Sickle Cell Crisis Treatment Includes Caring for Mental Health, Well-being

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

by Dunstan Nicol-Wilson |

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I strongly advocate for mental health and well-being because I have seen the personal benefits of it. By paying attention to these issues in my life, my overall mood has improved, I’ve become more confident, and I’ve been physically able to keep up with the demands of everyday life.

It took me a while to get to this point, and the journey hasn’t been easy as I’ve faced constant highs and lows. After a recent sickle cell crisis, I’m climbing back out of a mental pit after realizing I’m not as mentally strong as I’d thought.

In 2018, I was hospitalized for the first time in six years, which led to a mental breakdown that was the culmination of years of unresolved mental strain. After that crisis, I began to take the proper steps to focus on my mental wellness. Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid slipping back into that desperate mental state.

In 2019, and again earlier this year, I sought help for my mental well-being through counseling. In these sessions, my therapist and I discussed areas I could improve upon, such as conflict avoidance, withdrawal, and the shame I felt from having sickle cell disease. These issues were at the forefront of my mind, and they were the topics we most discussed in our sessions. However, these sessions went only so far, and I still had a lot to unpack.

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I followed all the steps my therapist recommended by embracing my complete identity, with the aim of growing comfortable with my experience of living with sickle cell disease. In sharing my truth and being open about sickle cell in all environments, I accepted it as a part of me. I was beginning to fill the deep pit in my mind with confidence, optimism, and belief. Unfortunately, in being so genuine and positive about everything, I became overconfident and complacent somewhere along the line.

Upon reflection, my thought process unfortunately had become this: “I don’t need to put as much time and effort into my mental health because I’m fine now.” This type of complacency isn’t a good place for me to be because I had stopped being proactive about my care. Unbeknownst to me, that pit I described was becoming deeper and deeper. And my recent crisis only further tested me.

During the recent crisis, that collection of optimism, hope, and strong belief that I had meticulously built in my mind over time began to dissipate. The mental pit I’d been filling up became like quicksand as I sunk toward familiar feelings of negativity and withdrawal. A dimmer version of myself was beginning to emerge at the surface.

Those in my support network who know me well began to notice a change. I’d become less confident in what I was doing and was doubtful about the future. After difficult conversations, I realized I still had work to do.

Coming to terms with this was hard, because my life has felt like a constant battle to get to a place of “normal.” I’ll build up a physical version of myself that I’m happy with, only to have another crisis and start all over again. Similarly, I’ll build up a mental version of myself that I’m happy with, and a crisis will come along and chip away at it.

This cycle feels never-ending, and at times, it seems like the only way to break it is by continuing to descend into that pit of hopelessness. Thankfully, though, I find a way of climbing out of it each time.

One thing that helps is that the pit isn’t as deep as it used to be. The progress I’ve made hasn’t been completely lost, because the pit becomes shallower each time I continue to pour into it.

In coming weeks, I’ll be seeking the help I need to become the best version of myself and to fill in the metaphorical pit in my mind. The goal is to stand firmly at the surface without sinking further, even if I have another crisis.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News 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 Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Susana Rendon avatar

Susana Rendon

I was happy to see this read. I think that people look at the illness as one sided. My biggest view as a parent viewing from the outside is the loss of who the person was and what the person becomes after all the trauma endured. I think that this needs to be looked at with more urgency.

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson

Hi Susana, thanks for your comment! I couldn't agree more with you. It is a loss of self and a journey to return to who you were before the pain. The trauma endured in every aspect can have real lingering effects. I'm glad, as a parent, you have been able to see this and acknowledge it. All the best to you and your loved one!


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