Mental Health & The Gut Connection

bell-lets-talkToday Bell hosts their annual “Bell Let’s Talk” day to raise awareness for mental health so I thought I would take the opportunity to share my own experience with anxiety/depression and hopefully help others know that they are not alone.

I suppose my journey with anxiety began in elementary school. Having Turner’s Syndrome meant I had some very obvious physical differences which some of the kids at school took as license to bully me and I can remember being the target of many short jokes. As a result I became very self-conscious and spent most of my recesses and lunch hours visiting with the adult playground monitors rather than subject myself to the rejection of my rather cliquey classmates. I also tried very hard to excel academically to make up for my social ineptitude.  There were many days I would come home and cry about my lack of friends or physical appearance, wishing I could wear the things my classmates were.  I’ve also always naturally been a people pleaser and tend to shut down fairly quickly when I feel like I’ve disappointed someone or receive criticism so as I child I hated being punished by a teacher or my parents.  However, despite all this I was actually a very happy and optimistic child for the most part and could bounce back fairly quickly.

High School became harder as being popular and fitting in became more and more important and my physical differences more apparent, especially the weight gain and mood swings from my hormone replacement therapy for Turner’s Syndrome (puberty is no joke guys lol).  It was also hard to watch my classmates start dating while I got left behind, wishing my crushes would notice me.  In my later years in high school especially I remember being very concerned with my grades and wanting to keep up with my straight A brothers (mostly for my parents approval).  I remember starting to struggle with the feeling that nothing I did was good enough.

Since my diagnosis of Crohn’s (and even the years leading up to it), my anxiety and depression has continued to get worse, although that may also be because I’m getting older and having more “adult” experiences.  Food has always been my coping mechanism when I’m anxious or depressed and it’s been hard to have it now become another source of anxiety due to my disease.  It’s interesting to note that scientifically there is a strong connection between IBD and anxiety/depression and gut health and mental health in general.  I notice, and my family can attest to this, a huge difference in my mental health during times when my gut is healthy compared to when its not.  Right now I’m struggling with probable SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), something that is common for Crohn’s patients, particularly those with small bowel and stricturing disease, and the state my mental health has gone to at times has been pretty terrifying.  However, I’m grateful for my faith and the way that it helps me recenter when I get off balance.

Although I’m still struggling to make my mental health a priority and am hesitant to go on medication, I’ve definitely come to realize just how important it is to take care of this part of myself and am thankful for the steps being taken to end the stigma.

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