A chronic condition is not just about your physical health…
It is about the underlying stress that you feel when you do not have the energy to do what you need to do that day.
It is about the feelings of guilt that you have when you watch your loved ones try their best to help.
It is about not knowing how to explain that even though you “look good” on the outside, the pain and fatigue that you feel on the inside is REAL.
It is about feeling isolated and misunderstood.
And now, it can also be about hope, because your diagnosis does not define you.
I became passionate about working with chronic illness while working as a therapist at the Mount Sinai Hospital’s IBD Clinical Center here in New York City. Treating people who were dealing with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis (the two forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease –IBD) was, and still is, one of the most rewarding areas of my professional life. There are no words that can describe what it feels like to see a person turn small milestones into a new life with a new perspective and a new found sense of control, in spite of having a chronic illness that they have no control over.
If you are struggling with a chronic health issue, whether it is a digestive disorder like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), cancer, chronic pain, major surgery or long-term diseases that we have not yet found a cure for such as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis), the impact on your emotional, social and mental health is not only substantial, it is also far-reaching.
Educating yourself is one of the best ways to begin to feel more in control of your situation. My hope is that as you continue to read the information on this page, you will understand some of the ways in which serious health conditions can lead to emotional difficulties, learn how to cope with some of those stressors, and understand how psychotherapy can help you overcome your challenges. Read on for more information about how health issues can lead to emotional problems and some ways on how to cope.
How can therapy help with my chronic health issue?
If you have read this far, then you may already be considering that you would benefit from some speaking to someone who understands the emotions involved with having a chronic condition.
Major health issues can take a serious toll on your emotional and mental health. As a matter of fact, people suffering from chronic health issues are at a higher risk of developing emotional and psychological difficulties, such as depression,anxiety, and even suicidality. Chronic anxiety in and of itself can compound the negative effects on your health, as it can have an impact on your immune, nervous and digestive systems.
In most cases, an on-going chronic illness also becomes a “family affair”, as it is almost impossible to manage without the help or support of family or friends. All too often, the need to use or gather a support system leaves you feeling anxious, depressed and guilty for “burdening” those closest to you. Without the right frame of mind, coping techniques and strategies managing a chronic illness can feel and be overwhelming, but with the right tools in your coping toolbox, you can reach beyond just “managing” and take back control of your life despite your chronic condition.
Creating a “new normal” is not something that any of us plan for, so for most of us, the transitions do not happen so smoothly. I provide individual and family therapy for adults who struggle with chronic illness or chronic health issues because, no matter how bad things get, you deserve to have a hopeful, meaningful and joy-filled life. It is an honor for me to help my clients learn how to create and live their lives to the fullest. That is my desire for you- what is YOUR desire for you? Let’s start there.
How can health issues lead to emotional problems?
When trying to understand the complex emotional impact of chronic health issues, it may be easier to look at it from the perspective of what is commonly referred to as the biopsychosocial model:
When people experience severe and/or chronic health issues, they often struggle with physical or more biological symptoms, such as pain, difficulty moving or doing certain tasks and sleep issues. Your body may have less energy, less ability, less independence.
Over time, these take a psychological toll. You may begin to feel hopeless, helpless, and unvalued and sometimes, invalidated by those who love you most. You might begin to doubt or question yourself, growing more and more cynical about the world. To make matters worse, some health issues will compromise your hopes for the future and feelings of security. You begin to grieve your dream career, your future relationships, or even having time enough to live to see your children grow old.
These experiences can begin to seep into your social life, as you may withdraw from others and fear relational connection. People may also begin to treat you differently and respond to your needs in different ways. You may begin to feel that your calls or texts are being avoided by friends from whom you never would have expected such behavior, or you may experience “feeling smothered” by your loved ones, never getting space to breathe and be yourself.
These difficulties can all stem from your health issues, thereby producing additional life stressors. Some of the warning signs that someone is experiencing psychological distress due to a medical condition might include:
- Loss of purpose or meaning
- Bouts of tearfulness or sadness
- Anger or irritability
- Hopelessness or helplessness
- Isolation from friends and family
- Thoughts of death or ending one’s life
- Poor medication adherence (not taking medicine, skipping appointments, etc.)
- Difficulty with sleep
- Loss of motivation
If you or a loved one is suffering from the effects of a serious medical condition and would like to explore if therapy can provide the support and coping skills that you need, contact me today. To learn ways of coping with these issues, read on!
How can I cope with my medical issues?
You can cope with the stressors of having a serious medical issue in a number of ways, and certain things work better for some than others – which is why I like to tailor those specifically to each of my clients. Feel free to be creative and find what works best for you! To get you started, here are some of my go-to suggestions for managing that stress:
- Find space – Your loved ones may not be providing you with enough space to think, reflect, or be alone. You may need time to be more independent, to be your own person, all on your own. This will help you feel more connected with who you are – rather than what is happening to you.
- Be a self-advocate – Although they do it with good intentions, your loved ones may be a bit overbearing or protective in response to your condition. This means that they may be taking care of you in ways that you do not need or doing things that you could do for yourself. Try to be your own advocate and try to do everything that you can to learn about the support resources that are available to you and how to get access to them.
- Adapt and accept – Find ways to adapt and compensate for your new ability level, but also give yourself compassion for the things that are now beyond your reach. Longing and yearning for full recovery of abilities will only bring more stress and grief and making peace with yourself will ease your adjustment.
- Look ahead and make new plans – Many people struggle with dwelling in the past, grieving over the future they once had. Although the pain of this loss can take time to fade, you can find some relief by looking to your future and finding things to work towards – no matter how small.
- Open up – Talk about your thoughts and feelings to a trusted loved one. Many of the people around you want to be a support, and you can unload some of your stress by sharing what you are going through. You may also benefit from researching support groups in your area for your condition, as many primary care and hospital settings offer these to patients for free or little cost.
Sometimes, however, coping skills are not enough for dealing with the emotional symptoms that so often accompany chronic health issues, and it is for moments like those when professional help through psychotherapy is needed. If you or a loved one is struggling with physical and psychological health, let’s talk and see if we can work together to improve your quality of life.
How will psychotherapy help?
Therapy provides a safe, supportive, and confidential space for you to work towards your goals with a professional. I draw from my experience in working with people who have a chronic illness to help you identify ways to navigate seemingly on-going health challenges. You will have the chance to speak freely about yourself, share your life story, and build a therapeutic relationship. We then work together to help you:
- Modify your reactions to pain
- Decrease or better manage your worry about medical issues
- Add new coping skills to your “coping toolkit”
- Learn techniques to help you sleep better
- Increase your resilience and self-confidence
- Navigate family and relational issues
- Be more mindful, less anxious and a strong self-advocate
As I said before, I strongly believe that your diagnosis does not define you and I believe that you have the capacity to get better, become stronger and have a happy, meaningful life. Contact me for a chat and to see if I am a good fit to address your needs.
Have questions about rates, insurance and what to expect in therapy? Click here for the FAQ page!
I am a private practice therapist and LCSW based in New York, and I see clients from all over the area – Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester and statewide within the State of New York. I specialize in helping people who are dealing with anxiety, relationship issues, chronic illness, digestive conditions and adult trauma related to childhood family dynamics. We all deserve a chance to be well and have support, and I would love to be there for you during this difficult time.