I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder around March 2012, just two months after my health issues started that no doctor could seem to pinpoint. I just started going to college and a mental illness was the last thing I needed on my plate. I remember crying ALL the time. I was scared to drive because I always thought I was going to be in a car accident, but I had to drive because my doctors were an hour from me. I was going to doctors sometimes 4-5 times per week and going to college full time with labs that were 6 hours long 3 days per week. To say it was a stressful time in my life would be an understatement.
According to the National Health Institute anxiety occurs in up to 40% of IBD patients. I was not lucky enough to be included in the other 60% of IBD patients. Looking back, I can tell that my anxiety started long before my health started to decline, but it was never life altering like it started to be in 2012. Have you ever Googled your symptoms? If not, just DON’T do it. I was pretty sure that by my extensive research of WebMD and Google that I was going to die. I also thought my friends hated me. I was pretty positive they were just pretending to be my friends. I thought I was going to fail a class even though I was continually getting A’s and B’s. I would cry if plans changed even in the slightest bit. I would cry each and every time I had to go to a doctor’s appointment because I thought for sure they were going to hand me a death sentence. I was afraid of eating, so I just wouldn’t. I lost almost 40 pounds in a few month period and I didn’t think none the wiser of it.
One day, as I was doing laundry, an apron of mine had gotten wrapped around the bottom of the washer. I was on the phone with my mom when it happened and I went from having an OK conversation with my mom to my first full blown panic attack. My whole body collapsed to the floor, my chest hurt so bad that I couldn’t breathe, and I literally could not stop crying. My poor mom, I’m sure she felt helpless. What do you do when you are an hour away from your daughter and she is experiencing a mental crisis all by herself, and you’ve never in your life dealt with that? After my panic attack was over, I remember feeling completely exhausted and going to bed.
The next day I remember my mom calling me to ask how I was. And before the conversation was over she said something that never made me feel more betrayed by a family member before. She said “I think you need help.” She was my mother, she should be helping me. What did she mean I needed help? Help for what? It was just a little crying. I was just stressed out. The excuses I came up with in my mind just made me more angry. How dare she tell me to get help. I summed it up in my head that my own mother must have never loved me. I was a burden to her and she was trying to push me off on someone else.
These were legitimately the thoughts I had going around in my mind. So at that point, I thought I was dying, that my mother didn’t love me, that I had no real friends, and that I sucked at school. At some point in the next few weeks I had come to the realization that I wasn’t sleeping. When I did sleep I was restless and woke up even more exhausted. I could never shut my brain off. And I realized that maybe mother knows best, after all.
So, I asked my sister in law to go with me to my next doctor’s appointment with my primary care doctor. We brought up my meltdown over the washing machine and the whole not sleeping thing. After she asked me a ton more questions, she diagnosed me with anxiety. We talked about the symptoms and the treatment options and everything started to make a whole lot of sense after that. I was put on medicine and I remember feeling ashamed that I needed medicine to keep my brain in check.
Let’s fast forward to today. I am NOT ashamed whatsoever that I have a mental illness. I am not ashamed that I take medication for it. I am not ashamed to talk things out with a therapist. I am better because of all these things. Anxiety was a huge battle for me for many years, and I wish I could say it was just a phase in my life, but unfortunately it is a chronic condition but I have learned how to control it.
I have battled anxiety and IBD hand in hand for six years now. I truly believe you are not given something that you cannot handle and I feel I was given this journey to become a stronger person and to tell my story to help others.
If you are suffering with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, do not be afraid to ask for help. I can’t imagine where my life would have gone had I not decided to make that step and talk to my doctor about it. IBD is hard enough, but having a mental illness on top of it can be gruesome. Make sure you are taking care of your mental health as well as your physical health, because both are equally important.
There are many resources for patients with IBD and anxiety. One that helped me was the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s website.