Finding the Lesser Evil: When Mental and Physical Health Collide
We all want to give up sometimes. Give up on dietary restrictions. Give up on staying sober. Give up on life. And sometimes we need a little help to get through. I’m not talking about repetitive positive mantras; sometimes positive thoughts aren’t the answer. Often, what we need is just to survive; just to get through the day and live through the mess until we can go to sleep and wake up to a new day.
Living with IBS and mental health issues can be debilitating and destabilizing. You’re in a constant state of flux: feeling fine one minute, bloated the next. Happy one second, and then suddenly you’re anxious. Or sad. Or agitated. Whatever the mental state, it is always tied to our IBS symptoms. Stress, anxiety and depression aren’t enough -we have to deal with diarrhea, constipation, and bloating too. The problem is that this, this mess of annoying gastrointestinal symptoms, isn’t all of it. Our heads get pulled into the mess too. And not just mentally but physically as well: enter the headache.
IBS and migraine
There are many days that I wish I could throw caution to the wind and forget about all my dietary restrictions. I’ll deal with the bathroom visits and discomfort, I tell myself. And one day I’ll decide gluten and FODMAPs aren’t as bad for me as everyone says. I’ll deal with the GI issues and laugh it off when I have to run to the bathroom. I’ll think I’ve won. Then, the headaches start. The mind numbing, pounding, aching headaches that seem to make you feel like your head is dry and empty while simultaneously full of liquid razor blades. They come, every day like clockwork. Just to say ‘hi,’ and ruin your day. They come to join the party and have fun with your other symptoms. ‘Oh, hello anxiety and depression, I’m Headache, nice to meet you. Wanna party?’ And then all hell breaks loose. What was a normal, even satisfying, day now becomes a dark, sad, painful one. And there’s no going back. The only thing left to do is face it, or not.
When we get bogged down by our symptoms, and it seems as though there is nothing that we can do to succeed, it’s important that we don’t give up. It’s important that we see the success in survival. And when the world -and your symptoms -have got you down, positive thoughts can’t always help; sometimes we need more. We need to feel something other than the pain, something other than the stress and anxiety that is coupled with IBS. It is at this moment that I ask you to seek the lesser evil.
When I am falling, and feel like I can’t control my body or my head, rather than give in to the constant fretting and pain or turn to something that might be construed as harmful, I will lay down. Though, admittedly, this is not always the healthiest way to deal with pain -mental or physical- sometimes it simply is the lesser of two evils. Like I said before, it’s not necessarily positivity we strive for. Sometimes we just need to survive. And often survival is found in a nap, or a good movie you’ve seen a hundred times, or a walk, or hell, even washing the dishes while listening to heavy metal. Whatever your fancy, find your lesser evil, because in the end, all you need to do is get through today.
The following is a list of various coping mechanisms that I have tried over the years, because sometimes we need a little help. I am very, very aware that they are all easier said than done, but we cannot simply close our minds. We must remain vigilant. We must survive.
First and foremost: distract. Distract. Distract!
- Take a nap. When you wake up, reassess the situation.
- Read or watch a movie/TV show (whatever your mind will allow). I firmly believe that Netflix binges were created for mental health sufferers.
Talk, communicate, and share
- Having someone to talk to –professional or personal -is something we all truly need in order to get through the days ahead.
- Share your experiences with your partner/friend/family.
- Look into real therapy –psychologists, therapists, etc. You deserve it.
- No one to talk to at the moment? Well, then, write (how do you think I got here?).
Research. Look stuff up. Search the web.
- There are answers out there, friends you didn’t know you had, people who are going through or have suffered through the same things you are. You are NOT alone.
- Look into Cognitive and Dialectic Behavior Therapy. They both have interesting ways to cope throughout your day. You can often find free forms and information from credible sources. For me, personally, CBT never worked -I get far too worked up to use my brain to calm myself down; rather, DBT was my necessary tool. By focusing primarily upon behavior it helped me find physical coping mechanisms to replace my more harmful tendencies.
Do something physical
- Take a walk or start a fitness schedule (the gym can become a home-away-from-home).
- Fidget? find toys or hobbies that can help (I love Lego, personally, but you can find your own favorite).
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