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.