• Kristina Cherep

Can Chronic Illnesses Have An Effect On Mental Illnesses?

For those of you who don’t know, I have Cubital Tunnel Syndrome which is a fancy term for having a pinched nerve in my arm. I can’t feel half of my left arm and half of my hand. My left shoulder blade and left side of my back go numb, when the numbness is at its worst (which it so happens to be right now). It's been more than three years since this all started and two years since I was diagnosed.

I was told that there was a surgery to fix it, but it had a 25% success rate and it could possibly cause even more nerve damage. If it were to be successful, I could possibly finish my last collegiate softball season. I had already been out for two seasons because of this injury. This sport also caused this to happen to my arm. What would you do?

I decided to pass on the surgery because it wasn’t worth risking my whole arm. So I was told for the rest of my life I would have a numb arm. They gave me a hard cast to wear at night to ease up the numbness, but right when I take it off, the numbness comes crawling back. I could probably write a novel about this, but I won’t! This also isn't a pity post; I'm writing this to hopefully reach out to one person who goes through similar situations as me! Okay, now let's get back to the point...

I always knew that thinking about my numb arm triggered my depression because it brought back hard memories. Saying goodbye to a sport I didn’t want to say bye to. Saying bye to teammates I still wanted to play with. There was a lot of sadness involved in this injury.

Three years later, the triggers have gotten a lot easier because I’ve learned how to cope with them. However, the physical pain is still there and I have many restrictions. I have to adapt and live my life in a way where I don’t cause more damage to my arm. I know most of my restrictions, but sometimes when I push my arm too far it sends a shock down my arm and back. It leaves me not able to move my arm without being in excruciating pain.

Today, I was feeling very anxious and I couldn’t figure out why. I asked myself if I was hungry, angry, or tired because my therapist recommended I should do that. Regardless if you have a mental illness, I think this would be good questions to ask yourself when you are feeling a little off.

Anyways, in this moment I wasn’t hungry, angry or tired. I was trying to listen to my thoughts and listen to my body to figure out what the reason was. (Side note: there may not be a reason!) Earlier in the day I did something to irritate my arm more than usual, so I was uncomfortable in any position I was in. Then I started to ask myself if that’s why I was feeling anxious.

I’m pretty sure it was. I was very uncomfortable sitting in the car. I wonder if when I’m in pain, I’m also subconsciously thinking about everything that came and comes along with my chronic illness. This made a lot more things make sense. So now when I’m feeling anxious I’m going to ask myself if I’m hungry, angry, tired, or numb?

Figuring out why your anxious is less than half the battle though! The majority of it is trying to manage the anxiety and situation, which I’ve given suggestions in previous posts on how to do this!

What I am trying to get at is that if you have a chronic illness and mental illness, think about how they may be affecting one another. Think about how your chronic illness pain may be affecting your thoughts, feelings, and moods. Figuring out my chronic illness may sometimes affect my mental illness brought me more clarity. Clarity about how my body works, how my mind works, and how I work. Also, if you’re struggling with multiple kinds of illnesses, keep fighting because you’re a bad ass for fighting multiple battles at once!

A few months ago I kept on having chronic illness articles pop up on my news feed. At first, I didn't even click on them because I didn't think they applied to me in anyway. Turns out I didn't really understand what the term chronic illness meant!