I was a bit of an anxious kid, nothing major, mainly I just hated being late. Maybe I would have developed anxiety regardless, I’ll never know, but for me it all circles back to my Ulcerative colitis.
When I was diagnosed I wasn’t aware of the mental health problems that can develop when you have a chronic disease, it even took me years to realise that I had any. It can be hard to identify the early signs of anxiety so I didn’t realise until my symptoms became debilitating. Sadly, because of having this disease, a good chunk of my symptoms relate to my bowels, so that whether I’m in a flare or not I’m plagued with stomach problems. I am very adamant that IBD should not be compared to IBS, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t have both. I always have one or the other by my side!
Years of isolation and worrying about accidents have confined me to the house more often than I would like to admit. As soon as I have to go anywhere my anxiety will appear and try to convince me not too. ‘What if you can’t find a toilet?’ ‘What if you faint?’ My mind does everything it can to stop me.
One of the big problems with anxiety is that, without help, it can spread into other areas of your life too. I’ve developed social anxiety, I struggle with being in queues or if I’m in a place I can’t easily leave, I don’t like paying for things in shops (genuinely can’t explain that one), I don’t like leaving the house on my own, I don’t like being in just about any kind of transport, and those are just the most normal sides to my anxiety (sometimes I convince myself a helicopter might crash into the house!).
Along with all those fears are the symptoms. The immediate one is always stomach cramps followed by the need to go to toilet but it’s not just confined to my bowels. I get a myriad of other symptoms including but not limited to light headiness, chest pains, sweating, hot flushes and once I even walked through town with a dead leg due to my anxiety.
In the end though, it all points back to having Ulcerative colitis and yet, I was never warned this would happen. When you see a list of symptoms, mental health problems doesn’t often appear on them, at least it didn’t use to. Having IBD can cause serious depression and anxiety, but also, so can the medication you have to take. (Steroids are a complete other story, where even the sane among us become insane!). Emotional stability with this disease can be hard to come by, especially when you’re in a flare. Some days I feel so low it’s not my fatigue stopping me get out of bed, other days I’ll just be sitting on the bathroom floor sobbing.
There is so much more to the mental health side of IBD and I could go into far more detail about my own problems and how they affect me, however, it is just one of the many things I wanted to highlight during this awareness week. IBD can ruin your confidence, your self esteem, and the way you look at life. I hope that in the future, newly diagnosed people will be more aware that these diseases can affect their mental health and hopefully be able to combat it so that it doesn’t become as debilitating as I have let it.
Were you warned about mental health problems when you were diagnosed?