Do IBD and PTSD overlap? The answer is no; usually they don’t. However, since post traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone who has either experienced or witnessed a life altering event, it is possible for someone with some type of inflammatory bowel disorder (such as crohns disease and ulcerative colitis) to develop this type of mental illness. PTSD is usually referred to as a something soldiers and veterans experience when they are in combat. That is why post traumatic stress disorder is usually thought of as a disease that only affects those of us who have been in war. But what about those people who have gone through their own war and their own trauma? What happens to them? How does going through traumatic events affect a person’s psyche? There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. The answers really are that it depends on the person. I hate that most things like the severity of a disease or how a medication affects you is based on the individual. I wish there was one set of rules and circumstances that applies to everyone. It would be so much easier to know for a definite fact that a certain medication will be beneficial. It would be a whole lot more comforting to know that a surgery affects someone by causing x,y,and z. However, since most things do depend on the person and the circumstances, everyone’s brains and bodies respond to trauma differently.
I had an unusually severe case of ulcerative colitis. I have heard a few comparable stories but I have never heard of anyone having IBD worse than I do/did. My whole situation was extremely complicated. I was diagnosed with UC initially, then it went to indeterminate colitis, then back to UC, then I developed massive amounts of fistulas which are indicative of crohns disease. For over 12 years, I have just been all over the map with issues and complications after every single surgery or procedure, in and out of the hospital..ugh. I can’t keep going with this anymore and I think you all get the gist. Because I have unfortunately had so many traumatic experiences, I am one of the few who did develop PTSD from IBD. I don’t know many others who have, or maybe they did develop it but weren’t properly diagnosed. I am not sure and for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t really matter.
My experience with PTSD has led me to feel things I never thought I would. I think one of the reasons I don’t sleep well is because I am afraid. Most nights when I do fall asleep, I am plagued by such painful memories. The majority of my nightmares take place somewhere in the hospital…usually the recovery room since that was always one of the worst parts of this whole experience for me. When I wake up from having an awful dream, it is extremely difficult (and sometimes impossible) to bring myself out of it. I try so hard to snap myself out of it and realize that whatever I was dreaming about was in the past and already happened but even knowing that, it is still so difficult and leaves me feeling extremely anxious and upset.
I have many things that trigger me and take me back into some of the worst scenarios of my life. New York City is a major trigger for me since that was where I was treated. I was always a huge greys anatomy and private practice fan but I had to stop watching any hospital or medical shows. I was over identifying with it. When I hear a story on the news about the difficult things veterans have to face when they come home from Iraq or Afghanistan, it makes me cry. I have cried for hours after hearing discussions about veterans and how difficult it is for them overseas and when they come home. I could give you numerous examples of things that trigger me and bring my mind back to those dark, dark days and places but I am going to stop here for now.
Even though IBD and PTSD don’t really overlap in the traditional sense, they often have a lot to do with each other. When a person has IBD that is pretty severe, they have to go through a hell of a lot to keep their symptoms at bay. Many need surgery. Sometimes and often, it is numerous surgeries. When a person’s body is constantly being cut open, you end up feeling like you have been butchered and violated. When a person has to spend so many nights in the hospital with their dignity and control stripped of them, it causes a tremendous amount of trauma. Crohns disease and ulcerative colitis are traumatic illnesses. Truly, truly devastatingly traumatic diseases. There is no shame in needing and asking for help. I have suffered for a long time and still do. Many of my friends have also suffered a tremendous amount and have to keep fighting each day to make it through. There is help available and I think it is so important for everyone to realize that.
When I hit my breaking point in September of 2011, I didn’t know what my options were. I just knew I needed help and once I admitted that, help was what I got. I am far from perfect. I am ways away from where I hope to be in life. I have come so far, yet know I still have a lot more progress to make. However, I want all of you to understand that trauma is real. Trauma hurts. Trauma shakes you to your very core and eats away at your soul. Trauma, post traumatic stress disorder and severe inflammatory bowel disorder are life altering. If you can’t do it alone (and most can’t), please reach out to a family member, a close friend, a health care professional. And if you can’t do any of those things and feel as though you have reached rock bottom, call 911. I did last year but more on that another time.
Just know, whatever you may be experiencing, you are not alone!