Getting Restarted – Slowly

I’m beginning to do more as I recover from being ill, but it’s difficult. My energy is low and I’m frustrated that I can’t do more. I wish I could think more clearly, too. I have so much I need – and want – to do, but my body isn’t cooperating.

I know that pushing myself too far will be detrimental to my health, so I’m trying to take it easy as I recuperate, but my to-do list is stressing me out and I’m worried that tasks will continue piling up until there are so many I won’t be able to cope. My strategy is to prioritise the most important things first, then the tasks which won’t take too much energy. The other stuff will have to wait.

The situation is affecting my mental health and it’s a constant battle to keep perspective.

I know that getting stressed and anxious will result in my getting even less done, but logical observations and emotional reactions are different animals… While I know that prioritising my mental and physical health will help me get more done in the long term, I find it hard to justify sitting back and relaxing when I know I will have to do everything sooner or later.

Looking on the bright side, I feel better this week than I did last week – and last week was great, compared to the week before!

Hopefully the cycle of recovering a little and then getting hit by another virus will be over soon. I’m doing more walking this week and hope to return to gym classes next week, depending on how my chest feels, so my fitness is gradually getting back on track. I’m also making an effort to eat healthily, planning meals with lots of vegetables and cutting back on junk food.

Keeping up self-care takes a lot of effort when I’m feeling under the weather.

I know it helps my mental health when I meditate, repeat affirmations and use my SAD lamp – which probably has a positive effect on my physical health – but finding the energy and motivation seems like a gargantuan task. I have been getting better at it over the past few days though, which is a good sign.

Mental health problems make simple, common things more difficult and physical illness is a prime example.

I have to find the energy to look after my mental health as well as my physical health, which probably isn’t a consideration for most people suffering from a winter virus. Plus I have no idea whether my current lack of energy is 100% due to the virus, or if it is being caused by my depression worsening. It’s hard to tell when most people feel tired and demotivated when they are ill; I hope these symptoms will disappear when the virus finally goes, but I’m also afraid that they won’t.

My Crappy Christmas

Christmas did not go according to plan. It wasn’t disastrous in a good story kind of way – nothing dramatic happened, there were no embarrassing incidents which become amusing with hindsight and there was nothing unique about the situation. Instead, Christmas was ruined in the most mundane way possible: my whole family got a flu-type virus.

The dog was fine.

My mum and I worked extra hard to force ourselves to make preparations. I ensured I had plenty of delicious vegan food available – only to completely lose my appetite from afternoon on Christmas Day. I didn’t feel like eating my favourite foods: homemade stuffing, trifle, sprouts (yes, honestly – I know, I’m weird), cranberry sauce, mince pies… Instead, I have been living on Marmite on toast for the past week.

The lack of appetite has its advantages – I have lost a couple of pounds, kickstarting my New Year’s resolution to lose more weight.

If that had been the only symptom, the illness would have been annoying but bearable. But no, I have also been kept awake by constant coughing fits. I thought the cough I had before Christmas was bad, but this one has been kicked into hyperdrive.

I spent 5 nights downstairs on the couch, watching television until I felt too tired to concentrate and then lying in the dark hoping to snooze for a couple of minutes between coughing. I discovered that I love Rebel Wilson – I watched Pitch Perfect, Pitch Perfect 2 and How to Be Single on consecutive nights. I sucked mentholated sweets, hoping I wouldn’t fall asleep and choke on them but also acknowledging that death would provide me with relief from the BLOODY COUGHING.

I feel entirely stuffed up with catarrh – including my brain. I had to abandon my photography course assignment, resigning myself to failure, until my mind cleared a smidgeon on Saturday night and I managed to complete it in a frenzy. Yep, while other people were partying on New Year’s Eve, I sipped a (non-alcoholic) ginger beer and tried to write something about my selected photos which made sense. I paused briefly to acknowledge Big Ben’s chimes on television and wish my parents happy New Year, before returning to my assignment and submitting it online at 1:24am.

I still feel pretty crap, but am functioning a little better. I think I managed to sleep for at least 3 hours last night, which helps. I’m frustrated because I wanted to achieve so much over Christmas, but simply couldn’t do anything constructive. Or anything apart from drink hot Ribena and watch endless episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

I’m hoping to recover fully ASAP, so that I can be more productive and make progress towards achieving my New Year’s resolutions…

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.