When the physical meets the mental …
In the mental health and suicide prevention spaces we often say; just because you can’t necessarily SEE the pain, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We use this to describe the hidden burdens and battles people go through every day that become internal. We want people to speak about the pain they are going through and get the thoughts out of their heads and into the open so help and hope can be achieved.
What I have learnt in the last 6 weeks is a new appreciation for those of us who have experienced a physical pain or injury and the impact that can have on our wellbeing and brain health.
In my 30 years on this earth I have been extremely fortunate not to have suffered with any diagnosable mental illness or suffered any serious physical injuries. After the loss of Aidon in 2008, I of course went through a dark journey of grief, one which still rises and falls, even today, but I see those periods as ‘depressive’ periods of my life and a journey of complex grief. I do not have ‘depression’ but like many of us, we all experience hardships and the struggle of living a happy and fulfilled life.
7 weeks ago I stepped off the plane from Canada. Back from the USA to see family and sort out some of those life hurdles. I planned on only being back for a few weeks but it appeared the universe had other plans.
A week of jet-lag was followed by a week of the most intense and debilitating flue I have ever had. I used to always say “oh my god I have the flue, this is so bad” but nope, I had never had the ‘real’ flue. That type of flue where even your toes ache. I spent the majority of 7 days in bed. High temperatures followed by sweat filled nights and a general feeling of yuck. Shoutout to the Hydralyte drink … you saved me!
After 8 days I began to feel a little better and decided to try some exercise, you know that term “just sweat it out”. Well I sweat it out and in the process knocked around a few gallstones it seems.
I woke on a Saturday morning around 3am with intense lower back pain and attributed it to my serious lack of physical exercise, which must have resulted in a torn muscle. The only difference was, this pain wasn’t going away with all the nurofen, panadol and heat packs. I pushed through, determined to not let a sore back ruin my Saturday.
In the 2 weeks since I had been home, I had left the house maybe twice. I was already beginning to feel isolated in my own home and just needed to get out into the fresh air and sunshine. I made it to the shops where I proceeded to vomit twice in the shopping centre toilets (yuck) and felt the most intense pain I had ever experienced. Yeah this wasn’t normal back pain.
For all those who know me, know I have been to quite a number of hospitals, all for members of my family. Joondalup Emergency probably have my picture on the wall as I seem to always be there with someone, except this time it was my turn. The thought of waiting 5+ hours in a hospital waiting room was not appealing but I knew I had no other choice. Shoutout to JO Staff, only a 2 hour wait! I feel like someone was watching over me (Aidon thank you, although we could have avoided this all together)
Fast forward 4 days, a lot of morphine, 18 hours of fasting and a 3 hour surgery my gallbladder was GONE. According to my surgeon it was the 2nd worst gallbladder he had ever seen. Umm thanks?
Well at least that made me feel my pain was justified. Throughout the hospital stay, the drain tubes, the painful blood thinning injections (oh my god they hurt) and uncomfortable bedding, I just rolled with it and went with the flow because I felt like finally no more pain and I could now focus on recovery and getting better.
However what is interesting about surgery, that I didn’t realise as I had never been in this position before, was that surgery isn’t the end of the healing journey, it is just the beginning. I am pretty sure I had a years worth of pain meds still flowing through my system and a weeks supply prescribed so my week at home post operation was a blur of sleep, pain and avoiding the toilet because any pushing movement felt like my insides were being ripped apart. Not fun and pain meds are the WORST.
I was once again isolated and was struggling to do much more than walk around the house for 20min intervals. I was avoiding phone calls, forgetting to reply to messages and just going through each day on autopilot. My mood was significantly shifting and not in a good way but I wasn’t self aware.
Silly things like not being able to button up my jeans or wear a bra because of the wounds made me isolate even more. It all just seemed too hard to make an effort to get outside.
4 weeks had been and gone since I stepped off that plane and in that time I had been out and about maybe 3 times. Now these weren’t big social outings, Im talking popping into the local shops to get a coffee.
2 weeks post operation and things were starting to heal, I pushed it a few times and my body was always there to remind me that I may be healing on the outside, but internally an organ had still been removed and it needed some time to adjust.
I had 2 days where I felt like I was nearly ready to get back out into the big wide world. I could button up my pants (for an hour at a time), I was off those horrendous pain meds and I could finally wear a bra. Things were looking up. And then a bladder infection decided to appear.
I just laughed. Of course a bladder infection has hit, right when I was starting to feel ok. This really hit me hard because once again I was on medication, stuck at home and working through another period of self inflected isolation. No amount of work, netflix or social media was helping.
So we fast forward to week 7 and I have my first social event locked in the calendar which I am ready to attend. Clothes would be on, makeup and hair would be done. hashtag excited!
Oh but the universe once again thought it wasn’t done. Hello viral infection, which resulted in a measle looking full body rash. Event attendance cancelled and another 4 days in isolation.
I was sitting reflecting and realised how much physical pain and illness can impact our brain health. 7 weeks of ‘sickness’ saw me leave the house a handful of times and it was really starting to impact me.
My mum suffers from Fibromyalgia and whilst I could sympathise with her and only imagine how frustrating and debilitating it could be, I couldn’t really empathise as up until that point, I had never experienced the effects that physical pain have on your mind;
“Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain in the muscles and bones. Other common symptoms are feeling tired and sleeping poorly..”
I have a new found appreciation for anyone who is battling physical issues and those of the brain & mind. Even those of us who are fortunate not to have a diagnosed mental illness can still experience those depressive periods and we have to follow those important wellness tips and practices to ensure we stay well and reach out for help.
I am so very lucky to have people in my life who support me and always check in.
Again all experiences are lessons. This past 7 weeks has been a little challenging but very enlightening. I have asked the universe for a few more consecutive days of good health. Post surgery is no joke. Taking time to heal is important and I wasn’t doing that.
Look after yourself. Take the time to heal. Reflect on your thoughts and feelings and always ask for help if you notice you are beginning to isolate yourself.
Heres to a healthy and happy rest of 2017!