Sick of Being Ill

Long term mental illness + exposure to cold/flu-type virus = 3 and a half weeks (and counting) of feeling crap

I have a newfound appreciation for how healthy I have been over the past couple of years. I caught the odd virus, but I didn’t have an episode of physical illness lasting longer than a week or two. This has changed.

My current ailment has zapped my energy and given me a very painful chest, which is exacerbated by a cough. For the first couple of weeks, I also had headaches and earache. I also have a sore throat which ranges from a little dry to completely raw.

I do feel somewhat better this week — which means my symptoms are less aggravating than my frustration at not being able to get much done.

As I get more annoyed at my immune system, I get more annoyed at myself. Negative thoughts creep in more often. I blame myself for not having energy, viewing it as a sign of my general ineptitude…

Mental health and physical health affect each other.

Everyone knows and accepts how physical diseases can take their toll on mental health. We all understand why someone with cancer might develop depression. Many people understand how chronic ailments which aren’t life threatening may cause mental health problems. However, few people consider how mental health affects physical health.

Many people don’t realise that mental illness can have a variety of physical symptoms, many of which are debilitating. They don’t know that mental illness affects the immune system, leaving sufferers more susceptible to contagious physical illnesses. Like viruses.

When I was a teenager, I got viruses constantly. Many of them were attributed to “stress” because my mental illnesses weren’t diagnosed until I was 18. I was stressed, for sure, but I also had depression and anxiety. I was rundown and exhausted because I had insomnia from the age of 13/14. No amount of rest gave me energy, because my mind was in a constant state of turmoil. Little wonder that I caught everything going!

Of course, this can create a vicious circle…

Physical illness can make it difficult to take care of your mental health, just as mental illness can make it hard to pay attention to physical health.

Over the last few weeks, I have found it very difficult to practice self-care. I haven’t had the energy to do simple things like switch on my SAD lamp, repeat affirmations and meditate. I certainly haven’t been able to exercise.

This is a strange parallel to the past — when my mental health was at its worst, I struggled to eat healthily, exercise, sleep or do anything else to help my physical health.

I have noticed my mental health getting worse over the course of my illness. It’s not terrible, but it’s worrying.

Illness may be temporary, but its effects on mental health can outlast it.

My biggest worry is that the impact on my mental health will last much longer than the virus itself. I don’t want to slip on a downward spiral triggered by an illness which most people manage to shrug off after a week, with no long term effects. Trouble is, that’s beyond my control.

Maybe I will bounce back from this virus and feel awesome next week. Or maybe I will still be reeling from its effects far into next year.

Illness is a reminder that you are not 100% in control.

Whether illness is mental or physical, it makes you realise that you don’t have complete power over your life. While that may be obvious, it’s easy to get caught up in other stuff and then — surprise! — your plans get interrupted by a bloody virus. Or a resurgence of mental health problems. Or both.

Which is why I am so annoyed. I have a lot to do — I have just started volunteering for a local mental health charity and reprised mt volunteer role with the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. I’m also doing a photography course and have been unable to do any of the (unassessed) assignments, so will need to get my act together to produce something halfway decent for the final assignment. Not to mention my writing projects and preparing/fundraising for my trek to Machu Picchu

I’m supposed to be doing stuff, taking action, being proactive, workig towards my goals… Only I have next to zero energy. Plus the decline in my mental health is paradoxically robbing me of my motivation and making me anxious about everything I want to do.

It boils down to this: a common winter virus is another thing that is relatively easy for most people to deal with, but threatens to derail those of us with mental health problems. And that sucks.