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Originally appeared: May 2020 Newsletter

Dealing with difficult emotions

Although SMA is a condition of the body, many people report it taking a toll on their emotions and their mental health. Acknowledging this is not a bad thing - quite the opposite: not having to keep up appearances of "everything is fine" but being honest about your feelings can be a very positive step. It can be frustrating not to be able to do all the things you would like to do without assistance. Some people say they hate the feeling of burdening others, some find it difficult to "fit in" with the people around them, some get exhausted by what feels like an uphill battle. These are very personal issues, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are, however, some ideas that others have found helpful. Why not have a look and see what you think?

1. Observe without judgment

The first step to dealing with difficult emotions is acknowledging them without judging yourself for having them. It sounds very basic, but sometimes, this can be the most difficult part. There are emotions that are easier for you to spot and label than others, and there may also be differences between different people: there are those who are very in touch with their emotions, and who can observe and name them, but it is no secret that at times, emotions can be confusing, and knowing how you feel and giving that feeling a name is more tricky. Sometimes, they lurk in the background, and the more we try to ignore them, the stronger the feeling gets that something is not quite right. Acknowledging that you may feel angry, sad, disappointed or afraid is the first step to dealing with the emotion in a positive way, because it allows you to decide what the next steps should be.

2. Be kind to yourself

As if matters weren't already challenging enough, it is not uncommon that people berate themselves for behaving, being or feeling a certain way. They may have a strong feeling that things should be different, or they should be different. They feel they should be stronger, more positive, they should be able to do this or that, they should not pity themselves, and they call themselves silly, weak, and worse for having these feelings. But of course, scolding yourself for your feelings is not a good way of dealing with them. If a close friend were in your situation, would you tell them the things you are telling yourself? What would a really good friend tell you? Supporting yourself by allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling can be a key step to handling difficult situations and emotions effectively.

3. Talk about it

Many people find it helpful to talk about what they are going through. It can help in getting a clearer idea of what you're feeling and what you want, and it can feel like you no longer have to carry the burden of unpleasant feelings all by yourself. Opening up may or may not come easy, but finding a trustworthy person and airing out feelings that you may have kept to yourself can be a very therapeutic experience. Apart from friends and family, you may want to consider speaking to a counselor or psychologist; sometimes, a trained professional with an outside perspective can bring in new ideas and approaches that you and your loved ones may not have thought of. Alternatively, you may find it helpful to reach out to other people with SMA, who can relate to your situation in a way that people who do not have SMA likely can't.

4. Take necessary steps for change

As was mentioned before, acknowledging difficult feelings is a good thing. It may enable you to think about how you'd rather feel and how to get there, and once you allow yourself to have these feelings and share them with others, ideas might start to form on how to improve your situation. However, when difficult feelings start to become the center of your life, with all your thoughts seeming to revolve around them, it may be wise to seek professional help. Sadly, it has to be said, even in our day and age, there is still a hurdle of shame when it comes to mental health and its treatment; this is very unhelpful because it keeps people from seeking help that is proven to work. Depression and anxiety disorders can be treated. If you are unsure if therapy is the course of action for you, speak to your doctor or (if applicable) approach a counsellor at your school, work or community. There are things in life that we can only accept and live with - a mental health issue is not one of them.

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