Chronic Illness: Taking Care of the Mind When the Body is Failing

By a member of the Harmless team

A chronic illness is an (often) incurable condition that has long-lasting impacts on a person’s physical health. Chronic illness can range anywhere from psoriasis to conditions such as endometriosis and fibromyalgia. For many people struggling with chronic illness, the symptoms experienced and their consequences can often be debilitating, significantly limiting a person’s ability to continue with their day-to-day activities — those simple tasks like going to work or for a drink with friends that may otherwise be perceived as ‘normal’ for those without a chronic condition. 

Over time, the symptoms (and their consequences) may cause an individual to make comparisons between themselves and others around them, which could cause someone to place undue pressure on themselves to ‘perform’ when it does not feel possible. This is often compounded by the fact that a lot of chronic illnesses are ‘invisible’ and often cannot be seen by the people we interact with every day.

For example, someone with a chronic illness may go to work despite not feeling well enough because they’ve ‘had too many days off already’ or ‘don’t want to inconvenience their colleagues’. Upon returning home, this person’s symptoms may have developed to a point where they now feel worse, exacerbating their overall condition and increasing the chance of psychological effects. 

Due to the nature of chronic conditions, it is not uncommon for people to develop a sense of low self-esteem, hopelessness for the future and exhaustion, amongst a variety of other symptoms (both caused by, and as a result of, the chronic condition). In fact, it is estimated that around 1 in 3 people living with a chronic condition will exhibit symptoms of depression, thus highlighting the need for those struggling to seek help when necessary. 

Living with a chronic condition can feel scary and isolating, but it does not define you. It is important that those living with chronic illness understand that it is okay to struggle and not to feel as if they have to ‘perform’ for others around them.

Indeed, accessibility in the UK for those with chronic illness (particularly with regard to working conditions) has a long way to go. However, here are a few ways you can access help and support for the various impacts of living with a chronic condition:

Lean on those around you
Whether it’s a friend, family member or work colleague, it is important that you talk about how you feel and what you need. Often there is more support available than you know.

Seek medical care
Whether it’s the GP or a specialist, having a space where you can safely ask questions about your condition and develop a plan to manage your symptoms can help to manage any psychological effects experienced.

Regularly ‘check-in’ with yourself
How are you coping? When experiencing persistent physical and psychological symptoms, it can be easy to forget to reflect on how our mental health is doing. Building an awareness of our emotions and thresholds to seek help can help to manage distress and limit the chance we will develop further long-term conditions such as depression. 

If you feel you may need further support with your mental health as a result of your chronic illness, therapy can often be an effective way to navigate the way you think or feel and to learn new ways to cope.

You are not alone.

For further help and information about living with a chronic illness, please follow the link below: