Healing from medical trauma takes work, but it’s possible
How I'm managing mental health symptoms nearly six years post-transplant
Throughout my journey with cystic fibrosis (CF) and a double-lung transplant, I’ve learned a thing or two about how medical trauma can affect mental and physical health. It’s been essential for me to realize that healing is a marathon, not a sprint, and that I need to be proactive in managing my ongoing mental health issues.
It took me 31 years to realize that I had accumulated medical trauma. After my transplant in 2017, I was super anxious and deeply depressed. I had struggled with both conditions before, but this was the worst they’d ever been. I started researching because I knew there was something deeper going on. I discovered several articles about trauma related to chronic illness, surgeries, and hospitalizations.
My next step was finding a therapist who specialized in trauma. He validated me by saying it was no wonder I was anxious and couldn’t sleep or sit still. My brain was reliving all of the traumatic experiences I’d endured, which was producing mental and physical symptoms.
I began to unpack how my CF had resulted in complex trauma. Prior to transplant, I was constantly thinking about my breathing. I had to muscle through daily breathing treatments, undergo surgeries, get multiple PICC lines — the list goes on and on. In all of these instances, I had to shelve my pain and anxiety so I could power through and survive.
Juggling multiple chronic health conditions meant I was constantly assessing all of my symptoms. But perpetually living in hypervigilance mode is exhausting, and it would cause my anxious thoughts to run wild. I also experienced depression because my health could be hard and overwhelming to handle.
Additionally, hearing about my life expectancy from medical professionals deeply affected my mental health. It’s taken time, prayer, and processing through therapy to unravel the weight of having a death sentence. Once I realized that statistics don’t dictate my life, I began to live fully.
How I’m healing
In recent years, I’ve developed a toolkit for healing my trauma and managing my mental health symptoms. While I’m not responsible for what I’ve endured, I am responsible for healing from it.
First of all, therapy is my greatest strategy because it helps me process all I’ve experienced and find ways to live with my mental health symptoms. A therapeutic modality called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has helped me cope specifically with traumatic experiences. I also use somatic practices to heal my nervous system from hypervigilance and rewire my brain to feel safe.
Developing solid strategies to keep my mental health in check on a daily basis is crucial. Setting healthy boundaries with my time and energy helps me stay balanced. Being in nature by hiking, kayaking, or going for a walk settles my mind. Most importantly, my faith in God keeps me grounded on life’s roller coaster. It also helps to connect with those who have faced similar experiences, as they can truly understand my situation.
I’ve learned that healing happens on a continuum. There aren’t clear-cut solutions, and the process isn’t quick or linear. Healing is messy, and growth takes time. Grace is necessary for this cha-cha dance of making progress then enduring more trauma.
Prioritizing mental, emotional, and spiritual health is essential for our overall well-being. Physical health matters are typically at the forefront of our minds, but it’s important to care for every aspect of our being equally. When all parts are balanced, we have the opportunity to be as healthy as possible.
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, it’s important to keep the conversation going. Your lived experiences matter, and you’re not alone.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.