The majority of my posts have been focused around physical health, but as today is World Mental Health day I want to focus more on mental health.
It is just as, if not more, important as your physical health but many of us seem to neglect it. In the UK, currently 1 in 4 people will struggle with mental ill health at some point in their lives, but most people will put off going to speak to a medical professional about it for much longer than they would if they had a physical ailment.
Having a chronic illness can drastically affect your mental health, as you are physically unwell for such a long time. Feeling like you’re never going to get better can lead to depression and worrying about possible consequences of your condition can lead to anxiety. These are both very natural responses, but still people don’t want to talk about it. For a long time I was one of those people, before my diagnosis I didn’t want to talk to a doctor about it, because I felt like they would think I was a hypochondriac, or just self diagnosing conditions I didn’t have, or I was just sad- because people get sad and where’s the line between sadness and depression?
After my diagnosis, I didn’t want to mention it to anyone. I wanted to act “normal”, and not let on to anyone how I was feeling. This ultimately meant that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone a lot more than I probably should have, and I ended up feeling a lot worse. I didn’t want to be perceived as weak, or an attention seeker, or as a crazy person. A few months down the line from my diagnosis, I became more comfortable talking about it. I no longer hid the fact that I was prescribed medication for anxiety and depression, and I no longer pushed myself way beyond my limits. When arranging plans, I was honest about things that would set off my anxiety and that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing them, because if you don’t talk to your friends about things like this, then it will constantly remain a taboo and heavily stigmatised subject.
Being told that my pain wasn’t real for seven years was a large contributing factor to both my anxiety and depression, especially for my health anxiety. I started to question my judgement, whether the pain was real or was I just imagining it, whether I just had a really low pain threshold – because everyone gets period pain, so why can’t I cope with it? After so many doctors told me I couldn’t possibly have endometriosis, my mind started going to much more sinister places, and by the time I was going in for my operation I was absolutely convinced I was going to wake up with an ovarian/cervical/womb cancer diagnosis. Thankfully this wasn’t the case, but the treatment I received has definitely affected me, and my mental health. Some forms of health anxiety can cause you to fixate on a specific body part, or illness, mine causes me to constantly question what the doctors may have missed – because if they all missed the endometriosis over the last 7 years (especially when I was suggesting this to them) then what else could they be missing.
Sometimes there is no specific trigger at all though, there are just elements of our every day lives that invoke the flight or fight response and the association with that feeling of fear/discomfort and adrenaline during a certain situation and over time that can manifest itself as anxiety – such as a fear of crowds.
I recently attended a talk by a previous Chief Business Officer for Google (Mo Gawdat), who said that “it is very difficult to be happy when you’re chronically ill”. Chronic illness and mental health go hand in hand, because if your physical health is suffering, it will eventually impact on your mental health. For me, being told that my pain wasn’t real, being accused of being a drug addict or that my pain was “normal” was a large contributor to my depression. Although I have been through CBT, and taken anti-depressants, I’ll be honest – I still have days where my anxiety or depression (or both) get the better of me. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point where they never get the better of me again, but I’m learning to live with it and manage it in the same way I do with my physical health.
You never know what someone is going through just by looking at them, a little kindness and compassion can go a long way and can drastically change someones day. Just because you are unable to see what someone is struggling with, doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to help them through it. If you are fortunate enough not to suffer, be compassionate enough to understand. And if you are suffering and feeling alone – don’t compare your insides with other peoples outsides. We all put on a front of what we want the world to see and how we want to be perceived – especially with social media, but this rarely reflects the internal battles being fought. Someone might look like they have the perfect life on social media, but beneath that Instagram filter they will have their own struggles to deal with.
If you are based in the UK and having a mental health crisis, or just want to talk to someone, you can call The Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 116 123.