Managing both your mental and physical health
Hi, I'm Kati. I'm a part-time social science student living with chronic illness. In my spare time I blog about books, my dog George and life with a chronic illness. Today I'd like to share my experience of learning to manage depression alongside chronic illness.
When I think about my health, thoughts automatically turn to the physical symptoms of my condition. The fatigue, pain, nausea... the list goes on. Yet, the symptom that has proven the most disabling, is the one I tried my best to ignore.
Unlike the physical aspects of my illness, I was unable to experience mental symptoms without judgement. I felt too much guilt and shame to admit that I was depressed. But that was the truth; I was depressed and had been for a long time.
Was it really so surprising? When we think of the mind and body, we see them as separate entities. In reality, they're like a big bowl of spaghetti; it's hard to see where one ends and the other begins. If one is in pain, it's only a matter of time before the other is too.
Accepting I was depressed led to online research, unwittingly feeding the guilt that was already growing strong.
The problem with most advice, even that of well-meaning friends, is that they tend to neglect the fact that we have our physical health to manage too. Telling me how Jim manages his depression by going on a 5k run and eating a balanced diet is all well and dandy, but where does that leave me? Some days I can barely stand and it's been a year since I managed to cook a meal.
The key, it appeared, to managing depression was a threefold of exercise, social support and healthy eating. Simple. But as much as I'd love to do all of those things, that's not my reality. I can't do yoga, I don't go to any parties and I'm certainly not eating enough avocado.
Rewind to December, and you'll find me in my GP’s office, crying and desperate. Finally asking for help.
I left that appointment with a referral for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and some information on anti-depressants. But something else too. The knowledge that 1) I wasn't alone, in fact over 30% of chronically ill and disabled people live with depression, and 2) I could get better.
Before that appointment, I had been under the misguided belief that if you're depressed it's because you're not eating, exercising or living well-enough. The truth is, the idea that a healthy body equals a health mind is a lie. Depression does and can affect anyone; from Olympic athletes to comedians.
If anyone and everyone can be depressed, the idea that there is a one size fits all path to recovery starts to fall apart.
Living with a chronic illness means adapting life to meet your needs. Feeling guilty about managing my mental health differently was as pointless as feeling guilty for using food aids.
Knowing I had the freedom to define my own recovery wasn't a magical epiphany, taking away my depression overnight. But slowly things started to get easier. Instead of beating myself up for never going to gym, YouTube taught me how to do sitting down yoga. The ‘spoonie’ community taught me that online friends are just as valid as real-life ones.
Over the past few months, I've learnt that being an inspiration is not the rent you have to pay for being ill. Managing depression doesn't have to make a good story or meet NHS tick boxes. Managing depression is about taking the good, bad and downright ugly days and knowing that you'll make it through, in whatever way you can.
Sometimes it's putting on your favourite pair of socks and learning a new hobby. Others, its curling up and having a good cry to your dog. It's the self-care that you work at every second of the day until it becomes second nature. With a chronic illness, managing depression looks different day to day, even hour to hour, but it's not impossible.
Have you experienced depression in relation to chronic illness and disability? How have you learnt to manage both?