My Experience with Health-Related PTSD

I’ve known for a while now that I’ve been having trouble with PTSD when it comes to hospitals, death, medical treatments or health issues. Many patients who live with chronic illnesses such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease do! Any little thing that is “off” when it comes to my own health will set into motion a mindset that is difficult for me to break.

Vicious cycle

For example, if I happen to notice myself running to the restroom more often, my mind automatically goes on alert! “Wait, how many times have I gone to the bathroom today? That’s not normal. Oh man… my butt is irritated. This is not good. Is my j-pouch failing? Maybe I have an obstruction. I do NOT want to have to go back to the doctor right now. If he/she pulls out the prednisone prescription, I’m out of here!” Then my mind is focused on every little thing that happens after the initial concern.

“Oh, my belly feels tender. Wait, maybe. Does it really feel uncomfortable or am I imagining things??? Am I making myself hypersensitive to things because of the frequent bathroom visits? Is it all in my head or is it for real?”

PTSD is Very, Very Real

Merriam-Webster defines Post-traumatic stress disorder in this way, “a psychological reaction occurring after experiencing a highly stressing event that is usually characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, and avoidance of reminders of the event.”

For me, it’s all of the above, minus the nightmares. Those haven’t crept in yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Someone else’s health

Now, the PTSD has spread from being just my health issues to other people’s health problems. Let me explain. I have been an advocate for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease for several years now. Whenever someone contacts me to tell me what’s going on, I take on their suffering and I’m brought back to feelings of anxiety and fear.

Whenever my husband deals with something health-related, I automatically build up my defenses. Sometimes I even go into denial because ignorance is bliss right??? “Oh, you’ll be fine sweetie! You’re in perfect health, remember??? You are ok!!!” That’s helpful… not!

My baby’s health

Whenever I’m put on prednisone or an antibiotic I know a yeast overgrowth is bound to follow. And I don’t mean your traditional yeast infection. I mean either a yeast rash, oral thrust or a yeast infection IN MY BUTT. Because of this, I freak out if my baby gets a diaper rash. This happened just recently when she had to be put on an antibiotic for an ear infection. Days later, I noticed a rash and my mind went reeling...

“Oh no… this is a yeast rash… isn’t it? It’s a yeast rash and… no, no, no, is it coming out of her bottom, too??? Does she have a yeast infection in her butt??? Oh no, she’s going to have to be treated. I’m going to have to take her to the doctor. This is bad, this is bad…”

And so the PTSD kicked in again. My husband eventually came in and found me clutching my baby while I was sitting on the floor and I was zoned out. He had to talk me down and tell me that everything was going to be ok. But it isn’t that easy. When dealing with a chronic illness, you come to expect the worst. You expect the medication to fail you and cause a host of other issues. When you live with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, nothing is ever an easy fix… and when it is, you don’t believe it.

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