Physical illness and mental health

This post has somewhat forced itself into existence. I am currently sitting, swaddled up in my duvet, heater on full blast, with an array of pill packets, spread out on my bed side table. I have been sentenced to bed rest, and a course of antibiotics, after a week of not enough sleep, not enough food, and the stress of completing my last week of theory lectures for the year. I am feeling very sorry for myself (if you couldn’t already tell), but I have decided to accept this defeat gracefully, and follow the doctors instructions, to rest, eat, and (over) sleep.

The importance of taking care of yourself, physically, and mentally, has truly made itself known to me these past few days. It has been busy, even for a type-A personality like me. I started my blog, created a new Instagram, twitter and email, all whilst also studying for an exam (which I sat on Monday, on my way to the doctors office). One of the main issues, is that I  have been so elated with the response to my writing and posts, that I have been unable to really relax, or fully wind down at night. Now, this is no ones fault but my own, but I thought I would use the experience, to encourage you not to follow in my suit.

In terms of how being physically unwell affects my mental health, I think it is fair to say, that the impact, is negative in nature. The first change in my mental state, that I have noticed, is a drastic drop in my mood over all. I feel deflated, teary, and to be completely honest, down right miserable. I am currently taking antidepressants (SSRIs), which usually help with the lows I experience, but for some reason, being unwell has managed override most of their effect. The second change I have become aware of, is that my thoughts have become a lot more anxious, and very self critical. In particular my eating disordered thoughts have grown louder, and repositioned themselves, at the forefront of my mind.

My understanding of these mental changes, is that they are most likely my minds response, to the lack of control that I am experiencing. When you are physically sick, you have to give your trust to others, such as your doctor,  your mother, or your spouse, and for me, this feels like a complete loss of control. I want to continue about my business, like nothing is wrong, but my body won’t co operate, so I am forced to follow orders given by others.

In terms of eating disordered thoughts, I have an issue, even when physically healthy, convincing myself to eat when I feel I am being “lazy”, or unproductive (notice how I said feel there? Take that ED!). Usually I can quieten the eating disorders jibes, by reassuring myself that I need food, to fuel my studies, as well as other important activities, such as writing. When lying in bed all day, whilst also eating, however, I lose this protective layer of reassurance.

Being sick has always been my ED voice’s worst nightmare. It tells me that I will get fat if I sit in bed all week. It screams at me that I am a disgusting slob for eating, when I haven’t even changed out of my pyjamas. Even right now, the feeling of my bottom going numb against my bed (from sitting in one place for too long), is filling my mind with thoughts of disgust and outrage. I should not have eaten that chocolate muffin, there is no way I am going to burn it off sitting here on my fat a**! I want to be able to say that this is not the way I feel, so that I can be a truly positive influence, but that would be a lie, and I have promised to be honest with you on this blog. So, yes, I admit, I am struggling this week, more so than during the previous few.

So, what am I doing about all of this? Well, for the most part, I am able to distract myself from my poor mood, by watching movies, or youtube, and by writing this blog. Sometimes, however, I cant help but become frustrated and angry, so I am also letting myself cry, and stomp around my room, whenever my tear ducts firmly demand it. I am a strong believer in not suppressing your emotions, especially when this means attempting to deny them all together. This is because I have found, from my personal experience, that suppression, only leads to larger outbursts, or states of acute crisis, later down the track.

When it comes to the thoughts about my body, and food, I try to use my common sense, and knowledge of the human body, to silence the demands of my eating disorder. For example, I know, that the body needs extra energy (yes calories), and micronutrients, to recover, when it is fighting off an infection (thank you nursing lecturers). To restrict, based on the fact that I am bed ridden, would deny my body the exact ingredients it needs, to get back to its normal level of functioning. If I restrict my food intake, I will therefore, be prolonging the length of time it will take me to recover, and to get back to my normal routine, so I choose to eat (although rather reluctantly at times).

This may not be a coping mechanism that works for everyone, learning to challenge the negative thoughts, and more importantly learning to beat them, is something that can take a very long time to learn. In the past I have lost several of these inner voice debates, which resulted in my physical health becoming severely compromised. However, these days, challenging the thoughts, and replacing them with logical, medically informed facts, is something I am pretty skilled at. Most of the time, I am able to recognise changes in my mental health almost immediately, which means I get the opportunity to address the changes, before they become a major issue, or lead to a complete relapse.

For those of you who have not yet reached this stage of self reasoning, and recognition, I would advise, having extra support set in place when you are physically unwell. Having another person there to be the voice of reason, to remind you to eat, and to sleep, can take away the pressure of challenging your ED thoughts, until you are well enough to deal with them on your own again. The support person can also provide emotional support, when your mood is affected. It is a lot easier to wallow in the sadness, when you are all alone (in my opinion anyways), as opposed to when you have someone there to comfort you, and to make you smile.

In terms of how to avoid getting to this position in the first place, I think it safe to say, that it is all about taking proper care of yourself, and listening to your body. The past week, I ignored my bodies signals of hunger, and fatigue, because I was determined to fit too many different things into my days. If I had taken the time to sit down, eat three meals a day (don’t skip breakfast guys), and gotten to bed at a normal hour, then it is highly likely, that I would not have gotten so unwell (darned hindsight).

Alas, we are all human, and we all make mistakes. So what have I learned from this experience? Well, first of all, Do not ignore your bodies cues or signals, and this doesn’t mean waiting until your stomach is rumbling, before you finally grab something to eat. My way of recognising my bodies need for food, is by paying attention to the content, and direction of my thoughts. If I am suddenly daydreaming about cupcakes, pasta, or endless pieces of buttered toast, then I know, that I must be getting hungry. Not surprisingly, nine of of ten times when this happens, it turns out to have been hours since my last meal. Eating before your body goes into a starvation driven panic mode, is actually extremely important, if like me, you have a history of binging and purging.

Secondly, make sure to give yourself time to relax. I know that when I try to go to bed, straight after studying, or organising something important, I am likely to not get a good nights sleep. It is important to always schedule in some you time, such as reading a book, watching your favourite TV show, or if you are like me, catching up on some of the blogs that you follow. Allowing yourself to destress, and unwind after a long day, can make all the difference to your body, both physically, and mentally.

To sum all of this up (for those skim readers, yes I know about you), the take home message from today’s post, is that we are all guilty of over working, and over exerting ourselves from time to time, due to the busy day and age, that we live in. The issue with this arises, when this work ethic, and highly stress driven life style, begins to manifest, in the form of health issues. If you are noticing that you are fatigued, or run down, please, listen to your body, and take proper care of yourself.

Sending love, Violet xox






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