I was so afraid all the time, but now I am able to better live in the present.
Finding a therapist who understands your UC
It is important to find a therapist who listens and does not make assumptions about the chronic illness experience. It is always okay to talk to your therapist about what is working in the sessions, and what isn't. It is also okay to cut ties with a therapist and look for a new one if you aren't happy.
But remember: Therapy can be challenging. It can push you to think differently about your life and your circumstances. Often, it means thinking through biases and expectations about yourself and others and putting them aside. Though this can take time and effort, therapy can be a great way to unpack feelings and fears about ulcerative colitis, and move each of us towards healthier mindsets.
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