When You're Battling Both Mental and Chronic Illness
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2008 and bipolar disorder in 2010. I have days where my Crohn’s symptoms seem to dictate my life and days where my bipolar disorder affects me to the point of being too anxious to leave the house or too depressed to even get out of bed to do a simple thing like shower. Unfortunately, since a mental illness is just as real as a chronic physical illness, my symptoms are often amplified when one is worse than the other. For example, I may be so anxious that I’m nauseous, have constant abdominal cramping and my entire GI tract just seems to be agitated.
This often becomes an endless loop and as much as I try to control both illnesses, sometimes I just break down and cry about how much money I spend per year on medications, doctor visits and therapy. About how I’ve gradually become more distant from my friends and feel more and more like a burden to them since I often get too anxious to go to parties or crowded bars, not to mention that drinking with a bowel disease is not ideal. About how ashamed I am that it took me almost six years to complete my college degree due to missing so much school when I’m hospitalized, whether for mental or physical treatment. I feel like I’m broken, have so many regrets and that I’m not worthy of anyone’s love or friendship and that I’ll never feel comfortable in my own skin.
The most frustrating part of my life has become my need to validate my bipolar symptoms but not my Crohn’s. Why do I feel like I need to explain that a panic attack is a very real thing and I’m not just being dramatic? But I think since people can see the physical symptoms of my Crohn’s, (weight loss, frequent bathroom trips, vomiting, etc.), I have no need to feel guilty or even embarrassed.
I will admit, I have days where I sit and wallow and wish that I could trade battling suicidal thoughts with having even worse Crohn’s symptoms. The reality is, you don’t get to choose. You play the cards you’re dealt.
I’m lucky enough to have people in my life that do understand how hard it can be and are a lot more compassionate when I bail on plans last minute when I can’t leave my house. I have a boyfriend that I constantly fear is going to leave me because of my mood swings, and how I often just sit next to him with nothing to say because I’m inexplicably anxious or depressed and have no way to articulate my feelings to him. Countless times I’ve woken him up in the middle of the night just to hold me since I’m so anxious I can’t sleep. Multiple times, he’s run to pick up my favorite type of ginger ale and foods that I can eat when I have a Crohn’s flare. Or to cheer me up, he’ll force me to at least go for a bike ride to be outside and distracted from my feelings. I can’t imagine how he must feel, knowing that sometimes, there’s nothing he can do to make me feel better. I can’t wrap my head around how hard it would be for me if I were in his shoes and felt powerless every time the person I love so much was in pain and I couldn’t help.
Luckily, mental health is being talked about more and more, so I know I’m not alone and my symptoms are very real. I’m gradually trying my best to not feel like I’m a complete mess and my loved ones would just be better off without me. The suicidal thoughts rear their ugly head from time to time and coming to the realization that I’ll be living on medications for both illnesses and may need to adjust my lifestyle from time to time is a bitter pill to swallow. I fear the next time I have a manic episode where I can’t even go to work and need to go to treatment. Or when my Crohn’s advances and the possibility of surgery becomes very real. I must remember to accept that I am sick, it’s a part of me, and I don’t need to prove anything to anyone or feel guilty about things that are out of my control. I take medications as directed, practice techniques I learned in treatment to help control bipolar symptoms and eat a diet that helps keep my Crohn’s symptoms at bay — and I’m doing the best I can.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Unsplash photo via Naomi August