11 things you’ll only know if you have both a mental and a chronic illness

In January 2015, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis – a form of Inflammatory bowel disease after having emergency surgery to remove the colon it had taken hold of. 

By the end of 2015, I was diagnosed with type 1 bipolar disorder – a mood disorder which, with type 1, means I have more periods of elation than I do depression.

Both, in their own way, are tough enough to deal with. But when dealing with them together, it’s a whole other story.

Here are 11 things you’ll only know if you have both a mental and a chronic illness.

1. It’s incredibly hard work

You often feel as though you’re going one step forward just to be pulled two steps back. This is because generally, as soon as you get one illness under control, the other pops up to say hello.

2. They can often counteract each other

If it’s not one or the other: it’s both. A flare up with my UC can influence a worsened mood and a symptoms from my bipolar disorder – such as constant nightmares and little sleep during a manic episode, can influence the way my UC acts.

3. You take a LOT of medication

While you take medication for your chronic illness, you also take it for your mental illness. And sometimes, each medication can create a worsening effect on the opposing illness. It’s not fun.

4. You can feel trapped

You sometimes feel as if you’re never going to win, as if you’re never going to get better. Your mental illness episodes are sprung upon you alongside the episodes that come from a chronic illness. You feel as though you can’t just do good for a couple of weeks without something going downhill.

5. You have extra awareness to raise

Both chronic illnesses and mental illnesses are invisible illnesses. And this sucks – especially when you’re fighting the corners of both.

6. You feel guilty a lot

If it’s not one thing, it’s the other. And you start to feel guilty as you realise you haven’t left the bathroom much, the bedroom much or even seen past your four walls in a long time.

7. You need a great set of friends who truly understand you

With my UC, I can end up stuck in the bathroom up to 10 times a day. It makes me feel rubbish and makes me question what the point is when I’m not seeing further than my bathroom walls at times.

When I am in a low episode with my bipolar disorder, I can struggle to leave my house let alone my bedroom, feeling unmotivated, uninspired and just generally crap. So you really need a good set of friends who understand this and don’t pressurise you into going out or make you feel guilty for not doing so either.

8. You’re on a first-name-basis with your GP

You’ve been to them for so many different things that you start to get to know them personally – where they studied, what their family’s like, what their favourite pizza topping is… you get me.

9. People find it hard to separate your illnesses

People, and even your doctors, forget that your chronic and mental illnesses are separate. So you often end up talking more about one than the other just so that things aren’t confused. Otherwise when you’re in a bad episode with your mental health, you’re faced with comments such as: ‘Maybe you’re just not very well in your chronic illness and you’re feeling bad about that’ – as if you can’t distinguish between the two yourself.

10. You deal with patronising comments more than you’ll ever know

Having both a mental and chronic illness inspires many patronising comments, such as: ‘It’s all in your head’, and ‘It’s your chronic illness that’s getting you down’. ‘You should get out more or go for a run’ is one of the best, though.

11. You’re an incredibly strong person

With every negative comes this one positive – you deserve an award for the crap you’re dealing with. Dealing with two invisible illnesses simultaneously makes you an incredibly strong person – one that can handle more than most.

And that’s something to be truly proud of.

Words by Hattie Gladwell

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