Let’s Talk About the Tough Stuff: IBD and Mental Health - Part 1
Last updated: November 2021
**This post discusses topics of mental health and suicide that some may find too uncomfortable to read.**
September is known as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month which aims to raise awareness and promote resources about suicide prevention. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on social media about this and it got me to thinking about myself and “my people” who have IBD. While suicide is rare in general, depression certainly isn’t rare among those who have a chronic illness.
I wanted to take the time to talk about mental health today. I titled this post with intention; “let’s talk about the tough stuff,” because it’s important to talk about it. So often many of us are afraid to talk about our mental health though when you have a chronic illness, especially if it’s severe, how can it not affect your mental health? In fact, one of the things listed under increased risk of suicide is having a serious or chronic medical condition. If your mental health has been affected by having Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis I assure you right now that you are not alone.
My experience with Crohn’s and depression
Having Crohn’s disease since I was a kid, there have been many times that I have dealt with depression. Not just feeling sad or down in the dumps, but severely depressed. I was diagnosed with chronic major depressive disorder and for a long time I was afraid to admit that to others. Another thing that I am afraid to admit is that I have, on more than one occasion, wished my life away.
I felt like I would never have a normal life again
One of those times was during a 6 month hospital stay. I had no idea that I would wind up in the hospital for 6 months and I had already been having one heck of an awful year leading up to it. I was on high doses of prednisone, none of my medications were working, I was losing a lot of blood, had daily fevers... you get the picture. I was already so depressed with having to stop school at college, move out of my dorm and back into my parents house, losing so much weight that I was under 100 pounds, and having no life and losing all of my friends while I spent all of my time in pain and bed ridden.
Then I got to the ER and was admitted and before I knew it I was having emergency surgery to have my colon taken out. Those 6 months spiraled into problem after problem. I had a post surgical abscess, I went septic, my ostomy wasn’t working right, I had a 2nd emergency surgery, I got a blood infection and was in the ICU for a few days, I kept having accidents when my J-pouch got hooked up after surgery #2, the relationship I was in was horrible and we were fighting every day in the hospital... on and on with no end in sight. I was so sick that I was down to 82 pounds, I hadn’t eaten by mouth in months and was on TPN, my hair was falling out, etc. I started to feel like this was never going to end and I would never have a life that was normal or pain free again.
The pain I was in that wouldn’t let up
This pain took me over the edge. My PCA pump and the other pain medications I was given hardly gave me relief. With all of the infections and surgeries I was having the pain was constant, so much that I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two at a time before the pain would wake me up.
It was now over a year and a half that I had been living in severe pain every day and I just wanted a break. I started to wish that I was dead because I couldn’t do it anymore. I just wanted a break from the pain and it started to seem like the only way I would get that break was if my life ended. I couldn’t even catch a break to sleep! I would tell my mom that I just wanted to die and I was mean to everyone who came to visit me because I was so depressed. Crohn’s disease was destroying my mental health.
This was not the only time that having IBD has caused depression in me.
It seems to happen whenever I have a surgery, a long hospitalization, or a major life change like having to stop working or starting over again. I have also dealt with severe anxiety and PTSD. While I would never actually take the steps to end my life it’s sad that I even considered it.
Like I said, suicide is rare but depression and anxiety among those who have chronic illness is not. Read part 2 to find out about mental health and IBD and what you can do if you are struggling.
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