‘The strain of managing a chronic illness is something that even the strongest people struggle to de
Chloe is 19 years old. She suffers with two conditions which have a large effect on everyday life and her mental health, and is currently undergoing medical treatment to find a long-term solution. She is participating in #SpeakUpSYM because she wants to contribute towards eliminating the stigma surrounding the following physical and mental health issues.
What are your current physical health issues?
I have had IBS since I was 12 and endometriosis since I was 13, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 15. Both conditions have worsened in the past two years and because of this, I have spent more and more time at my local GP and at the hospital. I have regular appointments for endometriosis every three months, but have recently been discharged from the hospital for IBS after them ruling out Crohn’s disease or a serious bowel disease.
How do these conditions impact on everyday life?
Both conditions cause me a lot of pain. I suffer with nausea and I’m quite often sick. Meal times are a stressful time for me because I struggle to eat large amounts most of the time. Most days I bloat (more than most people would), which makes me feel self-conscious and therefore decreases my confidence.
In terms of education, it made it harder to concentrate and take in the content of my lessons. During my time at college, I had to repeatedly go over my notes, past papers, etc just to keep up with the rest of my class. I was often late to class because of hospital appointments. The pressure of doing well in my A levels made both conditions worse, so when it came to exams I really struggled.
I’ve had the same part-time job since 2013 and for the first year, I was able to keep the effects of my conditions away from my work. However, when they started getting worse in 2014, it became increasingly harder to hide their impact because I had to start scheduling my shifts around appointments and procedures. At that point, I then told my supervisor and my manager about my conditions and the kind of procedures I could be potentially having. Both have been incredibly supportive, and my hospital appointments have never been made to be a problem. I’ve had ultrasound scans, colonoscopy and endoscopy all alongside working.
How has your family coped with your conditions?
The conditions have both strengthened and weakened my relationship with my parents. It’s weakened my relationship with my dad because it’s embarrassing for us both to talk about this kind of thing – I don’t want to approach him and he doesn’t want to approach me about it. When it first starting getting worse, my relationship with my mum went downhill because I pushed her away, because I wasn’t sure what it was and I was scared it’d be the worst and I’d need surgery. But now, we’re closer than ever because I’ve learned to be honest about my symptoms.
Where did you go for help when the symptoms began impacting on your mental health?
I went to the GP because I had two panic attacks in the space of three months, one of which was at work. I’ve tried counselling before, but I didn’t find that the counsellor was able to help me personally. Her lack of understanding of the complexity of my symptoms made her unable to understand fully how it impacted my life. However, this experience was a one off, and I’m open to try counselling in the future.
The GP told me that because I’d previously had counselling, and because of my age, any treatment would be self-referral, which is when he suggested the Let’s Talk NHS scheme. I went onto the website and found a course called ‘Manage your stress and anxiety’. I booked myself onto it for six weeks.
How did the CBT help your anxiety?
It was the most helpful resource I’ve had. It was explained to me why people have anxiety, the physical side of it and why it happens. It was explained that’s there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with me; it wasn’t made out to be a massive thing. It was like ‘you know what, you’re a bit anxious, but we’re gonna help you.’ It was about the realistic aim of controlling anxiety rather than eliminating it.
They taught me a relaxation technique, deep breathing exercises and organisation and planning skills, so that nothing could really get on top of me. At the end of the six weeks, I felt like my anxiety improved. When you’re having a panic attack, you feel like you’re going to die because you can’t breathe. The tutors explained the physical symptoms – sweaty palms, heart racing, feeling faint/sick… Even if you did pass out, you’d wake up fine; that calmed me a little, because if I ever did have a panic attack, I now know that I’d be ok.
We had to weigh out the costs and benefits of staying the same and making the changes, to make us realise that in order to be happier and increase our confidence, we had to change something. We had to set personal goals – mine was about social anxiety. I had a goal of making plans with friends at least once a fortnight and then about setting time aside for personal hobbies (drawing etc.) My main goal was to become more confident.
What advice would you give to other individuals struggling with their mental health as a result of medical conditions?
Firstly, understand that it’s completely normal. The strain of managing a chronic illness is something that even the strongest people struggle to deal with. This took me a long time to admit. I felt like getting help was admitting defeat to my illness, when in reality my mental health was also affecting my physical health, so I knew I needed help. My advice is to talk to someone, whether it be a friend that you trust, or a family member at first, and then speak to a doctor. They don’t judge you and it’s in their best interest for your mental health to be as best as it can be.
What are your current and future plans?
I’m trying different hormone therapies for endometriosis at the moment. I’m trying to get that sorted before I go to uni in September. I have been honest with my university from the start about my conditions, so I can get any support if needed and get the best outcome in my degree. At uni, I’ll be getting a mental health support worker and a study support worker once a week to start with, and I can stop it if I feel like I don’t need it anymore. I’m also getting a recording device for lectures to help my concentration and some planning software for my laptop. I plan to eventually become a credited interior architect or designer.
Endometriosis is a gynaecological problem which is one of the most common causes of chronic pain and infertility in woman. It affects approximately 12% of women of reproductive age in the UK. For those who suffer from the condition, it can be very debilitating and difficult to find a long term solution. The links below are websites which explain endometriosis in more depth, along with information about anxiety and panic attacks.
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Endometriosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx (Info on Endometriosis – NHS UK)
http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/?gclid=Cj0KEQjwztG8BRCJgseTvZLctr8BEiQAA_kBD1mxtucS3sICP_ILXhnjwmtcyiFfqC4VGLp7vuqu9yIaAk438P8HAQ (Anxiety and panic attacks – Mind Charity)
https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome (CBT self-teaching – Moodgym)