I am very rarely lost for words, this blog is a stream of my internal thoughts and so I usually find it easy to empty my brain onto the page, but today I am struggling. I am struggling because I find it really difficult to write about my own mental health. I can share a million photos of me in my undies with my ostomy bag on show, yet when it comes to the health of inside my brain, it is tough.
I wrote recently about making the leap and asking for help and the response I got from you guys was overwhelming, so much love and support and people sharing their own mental health experiences, it made me realise that it is important to share these things along with the physical side of chronic illness.
The truth is that I am really struggling. After 12 years of living with IBD and 4 surgeries in the past 2 1/2 years, my life has changed dramatically. The past 3 years, things have moved quickly, surgery after surgery, change after change. Each surgery, I thought would be my last but then problems arise and I find myself back under the knife. I feel I haven’t had time to deal with these things, but just had to react to each event. I think I went into survival mode.
Now, after my last surgery in January, I have 2 big hernias and know that the only treatment to get rid of them is more surgery and it has frazzled my brain. It is the straw that broke the bad ass’s back and has crumpled me to the ground.
I went to see my GP last week to talk about it, I wound myself up all morning and was a shaking mess by the time I got there, I couldn’t breathe and felt like I would puke. The idea of telling a stranger just how messed up the inside of my head feels right now was almost too much to bear but I did. And she was wonderful.
She listened, questioned and encouraged. We talked about just how huge the changes in my life had been and that it was understandable that I was having a bit of trouble in my head catching up with my body, we talked about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how the brain reacts to traumatic events. How people with chronic illness often have issues with mental health and how society doesn’t always think about healing the mind as well as the body.
We talked about my feelings of having another surgery and she suggested that we try and make me feel better in my self before making a decision on hernia surgery. Her thinking being that if I can feel better in my head, that I am better placed to decide whether to have surgery immediately or to put it off for a while.
I am on the list to see a psychotherapist, but there is a 10-12 week wait and so we decided to try some medication to help calm my anxieties and lift my mood. I hate having to take any medication to make me ‘normal’, 12 years of taking meds every day to stop you shitting yourself does that to a person. But I had to think seriously about what is best for me right now. And this is it.
I don’t feel depressed. I don’t think I do. When I speak to friends with depression, they talk of a lack of hope, of darkness and feeling stuck in a hole. I don’t feel that. I feel massively anxious. I feel panicky and distressed. I can’t sleep for the millions of thoughts of all the bad things that could happen to me or the people I love. I check plug sockets a lot. I feel I can’t breathe, that something is trapped in my chest. My heart pounds. My throat closes.
Not all the time, there are times when I feel ok, there are times when I am fine. When I feel that things will get better, that it will all figure itself out.
Then BANG! It hits and I can’t breathe. I walk down the stairs and see myself falling and breaking bones, I get on the train and imagine the carnage of a derailment, I go to events and think about how I would get my family out if there were an attack. I look at my hernias and think that I have had my fill of surgical luck and what if, this time, I die. I panic when Timm goes out, visualising the policemen coming to the door to tell me he has been in an accident. I think about the kids getting snatched, or hit by a car, or falling and cracking their head open on a kerb and never getting up.
And then later I am fine again. I cook tea, I write articles, I have meetings, I go for a drink, I speak to friends. I make plans.
Then it is there again. Terror, fear, panic. I sit in the garden at 3am to get some air, to overcome the stifling thoughts. Adrenaline surges through my body, and I can’t sit in bed. It compels me to get up and wander through the house, checking. Checking the kids, checking plugs, checking locks.
And on and on, the cycle goes.
Well, it is time for it to stop. And so, though I find it very hard to talk about, I am putting it out there. The events in our life have to have an effect on our mental and emotional health, I know there is no shame in admitting this, but it is still tough.
This isn’t me, I am not a worrier or a panicky person, I am ever an optimist and think things will be fine, so it is a shock to suddenly have these thoughts and anxieties.
I know I am not the only person going through this and I just hope that in writing about it, I can help someone else to speak out and get themselves help. I am not an expert, I have little experience in mental health, but I do know that when I have written about my physical health, that it has benefitted others, so hopefully in writing about this new hurdle, I can help someone else too.