I Go To Therapy. Is That Supposed to be a Secret?
Un-fun fact: a lot of people who suffer from chronic illness also struggle with depression and anxiety.
The actual numbers on it vary so I’m not going to throw any highly scientific stats at you, but suffice it to say, physical and mental illness often go hand in hand. Some people are already predisposed to chemical imbalances in the brain like anxiety and depression. For others, the stress of being diagnosed with and coping with an incurable illness is the trigger.
I’m somewhere in the middle of those two types of people. This is not my first therapy rodeo. I’ve gone on and off since I was a kid and my parents got divorced. I went in college when I developed panic disorder. I’ve started back up again going now to deal with the day-to-day garbage that being sick does to my brain.
And by “does to my brain,” I’m not talking about the physical. Crohn’s disease doesn’t actively rot my cerebellum or anything, but it is a lot easier to go down a hole of dark thoughts when you’re faced with a lifetime of meds, doctor visits, and expensive copays. So what’s a professional sick patient to do?
Talk to someone! For some, it’s enough to just talk with friends and family about how they’re feeling from time to time. For others, an actual, trained therapist can do more to help. Thanks to my latest flare I found myself repeatedly thinking: this is so unfair. Why can’t I go out and get drinks and real food with my friends? Why can’t I plan a trip knowing I’ll be in good enough health to go? Why am I so tired from doing basic tasks like carrying groceries? Why do I have to spend so much disposable income on a CT scan for a disease that I didn’t ask for?
And when those thoughts come, I know it’s time to seek out the big guns. And that it’s also maybe time to start dating a radiology tech for free medical care, if I can swing that. There’s such a stigma to seeking mental health care in our world: people think it makes them weak, or that it implies some kind of defeat. I personally think taking charge of your mental health is one of the most important and brave things you can do. And the more we all talk about it, the more we normalize it and make it okay for others to seek out help when they need it. People aren’t meant to be islands–– it’s okay to need a little help sometimes. Or a lot of help.
And while friends and family are awesome, there are actual professionals out there who specialize in helping people deal with the repercussions of chronic illness. When it comes to physical illness, your body can really be affected by your mind. Crohn’s disease specifically can be made worse by stress, which is a pretty cruel and unusual never-ending cycle. So if you think about it, you can’t really effectively treat the body without also treating the mind.
One kink in this plan that I do have to address, though, is cost. The state of mental health care in the United States, at least, is pretty abysmal. People (ahem, insurance companies) don’t prioritize it the way they should, so care is often prohibitively expensive–– hard to deal with when you’re already stressed about paying your other medical bills. That being said, there are other (free or cheap) resources you can seek out to talk to someone. There are hotlines to call and support groups both online and at a number of hospitals and medical centers. If you’re a student, mental health care is often free on campus. Some really nice employers even offer assistance programs where you can get a certain number of counseling sessions for free!
So while a lot of people might feel uncertain or embarrassed talking about going to therapy, I don’t think it needs to be some big state secret where I make up an elaborate lie about how I’m going to Bingo every Thursday night. Just like my medication infusions, or my check-ups, or my trips to get blood work, therapy is one of the many tools in my arsenal I have in the fight against chronic illness. And it’s a damn good one, if I do say so myself.