Triggers… if you have any kind of chronic illness this is something that at some point you will most likely have investigated. What is it that triggers my condition? Can I do anything to prevent it happening? Why am I having this problem? Did I do something to cause this? These are all familiar questions for a person with chronic illness – some of these questions being healthier than others.
Thinking of my AS, Uveitis and IBS I have an obvious major trigger which is negative forms of stress. This year, I have gone through some stressful things; bereavement, a small house fire, hospitalisation, infections and a lack of stability in my life far beyond my comfort levels . A lot of these things are difficult to deal with on their own and so are the resultant flare ups – they are mentally exhausting and frustrating. One can be in a place where your inner voice constantly cries out on repeat and asks God ‘Is this my fault? Maybe it is? I’m sure I must be able to do better. Please just let there be no more triggering events. This is too much, can the world just stop for a while so I can catch my breath, pull myself together and then get on with my life without all of the illness?’ and that is the voice of depression.
Now, some would turn and say to me – ‘well, you have a faith, you must learn to let go and let God’ or ‘Don’t let it get you down’ or ‘there’s no use in worrying about it’. Sure, okay – but is that really practical and useful advice? In my experience, honestly, no. Telling someone something that they already know is not helpful and can add to the stress and feelings of failure that’s already there – inadvertently, you pull the trigger on them. So, when you come across someone struggling my advice would be don’t tell them to ‘pull themselves together’, offer a simple quick fix or try to do everything for them – just acknowledge the struggle, be present and ask if you can help.
When you know you have a chronic illness it’s easy to constantly micro-analyse what one is doing or not doing, planning for every possible eventuality to try to stay normal. But this becomes very quickly counter-productive and exhausting. Thankfully, I have a wonderful therapist who has really helped me to become more self aware when I am pulling my own stress triggers. I’m finding ways to manage my world; mindfulness, practising being kind to myself in my words and actions, exercise (when I am well enough) and drawing seem to be very helpful to me – I have a long way to go, but I am on the right path for me now.
In many ways, management of triggers is just about making healthy choices. Choosing to eat a healthy well balanced diet, but knowing that having a slice of that birthday cake is perfectly fine. Choosing to meditate/pray but not retreating into oneself so far that you become disconnected from the outside world entirely. Knowing that life comes with its responsibilities and duties, but not taking on things that are unnecessary for you and sharing your load when it makes sense to. So for me not piling on extra stress when things that are naturally stressful happen is important and it comes down to dealing with the initial stress in as healthy a way as possible.
So for those of us out there with chronic illness and depression; be aware of your triggers, have things in place that help once that trigger has been pulled. But, importantly, don’t live your life constantly in battle ready mode with the fear that something or someone might just accidentally pull a trigger. Just focus on being the best you that you can be in the moment.