Guidebook for Navigating New Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 2 When You Need Emotional or Mental Health Help

This post is the second part of a multi-part series, “Guidebook for Navigating New Chronic Illness or Disability.” Part 1 can be found here.

When You Need Emotional or Mental Health Help

There is nothing wrong with getting help for emotional or mental health issues. All of us need to lean on other people at some points in our lives. Those of us with physical chronic illnesses often have to lean on others more than we’d like to, and usually more than healthy people need to.

Getting our physical needs attended to can be difficult, but for many of us this is easier than getting help with our emotional wellbeing. Too many people are afraid to ask for this less tangible kind of support, and a lot of that fear is based in the stigma that surrounds getting mental health help. In my opinion, we as a society are fundamentally failing each other when people feel ashamed to ask for emotional or mental health support. Those of us who ask for this support despite the shame and stigma are exceptionally strong and wise for doing so.

Physical and mental chronic illnesses often go hand in hand. Even if we don’t have any of any mental health conditions when our physical problems start, the stress and grief that come with losing everything to our illnesses can often result in depression, anxiety and other conditions. Conversely, sufferers of anxiety, PTSD and depression are more likely to develop certain kinds of physical illnesses in the first place.

Long story short, if you have a new chronic illness or disability, you will need some help with your mental and emotional health. There’s no need to be ashamed. The following sections outline some of the types of help you might choose from.


1. Talk Therapy

It can do wonders to have a person you can talk to at length about any issue, without feeling guilty, self-conscious, or afraid of offending your listener.

To search for a therapist near you, there is a great website called Psychology Today which is very searchable and comprehensive. If money is an issue, some therapists offer a sliding scale fee. There are also other options for affording therapy, including those listed here. Remember that you don’t have any obligation to stay with a therapist who isn’t helping you, and that you can keep searching until you find a therapist who is a good match for you.

2. Self Care

One path towards emotional wellbeing is called self care. Self care is a set of behaviors and beliefs that you can cultivate to care for your physical, mental and emotional health. Self care is hard to make time for, especially since it is sometimes confused with selfishness. I find it helpful to remind myself that self care isn’t selfish at all; sometimes, the only way I can help anyone else is to first build up my own emotional wellbeing.

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3. Meditation

More and more scientific evidence is accumulating to suggest that the practice of meditation can decrease anxiety and dissatisfaction, and even improve physical health.

There are many options available for those who would like to start a meditation practice. You can research to see if there are meditation groups or classes available near you. Some tai chi and yoga classes teach meditation along with exercise. There are also smartphone applications, mp3s, books, and CDs available to help you learn how to meditate. You can be picky; you will benefit the most if you find the right approach, style and voice for you. Personally, I would recommend Millie Greenough’s Oasis in the Overwhelm. Millie developed short meditations to help herself through her recovery after a major accident, and I find them to be very helpful.

4. Social Support and Community

One important way to start feeling better emotionally is to feel connected to, cared about and understood by other people. There are many options for building up your social support and sense of belonging:

  • If you have internet access and ability to spend time browsing, chances are high that you will eventually find “your people.” Even if you never get to meet any of your online friends in person, it can do wonders to find people who get you, and get what you’re going through. Support groups and hobby-based groups abound, and many people form very close bonds with others through these groups. Personally, I have been delighted by the compassion, humor, love, and helpfulness demonstrated by the Tumblr “Spoonie Community.” A few of the many great Tumblr blogs I follow include: spooniecentral, spooniestrong, thefaultinourspoons, spooniesupport, mentalhealthresource, and chronic-illness-support. There is even a weekly spoonie chat on Twitter.

  • If you make plans to go out with anyone or have visitors, it can be helpful to set up the expectations of your companions in advance. For instance, I communicate about how I am likely to cancel if I’m feeling too unwell, about the fact that our visit or outing will have to be short because I lack stamina, and about the ways my appearance or behavior might be different from before I got sick (my cane or wheelchair, my need to frequently sit and lie down, etc.). People are a lot more understanding and helpful if their expectations are managed in advance.

  • Don’t underestimate the positive impact of connecting with close friends and family, and religious or hobby communities. Also, remember that no one will know you need help unless you let them know.

  • One way to improve your social support is counter-intuitive and often difficult, but effective and necessary; sometimes, we must distance ourselves from those who are toxic to us. Not all of us have this option, and not all of us have people in our lives who make us feel bad about ourselves or our new limitations. If necessary and possible, though, remember to protect yourself from this kind of influence. You don’t owe your time to anyone, and if someone is perpetually hurting you, it might be time to extract or distance yourself from the relationship. This can be very hard, but any of the other tips in this post might be able to help you through this.

5. Other Mental Health Resources

  • Suicide Hotline:1-800-784-8433

  • Vent or Listen to a Stranger Vent:

  • Depression Hotline:1-630-482-9696

  • LifeLine, and Website with Online Chat:1-800-273-8255

  • Trevor Project:1-866-488-7386

  • Sexuality Support:1-800-246-7743

  • Eating Disorders Hotline:1-847-831-3438

  • Rape and Sexual Assault:1-800-656-4673

  • Grief Support:1-650-321-5272

  • Runaway:1-800-843-5200, 1-800-843-5678, 1-800-621-4000

  • Exhale: After Abortion Hotline/Pro-Voice: 1-866-4394253

  • Coping Skills Resources:

  • Adjusting to Chronic Illness: the writings of Toni Bernhard, and in particular her book How to Be Sick
  • If you ever want to talk: Please, write to me. If I take time to respond, it’s because of my limited energy. Know I would love the chance to help if I can.

4 thoughts on “Guidebook for Navigating New Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 2 When You Need Emotional or Mental Health Help

  1. Pingback: This Blog is Taking a One-Week Hiatus, in Honor of the Author’s Birthday | The Professional Patient

  2. Pingback: Guidebook for Navigating New Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 3 Getting What You Need From Your Doctors | The Professional Patient

  3. Pingback: Guidebook for Navigating New Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 4 When Going Out Becomes Difficult | The Professional Patient

  4. Pingback: Guidebook for Navigating New Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 5 Sex and Other Intimacy | The Professional Patient

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