When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis seven years ago, I never expected the impact it would have on my mental health. Before I got sick, I was a hairdresser and salon owner for over 20 years. I had an active social life, went to the gym, and played hockey. As my illness progressed, I noticed I had a hard time doing the things that I was used to doing. When I stopped working, my whole world went upside down. I lost my identity. I felt like a failure. I had a hard time accepting the fact that my body had changed and I went into a deep depression. I’ve always been a perfectionist and my salon was my creative outlet. When my husband was deployed, I totally shut down. I didn’t even want to get out of bed anymore. The stress I was putting on myself made my RA worse and I had pneumonia for months.
I decided to seek help; I had been so sick, I was scared. I had been to counseling before when my mother died, when I was 13, but never really stuck with it. I started talking to someone weekly and learned a lot about myself. I found the more anxiety and depression I had, the worse my body felt. It seemed that my mind and body fed off itself. I also needed to deal with the fact that my life was different. I wasn’t working anymore, I had no social life, and I had to take breaks while doing house work or laundry.
Through the 7 years that I’ve had this illness, I’ve continued my counseling and go every two weeks. I continue to work on accepting my life as “Gina, the homemaker” and not “Gina the owner and operator of a salon”. I continue to work on the fact that I am not a failure. Just waking up in the morning, getting out of bed, and making myself a cup of coffee- I’ve already won. I continue to work on not letting this disease dictate my feelings about myself. It’s a constant battle, but I am determined to not let my emotions and my illness take over my life.
I started making checklists every week to determine the things that absolutely have to be done and the things that I can let slide for a bit. I am very hard on myself but I find that my checklists help me feel accomplished while not over doing it.
Below is a sample of what my “Mental Health Check List” looks like for the week:
1. How are you feeling today?
If I’m having a good day I plan things that I can add on to my list like laundry or cleaning.
2. What do you want to do today?
I have my vices that make me happy like certain shows, doing some form of exercise etc. If you still work and feel like you have some left over energy you can spare plan something fun for yourself. Having some “me” time definitely helps calm the mind and also makes you feel good.
3. Do you need to ask for help?
I had a hard time asking for help for a very long time. I was so used to doing everything myself. It makes things a lot easier when you can ask for help with things that have to be done like grocery shopping etc. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t and shouldn’t have to do everything. If you have kids or a husband or even family members sit down with them and let them know how you feel. I’m sure you do a lot for people I know I do, why can’t it go both ways? I do a lot for my husband and he’s taken over doing the grocery shopping, taking out the garbage etc.
4. Do I need to rest?
There are days I do spend more time on the couch and it’s ok. I used to beat myself up over it. I find if I do need to rest and I take the time to, my mind and body are both refreshed and I can take on the next day a lot easier.
5. Do I need to talk to someone today?
I have days where I am emotional or have a lot of anxiety. Those are the days I either call my counselor or I text a friend. I always find that I feel better when I let it out. Everyone needs that certain someone who understands and loves you unconditionally, no matter what you’re anxious or depressed about. No one needs to be judged. Having an illness is hard enough and I know I am very hard on myself because I can’t do certain things anymore.
I know there are a lot of people out there who are either ashamed or embarrassed about having emotions or feeling overwhelmed. You’re not alone. When I finally found someone I felt comfortable talking to, it made my life a lot easier to handle. My life is always under construction and I’m always finding new ways to make my life happier and easier to handle. My first concern is keeping my mind in check because that is one thing that I can work on and transform. That way when things happen to my body, I can deal with the changes and not be too overwhelmed.