Please stop telling mentally and chronically ill people that the answer to all of their problems is exercise, and making us feel like we just aren’t trying hard enough

If there is one thing I’m sick of being told will be the answer to all of my problems, it is exercise.

I’ve been struggling quite a bit recently with my mental health and my physical health, so I have taken this week off university to focus on trying to find a way to move forward. I went to the doctors on Monday about my Fibromyalgia and was given painkillers and told that the answer to both the Fibromyalgia and my mental health is to do exercise and look after myself. For one thing this advice is so patronising. I live with these illnesses every day and I am an expert on my own body. I know what I need and I know what I am capable of pushing myself to do, and what is too much. I spend all of my energy on looking after myself and I really am doing every single thing that I can. I know that my doctor was being well intentioned by saying this and thought she was helping, but by saying this she was treating me as if I am just not doing enough. As if there is a simple answer and that I just haven’t thought of it and am just not trying hard enough. It made me feel small, powerless and unheard.

Yesterday I had an appointment with my disability advisor at the university and had a completely different experience. This is not because she was able to give me any answers, but simply because she took the time to listen and show she cared. She reminded me that we spend so much time thinking about what we should be doing and what we should be like, when we really just need to accept ourselves for who we are. She reminded me that it is necessary to pace myself, manage my energy levels and focus on the things I can do and that I am good at. She didn’t make me feel as if I should be doing more or that I’m just not trying hard enough. She helped me to remember the things I already know and have confidence in my own ability to listen to what my mind and body need. I went away feeling more hopeful again and confident in my own strength.

Today I had a psychiatrist appointment and came out of it thinking it was a complete waste of time. I found out I have been taken off the waiting list for trauma therapy after waiting for a year. I told him that my mood had been very low recently and he told me to use a light box, and that I’ll feel better soon now that the days are getting lighter. These things might be true but I felt unheard and regretted opening up in the first place. The whole mental health system just makes me feel voiceless and powerless. I can’t even really begin to explain how they have failed me and have at times made my mental health worse. I know that it is the same for many of us living with a mental illness.

My point is that the way I have been treated by these different professionals has made more of a difference than any advice or help they have or haven’t offered. Yes I would love there to be more answers and things that can actually help when it comes to my physical and mental health, but sometimes just being supported to find a little bit of hope and strength again can make such a difference for me to move forward. Maybe at times there is no answer, no advice that can help, nothing anyone can do, other than to take the time to listen and care. Please think about this the next time you are tempted to tell someone to do some exercise to feel better.

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