Sunday 23 October 2016

#MindYourself: Mind tools help those with chronic illness to reclaim lives

Published 19/11/2015 | 02:30

Declan Daly who has MS, pictured at his home in Kingswood near Tallaght
Declan Daly who has MS, pictured at his home in Kingswood near Tallaght

Declan Daly knows all about the emotional and mental strain of having a long-term illness - a struggle faced by more than one in three of the population who has a chronic disease.

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He was diagnosed with multiple-sclerosis more than a year ago.

Declan describes how one of the toughest aspects was being "ripped" from the job he loved as a credit union manager. The form of the disease he has is particularly painful and he also grapples with extreme fatigue.

However, Declan (49), from Sylvan Close, Kingswood in Tallaght, now has a set of "mind tools" he learned through a chronic disease self-management course.

The scheme was devised in Stanford University in California - and is now run by Tallaght Hospital in Dublin.

"It was run over six weeks and we all had different chronic diseases which can dampen your coping skills. But we learned how to manage the psychological side of things," said Declan, a father of two.

One of the key tasks for participants is to set a weekly action plan which they devise themselves. It might involve going for a walk, cleaning out the shed, or returning to a hobby.

"The key is that it must be a realistic goal. In my case, I loved lead-modelling but had not done it for a year.

"I set myself the task of making two or three soldiers. I loved swimming but had to give it up. So I said this week, I will swim a length.

"You go back to the class and say how you got on. You may not have always met the goal, but you are back in the driving seat."

Others in the course can brainstorm how to reach the goal. "It was your time and space. I now find myself saying: 'What do I want to do this week?'

"I learned how to manage anxiety through breathing as well as about healthy eating."

The confidence-building also involves tips on how to manage medication and communicate with doctors and other health professionals.

"It's also fine to say I am having a down day and may not be able to do much.

"Life throws you a load of knocks but you cope with them. But then something like chronic disease comes along that consumes you. The fatigue you feel is beyond any kind of tiredness," explained Declan. However, the skills he learned at the course were life-changing.

Dr Veronica O'Doherty, a psychiatrist in Tallaght Hospital, travelled to Stanford to become a "master trainer" for the course.

She said that the action plan and problem-solving techniques had helped many people to cope with the "rollercoaster" of emotions they felt following diagnosis.

"People can lose confidence in their body that no longer does what it used to do. We see them coming back to themselves. They say, 'I am Mary now. I am not diabetes'."

She added: "The course is extended to other areas of the country and we are trying to set up a website. It helps people to manage their disease better also because they are in more control. They keep it at as safer level."

Irish Independent

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