As mental health awareness week approaches, I end up not resisting beating up mental health again. Mostly, because I have been at a low over the last few days. And as always, writing may help me think through it. If I am lucky, it will help someone else too. This week, the low came as physical and mental health are intertwined.
Are you ill?
No, let’s face it, I am healthy. Not uber healthy, but I suffer no known life-threatening condition and require no intervention. So let that be clear. But that is precisely why I want to talk about it. I have average health – as most people do. And I am grateful for every bit of it.
When people suffer major conditions, everyone is quick to assume that it may have an impact on mental health. It is not uncommon that many serious illnesses are covered with mental health support and also with outpouring support from friends and family. I have been one of those people providing support before. When someone suffers a shock, no-one doubts or even judges that they may be “weaker” and their mind may need help. Do note the weaker in quotation marks please.
Ok, so you are not ill. Why are you complaining then?
It is not a complaint, it is more a process of self-awareness and also shout out for others that may be on this average boat. Kids get ill, you get ill. Take a flight with too strong A/C, you get ill. Someone next to you in the office is ill, you get ill. Last year, it became a joke and I started counting. It was as often as every 3 weeks, including the summer time. It all started on June 18 (yes, I remember the date) as I got hit by Strep A overnight and alone with the kids. Did you know that you are more likely to get Strep A if your immune system is down? Yes, so that is when I remember it starting, but maybe it was dating way back.
By December I was seriously annoyed by this. No matter what I tried, I could barely hang on without a cold or flu-like thing for more than 3 weeks. In fact, I started getting very low mentally each time I would get a simple cold. There was no reason to be that upset about it most would say. What they did not know was the number of times I had that simple cold. Even the week I was in the hospital with Baby S I was ill. Mentally, it was draining to try to keep it up, not stopping work, not stopping life. It eventually ate into my evenings as I lost often the ability to operate post kids bedtime. I needed it to change. My mental health was drowning my physical health.
So, did you change it?
I decided 2019 was going to be my year of health. This was my #1 personal goal as I drafted my first formal goals ever. I committed to stay with my yoga, add Pilates and maybe tennis, drink more water, maintain a balanced diet and take care of myself. That last bit was probably the one that made the most difference – the commitment to take care of myself. I committed to go see the doctors I had to follow up for endless months. I committed to get that tooth that kept me in discomfort out. I committed to do a timely health check. I wanted back the time that I spent being ill. Moreover, Baby S health is on the average to fragile side still, so I really did not want to feel the guilt of bringing any virus that would go into pneumonia again.
We are into May and the periods of 3 weeks extended slightly more. Colds and flus are not gone, I guess they are hard to go with young kids and working in a 400+ people floor. But I am fighting them hard. And I am responding when my body needs to rest, needs to sleep, needs to see a doctor. I even went to physio only within 5 days of a pain in my shoulder blade that restricted all my upper back movements. That was a record for me.
Why are you complaining of your physical and mental health then?
I am committed to my goals. So when the dermatologist said I should remove a small mole on my back I booked a date without hesitation. 2 weeks with no sport and no picking up the kids seem exaggerated but who was I to argue. I promised to comply and did not shed a tear on the anaesthesia (which is typically the worse of any surgery for me, I have a problem with needles). And no – I do not do acupuncture and neither do I plan to.
I thought I had over-done it when I took the day off post such a minor thing, but it was quite enjoyable with all the kids in school and all the time to myself. It was not until the end of the day that discomfort started to hit, but I was ready for that. Furthermore, I was told 24 hours would be like that, and my mind took note of it.
Problem #1 came when I woke up worse than I went to bed on the second day. Unprepared and unable to do my morning routine, I was lost as I made my way to the office, thinking only that I had to go to a few in-person meetings and knowing da** well I was not in a condition to be there. I kept through with pain killers and trusted the next day would be better. It was and I was proud. I had pulled it through.
Sara, you lost me, all was fine then
Problem #2 came on Saturday when muscle pain really hit me, and it was not due to surgery. As I was limited in my movements and having to change my way of operating, my body could not cope. So I added a few extra hours of sleep to it thinking that would do the trick and I did not see it coming. The excruciating pain of my body without my morning yoga revealed how dependent I still was on it, and how frail my long-dated back pain still was. The inability to find a position to sleep at 5 am scared me to think of the day ahead. As I always do, I gave up on pain killers. Everything was in pain, so I did not even know what to take.
The less my surgery spot was hurting the more my muscles tensed up knowing I had to continue not to move as I have stitches on my lower back for another 10 days. Small enough to start to go unnoticed I now want to relax and move on. But I can’t sit, I can’t lay down, it all feels too difficult.
My physical health dragged me down
Now, I write this with a hot water bag on my back so I can sit properly. Looking back through the last few days though, I know physical pain was not what brought me down:
- I felt I was back to the beginning as suddenly nothing could make me just feel well and normal. I was also frustrated that the post-op took longer than expected and then also frustrated that I had secondary effects that were making it all more painful. In essence, I was upset that if it was not cold it was back pain and if it was not flu it was something else;
- Also, I felt my back was still way frailer than I thought. Just a few days without yoga and proper stretches really put me in intense pain again. Now, I recognise that a change in the way I stand up and move is probably the strongest reason for this, but I can’t help but think of how long of a way I still have to go. Having just finished a serious of physio appointments I was expecting to have done better;
- Moreover, I felt limited again. I remember when I first had acute back pain and accepted I had to seek treatment, the only thing that brought me to do it was because I could no longer pick up Little Girl C. I then concluded being out a night a week to do sports was better than being in 7 nights a week but not be able to play with her properly. Took 2 years for me to reach that conclusion. And this weekend again I could not take care of my children, pick Baby S out of bed, sit on the floor and do a puzzle.
Physical health and mental health intertwined
I broke into tears by the end of Saturday night once I put the kids to bed. I laid down in the dark so I would come to terms on why I felt that way. I used multiple therapy tools. I said it out loud. “I feel limited”. When Hubby B entered the room I told him “I am struggling with this”. I accepted that this feeling was making me feel even worse and even more in pain and embraced it. I could not even close the month on my journal, which I thought would relax me because I could not sit straight writing on it. I put it all out and chose to read and sleep on it, hoping it was just my body trying to recover from whatever stress I may have imposed on it.
I did not let it keep me down the next day as we went out on a family outing to the Wetlands, but admit by the afternoon I was again exhausted and unable to cope. I kept going. I did my journal, I closed the month of April, all very slowly. All weekend I kept going, but I know my mind if frail, very aligned with my back. Physical health is one of the worst things for my mental health. I know it. And I just kept repeating it to myself.
Grateful for average health but conscious I can be frail
It is hard to say it out loud though. Again, there is nothing serious with me. It was a minor mole, which for the good reasons had to come out. And the pain is not the worse it could be and I am sure will soon fade. I had a good bank holiday weekend with the children. There are people with worse problems.
I "should" not feel like this. I "should" not even tell people.
And that is why I am here writing today. A lot of working mothers juggling multiple roles have their immune systems at a low and are likely to relate to the cold or pain that keeps on giving. Postponing taking care of themselves and just really keeping it going. Well, it is hard to keep it going sometimes. And that inevitably worsens the immune physical and mental health. The immune system goes down and it is harder to have the strength to keep it up.
I want this to be the year of health, physical and mental health. Because they are both intertwined.
Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash