Just as IBD and ostomies tend to be a taboo subject when it comes to health, so does anxiety and depression. For some strange reason diseases of the gut and mind are treated as either disgusting or not really present as if we’re faking symptoms or exaggerating severity.  People equate a flare up to simply going to the bathroom a lot the same way they equate depression with having a bad day. Or chronic fatigue as being really tired. Or anxiety as being a worry wart. For some reason these diseases are downplayed and dismissed as embellished symptoms or hypochondria. And I believe diseases of the bowel are treated the same way as diseases of the mind for the exact same reasons. We don’t talk about them enough.

When I first started experiencing symptoms of IBD I waited an entire year before telling anyone. I either thought my symptoms would go away on their own, or there was a worse case scenario (if you Google any symptoms it usually brings up cancer). But I also didn’t know how to gracefully articulate to anyone that I was profusely bleeding from my behind, and I had NO idea why. Then it got to a point where there were no longer traces of blood, but ONLY blood. And I decided to tell someone….my Mom.

When I first started experiencing anxiety (somewhere along my IBD journey) I again waited a great deal of time before seeking help. I either thought I was just over reacting or worse case scenario, I was completely loosing my mind. I again, didn’t know how to express that my mind and heart weren’t connecting and this scatterbrain of mine was an indication that something wasn’t right. But then I got to a point where I found my self driving in a haze, muscles clenched, not paying attention, when nothing was ACTUALLY wrong from the day, that I decided I should tell someone…. my Mom.

Obviously in both scenarios Mom’s always know what to say: “GO SEE A DOCTOR!” And in both cases this eventually led to a diagnosis. Through many tests I discovered I had IBD, and eventually generalized anxiety with mild depression.  But here’s the thing. BOTH are so hard to talk about. It took me years to tell people that “I have bloody diarrhea 20+ times a day,” and now I’m finding myself again struggling to find the words to tell people that my brain is hurting too, but I swear I’m not a “crazy.”

Anxiety feels like a dark cloud hovering over my head as if a storm just rolled on in completely off the radar. No meteorologist predicted bad weather but all of a sudden I’m getting poured on. It feels like I’ve worked out for 3 hours when really I’ve just woken up. It feels like I’m drunk when it’s a Thursday morning, unable to remember what happened the night before and unable to focus on a simple task like answering an email. It feels like someone is sitting on my chest or like I’m wearing ankle weights. It feels like either the world is ending or nothing at all.

For someone with IBD or an ostomy it feels like you’re not going to make it to the washroom in time. It feels like everyone knows you’ve just had a leak. It feels like you’re never going to be able to afford all these appliances and additional supplies. It feels like your pants are never comfortable. It feels like everyone is staring. It feels like your life is on hold while your friends are living the best parts. It feels like you’re never going to be “normal” and you’re never going to be healthy.

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It’s hard to come to an acceptance with either diagnosis but just as difficult comes deciding on a course of treatment. I can’t really offer much advice because my IBD treatment resulted in many failed treatments and eventually 3 surgeries. And my mental health treatment is still on going as I avoid antidepressants with all my might (not to knock anyone who does use antidepressants, you are braver than me). BUT I can offer the tiniest bit of assurance that talking and being honest helps. I have met more people with IBD or ostomies than I could have ever imagined and they are a saving grace. In the same way, there are so many unexpected people who can relate to the struggles of mental health (ostomy or not) who can offer a listening ear or an empathetic heart.

Everybody has a little bit of extra baggage and some times we carry that with our hands, our stomachs, our hearts or our brains. I can attest that every single person has faced some sort of adversity or hardship and we can learn from each other if we pause and listen to their stories.  Mental health and IBD are so closely correlated that it’s time we start talking about both as if we’re talking about a broken leg of a sinus infection. You need to bear with us because we’re hurt and sick. And just like people who are hurt and sick we need to rest, we need to seek treatment, we need to take the time, we need to heal….and most importantly, we need our Moms.


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