The 30 Day Chronic Illness Challenge was created by @cfs_zombie. I learned about it when someone reblogged it onto my Tumblr dashboard. Every day, there is a new writing prompt that focuses on chronic illness and the challenges faced by people who have a chronic illness. Overall, the experience of writing about these topics has been very enlightening for me.
Day 13: Has your physical illness had any effect on your mental health? Explain.
The short answer, of course, is yes. It might be impossible to live inside a body that doesn’t work as well as it is supposed to without the experience having some effect on one’s mental health. Your mental health and your physical health are entwined in many ways.
There were times when my physical illnesses caused me to question reality. Or, I guess it would be more correct to say that my parent’s reactions to my chronic illnesses did that. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs in this series, my parents often insisted that I was faking my symptoms and that nothing was wrong with me.
So, the stomach cramps, the exhaustion, and the dizzy spells weren’t real? If so, then why did they seem so real to me? Later trips to see doctors resulted in some very clear, very real, diagnoses. Previous to that, I wondered if my parents were right, that I was some kind of hypochondriac. That’s a really effective technique to use if your intent is to mess with your child’s head, by the way – insist that their physical symptoms don’t exist.
My physical illnesses affected my mental health in other ways when I became a young adult. I was constantly fatigued. There were times when my apartment wasn’t as clean as I’d like it to be. I just didn’t have the energy to go to school, to work, and to clean up as often as I wanted to. At the time, I didn’t know that the exhaustion I felt wasn’t what everyone else was dealing with, too.
I should probably note that my parents are hoarders. I grew up in a house that had stuff everywhere, where one could not count on “finding the floor” in a room, and with a gigantic pile of clothing near the washing machine. It wasn’t quite as bad as what you see in the TV shows about hoarding, but it wasn’t good either. As a result, I get anxious when part of my home hasn’t been cleaned in a while. In other words, my physical illnesses made me unable to clean and this affected my mental health by causing anxiety.
My parents used to tell me I was “lazy”. As an adult, I had internalized that (incorrect) assessment. I ended up physically pushing myself much farther than was healthy for me. I didn’t give myself time to rest. This resulted in being sick more often, and more seriously, than if I’d taken things slower. I ended up extremely frustrated and disappointed in my inability to keep up with all of my responsibilities.
There were times when my chronic illnesses pushed me into depression. It is stressful to be sick, all the time, and have no idea how to prevent that from happening over and over again. The times when I lacked health insurance added stress about money to my stress about wondering what was wrong with me this time. Add constant fatigue to the mix. That feels and looks a whole lot like depression.
Today, my chronic illnesses (and their myriad of symptoms) affect my mental health less than they did before. Part of the reason is because I now have a very clear idea of what is wrong with me and what to do to alleviate some of my symptoms. I have health insurance coverage, and can afford to see doctors as needed.
Even so, there are times when I get sad. Every time I discover a new food allergy, I mourn the loss of all the tasty food that I can never eat again. (I get over it, eventually, and even forget what certain foods tasted like). My sister-in-law has two, adorable, crazy little puppies. It makes me sad that I cannot safely pick them up or play with them (even though I’d love to be able to do that). It sucks to have to cancel plans when I am too sick to participate.
There are times when I get really sick for a day (or several days in a row) and there is nothing I can do to make myself feel better. I’m writing this blog post in the midst of one of those “bad days”. Sometimes, when things go on for more than a week, it makes me sad. Often, I feel frustrated because being sick takes up all my time and I cannot get the things done that I’d intended to.
Some of the medications that I take have side effects that mimic depression. I slow down physically. It becomes difficult to focus or make decisions. I take lots and lots of long naps. My interest in eating disappears and I no longer desire to leave the house. My speech is sometimes slightly slurred and my ability to “work around” my dyslexia is more limited than usual.
From the outside, this probably looks like depression. Most of the time, though, my mental health is just fine. It just looks like I’m sad. The drugs are causing it – not an emotional state of being. It goes away.