If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I always try and post for Time to Talk Day, an annual initiative run by Time to Change. Time to Change is a mental health campaign lead by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and aims to tackle mental health discrimination, while Time to Talk Day is all about encouraging us all to have a conversation about mental health. The more conversations we have, the more we can reduce stigma around mental illness. I normally prepare a post every year, and this year I had an idea all ready to go – however, as you’ll soon read, I’ve not been doing too well recently. So, I thought now is as good a time as ever to talk about my own mental health and how I’ve been feeling. I joke and make light hearted remarks about my mental health here and there, it’s a coping strategy I’m well known for, but at the end of the day, I’ve been struggling.
Now, my aim of this post is not to ask for sympathy or anything like that. I’m sharing how I’ve been feeling in the hope that perhaps you can relate, and maybe even share your own mental health story if you want to.
I’ve been feeling a bit off lately. It seems as though over the last month or two, my body has taken on a whole new way of responding to anxiety. So that’s fun. Before, any worries festering or events of the day that had stressed me out would send me obsessing over little things like whether or not I blew out the candles I’d lit before bed, or just generally spiralling into a bit of a depression for a couple of days. I’d have no physical symptoms at all – aside from the butterflies in the stomach feeling, and that would only be when things were really bad.
Now, I’m not sure what’s changed. We’ve essentially been living the same repetitive life for almost a year now thanks to the pandemic, and even when we moved house in August, I didn’t suffer this badly. However, in the last couple of months my brain has taken upon itself to share the responsibility of stress and anxiety with the organ that I’ve never really been on good terms with – my stomach.
I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that I’m glad to still be working from home. I could be feeling absolutely fine all day long, and suddenly, I’ll be hit with the need to run to the loo. Some days, I’ll feel fine afterwards and can carry on my day, others, I’ll feel terrible. I’ll feel cold, sleepy and completely drained of my energy. Initially, I thought this was diet related, but after keeping a food diary for the last few weeks, I can’t see any patterns emerging other than it happens hours after I get worked up about something. Of course, anxiety being what it is works in cycles. So I’ll get worked up about something, giving myself a nice healthy dose of anxiety and then I’ll get anxious about the fact that this will probably make me ill in a few hours. And that of course gives me another shot of anxiety which goes straight to my stomach. It never ends. I haven’t been able to enjoy a meal in almost a month now, because every time I sit down to eat I’m terrified that I’ll be back in the toilet again in 20 minutes’ time.
If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know I had quite a few tests done last year with regards to stomach issues which ruled out anything serious and just left me with a diagnosis of IBS. Of course we all know anxiety affects IBS, but this is really starting to take the piss.
As I mentioned, over the last few weeks I’ve noticed that the ahem…”events” have occurred after I’ve found myself worrying about something. No matter how big or small, worrying and stress seem to be what does it. What’s really getting to me is the fact that I’ve been taking measures to work on my stress, and none of it’s working. I’m taking my medication, I’m exercising, I’m spending more time reading books instead of scrolling through social media, and I’ve stopped looking at the news completely. I’m not saying that this should take away all of my worries, but surely it should be a start?! It also seems as though since blocking the “big” worries – i.e. global pandemic – from my mind, I find myself getting worked up over small things like being asked to do something at work when I’ve already started something else, what present to buy for a friend’s birthday. What’s annoying me is that I can’t seem to stop myself – I know these things aren’t worth getting wound up over, but there I am, sitting there with a flipping in my stomach and a pounding heart.
I feel completely trapped and let down by my body and my brain right now. I feel like I’m doing everything I can to essentially make myself feel better but nothing is working. I know I can go back to the doctors but I get the feeling I’ll be fobbed off with “it’s just IBS, manage your stress.” On top of all this, I’m dreading the days when things go back to normal, because at the moment, I can’t even eat a meal in my own house without the worry it’ll instantly be purged from me, so christ knows what I’ll be like when we’re allowed to socialise and see people again.
Today for example, I was having a good day. I’d managed to eat my breakfast and lunch, and felt completely fine. Then I was suddenly hit with a pang of anxiety in my stomach. Severe butterflies followed by heart palpitations. What triggered it? Absolutely no idea. To my knowledge, nothing was worrying me. I hadn’t looked at the news all day, I was having a productive work day, and I generally was feeling positive. I was feeling like this for what was essentially no reason. I can’t win.
At the moment, more than anything I just want the physical stuff to stop. I can cope with the obsessions and the compulsions and the constant “what-ifs,” but having the added worry that my stomach is going to act up whenever I so much as eat a fucking biscuit is too much. I hate how I’m genuinely trying my best to work on my mental health, but I just feel like nothing’s working, and, if anything, I feel worse. The fact that anxiety is just constantly there seemingly without any triggers seems like a horribly cruel turn of events and I hate my mind for it.
While obviously the pandemic has had an impact on my mental health generally, I don’t necessarily feel like it’s the reason why things have gotten worse over these last few weeks. At least not that I’m aware of. Of course, having contamination based OCD during a global pandemic isn’t a particularly useful condition to have, but being in lockdown for the 100th time kind of means it’s taken a bit of a back seat. I’m grateful for this, but part of me fears it will come back ten times worse when things start going back to how they were.
Images used from the Time to Change website.