How Physical Health Problems Can Trigger Mental Health Problems

Last week I talked about a recent incident where my mental health, more specifically my eating disorder’s obsession with drinking a lot of water, had a detrimental affect on my physical health and in a hilarious twist of fate and example of bizarre symmetry (and by hilarious I mean literally the most unamusing thing to happen ever), this week I am talking about how the opposite can also be true, and how physical health conditions can end up triggering or making a pre existing mental health problem worse.

So when we last left off, I had explained how I had been admitted to hospital for water intoxication and was being treated for this problem via a strict fluid restriction plan to get all of my electrolytes back to acceptable levels (it is at times like this when I wish I had one of those “previously on” video clips that they show before episodes of various TV dramas…I should really look into that…ooh and a theme tune! I do love a good theme tune!)
Now, after a few days, the fluid restriction, whilst being incredibly annoying for me, seemed to be working, and my sodium levels kept improving until they were back to normal. Really, that should be the end of the story, the problem was solved so I should have been packing my bags and making my merry way home, but alas the story did not end there and developed into what I like to think of as an epic novel of utter ridiculousness.

You see whilst my sodium levels were improving, I wasn’t feeling any better which didn’t make much sense. I had been admitted for a problem that was being successfully treated yet bizarrely, as the days went on, I became more unwell with a pain in my stomach. The doctors couldn’t really make sense of this and before long I was in so much pain that I couldn’t stand or lift my head off the pillow and was in need of all the morphine I could get. A few tests were run but no answers were revealed so a surgeon was sent to have a look at me.

After thumping me in the abdomen with an iron mallet a few times (she said she was only going to “press gently” but trust me from the pain I am pretty sure that woman had a mallet and a vendetta against my stomach region), it was concluded that I might have a swollen appendix. I was told that normally the surgeons would book me in for an operation to whip it out just incase, however due to my already poor physical health from my eating disorder, they wanted to avoid taking me to theatre (alas the operating one and not the version where you get to watch The Sound of Music on stage whilst eating a little pot of ice cream with a spoon that is basically just a mini plank of wood with no resemblance to a spoon whatsoever), because they weren’t sure I would survive an anaesthetic.

Thus it was decided that they would only operate if they were absolutely certain that such a thing was necessary and therefore some more tests were scheduled to try and clear up what was going on. The problem with this was that by leaving time for tests, we were also leaving time for things to go downhill which they did fairly rapidly. Again the surgeon visited and again an operation was suggested but also feared so I was sent to yet another test in the form of a CT scan where I was basically shoved in and out of a tube a few times whilst doctors took photos of my insides (I really hope that my organs put on their best clothes and posed nicely for the occasion…it isn’t every day someone wants to photograph your intestines).

After the CT scan was complete it was around 1am and I was finally allowed to have some more morphine and attempt a snooze, whilst my sister, who had been sitting beside my bed for the past few days, went home. That was until 4am when another surgeon woke me up, to tell me that the scan had shown that things were rather serious and I was scheduled for emergency surgery immediately, my sister being called back in by the nurses having only just left. The next little bit of time is somewhat of a blur but from what I remember I was pumped with anaesthetic and taken to theatre (again, the operating one. I didn’t get so much as a lick of ice cream and I saw no children dancing in curtains. Livid.)
I was so knocked out that it was about 24 hours before I woke up from the procedure, dazed and confused with a tube coming out of my stomach and leading to a bag of some unidentified liquid.

It was then that I was informed that my appendix, in being left for so long, had ended up exploding. (The surgeon told me that I shouldn’t say that it “exploded” because in technical terms you should say that it “ruptured” but damn it I went through a hell of a lot of pain and nonsense because of what happened so if I want to say that my appendix literally exploded like a firework on the 5th of November then I will jolly well do so!)
Consequently my body had been filled with poison, hence the tube and bag scenario coming out of my stomach after the appendix had been removed, to drain the poison out (the poison being the funny liquid in that bag.)

Since then the job has basically been to free my body of poison, recover from the surgery and try to build my body back up after its internal beating, a job that isn’t going too well at the moment because this whole physical health problem extravaganza has triggered the life out of my mental health problems, more specifically my eating disorder.

Admittedly I haven’t been doing particularly well for a while now, but I have been clinging on to some sense of stability by rigidly carrying out the same routine meal plan via some form of repetitive autopilot action. Unfortunately, this event has utterly destroyed my autopilot “just do what you did yesterday” routine.

I think when you have an eating disorder, eating your meals is kind of like a recovering alcoholic avoiding the pub.
If you force yourself to eat the same meal plan every day, you get into a sort of rhythm, a rather bumpy and unpleasant rhythm that you can’t lead a good conga to, but a rhythm all the same. Missing one meal however is like an alcoholic downing one mouthful of vodka after a few months sober and then suddenly finding it impossible to stop.

Knowing that missing one meal will always make the next one harder is the reason that I fight so hard to complete my meal plan even on the bad days because I know that not doing so will make it harder for me in the long run, but in this whole “my organs are exploding” situation, missing a meal wasn’t something I had any control over.
For the first day of the hospital admission, eating was mentally impossible because I was in a different place with different foods. This problem was somewhat solved when family and friends hauled bags upon bags of my safe foods to my bedside, but by that point I was physically in too much pain to lift my head let alone grab a spoon to chomp down on some cornflakes. During all of these pain days I was also constantly being wheeled in and out of various tests that doctors were telling me I wasn’t allowed to eat before, and incase I was going to need emergency surgery after some of these tests, my stomach also had to be kept empty on the off chance that people would be whipping the scalpels out (apparently it is significantly harder to operate when one has just demolished a peanut butter sandwich…or any kind of sandwich…not that there is any other sandwich worth mentioning).

Post surgery I was finally allowed and encouraged to eat to regain my strength and I genuinely tried, but again there were hurdles. Firstly the combination of anaesthetic/poison/million medications made me extremely nauseas, and I was being sick multiple times a day. My taste buds had also suddenly gone haywire and for some reason I could not tolerate sweet foods which for someone who always picks sweet over savoury and who lives off sweet things like porridge and cereal, this was somewhat of a problem. Even the flavour in toothpaste made me throw up (all over my toothbrush I might add…suffice it to say my breath was not minty fresh), and shock of all shocks, I started to be repulsed by peanut butter. Me. Repulsed by peanut butter aka the food that was previously the holiest substance on earth? Who am I? I think I am going through some kind of identity crisis. You might as well start calling me Malcolm.

Therefore I was trying to find new foods that I could both mentally and physically tolerate, family and friends bringing in new groceries every day (including my parents who had had to cut their holiday short and catch an emergency flight back to the UK with fears that they might not get “back in time”…safe to say their relaxing trip to Malaysia was somewhat of a disaster this year..).

Excitingly, a new safe food that I could physically and mentally tolerate was discovered in the form of mashed potato, but by this point it had been so long since I had eaten properly even that was a struggle. I felt sick at every meal time and I could never be sure why. On one hand it could have been the “genuinely physically ill with poison and anaesthetic” sick that I shouldn’t have forced myself to fight as nothing I ate would be kept down anyway, or it could have been the simply sick with anxiety and fear of food sick that I really should have been challenging to prevent it getting any worse. Sometimes food would arrive and I would feel so ill that I wouldn’t risk a mouthful only for the food to be taken away, the sickness to go and me to realise that all that nausea had been anxiety as apposed to anything related to physical complications.

After multiple meetings with my eating disorder services who visited me a lot on the medical ward, it was decided that I would be discharged home incase eating became easier there due to familiar surroundings. Armed with a ridiculous amount of mashed potato, I really tried but a few days in found that I was struggling to swallow. Again I assumed this must be that whole “throat closing up with anxiety” thing, so I persevered, but then after finding some weird white nonsense all over my tongue and throat and a trip to the doctor, it was discovered that life had thrown yet another curve ball and in my weakened post surgery state, had given me tonsillitis and oral thrush, conditions that make swallowing rather difficult and would therefore interfere with anyone’s ability to eat…Oral thrush? I didn’t even know that was a thing? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH MY BODY.

Now I am three weeks post surgery (happy no appendix anniversary to me!) and in positive news, the nausea from anaesthetic and poison is practically gone. Having started another lot of antibiotics and some weird throat drops I have also regained the ability to swallow but after so many physical preventions to eating, I am now mentally more terrified than ever at the prospect. I have been to my eating disorder unit and the scales say that I have lost weight yet somehow I feel bigger.
Doctors are telling me that I have to get back to my old meal plan immediately so that we can add new things in to regain all that I have lost but it feels impossible. I cannot comprehend how the hell I was managing to eat before, despite the fact I was doing it only a few weeks ago, because now such an ability has become alien and frightening. I am tied up in a bundle of fear over food, throwing up, weight gain, trying to eat whilst being laid up in bed unable to carry out my usual exercise routines and consequently recovery from surgery isn’t going very well because I don’t have the energy to recover. Both the physical affects and mental health problems are feeding off each other like my body is an all you can eat buffet, and ironically the one person not getting fed in this situation is me. I have been on the edge of collapse for months now, clinging to the edge of stability with all the strength I can muster, but this has thrown me. I have fallen off the cliff. I am spiralling.

…And on that jolly note, that is pretty much my explanation of how a physical illness can go on to affect/cause/trigger a relapse in a pre existing mental illness. As with a lot of my blog posts, it hasn’t been a particular barrel of laughs as far as topics go, but it is the honest truth, and as always, that is what I am determined to put out there in terms of raising awareness of mental health problems.
Now after all this typing, I think I am very much in need of a nap and then maybe I will give some more mashed potato another go. Eating food is the last thing I want to do right now and my stomach is already full from terror, but I promise, I really am trying.

Take care everyone x

AppendixExplode

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17 thoughts on “How Physical Health Problems Can Trigger Mental Health Problems

  1. Omg this is really serious 😦 I can totally understand that when you stop eating certain foods/dooing your rutines etc for a while it is so hard to get back 😦 ED is so mean illness like for example I used to eat a lot of apples and fruit in general, but then I had to change that for something more calorie dense and suddenly I couldn’t eat whole piece of fruit anymore. But two months back from now after three years of eating like 40g of grepfruit once a while, I started to eat whole apples again. And I feel so proud of myself because it’d been such a fear for so long. What I’m trying to say is that you can always get your progress back. I know it’s hard for you physically right now, but maybe you’ll feel better if you start eating more. There was a time when I just decreased my food intake (and lost a lot of weight) and my stomach decided that everytime I eat something more, I will be in so much pain. But noone believed me and everyone forced me to eat more, so I did and after few days the pain was gone.
    So please try to eat, even if you’re not hungry or you don’t feel well. I think all the people who read your blog every week (including me) would be really sad if something happened to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for this reassurance! I think eating is so much scarier this time round because the pain makes me worry that I am eating too much so it is incredibly helpful to hear from someone who has been through the pain and proved that is clearly not what it is and it does go away! I am also so proud of you for getting your progress back when it comes to the fruit thing and more determined than ever to get my progress back too! I promise I won’t give up and will eat no matter what. Thank you so much for your support and I really hope you are well. Lots of love to you, thank you for being my friend xxxx

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  2. Omg Katie I’m so sorry 😦 I can totally relate! This happened to me last year when I had gastroenteritis and I kept throwing up and couldn’t eat properly. I end up losing a lot of weight and some how I felt bigger than ever! When I was finally physically better my mind was completely upside down. I’m so sorry you’re feeling the same. ED is a lil bitch.
    If you need to talk I’m ALWAYS here! Please don’t let your eating disorder win. Keep fighting, my lovely angel!
    Lots of kisses and strength from Portugal ❤

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    • Thank you so much sweetie and I am so sorry to hear about your gastroenteritis! You would think that with all of our mental health nonsense our physical health would give us a bit of a break! I promise I will keep fighting this lil bitch and thank you for always being so lovely and supportive. I hope you are ok and know I am here for you too, loads of love and hugs from England xxxx

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  3. Crikey. What a shock to your system. I hope everything goes back to your norm soon and you are able to eat ok.
    I have had oral thrush before on top of a sore throat and had the problem like you did, where you could not swallow. I could not even sip water without choking. It was horrible.

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    • OMG YES! I thought I was going crazy when I couldn’t even swallow water properly but damn it it is that oral thrush! That disease is stupid! Luckily I have some amazing drops so it is getting better and I hope your case of it has completely cleared up too! Thank you so much for your support, I promise I won’t give up and will hopefully be back to normal soon! Hope you are well and sending love and hugs xx

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      • I have had oral thrush in the past. Just sometime in in my 20’s I think. Not had it that bad since to effect my swallowing thankfully. But my goodness, I did wonder what was going on and i was surprised what something like that could do. Now you are on the the drops, you should soon find where it gets easier swallowing and not long after clear up. But if it hasn’t, then go back for another lot before it has chance to get worse. I know when I had it bad as you, I ended up having to go back for another one, but it soon completely cleared up before bottle was finished.

        My only problem is tooth abscess that I blogged about a bit back. Two months waiting for an extraction. Thank goodness there are no nerves in the tooth now. I would not be able to wait that long, but hopefully I don’t experience further pain than what I have, or for ill while waiting.

        Speedy recovery to you. x

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    • YOU ARE ADORABLE. I promise I will do my best not to spiral. I will eat ALL of the mashed potato until I turn into a mashed potato if that is necessary. Let me know if you are free soon because I would like a cuddle. Love you loads, signed your Hilda who is rapidly turning into a mashed potato xxxx

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  4. Crikey, that all sounds horrific. Quite honestly it sounds like you’re lucky to be alive after all that – although ‘lucky’ isn’t always how we feel. I’m glad you made it through the whole saga. To make it as far as you have, through such a terrible few months, you have strength to eat again, I know it!
    Are you able to have supplement drinks, just to give your body the energy it needs to recover from surgery/infection etc.? If only they did peanut butter flavour! Wishing you all the strength you can muster to get well and give a giant EFF ORF middle finger to all the bad thoughts x

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    • Hehe this comment made me smile. I can feel the strength and the giant EFF ORF vibes rising within me! Actually had an appointment again today and have been given a bucket load of supplement drinks so hopefully that will help. I don’t think I realised how big this operation was and just how much energy you do need to recover from this kind of thing! They didn’t have peanut butter flavour unfortunately but I do have chocolate so that is at least an acceptable second place option. I promise I won’t give up and will use your strength to kick ass this week! Thank you for being lovely, sending much love and hope you are well, always here if you need xxx

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  5. Oh my God, Katie, you really have been through the mill haven’t you? I had a similar (much less serious) experience to you which triggered one of my relapses. I had been eating well and according to a meal plan with the intention of gaining up to a healthy BMI when I got food poisoning. Cue 4 days of vomiting and being unable to keep anything down. When I got better and tried to get back to my meal plan I thought ‘there’s no way I can eat that much after eating so little whilst being ill!’ so I decided to start back on my meal plan gradually with the intention of building it up over a few days. That didn’t happen and it sent me into a full blown relapse. So, from experience, I would urge you to get back on your meal plan AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. No excuses, no ifs, no buts.

    It is proven that, paradoxically, the lower our weight gets, the bigger we feel – hence you not feeling like you have lost weight. This lack of recognition that you have lost weight is not reality, it is a symptom of the illness.

    Put measures in place to keep yourself on track – write down your old meal plan, have your parents prepare the meals and sit with you, be supervised afterwards etc. It will be so painful and hard and it will undoubtedly cause you distress in the short term, but that is better than the distress caused in the long term by a relapse (or going further backwards in your case as I’m not really sure you’re in ‘recovery’ – more a state of precarious maintenance of low weight? This is not a criticism – I was there myself for many years). If food is too scary, just go for ensure or fortisip and take the complications of choosing what to eat out of the equation for the moment.

    Sending my best wishes. Keep strong xx

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    • THIS COMMENT! YES TO ALL OF IT. Isn’t it weird how two people can get a physical health problem that makes eating harder and then for the mental health problem to immediately jump in and take advantage of it! I have definitely taken your advice and have been trying to get back on my meal plan as soon as possible and am still trying to increase. I know the sooner I increase the better but it is so frustrating because I still have a lot of physical problems with my stomach and acid reflux (right now I am lying in bed with really bad heartburn randomly which makes NO SENSE…I would go down and eat my next meal but I am scared because I don’t want the pain to get worse!). Still I have been pushing through a lot and am still trying to get as much in even on the days where my body is really not co-operating. It is funny you said that the more weight you lose the bigger you feel because I actually remember that when I was last a healthy weight in 2014 I didn’t feel as overweight as I had on the first day I was admitted to that hospital for the admission that got me to the healthy weight… DAMN THE MIND GAMES. After your advice I have written out a meal plan for every day until Tuesday (when my next appointment is and we will need to discuss it again) and mum is being amazing with helping supervise. We have started to watch a new TV series together to distract me during and after meals! I also have some fortisips in the fridge and though I have been avoiding them I think you are right in that they will help if I actually use them on the days that mum and I are debating for ages what I am going to try and eat…although with this plan hopefully that won’t happen! Thank you so much for your advice, I promise I am listening and really appreciate your wisdom as always. Much love xxxx

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