The Rise and Fall of My Mental Health With Sickle Cell
We all know that mental health and mental health issues are not talked about enough and I feel like it is because it is not encouraged in many homes, especially here in Nigeria.
Growing up different
Over the years, my mental health has been up and down. Growing up in a family where this type of conversation is not encouraged, I find it difficult to express my feelings or open up to anyone, even when I wanted to. I recently saw a video where a girl shared her story with sickle cell and she mentioned that sickle cell drains your confidence.
It drained my confidence growing up and I still battle that. I grew up with low-self esteem, feeling not confident in myself. This lack of confidence can stem from different reasons but for me, it was mostly because of my physical appearance.
Unlike my peers, growing up physically was slow. I grew up skinnier and smaller which made me stay laid back and preferred to be alone. I would rather keep quiet than express my thoughts or feelings because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself and my physique.
It was also difficult for me to make friends with sickle cell, it felt better to be alone, I think this came from my fear of being stigmatized and bullied. Although I did not totally avoid that even as a teenager.
Getting into my late teens, my mental health started becoming better and that was because I had started connecting with people like me online. These people know what I’m going through, they listened to me and were genuinely interested in me.
This is why one of my first coping strategies when dealing with mental health issues is to find a community of like-minded people. It reduces the burden and you feel less alone.
AVN made things worse
Another complication, avascular necrosis, came like a wrecking ball on my mental health. It made a lot of things that were going well become bad. First, it was me becoming uninterested in things. Nothing mattered anymore because all my plans and goals didn’t look possible anymore.
Soon, avascular necrosis started altering my physical appearance, I went from just slight pain in my hip to visibly limping due to the pain in my hip. It’s no science rocket that my mental health went down the drain. I felt anxious about my physical appearance and I became so worried about how I looked.
Presently, I think that my mental health is fair. I still worry sometimes about my physical appearance. Looks are very important to me so I invest well enough in my appearance. Also, I get anxious about sickle cell affecting my relationship life.
I have a girlfriend who is sickle cell AA and does not mind that I have sickle cell disease but I still feel that anxiety about whether or not she would stay after a vaso-occlusive crisis or whether or not she is dating me out of pity or out of love.
Sickle cell mental health
Having good mental health isn’t a sprint race, it is a lifetime journey, it gets better, then bad, or maybe worse especially with a chronic illness like sickle cell, and then it gets better again and it keeps going like that.
However, I would like to share 3 actions that have greatly helped me get better when it comes to my mental health.
Finding a community or someone to talk to
Living with a chronic illness can be lonely, at least I know that for me. This is why we need a community of people who understand us and can relate to our issues. These types of communities encourage us to share the things that we are dealing with and when we share our problems, it goes a long way in helping us heal.
You can connect with communities online or offline and also make friends online or offline.
Personally, when I feel like my mind is heavy and I feel like talking about it but there's no one around or I don't feel like sharing it, writing is my go-to.
Whenever I write my thoughts, there is a kind of emptiness (in a good way) that I feel. It is usually like a heavy load was lifted from my mind. There is a relief that comes from journaling and I recommend it.
Reading and learning
Is it weird that I get more confident in myself whenever I learn something new? Learning has been a great confidence booster for me as well as reading especially reading non-fiction and biographies.
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