Managing My Mental Health with Sickle Cell
Last updated: August 2021
The first time I openly spoke openly about managing my mental health was on Episode 3 of my podcast “Salted Popcorn with Jenica Leah”. I was completely transparent about my experience and the journey that lead to me getting help. The help I needed was mostly to deal with past challenges that I’d tried to ignore related to living with sickle cell.
I initially thought that I must be the only person living with sickle cell that needed help with managing my mental health as I had never really noticed anyone speak about it before. It also had never been a topic of conversation raised by my consultants or anyone in my medical team. This made me feel as if it was a problem that only I was experiencing and I put that down to the way I handle situations that happen in my life.
Brushing things under the carpet
I use the analogy brushing things under the carpet: Something would happen in relation to my sickle cell (the most recent event was being told I needed to have a hip decompression surgery). Just like every other sickle cell complication I had been through, I would tell myself I would be okay, I can handle it, brush it under the carpet and keep it moving.
The only issue was I started to feel like that carpet was running out of space and It started to seep into my everyday life.
The biggest sign for me was that I became unable to control my thoughts or emotions. I would randomly start to think and worry about past complications that I had been through with sickle cell. These thoughts would cause me to become suddenly and uncontrollably emotional. I found myself not wanting to go anywhere or do anything in case anyone noticed.
Speaking with others
It took me a long time to share how I was feeling and the initial conversation was encouraged by those who were closest to me and started to notice small differences. The fact that others had started to notice a change in me actually made the conversation easier to have. I didn’t feel like it was all in my head because it was now being recognized by others.
What I found helpful
Being in a better space mentally and able to share my experience openly, I wanted to share three tips that I would give to anyone who may be going through a similar experience:
- Surround yourself with the ‘right’ people.
- Do One Thing.
- Speak to someone.
While I was going through my emotions, my level of communication with some people decreased. Those that reached out to me even when I didn’t were the ones who supported me the most.
They realized this was out of character for me. They required no explanation and instead offered support even before I shared with them what I was going through. These are who I call the ‘right’ people. Sometimes the people we least expect are the ones who end up being the most supportive.
While I found myself not wanting to go anywhere or do anything, this also started to become a habit at home. If you have days where you feel like doing nothing at all, try to set yourself the goal of doing one thing for the day; no matter how small the task. Feeling a sense of accomplishment is great for your well-being. It also naturally makes you become more motivated — even if it is just getting out of bed.
One thing I have learned over the years is that it’s okay not to be okay but it’s not okay to stay there. Life has its ups and downs, and sickle cell can often feel like a constant down but this is not something we have to deal with alone.
Living with a chronic illness makes us more likely to experience a mental health issue and this is something that we should be more aware of. Sharing how you feel with someone you trust, whether personal or professional, is another great way to manage how you feel.
I hope that if this is something you are experiencing you may find these tips useful. And if this is something you have overcome, please share your journey as it may benefit many others.
Looking for mental health resources? We have compiled this list as a resource for the community.
Can you relate to Jenica?
Are you interested in connecting with other sickle cell warriors?