This story is part of a blog series called, “Your Story: a conversation on mental and emotional health and disabilities.” Please read with a heart open and understanding – free of judgement.
Please be aware within this interview topics such as: chronic illness, fear and anxiety, and anxiety attacks are brought up. If these topics affect you in any way please stop reading, talk with a someone you trust, or contact a mental health professional immediately. You may also call the Suicide Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255).
A Note On Editing
Minor changes were made to help make the interview easier to read. I have also taken the liberty to add a few comments within the interview. They are clearly marked in italics.
By way of Introduction
This story was shared by Ona (pronounced like Elsa’s sister Anna from Frozen. But Ona came first and is many years older than the original Frozen movie.) In her story, she recounts how her mental health is tied hand in hand with her physical health and the chronic illness she struggles with every day.
She is not alone in this. Many men and women who struggle with some aspect of their physical health also experience the trials associated with their mental health as well. A couple examples that come to mind: individuals diagnosed with cancer experience anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and grief; individuals diagnosed with fibromyalgia live with daily chronic pain that can become so unbearable that they take their own lives.
Chronic illness and chronic pain are silent and invisible diseases. Microscopic and with often unknown causes, they affect every aspect of an individuals life. And more often than not, once they are diagnosed, they will live with these invisible chronic ailments for the rest of their lives.
When did you realize there was something mentally or emotionally wrong? And what did you do about it?
Trigger warning: this answer shares details about how an anxiety attack feels.
Just following my 21st birthday, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.
I didn’t realize then how interwoven mental and physical illness was. That realization came about a week later.
I was left home alone, and something snapped inside me. I felt totally out of control; I was terrified and in pain. I couldn’t think. I just felt this weight like I couldn’t breath. I knew I needed help. I didn’t want to call my Mom because she had just barely left for work, and I felt so guilty bothering her. Finally (I believe though divine guidance) I chose to call a close family friend. all I remember asking her was, “Will you please breathe with me?” She took immediate action and came over, she sat with me, helped me calm down, and didn’t leave until my mom got home. That was my first time having an anxiety attack. I have continued to have them since although more infrequently. I knew I was going to need help, but didn’t feel comfortable with counseling. Instead, I started to meditate. I took lots of baths, started using essential oils, and tried to be patient as I learned through this healing process.
Are there/were there moments in your life where this mental/emotional struggle becomes more present and you’re more aware of its existence?
Since my anxiety is closely related to my physical health, I am frequently triggered by health issues. Sometimes, it’s because insurance is confusing; sometimes, it’s new symptoms, or sometimes, it’s simply fear of my future. I have also had a few anxiety attacks following social gatherings. Honestly, anytime my mind begins to spiral in fear about something, if I am not aware and thoughtful, I can lose control.
What methods have you found are beneficial for your treatment and healing?
I have started a blog which helps me work through big emotions. I spend lots of time cuddling my puppy. I love water and have become quite passionate about bath time. 😉 I also like mediating even if it usually turns into nap time.
My #1 favorite, though, would be my weighted blanket. I was having a lot of sleeping problems that I thought were purely related to my physical health and the discomforts associated with my Ulcerative Colitis. However, after getting the blanket, I have slept so much better, and now, I realize much of what kept me up was anxiety all along.
What keeps you from receiving or accepting treatment and healing?
I think it’s hard because of how connected my physical and mental health is. It feels like my mental struggles are invalid. That’s why I often don’t talk about it. I also don’t want to be a burden to the world or cause more issues. I just want to be the helper and things that make me feel weak are hard to deal with.
What symptoms or behaviors of your mental/emotional health experience are the most difficult for you to handle? For example: self harm, disordered eating and sleeping, suicidal thoughts, loss of motivation.
Sleeping was a big one. Honestly though, it’s just fear that keeps me from doing things: talking to new people, moving away from home, dating. It just all feels too scary sometimes.
Have you shared your struggles with family and friends? If yes, what have their reactions been? Are they supportive, or do they wish to keep your struggles hidden?
I have some close friends and family who have struggled with their mental health, and I feel like our relationships, in some ways, have actually improved. I now understand them a little better, and they have really come to bat for me. So much of this is unfamiliar, and having their help has been huge! I am also blessed with awesome parents who don’t mind late nights and helping me work through things.
What inspires you to stay hopeful through this experience? Or how do you find hope during this experience?
Talking to people (or reading their story) who have overcome their own struggles helps. Hearing that they got better gives me hope. Also my relationship with God has carried me through much of my struggles. Knowing that I have a Savior who understands me and knows what I’m going though comforts my heart.
If you could travel back in time and visit yourself just before or just after recognizing there was something amiss, what would you tell yourself?
Buckle up lady! Hahaha, in all seriousness though – It’s gonna be hard, and it’s gonna suck, but it is going to get better. The woman you grow to be because of these experiences makes it all worth it. Don’t give up, and don’t be so hard on yourself. Ask for help, and don’t be afraid. Those who love you aren’t going anywhere.
If you met someone else going through a similar experience as yourself, what advice and words of courage would you give them?
Just because your mental illness is triggered by health issues doesn’t make it any less real. As your body gets better, so will your mind. You are a warrior, and you can do this! Don’t give up on yourself!!! Take every opportunity to celebrate successes and forgive yourself for weakness. You are divine just as you are.
I recently read a fascinating book called When the Body Say’s No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection by Gabor Maté M.D. (My sister recommended it to me.) In it, Gabor Maté discusses the idea that stress, trauma, repressed emotions, and other mental health triggers might be linked to the chronic health conditions we face as a society. His book looks at diseases from heart disease to Alzheimers, multiple sclerosis to diseases linked to infertility. All of which he has found through research study and discussion with patients seem to be linked to underlying mental health concerns.
It only makes sense to me that when our body is under stress, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, that it would affect the WHOLE body.
Is there any final part of your story or thoughts of encouragement you wish to share with the readers?
Be kind to everyone. Everyone is struggling with something; mental health related or not. If we can be kind and be a helper, the world will heal. Hearts will heal, and hope will fill the whole world. Don’t doubt what you can do to lift the burdens of another person.
Thank you for sharing your perspective!
Continuing The Conversation
The final question I asked as part of this interview was whether she was willing to connect with others about her story. She agreed and said that she would be willing to connect with any interested over Social Media, or you can check out her blog. To continue to protect her privacy though, I will not disclose her Social Media information in this post. If you are interested in connecting with her, please send your request to email@example.com, and I will forward your message to her directly.
Feel free to continue the conversation on mental and emotional health in the comments below. But please understand that your comments are being moderated and will be deleted if they are hurtful, hateful, or inappropriate in any way. This is a safe space to share your story about mental and emotional health and disabilities. Please do what you can to keep it as such.
A Note For Readers
If Ona’s story has inspired you to share your own story, please click here to be taken to the introductory post where you will learn where the inspiration for this blog series came from as well as how to participate.