How Living With Crohn's Disease Has Affected My Mental Health
Do these phrases sound familiar?
“Listen to your gut”
“Butterflies in the stomach”
There is a book that’s a bit of a bestseller right now, “The Mind Gut Connection” by Dr. Emeran Mayer, MD, demonstrating the
inextricable, biological link between the mind and the digestive system.
The gut has such an influence on our whole being – it is often referred to as our “second brain” – containing some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. The “second brain” informs our state of mind in other, more obscure ways as well. “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut,” Mayer says.
So gut health affects our mind and emotions too?
A recent article from Harvard Health Publication also talks about the gut-brain connection:
“The brain has a direct effect on the stomach. For
example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause, or the product of anxiety, stress or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.”
My aim with creating my blog, Let’s Get Visceral, is to express and explore my experience of life with gut disease – specifically living with Crohn’s.
Visceral in Latin means “of the viscera” (the gut).
Also, “visceral” is usually used to describe something as gutsy/raw/real.
So, let’s get visceral!
This book “The Mind-Gut Connection” and recent articles I have read about the connection between the gut and the mind resonate with me totally.
Ever since having all the surgery for Crohn’s, complications and trauma I experienced one and a half years ago (including removing the large intestine and living with an ileostomy bag), my ability to cope with life’s stresses – as much as my health now seems to be in a somewhat stable state – has admittedly suffered enormously.
Perhaps the trauma to my gut has caused a certain trauma to my emotions and my mind?
Some may call it post-traumatic stress. Well, that could make sense – having lived with the unpredictability of Crohn’s for 20 years, and somewhat recently experienced a worst case situation that lasted for 12 very uncomfortable, painful and unpredictable months.
Some may call it anxiety. I do feel highly anxious a lot of the time now –
mainly living in fear of getting sick again, and not wanting to re-live the
Depression? Yep – that’s a factor too, ain’t gonna lie. It’s been a challenge to re-adapt to life, as life is different now, and has to be lived differently post-surgery. Now it means slowing right down and always being mindful of stress levels. Otherwise, I am at risk of having active disease and further surgery – which is never out of the question when living with a serious case of Crohn’s disease.
A friend had a really great point recently…
(Side note: I am so grateful for the friends and family in my life who have been there when things get hard!)
Anyway, she mentioned how we need to look after the mind as much as we need to look after the body. She’s spot on.
Mental health is huge – for everyone.
We need to look after our “mental hygiene,” as another friend would put it.
This can be taken for granted – by all of us.
I know I have.
In so many of my writings about living with Crohn’s I have been an advocate for making sure those who have bowel disease follow up with our specialists, get check-ups and remain on top of our disease as much as possible. Well, through personal experience of living with a chronic illness (Crohn’s), taking care of mental heath is also vital.
I have let that admittedly slip. I have let the anxiety of living with Crohn’s, depression, fear and anger get the best of me. And it’s affected not just me, but those I love.
With what I have experienced, my response to those experiences, to a certain extent, is reasonable – though, sometimes not. Perhaps gut trauma really does affect one’s emotional life and the mind?
Whatever the case, body and mind health are essential, equally needing
attention and a lot of care.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo via Mila_1989.