When we consider the intersection between mental and physical health, the degree to which the two are connected can add all sorts of extra layers of grim to whatever we’re experiencing, and likewise, take them away.
Depression and anxiety, for instance, can cause fatigue and aches and pains, among other things. Whatever physical impairment someone is dealing with, I think there’s something to be said for managing the thoughts and fears that can go to the detriment of our mental health, because poor mental health can, in turn, affect us physically.
However, this is not to say that if you have cancer, for instance, depression and anxiety will make the cancer worse. Likewise, those conditions that are sometimes erroneously passed off as being psychosomatic, such as CFS/ME, will not be ‘cured’ as a result of remedying negative thoughts and feelings. As my mysterious condition drags on, I’ve become very attuned to my body, and recognise that depression, lack of joy, fear, add an extra layer of knackered. They don’t affect my condition directly, just as they wouldn’t if I had cancer or angina, but they do make things heavier, sort of like piling compost on wet soil.
Descartes famously declared that the mind and body are separate. Hacked them apart, he did. Nowadays, society is coming round to the idea that they are more connected than we think – I’d recommend Van Der Kolk’s The Body Knows The Score as a starting point. I think it’s important that within whatever evolving paradigms emerge, we treat people as individuals, and don’t make broad assumptions based on commonplace advice. Running may help some people with depression; it may be too much for others to even contemplate leaving the house. Going for a walk with friends might help someone with fatigue; many people with chronic fatigue syndrome may find this makes their symptoms worse. Let us therefore be sensitive when we offer advice, and not presume to know what’s best for people based on partial information, even if we are only trying to help. Sometimes – read: often – listening and validation are all that’s needed.
These are the random paths that chronic illness have led me down; expect silliness and deep reflection in equal measure. Impaired health can bring pain, despair, uncertainty and a bit of unexpected joy; seek solace here if you crave some light relief from campaigning/suffering.