Three months ago I left my work for a medical appointment. I have not returned. I was mid way through a crippling MS relapse. My physical health was at its lowest since diagnosis. It was, however, a genuine concern for my mental health that triggered the drastic decision to leave my job.
A GP had said to me, “work is good for your mental health, until it’s not.” This sentence rang in my ears for weeks. I was having a lot of time off with illness and appointments. I had begun to feel I was doing my job in the time I was not busy managing my health. The two no longer felt compatible. I was stressed and anxious about this. It made me feel weak, less than enough. One evening, I attempted to do some work. I wanted to mark some exam papers and check my emails... things i had been doing (with the help of magnification equipment for my visual impairment,) routinely for years. The relapse had hit my eyes badly. I couldn’t focus on the writing. As I began to look at my computer I started to panic. I couldn’t remember any of the websites I used, any of my passwords or logins, I didn’t recognise the names of my colleagues. I don’t think my physical health has ever frightened me as much as that did. My mind did not feel on my side. I cried and shook and eventually crawled in to bed and slept, exhausted.
There are well researched links between MS and many other physical health (particularly neurological) conditions and mental health. Many people suffer with depression and anxiety as a direct symptom of their physical health condition.
When I brought this issue up with the Facebook and Instagram communities I discovered that there are much less well documented connections.
A widely discussed connection was that between emotional trauma and physical health, including people whose physical health began to deteriorate at the point of that trauma. I was interesting to read that the connections were not necessarily, as I had thought, physical ill health being the cause of mental ill health but vice versa. One woman explained that her physical health was misdiagnosed as it was 'blamed' on her mental health struggles. Others described how their anxiety and depression lead to their issues with, for example, digestion and nutrition. Another described the breakdown she suffered due to agonising SPD (Symphysis pubis dysfunction) during pregnancy. This is, of course, all anecdotal evidence, but it is evidence nonetheless.
It seems to me that the two sides of this health coin are intrinsically connected. When our bodies suffer, our minds suffer too, and this is often true both ways. The feeling of weakness I described earlier is something we are conditioned to avoid. As women and particularly as disabled women we face an expectation that we should be strong and that we should ‘overcome,’ our difficulties. We should power on and keep going no matter what. We should not let our disabilities affect us mentally. I have definitely been guilty of presenting this view to the world. Generally it helps me to keep as optimistic as possible. It is, however, essential that we acknowledge the connections and that we learnt how to talk about physical health and mental health together.