This week is mental illness awareness week and I wanted to spend a little time talking about how mental illness relates to IBD (ulcerative colitis and crohns disease). Thanks to Oak Park Behavioral Medicine, LLC for providing such amazing statistics and insights into this topic. About 25percent of people will develop a mental illness at some point in their lives, and about 50perent of IBD patients will suffer from anxiety and/or depression. The reasons for this seem fairy obvious to me since I have been living with IBD for the past 12 years but for someone who isn’t sure why this is the case, I thought I would share some more of my personal experiences with mental illness as it relates to being a long time IBD patient.
As I have talked about, a year ago I had hit rock bottom and checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. I couldn’t deal with the unpredictability of my life anymore. I couldn’t handle barely sleeping more than two hours a night. I couldn’t handle the intense migraines that I had every single day because of all the stress I was under. I could no longer keep all of my emotions bottled up. I just couldn’t deal with the emotional and physical pain I had to endure day in and day out without even a sleeping break. There were times when I called my psychiatrist and left a message about an appointment change or something and at the end of his voicemail would always say “if this is a psychiatric emergency, please don’t wait for me to call you back…either dial 911 or go to a local ER.” I always heard this and wondered what would be so earth shattering that couldn’t wait until the morning, or until the weekend was over. And then, I found myself in that exact place in the middle of the night in September of 2011.
When I went to my evaluation prior to admitting myself into Four Winds Hospital, I was understandably scared to death. I always thought psychiatric hospitals were for “crazy” people. I knew I wasn’t “crazy”… I knew and understood where all of my emotions were coming from. I had more insight than most into what I was dealing with and why I was self-medicating. As I was about to sign those papers and relinquish some of my control to people I never met, I did it with very little hesitation. I had no idea who would be there with me. I knew I had a private room because of my medical issues so that was at least comforting to know beforehand. But, I had this vision in my head of being chained to the bed doped up on IV medications which was hardly the case. The first thing I did after my parents left was art therapy. It was calming. I started talking to people there and I got to know what their issues were. And within two hours of being there, I realized how very wrong I was about what mental illness was.
Every single person who was there with me had situations and experiences that led them to be at a point in their lives that required them to be in a psychiatric hospital. No one was crazy or insane. No one was tied to a bed. It was just all people who were trying to get through horrible situations that were thrust upon them. Many of the patients that were there with me were very accomplished people. In many ways, I found the people there brave for being able to acknowledge that they needed help beyond what they could provide for themselves.
The stigma of mental illness is what causes many people not to seek help when they really need it. I am still unsure what constitutes a mentally ill person but regardless, it is an invisible illness. It is also an invisible illness that most people think patients have control over. In some cases, they are right and there are certainly things people who are suffering can do to help themselves and improve their quality of life….but in many cases, a mental illness is the same thing as a physical one. They just manifest themselves differently. Telling someone who is clinically depressed to just have a better attitude and be more positive is essentially the same thing as telling someone who is having a heart attack to just stop having a heart attack. Neither of them can be done and while no one would even utter those words at someone having heart issues or any other physical problem, many people who suffer from depression are met with these types of remarks. The reason for this is because there is an enormous stigma surrounding mental illness.
I am someone who is extremely together…more so than most. I don’t mean to toot my own horn but I am really just stating a fact. Throughout all of my hospitalizations, I have been completely lucid and able to even correct doctors and nurses (aside from obviously when I was in surgery or coming out of anesthesia). When either I or my parents would tell someone I was at Mt. Sinai Hospital, the response would always be how sorry he/she was and if there was anything they could do. But, that wasn’t the case when I went to a psychiatric hospital. I didn’t want most people to know and neither did my parents. It was just looked at differently.
The bottom line is that we all could use a week stay at a psychiatric hospital. It allows you to be disconnected from the rest of the world (for the most part) so you can fully concentrate on yourself. I wrote a post earlier in the week about how important it is to take care of you. This place allowed me to do that without the distractions. Mental illness is real. It is devastating to many people and families. The number of veterans coming home with a mental illness and/or substance abuse issues increases daily. We all need to come together and say that it is okay to not be okay sometimes. No one is fine one hundred percent of the time. We all need breaks. We all get overwhelmed. And many of us have had breakdowns that they just won’t admit to themselves or others. It is okay.
When you are dealing with a chronic illness like ulcerative colitis or chrons disease, anxiety comes with the territory. The unpredictable flare ups, random hospitalizations, and daily physical challenges can and does leave you feeling like you don’t have control over your own life and body. It is hard. Really hard.There is absolutely no shame in needing and asking for help. Let us all recognize that mental illness is just as difficult, if not more so on some levels as a physical illness. Mental illness awareness week is a time for the one’s who can to stand up and tell the world that there is no shame in suffering from any kind of mental illness. This will help open the door for the many people who suffer in silence.