IBD & Mental Health – How I Learned from my Past

Trigger Warning
The content includes information related to mental and emotional distress and it might be upsetting to some people. If you or someone you know have thoughts of suicide, have attempted suicide, or experience emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1–800–273–TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat.To get general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, contact SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline – 1–877–SAMHSA7 (1–877–726–4727).

“Our stories are all so many things:

Heavy and light. Beautiful and difficult. Hopeful and uncertain.

But our stories aren’t finished yet. There is still time, for things to heal and change and grow.

There is still time to be surprised. We are still going, you and I. We are stories still going.”

-Jamie Tworkowski, “We are stories still going.”

 

Every day, I think about who I am. Who I used to be and who I want to be. About the ways in which I am living my life. The ways in which I have and I am surviving.

Struggling with sadness

During the many years between becoming symptomatic and being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, there were periods with absolutely no improvement to my life. I found myself struggling with sadness in a way I had never previously felt. At first, I pulled away. I felt alone in this battle. I felt ashamed of my feelings. I felt like they would be harshly judged or too quickly reacted to. I felt like I couldn’t share it in truth or in honesty. I deactivated my social media accounts and very sparingly returned text messages or emails. I spent my time binge-watching TV and re-reading favorite books, trying desperately to escape from the physical and mental pain I was constantly overwhelmed by.

Support from a friend

Around that time, a friend in the IBD community connected me to a previous colleague of hers – a therapist specializing in chronic illness patients, who also lives with Crohn’s disease. We’ve now worked together for the last 5 years. There will never be enough ways for me to express my gratitude for her support, including the way she helped me face the hardest season of my life. The depression and anxiety I suffered when we first began working together was ruling my life, and combined with my declining health and the lack of medical explanation or treatment I had received at that time, I was but a shell of my old self.

Resources

When I began experiencing frequent suicidal ideations, my therapist connected me to an Intensive Outpatient Program which I attended 5 days a week for several weeks in to focus on my mental and emotional health and my ability to survive. During this time, I regularly had to convince myself that this world was still a place for me. One incredibly beneficial resource to me was (and continues to be) the organization To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). The nonprofit movement has spent the last 12 years connecting people to help, creating a community of hope, challenging the mental health stigma, and investing in treatment and recovery. It has also connected me to so many incredible individuals who helped me find light in the darkness.

That chapter of my life taught me so very much on how to manage my depression and anxiety through a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, support systems, and continual therapy. It was a very difficult trial and error process. One which at the beginning, to be honest, I had very little desire to fight through. But fighting through the process is what gave me life back.

In the years since that time, I have maintained a high level of involvement with the TWLOHA community. This includes blogging for their website, fundraising to support their mission, attending their events, and sharing their resources time and time again, especially within the IBD community.

Shedding light

In my eyes, the devastating effects of Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis impact patients in more ways than just the physical ones. I think it’s incredibly important to bring to light the ways in which these sometimes invisible illnesses have affected our lives. I also think that National Suicide Prevention Week is a perfect time to start heart-to-heart conversations about the other invisible illnesses that often partner with IBD – depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, and other mental health challenges.

IBD has made our lives hard enough. During National Suicide Prevention Week, I want to make sure that we’re talking about something often swept under the rug – IBD/chronic Illness and mental health.

If nothing else, I want to make sure that you have the information you need if/when life ever feels too hard to handle.

National Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text TWLOHA to 741-741

[Both resources are available 24×7]

In my last post for National Suicide Prevention Week, I want to talk about the ways in which I take care of and maintain my mental and emotional health. I want you to know that alongside stories of devastation are stories of hope and help too.

Other articles in this series for National Suicide Prevention Week:

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