Serious Mental and Physical Health Challenges: Embracing hope. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net
There are times when we are faced with a difficult health challenge, that we feel we are getting no-where. We may suffer a serious mental health challenge, such as depression. We may ‘know’ in theory what we ‘should’ do. However, anyone who has suffered from this debilitating illness can understand that dealing with it can seem like walking through mud, and that working with it in ‘real life’ is a lot harder.
With health concerns such as cancer, we may feel the control has been totally taken out of our hands.
With some health challenges, particularly if they have been long-lasting, we may respond to non-success by giving in to feelings of discouragement. This can unfortunately foster feelings of despondency and with serious life tests such as illness, even despair.
However be aware hopefully that on some level there is always a reason to be positive too: even if our illness doesn’t improve our social support network can or even having self-compassion.
With mental health issues, the lack of confidence and self-esteem that can arise due to perceived ‘failure’ to overcome the illness may cloud positives that do exist. We may not feel like getting out of bed – in the case of severe depression.
When we succumb to our negative emotions, we may feel success may never be found. However, positivity can be found by realising that many other people are facing similar challenges, and mental health problems are understood a lot better.
Hope can be found by remembering the times that we pushed through the negative feeling. It can be heartening to realise that we are not our feelings: just because we feel bad it doesn’t mean that life is hopeless. We cannot afford to forget all the supports, all the things that can be done.
With discouragement in the face of serious physical health problems, we may become angry and disappointed with what life ‘has given us.’ It is understandably very challenging to be positive if the future of our health and our quality of life is now uncertain. If we are isolated, we may forget that others are in similar situations and separate ourselves from support.
With both mental and physical health challenges, it is important to have self-compassion Even in this day and age, this can be much harder with psychological issues because they are ‘invisible’ and so more easily invalidated. With physical health problems there may be anger we can’t do what we used to. However, when we have self-compassion and are gentle on ourselves with mental health problems we are validating that yes, it is difficult and the problems are real. This doesn’t mean that we are helpless or that it need beat us, but accepting that you are faced with a very real challenge can help us deal with unnecessary guilt.
When we are self-compassionate with our physical or mental health challenges we are choosing to affirm that we are worthy of life and health. We are also becoming our own ‘friend’ and working with the illness instead of battling it.
With both physical and mental health challenges, support is vital. We can’t do it alone. It is important to find someone, whether a psychologist, doctor, support group or friend to champion us on, encourage us with we feel like we are flailing.
We need to prioritise our health so overcoming or dealing with the challenge is our first and foremost goal. This can be frustrating and disheartening when we for a time have to abandon other goals. However, without your health you cannot achieve other goals anyway. It has to come first.
We also need to feel worthy of recovery or treatment improving quality of life. Whether it is a mental or physical health challenge we need to have the self-esteem to realise we are all valuable human beings who deserve to be given the best chance possible.
When facing health problems it can help to have a plan of action/treatment that you work through with your doctor and that you feel you can commit to. When you are unwell, it often feels like the control has been taken out of your hands. Having a planned approach you can work with can give you some feeling of power back. This can also involve empowering yourself by finding out as much as you can about your illness, and how it can be treated.
This is not for everyone but spirituality can offer peace, comfort and hope - it can be heartening to believe that a Higher Loving Power is there for you.
If you are having a particularly difficult day with your health challenge, whether physical or mental, it can help to make a list of all the positives you have achieved. For example despite being depressed you stayed awake instead of staying in bed all day. If you have a physical health problem it can be a lessoning of pain or the psychological support you have found in others with similar challenges.
Know that you will have good days and bad days. Even in the course of the day, your outlook, mood and well-being can seem to fluctuate. Hang in there and find encouragement in the better days (or hours) and know that the bad does pass, to have self-compassion and find support.
In Summary, mental or physical health challenges can turn our lives upside down. The following may help:
• Have Self-Compassion
• Find a Support Network
• Make Well-being your First Priority
• You Deserve Health
• Treatment Plan
• Accepting Good and Bad times part of illness