Mental Health IS Health: Facts and Personal Anecdotes

I originally posted this Saturday, but woke up with major anxiety about it at 1 am and got up to take it down. I’ll make some notes below to try and explain why.

I read a post by IFLScience yesterday on myths about mental health. I was struck particularly by this passage:

“Physical manifestations may include migraines, nausea, digestive troubles, and a defective immune system…to more serious complications such as metabolic disorders, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease.” I removed the links from this quote — I wasn’t entirely impressed with some of the linked resources — like this: “our susceptibility to infection can easily be altered by our lifestyle choices.”

What the f? First of all, no one has solved all of the mind-body mysteries and the reason people with mental illness are prone to certain other illnesses may yet be an undiscovered biochemical process. Secondly, saying its easy to make lifestyle changes is just bunk. Utter bunk!

Alright, mini-rant over. If you read my blog about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), you may note similarities in the impacts of ACEs and mental health issues on physical health. Again, the exact processes are not well understood, even though good research has been done to establish the correlations. However, correlation is not causation. As the linked article indicates, the correlation may be the result of a third factor called a confounder. For example, migraines and anxiety might both be exacerbated by the colour yellow. Of course, no one is claiming that, but you see my point?

Aside: I actually do think yellow (bright yellow walls) would cause me a headache and anxiety. 

chronic illness
my exhaustive and exhausting regime for managing sinusitis

I have some notes in a journal from April 2015 where I list all my health concerns, along with possible solutions. Of the dozen or so items I listed, most are linked to mental health in some way:

  • atypical migraine (ATM)
  • chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS)
  • sleep disorders: insomnia (NFS) and restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • overactive bladder (OAB)
  • tension type headache disorder (TTH)

Let’s add my mental health diagnoses:

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • panic disorder (PAD)
  • persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
  • alcohol abuse disorder, in remission (AUD)

I didn’t include this last item in my original post. Shame I think. Even now, I need the ‘in remission’ qualifier…

Can you spot the 4 fake or incorrect acronyms? Comment below if you think you do. Correct and incorrect responses both receive my honest appreciation for reading and participating.

Looking at this list more than three years later, I still find it daunting and, well, depressing. Where do I start to improve things? The conclusion I have come to is that for meaningful progress to be made, root causes must be addressed. But I just said that medical science hasn’t got there yet. So? The next best thing, I believe, is to work on the areas that have been shown to be strongly correlated with better mental health and physical health.

I think I worded that last bit with too much confidence. I do believe in addressing root causes and I think, after reflection, this is critical. I’ll keep the list below, but it’s generic stuff. The real target of my self-work needs to be addressing the multiple traumas that I know have had an impact on my mental health and functioning. I’m going to try and get a lot of this out in blogs before my birthday. 

  1. Quit smoking
    • I never have, however, I recognize many people use smoking as a tool in dealing with other issues, like smoking more to avoid an addiction relapse. If nothing else works, then it might be a case of harm reduction rather than quitting.
  2. Use alcohol appropriately
    • This is a tough one for me. Wine is a crutch that I use to settle my nerves during social engagements. I know it’s risky with my history, but would it be better to take a benzo? I don’t think so. Better to skip seeing friends and isolate me more? No. Obviously, resolving social anxiety is the ultimate goal, but there needs to be a strategy in the meantime.
  3. Increase your physical activity
    • I have the best of intentions but I struggle with this too. Most days, a quick walk with my dog is all I do. However, there was a time, not long ago, when I didn’t even do that. Progress not perfection, right?
  4. Eat healthfully
    • I have to give myself props here. I’ve made tough changes: virtually eliminating gluten and severely restricting dairy. Before that, I gave up on being vegan due to a bunch of other food issues I won’t get in to here, suffice it to say when raw carrots come off the menu, it’s getting desperate.
  5. Maintain connections with others
    • I’m working on making some new connections online, which is very cool. I could do better with this one, but it’s not bad.
  6. Get enough sleep
    • Bane of my existence, really. Tiredness associated with sleep disorders and/or mental illness impacts every other item on the list. Doing what is required to quit smoking/drinking, exercise, lose weight, go out, or make healthy food, is just so much harder when you are tired! I’ve been trying to follow good sleep hygiene, a term I learned about a month ago.

I have to note I hardly slept Saturday night and last night I fell asleep fairly early (maybe 10 pm) but was up by 11:30 pm and awake until I finally dozed off about 6 am. So frustrating! 

I would sum this subject up as follows: general good health practices, while important and a key part of self-care, can not replace the difficult work of addressing root causes. It’s like painting the house while the roof is leaking.



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