Paying Attention to Mental Health Is Crucial When Dealing With Chronic Illness

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by Candice Galvan |

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Caring for our mental health and pursuing wellness require a lifetime commitment and hard work. It’s sometimes easier said than done, but taking a moment to yourself to reflect on the day, or on a feeling or emotion, can do wonders for your mental health, especially when living with chronic illness.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, those with chronic illness have an increased risk of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. It is important to nurture our mental health and wellness in our daily lives.

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A few years before my youngest daughter, Bella, 14, was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica, I started seeing a psychologist. I was diagnosed with a range of mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, and depression. I had tried for many years to “fix” myself, to no avail. I had heard of talk therapy and psychologists before, but didn’t think they were right for me. But I needed help and a better understanding of my mental health challenges.

I like to compare my search for a psychologist with that of trying to find a friend. While it took a while to find the right doctor, I eventually found someone I could open up to and trust. I found someone who created a safe space where I could be vulnerable and let my emotions out.

I am happy that I persevered and didn’t give up on trying to find a therapist. I had no idea how much of an impact therapy would have on my life and my ability to remain calm in difficult situations.

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Candice in her garden. She finds that gardening has a positive effect on her mental health. (Courtesy of Candice Galvan)

Within the first few days of my daughter’s hospitalization in late 2017, due to her first and only attack from neuromyelitis optica, I scheduled time to talk to my therapist. After all, I knew that for me to make the best decisions for Bella, I had to have a clear mind and remain in the present.

During the six weeks that Bella was hospitalized, many traumatic moments occurred that are still burned into my memory. They include Bella’s ambulance ride to the hospital, being in the room as she screamed in pain from a spinal tap, the moment I saw her intubated, and the moment of her diagnosis.

In the five years that Bella has had neuromyelitis optica, I have continued to attend therapy regularly. It is important for me to be able to speak with someone who is knowledgeable and has the ability to help me process my thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a healthy way.

Bella also has attended therapy, and her mental health is monitored by a multidisciplinary team at least twice a year, when we attend various medical appointments. Fighting a chronic illness at any age can be difficult, but having a better understanding of your feelings and how to process them can help make things a bit easier.

Due to the location of some of the lesions on Bella’s brain, she has difficulties with executive functioning skills, such as organization and impulsivity. She also suffers from medical PTSD from being in the hospital for such a long time. Sometimes she won’t acknowledge her symptoms because she fears being hospitalized again.

I believe that things happen for a reason. While I wish I never had to go through the situations that caused me to have multiple mental illnesses, I am grateful that I took the necessary steps to get help for myself — and for Bella.

I am happy to say that Bella and I now have the tools to maintain and care for our mental health and wellness while advocating and being a resource for those looking for support and encouragement along their own mental health journeys.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, there are ways to get help, starting with the resources at the National Institute of Mental Health.


Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).

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