Updated: Oct 6
I haven't done an explicitly personal blog post before, though of course there are parts of me intertwined within my posts.
Why disclose this?
There's a gap of understanding around this, of people speaking out and sharing their stories even though there are so many therapists out there with a (or many) chronic illness(es).
Searching for other therapists, counsellors, psychotherapists etc. who may be in a similar position to me only brought up one result from a therapist's experience - why is this? We are all human after all!
I've discussed my chronic illness a lot in my own supervision in regards to how I work with it, whether it needs to be factored into my work, and just my general feelings around working as a therapist with a chronic illness. I've also discussed my chronic illness in my own therapy sessions as it is something I am still trying to get support for and factor managing in my illness into my life. So why not discuss it in a blog post where it may speak to someone else and start a conversation?
My health journey
For as long as I can remember I've been back and forth to the GP for one reason or another, it feels like my chronic illness has been hiding in plain sight for years, however I've only recently been diagnosed after much frustration, advocating, fighting, and pushing for answers.
My main chronic illnesses are Fibromyalgia, Endometriosis, and Prolonged Complex Migraines which gives me a 'fun' cocktail of symptoms to manage on a daily basis where some days are very much worse than others, and some are a lot easier to manage.
It's taken me a lot of processing to get to a point where I am able to talk openly to the wider world about my chronic illness - there has been a lot of fear around whether people would judge my ability to be a therapist on my illness, the shame I have for feeling like I'm not as competent as I once felt, and that all too familiar question of am I still good enough to do this?
What having a chronic illness has meant for me
I am still understanding the impact of my illness in my daily life, things can often feel unpredictable and unknown.
I have had to learn to be ALOT kinder to myself.
I have had to learn how to listen to my body.
Pacing myself is better than trying to do 'everything' on a good day, and whilst I am still not the best at sticking to this, I'm learning.
I've had to say 'no' to things I would have normally pushed through.
I've had to say goodbye to my past healthier self....
The learning curve has been tough, and I still have so much left to learn about myself and what I can do going forward. Reframing my mindset to looking at what I can do, rather than what I can no longer do was a game changer for me - though I do think that grieving the loss of who I was, was also need.
So, knowing all of the above, what's it like being a therapist with a chronic illness you ask?
The short honest answer - it can be difficult but so worthwhile.
The longer, still honest, answer - there can be a lot of anxiety and self-doubt around whether I am able to be there for my clients, if I am able to do this full stop, if I'm somehow letting my clients down, what if I can't be fully present in the session....
However, being aware of these anxieties and learning how to be more in touch with my body allows me to process how I'm doing on the days I have clients as well as arranging my time in a more manageable way. Self-care and compassionate self-talk have been a massive need not only for my mental health but also for my physical symptoms. I remind myself of all the experience I do have, how much I love what I do, and how I wouldn't put clients in harms way. I remind myself that no one is perfect, I can be as consistent as my body will allow me and I can do what I can to help this too.
I also have massive support through my supervision, working out how I can handle my workload, what I can do for myself, and soothing my unfounded anxieties.
I have started to disclose my chronic illness to clients both out of being congruent and letting them have informed consent about working with me as it may mean cancelling/postponing sessions on short notice - I do everything I can to not have it get to this point, but unfortunately it is sometimes out of my control.
If I have clients with chronic illness, I make sure not to assume that we go through the same thing, we may have similar symptoms, but that doesn't mean we experience them in the same way. I work harder and continuously on knowing myself and what's going on for me so that when I am with the client in 'the room' we are focused on them without my own experiences or feelings clouding theirs.
The most important thing from this post is that whilst I do have chronic illnesses, they do not define me, I am still 100% human, and I care about my clients and what I do!