Doctors often suggest counseling as a way to treat chronic illness. It’s so frustrating to be told your very real symptoms are all in your head. We hear it time and time again, along with “change your diet and exercise,” “have you considered yoga?” and worst, “maybe you’re just lazy. ” Although diet changes, yoga, and counseling can help individual cases, they’re not a cure, and the pressure many of us feel to get “well” can keep us from wanting to try things- and fail. But the truth is, chronic illness can take a toll on your mental health. That doesn’t mean your symptoms are all in your head, or that mental illness shouldn’t be treated with care. For years, I refused to go to counseling. I knew my symptoms were physical, but for years I was told my syncope and rapid pulse were panic attacks. I didn’t need doctors, I needed a psychiatrist. Finally, I was diagnosed. But after being born sick, living differently than kids my age, and being told I was making it all up by every doctor I had seen? I was angry, confused, and scared. These were all emotions I had every right to feel, but they were also emotions I needed to work through. Finally, I started talking to a counselor about my chronic illnesses.
Although I don’t feel any better physically, seeking support for my chronic illnesses has been one of the best choices I’ve ever made. Taking time to find the right counselor made all the difference, as I couldn’t share my concerns with someone that didn’t make me feel comfortable. Once I found the right guy? He became one of the best parts of my medical team. He’s not afraid to advocate for me, help me find resources, and most importantly, he provides thoughtful exercises and feedback on my experiences as a chronically ill young adult.
Counseling isn’t for everyone, especially as much as it gets shoved in our faces as a way to cure us. It’s easy to believe it can’t help. I know I believed that counseling was a waste of time for years.
Support groups and counseling can be for you though, as long as you find the right ones. Don’t be afraid to see several counselors until you find the right one. And remember, you’re not making your illnesses up. But you can find someone who will support you through the emotional fallout.