I’ve been home sick the past few days and sick on and off for a while now. It’s really difficult sometimes to separate physical and mental health symptoms. Everything is all blurred together and it’s hard to tell when to push myself harder and when to rest. This past week has been an explosion of physical and mental health struggles that are creating a storm of symptoms and have forced me to (uncharacteristically) stay in bed.
I haven’t met very many people who understand the complex intertwined experience of having both physical and mental health issues simultaneously. Most doctors aren’t very trauma informed and also struggle to validate that both physical and mental health issues can occur simultaneously, and be either linked, not linked or both linked AND not linked to each other!
One of the things I’ve been coping with in the past few weeks is a urinary tract infection. Obviously, an infection is caused by bacteria and isn’t a mental health issue. But I was also really triggered in the past few weeks and this made me extremely reluctant to seek medical care. I was afraid to go to a walk-in clinic, afraid to see a doctor, afraid to be examined. This was linked both to past trauma around the medical system AND generally high levels of panic and anxiety related to stress with my ex and my kids experiencing abuse. Thus I waited for over a week to go to the doctor, by that time my symptoms were much worse and I felt pretty awful physically.
This is an example of how physical and mental health issues can be both separate and linked at the same time. The infection itself was physical, but my avoidance of the doctor was mental health and trauma related. Of course you might also argue that my high levels of stress and anxiety also generally lower my immune system and make it harder for me to fight off infections.
By the end of last week I was on antibiotics, but I also developed a sinus cold. I had a migraine related to receiving a nerve block to treat the migraines, but the sinus congestion put pressure on the nerves that were being treated. My anxiety was causing panic attacks and making me afraid to leave the house for fear of running into my ex.
Thus again, my high levels of stress probably didn’t help any of these physical issues that I was dealing with.
When someone has an infection, generally they are advised to rest. But resting is difficult when you are also struggling with severe anxiety and panic attacks. My head gets filled with worries about work and what I’m missing and what people think about me being away and creating all sorts of worries and fears, many of which are not realistic.
Anxiety causes me to feel like a failure. It causes me to feel like making a mistake is a terrible thing which can’t be recovered from. It causes me to feel like everyone around me hates me and thinks I’m doing a terrible job. Or worse, they think I’m faking being sick to avoid responsibilities. A lot of my irrational worries centre around feeling like nobody believes me and that nobody likes me.
Experiencing abuse, and extending periods of emotional abuse, as well as abuse within systems, has lead me to fear and avoid conflict of any kind. I want everyone to be happy all the time. I get very anxious when there are disagreements and I’ll often apologize even when I’m not sure I have done anything wrong. I’ll do what I can to avoid conflict, because when interpersonal conflict levels are high around me, my anxiety levels feel unbearable. Because ongoing interpersonal conflict is a trigger. I try to keep people around me happy because I want to feel safe and BE safe.
Unfortunately, in the real world, conflict is unavoidable. Disagreements are part of life. As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone all the time.
But I want to! I need a lot of reassurance from people around me that I’m doing an adequate job. I need reassurance that conflict isn’t dangerous. I need reassurance that people believe me, that they believe I experienced abuse, that they believe I’m trying my best. I need reassurance so badly because my internal dialogue is so self critical and judgmental.
I know it’s not the responsibility of those around me to constantly reassure me. I know I’m an adult and I have to take responsibility for my own feelings and fears. The difficult part is that while I’m experiencing ongoing abuse and conflict which is outside of my control, my self esteem is constantly being eroded and challenged. I need reassurance because I haven’t yet learned to fully believe and reassure myself.
I believe this is very common for survivors who have experienced long periods of gaslighting or complex emotional abuse. It’s hard to build up a stable sense of self when you are being confused, beaten down and made to feel like you are crazy and nobody will believe you.
Survivors need a lot of patience. Sometimes you might get frustrated with me. Sometimes you might feel like I’m being unreasonable. Sometimes you might not understand why I’m SO upset over something SO little. Please remember that it’s not little to me. My reaction could be related to feeling triggered and that trigger is making me feel like a failure. If you have the energy and patience to reassure a survivor, please do so. She might need to hear thousands of times that you believe her and that you don’t think she is crazy.
I need to hear it a thousand times. Especially on weeks like these where I feel crazy, broken and like a failure.
Being physically and emotionally sick at the same time isn’t a lot of fun. Taking sick days when you are struggling with severe anxiety and PTSD isn’t fun. It’s not relaxing. It’s not “a break.”
I guess sometimes we have to carry on, try to move forward, even if we don’t believe or have faith that everything will work out for the best.