It takes strength to deal with multiple medical conditions

It Takes Strength to Deal with Multiple Medical Conditions

This month we’re talking about managing chronic medical conditions alongside IBS and at first I thought that I didn’t have anything to contribute. But then I sat down and realised that I live with much more than I usually acknowledge.

My main concern is definitely IBS, since it’s the condition most likely to stop me in my tracks, but many years ago, my IBS symptoms were rivaled by other conditions. Some of these have naturally faded in severity as I’ve gotten older, some I’ve got better at managing, and others are only a concern when life gets out of control. Regardless of which camp they fall into, these are the conditions I’ve learned to live with alongside my IBS…

Asthma

I grew into asthma in my early teens. It used to get triggered during sport and whenever I got stressed. I still have memories on the way home from school camp of the bus having to drop me off at a doctor’s surgery to get an attack under control. But after the first few years, my asthma became so mild that I don’t require preventative medication. These days, it occasionally gets set off by cold weather, polluted environments (especially cigarette smoke), or very intense exercise.

But the everyday mildness of my asthma is deceptive, since my lungs seem to have an inherent weakness. If my asthma gets set off by a respiratory virus, like a cold or flu, it can bring me to my knees and take several months of medications to settle it back down again. I’ve also ended up with far too many respiratory tract infections, whooping cough, and pleurisy that subsequently triggered an 8-month bout of costochondritis. Out of all the pain I’ve experienced, pain on breathing is the hardest to deal with.

Dysmenorrhea

Period pain was the bane of my existence in my teens and early twenties. After extensive investigations, the doctors couldn’t find anything organically wrong with me and so I simply had to live with it. Serious painkillers could dull the pain, but only if they were strong enough to almost render me unconscious, which meant treading a fine line between excruciating pain and being able to function. But now in my early 40s, this has all but resolved and causes far less pain than my IBS.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction

In my mid to late 20s, TMJ dysfunction became the bane of my existence. This gave me excruciating pain in my jaw, extending to my neck and shoulders, radiating into my ears, and finally ending up with daily headaches. Finally, a doctor diagnosed it and sent me to a dentist for treatment, which involved wearing a bruxing guard at night to stop me from grinding my teeth. But a more effective treatment came from extensive physiotherapy on my jaw (yes, that’s as painful as it sounds!). I’ve since learned that regular exercise, in addition to physical therapy, stops my jaw, neck and shoulder muscles from overtightening and getting too bad. This requires ongoing vigilance, but I can usually control a flare up within a week.

Seasonal depression

Every year since I turned 23, I’ve been dealing with seasonal depression. But it wasn’t until I was 25 that I understood what it was, and not until I was 27 that I found the solution that I still use to this day. For me, seasonal depression is a very physical depression, with extreme tiredness, an inability to feel awake, lots of apathy, and massive sugar cravings. Yet it can be controlled with light therapy. So between April and September each year (that’s winter in Australia), I sit in front of a special light box for 20 minutes each morning while eating my breakfast and drinking a cup of tea. It’s magic!

Chronic sinusitis

This started 8 years ago, a few months after ‘the cold from hell’ gave me acute sinusitis that made my head feel like it was going to explode. Several months later I was diagnosed with chronic sinusitis. It may seem like a blocked up nose isn’t a big deal, but it disrupts my breathing when I sleep, causing me to become a zombie from sleep deprivation. But with a simple nasal spray used every night, I can control it, so most of the time it’s little more than an irritation.

So with all of these conditions, how could I possibly forget how much I have going on?

Firstly, regular exercise reduces tension in my jaw, neck and shoulders, decreases stress, and keeps me healthy, helping to modulate my TMJ dysfunction, asthma, and IBS. Secondly, the sinusitis medication has become a daily habit. Thirdly, I’ve built time into my morning routine for the light therapy to manage the seasonal depression. Lastly, I’ve learned to watch for the warning signs of asthma like a hawk, since asthma symptoms are my barometer for when I’m about to lose control of everything, IBS included.

So partially it’s habit, but it’s more than that too. I find that the more you focus on the challenges, the harder it is to stay healthy. So I normally try to ignore the challenges and just get on with it. But every so often it’s good to take stock and remind yourself of the inner strength and resilience that allows you to deal with so much all of the time.

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