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Navigating Mental Health with Chronic Illness or Disability Challenges
Resources: Self-care, Mental Health
Most of us have heard of the general recommendations for mental and physical wellbeing. But for a lot of us, they are not straightfoward to achieve.

Things like:

  • Get good sleep 

  • Exercise 

  • Reduce stress 

  • Healthy nutrition and hydration  

  • Socialise/connect with people 

But what if those things are difficult? What if, no matter how hard you try, you cannot sleep well? Or exercise is too much for you? Or your own body and experience is a major stressor?  

I hear you. Because I experience these things too. I have experienced persistent sleep issues, reduced mobility, difficulty fitting into social expectations and my own state of health is a constant stressor.  

I have had chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia and endometriosis for most of my life. When you're in high levels of pain, exhausted, can't sleep and no one believes you, it's difficult to do those good things.  

But I've come up with some good work arounds in the past few years and I'd like to share them with you.  

First, I had to throw off common definitions and expectations of the concepts. I now focus on what I can do and less on what I can't. Of course, I am human and do get frustrated with myself, but I TRY not to.  

For me, sleep has been a complex, multi-pronged approach. But the simple things are always first: 

  • Go to bed earlier  

  • Make your bed comfortable 

  • Ensure the room is cool and dark  

  • If you've got pain, that must be managed (as hard as that is) 

  • Get up around the same time each day 

  • Get natural light early in the day1  

  • If fatigue is an issue for you, learn to pace yourself during the day so you're less overtired at bedtime  

That's just the "easy stuff", many people with persistent sleep issues like those present in fibromyalgia and ME/CFS require medication to support sleep. But those things listed above really do help in a lot of cases. And sleep makes everything easier. 

Exercise is a tricky one. And a very big issue for people with ME/CFS. A lot of people have been hurt by the faulty recommendation to try graded exercise therapy. Pushing through your ability levels with ME/CFS has dire consequences.  

But I redefined exercise as movement. More specifically, movement aligned to my current abilities.  

Going for a walk for five minutes, if that's your area of ability right now, is perfect. You can do yoga on your bed or in your chair for 10 minutes. Make it work for you.  

Likewise, I learnt this late, but you can ask people to socialise in a way that works for you. Mostly, they don't mind. If you are avoiding the summer heat, you can ask people to meet for coffee in an air-conditioned mall. Or you could ask a couple of friends to have an early potluck dinner at yours.  

Many of the recommendations for mental and physical wellbeing can be adapted. I encourage you to play with them and see what works for you.  

Wandering across your garden, listening to the birds sing2 and letting the sun warm your arms is an efficient and accessible way to get many benefits.  For more accessible mental well-being and stress management tips, join us in our free, online, self-paced course Empowered below.