I came down with a cold a week ago Tuesday.
It started off as a wicked headache that lasted for days. Then it morphed into a sore throat and a lot of fatigue. But by the weekend, I was feeling better and on Monday, although I was still tired, I was pretty much back to myself.
Apparently, I did a little bit too much for a recently sick person and on Tuesday, the whole process started over again. This time, my sinuses clogged up, my lungs began to feel tight, and the coughing started. Needless to say, I’m on day 9 of not feeling well; fully into round 2.
My 9-day-long cold by no means compares to someone who is chronically ill, or facing a prolonged health crisis. But let’s just say, I can relate when we discuss how our physical health effects our mental health and vice versa.
Physical Illness and Decreased Mental Wellness
When we’re feeling good, fully engaged in life and acting as functioning members of society, we take on responsibilities and projects. We interact with other people. We want to be involved. We want to be part of the group. We go to work, participate in hobbies, interact with our friends and family.
But when we’re not feeling good, we isolate ourselves. Whether it’s to prevent sharing our germs (like me this week) or because we just can’t be there for other people when we’re feeling so crappy ourselves, illness is a barrier between us and our important relationships.
What I’ve noticed over these past several days is that the longer I’m not feeling well, and the more obligations I miss, the more likely I am to get left behind by life. I am no longer “count-on-able” by the group. Being ill has sort of decreased my “reliability score,” and although probably not a conscious reaction, the people who count on me to do things may be feeling a bit of resentment as I continue to lean on them for help.
For someone who was previoulsy enjoying a fairly high level of physical and mental wellness, this wicked cold has not only impacted my physical well-being, it has now begun to decrease my mental well-being. I’ve noticed that I’m feeling bad about feeling bad.
Chronic Illness and Depression
Depressed because you’re sick, or sick because you’re depressed?
This is a fair question.
When does a physical health condition become a mental health condition, and when does a mental health condition become a physical health condition?
There seems to be a tipping point for most people and it occurs when we become so worn down by the original condition that we can no longer differentiate which is the bigger problem: feeling bad or feeling bad about feeling bad.
I know that once this cold runs its course, I’ll rejoin society and pick up where I left off. Yes, I’ll probably be pulling extra water duty for the middle school football team to make up for my absences, but little to no real damage will have been done to those relationships.
But for those dealing with chronic illness, managing conditions that last indefinitely and may come and go in terms of severity, the long-lasting mental health impacts are much greater. Significant relationships may suffer. Isolation during times of ill-health can inadvertently lead to long-term isolation if we’re not careful. Physical illness can lead to isolation, loneliness, and even depression. And after a while, the isolation, loneliness, and depression can perpetuate physical illness.
What we focus on increases, so if we’re feeling bad about feeling bad, we are doubly focused on feeling bad. Which means we are likely to feel worse all around.
Don’t go it alone. Let’s talk.
If you feel like a physical illness or injury has left you isolated, or weakened your support systems, those feelings are valid and probable. Talk to a trusted friend or professional about what you are feeling, because your mental health depends on your physical health, AND your physical health depends on your mental health, too.
Have you experienced a prolonged physical illness? How did you handle it? Did you feel well supported by family and friends? And if not, do you feel like it caused your mental and emotional well-being to take a hit? Comment below, or connect with me here. As always, I would love to hear from you!