Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mental Health and Chronic Illness

It's #BellLetsTalk day about mental health, and I've already posted about my experience with depression but I wanted to share more about how my physical health also has a huge impact on me and how I want to make this easier for other kids like me.

It's been almost 4 years since I had my first onset of a Crohns Disease flare. In reality, I'm still on that "first" onset since I've yet to achieve remission status. In 4 years I went from being an active kid who was always wanting to be on the go somewhere, to someone who rarely feels they have the energy to leave the house (at least much of the time). My entire life has changed. I can no longer participate in Scouting activities that I really enjoyed, I rarely have contact with my school friends since I've been too sick to go. I haven't had a birthday party in 3 years, and since I'm not at school, I rarely get invited out with friends. I've spent many of the past 2 years worth of holidays at the hospital. Over such a short time, my life has turned upside-down.

I'm completely aware of my medical situation. I know that I've exhausted my medical options for the moment and that how I'm feeling right now might be as good as it gets. I get angry at the disease, at what it's taken from me, and the treatments that I have go through because of it. I've had tears adjusting to living with tubes and bags hanging off of me. I've asked "Why me?" and go through periods of being jealous of my other "normal" friends at school who are living "normal" lives. I will never live a "normal" life in the sense that most people would consider normal. I've had to accept that my normal involves machines, blenderized meals, and medical equipment like my dancing IV pole partner.

I knew that I couldn't let this disease define me, that I needed to take all the negative that had been thrown at me and create something beautiful from it. When I first walked into the outpatient treatment rooms at the hospital for my first Remicade IV treatment (often an 8 hour day), I was scared and worried that this treatment too would fail. I remember walking into the room and being completely shocked at the emptiness, the lack of color or interesting distractions. I felt like I was walking into more of adult clinic instead of a major children's treatment facility. It was depressing. You felt a heaviness just walking through those doors. Let's face it, medical stuff is scary. As a child when you are looking at the thought of having to do these treatments regularly, it can be downright terrifying.

I decided to do something about this. I know from my time in other parts of the hospital, that having a supportive and engaging environment can make a huge difference in the physical healing and mental health of patients. I decided that the environment for the outpatient treatment rooms needed to change to help give a boost to kids' spirits and help to encourage healing. Jacob's Healing Rooms is going to help update the treatments rooms to make them child-friendly places of healing. I'm going to install tablets at each treatment chair, have the walls painted, distracting sky-panel covers for the lights and a sensory bubble tube machine in each room to distract and liven up the environment. I may not be able to make the disease go away, but I can help to make a difference in the lives of other sick children needing these treatments too. And in turn, that makes me feel like I'm making a difference, that I'm needed.

Today might be #BellLetsTalk day but let's not forget that the struggle that people living with mental health and chronic illness face is very real each and every day.

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