Ask the Advocates: Taking Care of Our Mental Health
Lifelong conditions such as sickle cell disease can have a negative impact on your mental health. Depression, stress, and anxiety are just a few of the ways sickle cell can impact mental health, and each person's experience looks a bit different.
Since it is Mental Health Awareness Month, we asked our advocates how sickle cell impacts their mental health and how they take care of themselves.
How does sickle cell impact your mental health?
I seem to be on a roller-coaster ride of anxiety, depression, and a lack of sleep. Plus, you doubt your own balance of your mental health because no one believes you.
Sickle cell has impacted my mental health by making me feel inadequate. Feeling as if my best is never enough because I have this disease. Some day I often ask God why was I given this and why couldn't I just be "normal."
Having sickle cell anemia impacts everything about my life, especially my mindset. I find myself worrying about how I will keep up with school when I feel myself getting sick or worrying about what explanation I'll give for backing out of commitments. When I was younger, I feared the pain of my disease and its potential complications. Now, I see it as a motivating force and the reason why I will become an amazing physician.
Overall/general, sometimes it makes me feel very low and depressed. I sometimes ask "Why me?" or get irritated about getting fatigued as it slows me down sometimes, but during the pandemic, my sickle cell has made me very anxious because I feel even more vulnerable.
Sickle cell impacts my mental health greatly. Anytime I get stressed or my past trauma (PTSD) kicks in, my condition gets worse. With me, my sickle cell gets worse with stress and anxiety.
Sickle cell has this way of making you feel alone even when you could be surrounded by so many people. Bottling up thoughts and feelings because no one will understand how you feel or because you don't want to be someone who complains all the time. There are also feelings of depression, fears about making plans in case you get sick. The impact of sickle cell on mental health is so vast.
Editor's note: Read more about Jenica's mental health journey in Managing My Mental Health With Sickle Cell.
How do you take care of your mental health?
Given the many ways that sickle cell can impact our mental health, we want you to know that there are resources available to help you. Talk therapy can provide an outlet and allow you to understand and come to terms with your emotions. But, that is not your only option. Speaking with friends and family, eating more fruits and veggies, and exercise are other ways that you can help you take care of your mental and emotional well-being.
We asked our advocates how they take care of their mental health. These are their responses:
I try my best to be open and talk to people (a select few) about how I'm feeling. I also try not to worry about the unknown or things that haven't happened yet. Writing down my thoughts and feelings is also a way I feel helps me to not hold things in.
In all honesty, nothing really helps me with my mental health. In the past, I have meditated, medicated, prayed, kept myself busy, and anything else that you can think of. None of it worked. As a result, I just deal with it until it passes, which is very unfortunate for me.
I recently brought some crystals, which help to keep me grounded. I also take multivitamins and practice self-care a lot more. More baths and aromatherapy.
When I was younger I was forced to see a therapist and I did not like it, but now I love therapy! I'm not always consistent, but I go back and forth between in-person therapy, mediation apps, and just venting to someone who will listen. I also try to do physical and fun activities like going for walks on sunny days to boost my mood.
I try to find various ways to take care of my mental health. I just recently looked into getting therapy. I try to find pockets of joy, especially on my good days. Last I take the time to pray and meditate.
I used to be able to do tai chi, but now I engulf myself in meditation.
You are not alone
Taking care of our mental well-being can be challenging, and results are not always immediate. But we want you to know that you are not alone. Taking a moment to connect with others and finding support in person or through a virtual setting like this one can make a difference.
Self-care can take many shapes and sizes, so find what works for your mind, body, and soul, whether that is crystals, tai chi, or multivitamins. Sometimes we need to try different things before we find what works for us.
Mental health resources
Do you have a good relationship with your doctor?