Chronic Disease and Mental Health
Chronic diseases can be challenging to manage and can take a toll on our mental health. Hidradenitis suppurativa is well documented to have an effect on quality of life and mental health.1,2,3
Unfortunately, in 19 years of managing my HS, I have had many negative experiences with the healthcare system. Over the years the negative effects on my quality of life have compounded. I decided to seek a therapist with training in chronic disease management and medical trauma. I have seen other therapists in the past but we did not focus on HS or discuss it. Since then, I realized that HS affects all aspects of my life. I cannot treat my mental health without also discussing how HS impacts it.
Clinical specialty in chronic illnesses
I searched for therapists near me who specialize in chronic illnesses. I found one who was able to offer me virtual therapy and we have a strong connection. She uses multiple approaches in her therapy, including somatic therapy, Internal Family Systems (IFS), trauma informed therapies, and dialectical behavior therapy.
One of her specialties is working with people who have chronic diseases and who have experienced medical trauma. She recognizes that the healthcare system systematically marginalizes people who have chronic diseases. While we are constantly reckoning with these institutional level issues, people with chronic illnesses also experience hopelessness, guilt, and shame. These feelings can lead to mental health and physical health issues. My therapist is trained in interventions for issues and challenges related to chronic disease management.
Because of her training, we are really able to dig deep into how HS affects my mental health and my behavior. My therapist uses somatic therapy by prompting me to recognize how emotions feel in my body and how my body affects my feelings. Psychology Today defines somatic therapy as a body centered therapy that emphasizes the connection between mind and body to promote holistic healing. We discuss how HS affects many of my experiences, feelings, and relationships, with a focus on the mind and the body. Discussing these connections helps me to recognize patterns in my life and address my mental health.4
Mental health and physical health
A chronic disease that causes pain like HS certainly connects physical health with mental health. When I experience an HS flare or new symptom, it can cause mental health symptoms such as grief, anger, despair, and depression. These feelings can, in turn, make it difficult for me to be active and complete physical tasks. Therefore, my mental and physical symptoms are linked.
We also discuss health equity, body equality, body positivity, and acceptance. I have spent a lot of time feeling angry at my body because of HS. I have also tried to disassociate from my body as a way to cope, especially during doctors appointments and examinations. Through somatic therapy, I am able to reconnect my mental and emotional health to my physical body. We also work to accept my feelings of anger towards my body alongside of my appreciation for my body for all it has endured. Feeling the pull between loving my body and being frustrated with my body can be mentally challenging.
As I struggle with multiple physical symptoms and limitations, accepting and embracing my body is a healing thought. Choosing a therapist with a clinic focus on chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases has been key for me in my therapy and mental health journey. HS may cause mental health issues but therapy with a trained specialist one of the ways I can cope with HS and manage my mental health.
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