When I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis my mental health took a plunge. I’d suffered mild depression on and off for years, but in the months after my diagnosis I pitched into the darkest mental state that I’ve thus known. It was so bad that I sought help from my doctor, something I’d never done before. I asked to be put on anti-depressants, and I asked for therapy. I asked for all the help that she could give me.
Looking back, I think that I wouldn’t have crashed quite as hard as I did if the circumstances surrounding my diagnosis hadn’t been so traumatising. I’d been suffering crippling stomach pains for years, but doctors could find nothing wrong with me. They told me to relax, do yoga, do meditation, and eat more fibre. Eventually, the crisis happened. After two weeks of diarrhoea (with blood), endless visits to the doctor and anti-biotic prescriptions, I collapsed crying onto the desk of a locum doctor. She immediately sent me to A&E, where I was admitted to the hospital.
I spent five days in the hospital. And, this is where I learned my diagnosis – when a doctor trailing medical students asked me when my last flare had been. I didn’t even know what a flare was. He clarified that he meant a flare of my ulcerative colitis. They’d just assumed I already knew. Of course this diagnosis was further confirmed by colonoscopies later. That was it. I was left to frantically google my new disease.
A chronic illness
It was hard to accept that I now had a disease that would never be cured, that people knew little about. Even harder that I’d have to take medicine for the rest of my life. Not helped by my doctor telling me that I’d “probably” get worse and have to take increasingly stronger medication, and maybe have my colon removed.
I felt as if my life was ruined. My body had betrayed me. I had to cancel plans, holidays and go on extended sick leave from university. My friends didn’t understand. Some stayed by me through the tough times, but others drifted away.
So, I sought help.
Time, travel and blogging helped me
I think that the anti-depressants did help me. The therapy was rubbish (my area only offered CBT). But what helped me most was time, and the support of those closest to me. My physical health improved slowly, and as I was able to participate more in daily things my mental health improved too. I started to travel again and with it I realised that even though I had to take things slower than I had before I could still do the things that I loved.
When I moved to Spain, and started my travel blog, I started interacting with other people with chronic illnesses, and this helped me to feel less alone. Some days are still really difficult, but I feel optimistic for the future now.