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Managing both your mental and physical health

katimcd Member Posts: 1 Listener

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.

photograph of a pink blossom tree focussing on a leaf

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?


  • debbiedo49
    debbiedo49 Member Posts: 2,904 Disability Gamechanger
    Yes I’m a work in progress. Life throws you curve balls, you have to learn to roll with it your own way. My dad passed away suddenly yesterday. I have no idea how it’s going to affect my mental health. I have a chronic pain condition and my body feels like I’ve been beaten up all over by a sledgehammer. I think it’s the stress kicking in after the adrenaline. I have my family around so I’m lucky. We are all going through it. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. So I will do what I can when I can how I can. Thanks for posting .
  • Waylay
    Waylay Member Posts: 971 Pioneering
    I find that my MH and chronic pain affect each other. Depression, anxiety and stress actually increase the pain that you feel, chemically. Pain increases MH problems. Opioids also increase my depression. It turns into a downward spiral. :/

    I have a friend I can talk to, this place and other forums, my partners, my kitten.... I try to distract myself as much as possible, or just sleep through it. :/
  • thespiceman
    thespiceman Member Posts: 6,389 Disability Gamechanger
    Hello @katimcd   Thank you for writing this and being so honest and sharing what you go through.

    Pleased to meet you.

    Just want to add from a gentleman point of view.  Understand we as men or gents do not add or say what is wrong.

    Suddenly now and why not it should be OK to say to some one who know. I am in pain and have illness have depression  Plus my anxiety as well that is the main one.. Need to say what is wrong.

    Too many times wished I had said to the Doctors need help need some one to support me.  Did not want to make issues out of it. Sat the other day talking to the Doctor something else. Into the chat drifted about me. How are am. I am not one to talk about me. Will say how am to people but in reality no one really knows.

    I have a muscular skeleton problem with my muscles and legs especially. Constantly throbbing aching and pain all the time. Nothing chronic is it I just cope. All I do is take painkillers but also do not wish to take them all the time. Worrying side effects.

    Lot of addiction history and have some days really tired but have to cope. How and somehow do.

    Do I want to have full page of what is happening to me. In all and sundry. Try not too.. Yet I here am I trucking on and motoring on wards . Trying to be positive and up beat.

    All of us whether having illness or coping with pain wish to strive and survive and cope the best they can.

    What concerns me and has done for many years is the fragility of my mental health.  Trying to adapt to strange circumstances. Being lonely only seeing people who and when out shopping.

    Always aware of the support services and organisations who can help me with anything. Main issues are the problems of getting older. Making your self visible to access these services. Only to be told limited funding, over burdened.

    Long waiting lists. Unresponsive support staff and services on initial contacts. The services and assessment. The asking of help and been told you are required to help yourself much as possible.

    The putting down and the negativity of it all. Been Mental health minute this week. Yet after all is said and done. No matter how many treatments you have. How many services you have joined and left. You are always treated the same.  

    You are a number not a person in a queue and forgotten about. Can not even talk about your experiences . In any other place like here. Yet not in mental health charities. Walking on eggshells constantly.

    At the end of the day you have to say to yourself. I have done the best today. Coped well to the best of my ability.  Hard days bad days all the time. Sunshine's outside but inside your heart and body is wracked with pain.  Only you know Physical and mental.

    Dealing with it all the confusion and the sometimes negative emotional feelings are acutely aware.  Understand in your head and mind. All these treatments and courses to help and assist you.

    Have they been successful or a failure.

    In my opinion a failure for me as I strived and tried. Care and concerned for myself still.

    Take care

    Community Champion
    SCOPE Volunteer Award Engaging Communities 2019
    Mental Health advice, guidance and information to all members
    Nutrition, Diet, Wellbeing, Addiction.
  • [Deleted User]
    [Deleted User] Posts: 1,748 Listener
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  • debbiedo49
    debbiedo49 Member Posts: 2,904 Disability Gamechanger
    Thank you I needed it @Victoriad x
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    [Deleted User] Posts: 1,748 Listener
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  • littleruthie123
    littleruthie123 Member Posts: 490 Pioneering
    Sat in my bedroom crying .feeling pretty hopeless today .had a bad four days pain wise ;so been stuck on the settee doing nothing really .this times I feel really set my depression off .and ut feels like a viscous circle .hard when your on your own .had a rough few years lost my career social life etc too breast cancer .although in remission now I'm trapped in a different body full of pain and struggles .everyone always says how strong I am .I'm not I just keep it all in .and people soon have there own busyIves and stop asking I find..easier too feel positive on better health days .also when I was fit and healthy exercise was a great cruth for my mental health .now it's rhe hardest it's ever been .don't often write much like this .anyway tomorrow is a new day again .
  • Pippa_Alumni
    Pippa_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 5,798 Disability Gamechanger
    How are you feeling today, @littleruthie123? I'm so sorry to hear that you've been struggling- learning to adapt to life with pain can feel really isolating, but I'm sure many of our community members will also be able to relate. I really hope today's a better one for you! 
  • littleruthie123
    littleruthie123 Member Posts: 490 Pioneering
    Thanks pippa had a better day yesterday .but still up and down .I've waiting 18 months for a mental health support worker it's been very hard .thanks for asking x


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