19th May 2019

How Having A Chronic Illness Affects My Mental Health

I have always been the girl who has to be in control. Neat freak, Monica Gellar-esque. I take some things to an obsessive level – everything has a certain place or things must be done in a certain order. Naturally, when higher levels of stress occur (usually around exam-season when I was younger, now after a stressful day at work) the obsessions become stronger and more prevalent.

Being so organised is actually something that I quite like about myself. It’s both and gift and a curse; on the one hand I am ‘miss reliable’, always sure of myself, know what’s going on and I can meticulously plan everything down to a T. But spontaneity and surprise are the enemies of reliability so I can be a bit of a fun sponge sometimes.

I’ve always been this way and while I have never been diagnosed by a GP, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had mild form of anxiety or an OCD type disorder. Since the age of 13 I have intermittently visited counsellors, therapists and CBT sessions to try and manage my thought patterns and behaviour. Unfortunately, nothing has seemed to work so far.

I never really considered I had mental health problems until I was diagnosed with a physical health problem. My obsessive behaviour is always something that’s just been me.

Back in 2017 I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronic illness that includes symptoms of heavy and painful periods, daily chronic pain, fatigue and problems with the way that certain organs function.

My diagnosis has been a difficult one to grapple with, not just through the physical symptoms but the damage it has had on my mental health. Periods of long illness can be really difficult to cope with because of a) pain but b) boredom. It can be so frustrating being housebound and unable to carry out the simplest of daily tasks. Hoovering the house can sometimes cause me pain. Bloody hoovering!!

Therefore, being ill can invoke so many emotions; laziness, pity, jealousy, guilt. The biggest factor that causes mental health to be such an overwhelming isolating illness is the guilt. I truly believe this.

Guilt because I recognise that I am so so privileged. I can’t complain! I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, a wonderful family, money in the bank etc etc. It is the guilt that silences us. Makes us feel shame for complaining.

Not only have I been grappling with the guilt of feeling this way, but my obsessive nature has been accentuated by my illness.

I began to recognise this last autumn when things started becoming quite stressful at work and my endo was flaring up. There was a couple of weeks where I was just so angry. Frustration took over my life and the tiredness of this mental anguish meant I was snappy and irritable. After regularly breaking down into tears, I decided it was time to try therapy. Fortunately I was in a position where I could just go privately, instead of waiting on the NHS. I wanted to start straight away, so emailed a couple of councillors in my local area.

I found one lovely woman who was able to give me some techniques and coping mechanisms – but I found that I was still holding in so much guilt, frustration and resentment towards myself. While I was beginning to recognise certain aspects, it wasn’t the ‘fix’ I was hoping for.

Due to my endo I have to have regularly doctors appointments and after speaking to my doctor about feelings or tiredness, frustration etc she suggested that a low dose of antidepressants may help with the mental burden of my illness.

I began my course at the start of February and the first two weeks were awful. Truely, truly awful. I wasn’t myself in the slightest and while the doctor did warn me it takes a couple of weeks for my body to get used to the new drugs in my system, I wasn’t prepared for how much it would affect me. I felt an overwhelming numbness towards everything – but so acutely aware of my thoughts. I was in such despair, but couldn’t express any emotion. It was so unlike me.

Luckily, those feelings only last a couple of weeks and I’ve learnt that any new medication for mental illness can bring on a whole world of symptoms for the first two-three weeks and you just have to ride that wave and give yourself time – it won’t be like that forever.

After the initial two weeks, I started to feel so much better. Calmer, more optimistic and most importantly less frustrated with every little thing. I still feel sad, of course, but the antidepressants allow me to work through my feelings before reacting.

I’ve gotten used to this much more relaxed, ‘easy breezy’ version of myself. I’m still the same person, still highly organised, still very Monica, but the drugs have taken off the angry edge, they have taken away some of the anxiety, some of the guilt.

I spent so long, just accepting the person I was, that I was always a bit of a neat freak, that I had just always had compulsions for things to be a certain way.

Having a chronic illness has made me have to address my mental health in a way that I’m not sure I would have been confronted with had I not been diagnosed with endometriosis.

More importance needs to be put on the mental health side of chronic illness – the mental burden and pressure that sufferers place on themselves.

To think the two things aren’t related is quite frankly ridiculous and I hope by me just shedding a little light, it will make sufferers feel less alone.