The emotional impact of long-term physical illness

As published on the ME Association website on 8th July 2019. To read the article on their website, click on this link https://www.meassociation.org.uk/2019/07/the-emotional-impact-of-a-long-term-physical-illness-by-anna-redshaw-08-july-2019/?fbclid=IwAR1mQ9Js_NEnkmWQWH_o4vXGGpNgc18Nynb75tRsqcNb4zhHzYk7rBo-wTA

I have no diagnosed mental health conditions, but in the same way that we all have a physical health, every single one of us has a mental health. Recently mine hasn’t been as good as it once was. To put it simply, I have been unwell every single day since September 2010 and no human being can endure what we endure as M.E. sufferers and come away unscathed.

I have experienced incredible ignorance, disbelief, battled with the DWP, and missed out on a lot of life since being ill, but it was the realisation that motherhood would not be something I would experience that ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Due to the severity of my M.E. and the all-encompassing effects that my health has on my life, I will not be having children. (It is not something I am wishing to discuss or justify at this time.)

Having reached this devastating conclusion some time ago, I steeled myself for the day my siblings or cousins made a pregnancy announcement. But I still wasn’t quite ready for it. I will be an aunty for the first time later this month.

With every friend that announced that they were having a baby, there was a huge internal conflict. I was overjoyed for them, but heartbroken for myself. Every birth announcement left me torn between elation and despair. These feelings were amplified when my sister announced her pregnancy late last year. I have missed out on a lot since being ill but this sacrifice seemed too cruel a thing to endure.

I have never viewed seeking help for one’s mental health as something to be ashamed of, but I also genuinely never saw myself needing such help. For nearly nine years I have been okay. More than okay. Happy. Content. Grateful. But it seems you can be all those things and still be sad, angry, frustrated and lost. And feel this searing pain and despair over what I feel is an ultimate loss; not becoming a mother.

The conflicting emotions became overwhelming. I sought help. It took over six months to find the courage to send that first email to my counsellor. The breaking point came one evening after speaking to my pregnant sister. It was clearly deeply unhealthy to come away from each phone call and cry inconsolably.

When I started to look for a local counsellor online, I became incredibly angry and frustrated to see CFS/ME listed amongst the issues that a counsellor claimed they could offer support with. I despised the implication that my very physical health condition was something that talking therapy could help. When my appointment came around, I endeavoured to mention my physical health condition as little as possible and just concentrate on The Baby Thing.

I can’t tell you how hard it was to go to that first appointment; to put myself out there when I am so incredibly vulnerable and not nearly as thick-skinned as M.E. sufferers need to be. To put myself in a situation where another’s views on M.E. could have done such damage to me was a huge risk. But I was desperate. Perhaps the fact that I went highlights how much of a struggle missing out of this milestone has been.

Ever the optimist I though 6-8 sessions, as initially recommended, would be enough. But now, 4 months on, I realise it is more of an ongoing commitment. It’s opened a can of worms. It’s not that I kept everything in, or hidden away, or bottled up. I have had an incredible support system to lean on. It’s that now I have someone to offload to who has no emotional response to my struggles, and over 8 years of tales to tell. While it was The Baby Thing that led to me seeking help, it is the overall subject of long-term illness that has been the main topic of discussion. Afterall, it is M.E. and only M.E. that is the reason behind my husband and I facing a childless future. A condition like M.E. has an incredibly far-reaching effect on the sufferer and those in the sufferer’s life.

While too many medical professionals have inaccurate and outdated views about M.E. being psychological, my person-centred counsellor is in no way trying to cure or help me recover from M.E. She is simply supporting me through the emotional impact that M.E. has had. There is a difference.

I think it’s important to note that it is a privilege to be able to seek this help, from both a financial and a health point of view. Just a couple of years ago I would have been too unwell to even contemplate starting this process. Every cloud eh…

Family and friends have offered me support when I have shared my struggles, but there’s something very powerful about getting sympathy and understanding from a health professional. I think that’s something all M.E. sufferers can relate to.

To have coped in any kind of way with the reality of M.E. is commendable. Kicking, screaming, crying, full of hope and optimism, at peace…all responses are valid. I have done them all. It seems I just needed to hear from someone further removed than my own support network, that it is perfectly okay to be feeling the way I am feeling, particularly around the subject of parenthood.

I can’t stress enough how valuable the experience has been for me so far. It really is good to talk.

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