Unexpected news can throw your emotions into a loop and being diagnosed with a chronic health condition was definitely unexpected for me. Sure I got diagnosed with endometriosis 3 years ago but I always suspected that I had some issue gynaecologically as my periods had been a nightmare from day dot. Being diagnosed with Crohn’s has been a big life adjustment both mentally and physically and today I wanted to discuss mental health around this.
I was told within about 6 hours of getting to a&e that they suspected Crohn’s or Colitis as the cause of my symptoms but it wasn’t until about my 5th day on the GI ward that my consultant confirmed it was Crohn’s disease. At first I was happy to have a diagnosis, after months of really bad symptoms just knowing the cause brought my so much relief. But words from my consultant such as significant diagnosis, life changing and long term plan soon got my mind racing and negative thoughts came in. My emotions were up and down, I went from being happy and productive to crying and panicky, for me the lack of control over what might happen in the future is my biggest anxiety trigger. Knowing that I could have a flare up at any time which could put me back in the hospital is terrifying and not knowing enough about the disease and how to prevent flare ups drove me crazy for the first few weeks.
I have suffered with bouts of anxiety over the last 10 years, usually around particularly stressful times such as big work changes, getting married, surgery and romantic relationships breaking down but I have learned coping mechanisms to spot the usual early signs and nip them in the bud before things escalate. Being diagnosed with Crohn’s threw me into a bit of a tailspin and it took some serious self reflection, research and retail therapy to get myself back into a positive headspace. I could feel the signs of anxiety returning with a racing heart beat, butterflies in my stomach and feeling withdrawn. I can always tell when my anxiety is building as all I want to do is laze around the house and my usual annoying over talking self is quiet. But here is what I have learnt and wanted to share so far.
Talk to people – This was definitely the most recommended –
@me_vs_crohns “Talking to someone, be it my husband, mom or a complete stranger”
@bethyoung_ “Talking openly is what has helped me lots”
@kaitlintrdavid “Talk to fellow IBD warriors No one else gets it!”
You need to get your feelings out and talking to people is a huge relief from anxiety and worry. I myself am partial to a good rant and my wife is usually the best recipient. Say how you feel and what worries you, talking to people who don’t have Crohn’s or Colitis can give you knowledge and another perspective. It can be difficult to open up about your condition because the main symptoms are all around poop and being British myself talking about poop is not high on the general conversation starter list but hey its good to talk and if its bothering you, you should talk to someone about it.
Exercise – Also highly recommended
@kaitlintrdavid “Gym, alone time & honesty”
@greenbergamanda “Exercise always makes me feel better, Weight lifting especially”
My exercise regime is pretty much non existent other than some meditative yoga at the moment but I am working on it and know that it is massively helpful to improving your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins which make you feel happy, Crohn’s disease also comes with bodily changes especially when you’re on steroids (moonface anyone?). Getting in the gym, going for a run or even going for a walk regularly will make you feel better, improve how you feel about your body and also help you to sleep. Before I got really ill I personally loved putting my headphones in and using the time to completely focus on myself, it was my me time for that day.
Therapy / Counselling
Many of the people who responded to me on instagram cited therapy as being a big help for them when they got diagnosed, in the UK we call it counselling. I have only had a brief experience with CBT myself but am definitely speaking with my GP around support and coping mechanisms going forward so that I am prepared mentally to deal with the ups and downs that come with having a chronic illness. Having the burden of being unwell and then being told that you could feel this unwell over and over again throughout your life is a big deal and talking to a professional with experience in understanding your thoughts and how to manage them is only going to be positive.
@greenbergamanda – “Just on my own. In hindsight, therapy is a good idea”
Thank you to everyone who shared their recommendations and experiences with me on instagram, the Crohn’s & Colitis community is full of positive, strong individuals with so many happy to share their advice and support!