Caring for Your Mental Health
Once faced with a cancer diagnosis, your entire focus tends to shift to caring for your body. Staying hydrated, eating well, prepping for procedures, dealing with treatment after effects, and generally trying to survive physically. More often than we realize, caring for our mental health tends to be on the back burner.
Whether from self-preservation or exhaustion, focusing on how our minds handle a cancer diagnosis just isn't a priority.
From someone who shoved their mental health so far back in a drawer and then needed therapy, I have a few tips and thoughts about how to make sure you are caring for your mind as much as you are caring for your body.
Seek a therapist
The first thing I recommend to anyone, newly diagnosed or years into their cancer journey, is to seek a therapist.
Extra points if they practice in or have experience working with cancer patients. Having someone whose entire focus is on your mind and isn't a family member or friend living the experience with you is a tremendous help.
My therapist helps give me an outside perspective on my situation while empathizing with how hard living with bladder cancer is for me.
Because she is not living the day-to-day with me, she can give unbiased advice and skills to cope when things are difficult. If a therapist is on staff at your cancer center, I cannot recommend enough how important it is to get connected.
Protecting your mental health
The next piece of advice that really saved me is to protect your mental health.
Those support groups, Facebook pages, and message boards that can be so helpful can also bring a good deal of mental strain.
Being constantly bombarded with the statistics of this disease, sad stories of fellow patients going through a bad time, and especially posts of support group members passing can all be incredibly difficult to deal with.
I made the decision a year ago to mute the various support groups, chats, and pages I am part of. I'm still part of all these wonderful groups, but rather than having a difficult post surprise me while scrolling through my friends' posts and photos, I can now go to those pages when I want to and am ready to digest the information.
Creating a bubble of protection
I've created a bubble of protection in social media that allows me to enjoy more "normal" posts and engage in the cancer world on my terms. As an advocate, I set firm boundaries around the types of questions I'll answer on the pages I run and how much I give of myself to people who look to me for support.
Do what brings you joy - always
The greatest bit of advice I think we all can benefit from is finding the things that bring you joy and making a point to enjoy them. I love reading, hiking, playing video games, and taking long walks with my dogs.
I make time to fit these activities into every day as much as possible. Doing fun things allows me to decompress and remember I am more than my cancer, and there is so much more to life than the revolving door of doctor appointments and treatment days. A cozy blanket and a good book give me time to escape and recharge, leaving me in a much healthier mindset to tackle my cancer life and personal life.
I work hard to prioritize my mental health as much as my physical health. Just like drinking enough water, I want to make sure my mind is getting the support it needs. This makes me a better cancer patient and person overall.
Have you taken our In America Survey yet?