This article was originally written for the Mighty Site and is republished here with their permission.
Having mental and physical illnesses at the same time is like playing a constant and fierce game of Whac-A-Mole, or Twister.
When asked how I balance the two, I often say that it’s more so about which illness is most pressing and then I have to tackle that first. This is the Whac-A-Mole version: let’s just hit the worse most pressing condition, and ignore the others until they pop up.
I will say flat out, that this isn’t always the best strategy, and it has taken me a lot of learning to change the way I approach handling both my illnesses. Now, I reserve my Whac-A-Mole playing for times of crisis only.
This Whac-A-Mole tactic can be challenging. When you put all your attention on the one illness, you sometimes neglect the others, sometimes to your own detriment. Then they pop up, Whac-A-Mole style, and you have to deal with that. This Whac-A-Mole approach to health, while it can be useful if you are being attacked from all sides (which sometimes does happen), isn’t good long-term. What you need to achieve long-term wellness in health is balance – and that involves attention to both physical and mental health; all of your conditions.
So, it’s about playing a somewhat balanced game of Whac-A-Mole. Maybe, playing a game of illness Twister, is a better analogy – where you can put one foot on each illness at all times, while trying not to fall down.
Do I take a foot off the red depression circle, and move it over to give more attention to the lupus? How does that work exactly? Because they are all connected and all influence each other, and those of us with chronic illnesses know that.
Taking a foot off the depression circle and putting it on lupus means I can give more attention to my physical health, but it also means I may in turn become more depressed because of my physical situation. So, that foot will be needed again soon on the depression circle.
What is the strategy for balancing all these varying things?
I like to imagine that while I am on the twister board holding on, it is also holding me up. This would mean that I am not painfully sprawled out on the board, balancing one foot on each illness, because the circles that represent my illnesses are also my coping strategies – and everything I have learned that comes along with those illnesses I stand on. I can shift about based on my needs for coping tools and what illness is pressing at any given time.
Sure, you should have a foot on each illness at all times, if possible – unless you need to focus on the one more than the other.
This can feel overwhelming, at best, and sometimes it is hard to stay balanced.
It is helpful to remember that you have a hand on the coping strategies that you have learned and this may help you feel more balanced in the illness game of Twister.
Need to take your foot off depression and place it on chronic pain for a hot second? Use the hot bath circle, if you have the ability, or the phone a friend option. By doing this, you are addressing everything. A hot bath is great self-care. Taking your hand off one square to do some self-care for a while, but then replacing your hand on the same square isn’t to your detriment. And, unfortunately, sometimes it is just about what is the most pressing at that tim – and that’s the only way to manage things when you have more than one condition.
But, it has been my experience that managing things by the Whac-A-Mole, or “deer right in front of your car on the highway” method, really does mean doing so at the expense of your other conditions – and that leads to another deer in front of your car. So, if you have to manage by the “deer in front of your car” method, then do so, but do it mindfully. Clean off your windshield and then get right back on the highway of self-care.
There’s also the “driving blindfolded” method, where you can pretend that nothing is going on and you don’t have anything wrong at all. Perhaps your illnesses will just go away on their own. This obviously leads to a car wreck, because all the things come out of nowhere when you for sure aren’t even looking.
Whatever you decide to do, find something that works for you where you can live with all of your conditions in harmony and with equal attention to them. Maybe by cycle them through, or use the Twister analogy – by using the tactic of picking up one foot for a few seconds, stretching it out, then putting it back down again on the circle.
This way each condition gets equal attention, but you also get a break.
The goal for us all with multiple illnesses is to find a way to incorporate all aspects of our health and wellness into our life. That way you don’t have to take any one foot up, and can master the mat.
Recognize that sometimes the Twister approach won’t always be possible, and that sometimes Whac-A-Mole may be more appropriate when things are really tough.
From my experience, I will say that it is important to know that in order to take the step of balancing all illnesses at once, you must first be able to acknowledge them. Denial and grief are hard, and so are all these other varying emotions you may feel when diagnosed. When battling multiple illnesses, it does really suck sometimes.
Coping with it and facing it was how I ultimately got to the stage where I could balance them all in harmony and could play the illness game of Twister. It’s how I got past the other stages and approaches, such as driving blindfolded, Whac-A-Mole (though sometimes helpful), as well as putting my middle fingers up and coping really poorly. You first must be able to acknowledge what you are dealing with to live your greatest life. It’s going to take some work, and unless you can do those things, you aren’t going to want to try this stuff I’ve been talking about – or stay stretched out in a Twister Game.
Recognize your challenges. None of it is ever easy. Think about that for a second. Think about how strong you are for coping with mental and physical health issues, while fighting them both every day and not giving up.
Think about what you could be doing, or should be doing, to make changes where you need to. Get yourself to be the best self that you want to be, in harmony with your mental and physical illnesses. Are you really doing your best to achieve that?
Whatever approach or way you choose to handle this dynamic of living with both physical and mental illness, choose one that is easy for you to apply, or that best suits your situation. Doing so will help you find balance in your life. And balance is the key to wellness.
And remember – sometimes, it will feel like nothing you try or do is appropriate, and you just need to stop playing Twister. Sometimes all you need is chocolate and a hot bath to help you forget about everything, and that’s fine too.
Even humans need to hit the reset button once in a while.