How Having Hidradenitis Suppurativa Helped Me Take Control of My Mental Health
Ever since I can remember I've always been sad. If it wasn't because of Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), it was because I was fat, Black, and taller than all of my classmates. I was constantly teased for it and made to feel like an outcast. I wore it all with shame and isolated myself as a result. When I developed HS in 6th grade it was like this chronic skin condition was the cherry on top of my depression sundae. It sunk me deeper into something I was already familiar with.
My body was never mine anyway so having one more thing dictate its being wasn't a surprise. Two years ago I began understanding how HS has and is affecting my mental health. As I understand it when our bodies are constantly inflamed and in pain, depression, and anxiety can be side effects of those events in our lives. One way to combat depression and anxiety, for me, has been integrating lifestyle changes to lower the inflammation in my body to promote healing.
The mental and emotional scars
From 2014 to 2017 I was in remission from HS, and while I experienced less chronic pain, I didn’t realize the next layer was unpacking the mental and emotional scars this chronic skin condition has left on my mind and spirit. This led me to seek out a therapist to start crafting a plan towards healing the medical trauma I had experienced.
Because I am naturally creative, I also began channeling my complex emotions through art projects ranging from journalism to film to poetry to photography. I leaned into these modalities to uncover the layers of living with a chronic illness for myself as well as others.
When art, therapy, and eating right don’t pacify my depression and anxiety, I tap into advocacy and awareness work like creating a virtual awareness week bringing doctors and patients together with people who are caregivers and unfamiliar with HS to educate and extend resources. I’ve always found giving back to others makes me feel better. If I can’t feel good, at least I can induce that feeling in someone else’s life.
"Healing is an individualized experience"
These aren’t bulletproof steps to combating depression and anxiety but a blueprint to what has worked for me. Life, to me, is about constantly learning what does and does not align with you. Veganism no longer aligns with my health goals so even though it’s brought me into remission in the past, now it’s the source of my inflammation. As my body changes I’m learning so do my needs mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
When I started listening to my body is when I saw the most change in my mental and physical health. Listening to your body can be as simple as paying attention to how you feel after you eat certain foods or being mindful of how stiff your body is and having the tools to address those issues. Healing is an individualized experience, I don’t believe it’s universal because we all have complex ways we need to heal due to our genetic makeup all the way to the environments we were raised in.
Taking charge of your mental health is an integral part of full-body healing. Take it one day at a time. Evaluate your needs and desires. Create an action plan and adjust as you go. The most important in the list is to do everything in your power at home while working with a team of doctors to lower inflammation and get the chronic pain under control. Once there’s a plan in place, addressing mental health concerns can become less daunting.
How has your HS affected your relationships with friends and family?