Not Just Mental Pain

The peace and quiet in my lower GI was violently shattered this afternoon. I was in the last little town I make calls in, which is located about 30 minutes from home. When the cramps hit it was clear that I was going to have a problem so I bailed on the rest of my accounts and struck for home. I got about ten minutes down the road when the cramping abruptly subsided. I have experienced these warning shots many times before, and I generally have an hour maybe two of reprieve before it all returns. Sometimes I get lucky and it stays away for longer, and sometimes it only passes for a few moments.  I have been feeling guilt lately about my work being affected by my health so I decided to roll the dice. I turned around and drove back the way I had come. I was leaving my second of three stops when the cramping returned. I again headed for home. Again the cramping subsided at nearly the same spot as last time, but once they start coming regularly the frequency ramps up quick so I didn’t tempt fate again. A couple minutes from home they came back a third time and much worse than the first two times. I was actually kind of happy that they hit when they did as I was able to run inside and be done with it for now.

While I sitting on the can with my insides being turned out I began to think about the physical pain that comes with anxiety and depression. I imagine when most folks who aren’t in the know hear the word pain in the same sentence with depression and anxiety they think of mental anguish. In my own experience they would be half right. Maybe less than half right. My truth has been that physical pain, usual in the form of stomach upset but not always, has been the precursor to the onset of depression as well as a symptom of ongoing depression and anxiety.

As a child I suffered from what everybody I talked too referred to as a nervous stomach. I have already touched on the pure terror that is caused by the slightest inkling that I may vomit, and I have touched on the other problems I have had with my stomach for longer than I can really remember. In a nutshell it boils down to feelings of nausea, stomach cramping and diarrhea whenever I was put under any form of physical stress. The problem peaked during the spring of my junior year of high school and then for the next six years where largely a non issue.

In one of my very first posts I wrote about the first days of depression and anxiety becoming a dominant force in my life. I wrote about being a flight instructor and having a very frustrating evening with a student that ended with intense feelings of nausea while we were flying. These feelings of being sick began to interrupt my ability to function normally and I did what any other person would do. I went to the doctor. Of course the doctors could find nothing at all wrong with me. As the physical problem got worse the depression and anxiety really began to take hold, but the doctors had started with me when it was all physical and they stayed the course looking for anything that may be wrong. I underwent a multitude of tests, but I clearly remember the barium swallow. For those who have never experienced this consider yourselves lucky. Those that have know it is no fun, and I would ask that you think back on the experience and try to imagine having to do it while feeling as if you were going to vomit at any moment. They give you this chalky flavored drink that is thick like a milkshake and you have to drink it while they take x-rays of it traveling through your digestive system. When I did it there was a technician handing me cups of the drink telling me to drink it continually while the doctor was in another part of the room presumably looking at the images. I recall getting through the first cup or two of the drink before my stomach began its revolt and I refused the next cup. I remember the technician being kind of a dick and trying to force me to keep drinking. I remember getting into a heated argument with him about the potential consequences of putting any more fluid in my mouth, and asking if he was ready to get a mop and clean up the mess. I didn’t drink anymore and at some point the doctor ended the argument by saying he had what he needed.

Eventually everybody figured out what was happening and I started with antidepressants and therapy. These treatments reigned in the stomach problems to a degree, but as previously mentioned I still deal with it on a nearly daily basis with the occasional period of calm.

Besides stomach upset I deal with a steady supply of headaches. My Dad suffers from Migraines. I have seen what they can do to him, and I will count myself as lucky to have never experienced anything like that, but nonetheless these nagging frequent low grade headaches can sap a person’s will given enough time. Of course they aren’t always simple low grade headaches at times they can be very painful. I truly feel for those that have been cursed with true migraines.

The random aches and pains would be too long to list, and I wouldn’t be able to remember them all anyway. I just count these as generic pain that tends to subside when I am feeling better, but when things turn down they reappear randomly through the day. I would imagine most who suffer from depression and anxiety have stories of physical pain to share. Feel free to comment and share your story.


6 thoughts on “Not Just Mental Pain

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your rough afternoon.

    Back in my 20’s when I started therapy to delve into personal issues around childhood trauma and abuse is when I began to experience an irritable bowel due exclusively to anxiety and depression. Mostly, I would get diarrea right before the sessions. Thank God every therapist’s office has a bathroom outside in their waiting area. I know the fear that preceeds the physical pain and I feel for you. I knew the trigger, which was opening myself up to being vulnerable and the more layers I pulled away in therapy, the less symptomatic I became.

    It sounds like you don’t know when to expect it or what brings it on. I don’t mean to overstep myself, but are you seeing a therapist or psychologist to uncover some of the deep fears that could be triggering your stomach upset? I realize for you, it could be a symptom of the depression and not necessarily a fear. If that’s the case, perhaps behavioral therapy would be helpful, where you would learn to control your body with your mind.

    I hate offering advice because it makes it sound like I don’t believe you are doing all you can. I really do — I’m just thinking as I write. I hope you don’t take offense.

    • No offense taken. It is a topic that has been brought up repeatedly during the course of treatment. Stomach upset was the very first indicator that anything was wrong all those years ago, and has just remained a part of the process. I can make go away almost entirely if I start SSRI’s, but as I have written about many times the side effects of these drugs is unacceptable. For now the only cure is Imodium, but that is not really something you can take as a regular preventative so I still usually get surprised when it flares up the first time. My mother suffers from Ulcerative Colitis and I worry as I watch her struggle that I may be looking at my own future.

  2. I empathize. I’ve commented before on my own issues with physical symptoms. My own last lingering issue is the monstrous migraine. I wish I could just say it’s genetics as both parents have them. It’s not. I’m sure it’s partly genetics. But, whenever my PTSD flares, I get the mega-migraine. They can last for seven days if I’m in the middle of PTSD exacerbation. It’s some kind of hell. My neurologist has even admitted that a lot of it is stress-induced, but I don’t even know what to do anymore. Live in a bubble? I can only control my own responses….The doc says that the meds are buffers until life calms down. Is it wishful thinking to hope that life will ever calm down? I have no idea.

    Daylily makes a very good point. Psychotherapy is really good–CBT is excellent, and she’s so kind in her sharing. But, I would agree with her. What triggers our bodies to do what they do? My little girl, the Aspie, was in play therapy when she was a tiny thing–3 years. Even then, she was diagnosed with 3 anxiety disorders. Play therapy is really interesting to watch. Whenever something would start to happen in her play that was important, she would start to have stomach pain. She would always have to leave and go to the bathroom–diarrhea. Her therapist would always say that this was very important because something was happening to her neural networks. He then told me to tell me what happened to her in the car on the way home. If she fell asleep, then all the better. It usually meant that her brain was experiencing some rewiring. After six mos. of play therapy, her a fair number of her anxiety driven rituals disappeared. It was amazing. It’s not perfect, of course, but the bedtime rituals is no longer 45 minutes.

    Anyway…my thoughts are with you. Is it a fair question to ask: Is there a way to get to know your triggers? At this point, I know what’s going to trigger my migraines. I can’t stop them, but I know what situations are going to cause them. Some I have no control over–PMS, etc. Hands tied there. But, I’m well aware of others that I do have say over. Are you even in a position to learn what yours might be?


    • The trigger is generally the same as everything else I guess… stress. My job is pretty stressful, and it is made worse by the state of the economy. I work in sales for a company in financial trouble. I cant get product, cat fill orders, and struggle daily to maintain positive relationships with my customers. My most profitable product line is extremely detail oriented and the manufacturer is prone to errors. Of course they never face the customer that is my job. I have been faced with difficult phone calls that bring with them cramping. Or course yesterday there was none of that happening, it just blew up out of nowhere, which is really just as common. Just a response to a steady level of stress? It can be made worse with a crummy diet. I work on the road so sometimes the crummy diet comes with the territory. I have been in CBT before, but the stomach issues have been treated as a symptom not the problem. I see the shrink next week about Klonopin/Coast Guard stuff, maybe I can ask him about it. I am not sure I can afford weekly talk therapy right now anyway. Finances are a mess right now… more stress.

      • I imagine if you are on the road in your business, simply stepping into your car might trigger you. Or picking up a phone. They all mean something to your brain. And financial stress? Oh brother….it’s the Moby Dick of stressors for me. When I was blogging about having to go to the doctor for panic attacks, etc, financial stress was at the heart of what was triggering those old flashbacks. I was so incredibly stressed that my hair was falling out. Big handfuls in the shower! So…I hear what you are saying. It’s hard. The rock and the hard place…Sometimes talk therapy isn’t necessary though. Speaking only for myself, I’ve often been able to make some amazing progress by reading excellent material, meditating on it, and breaking it down with a trusted person who is willing to listen to me and give back in the conversation. Ultimately, that is how I figured out what was going on with my latest round of panic attacks. It wasn’t in the therapist’s office. I brought it to the therapist after I had my epiphany, and she validated me. But, the revelation? All mine. So, for what it’s worth…I think the book you’re currently reading…about the pilot? What you’ve discovered….you’re doing good work. One doesn’t always need a therapist to do good work. 😉

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