Worried Sick

I like to think I am a healthy person.

One might even call me fit . I eat a well balanced diet rich in whole foods, I work out and I walk about 4 km everyday. So really, I should be the epitome of health, right?

My body begs to differ.

I have anxiety, not just a little, A LOT. I’ve worked very hard to keep it hidden.

My mantra had always been fake it ’till you make it. This facade had been fairly effective for a while, and I’d managed to float through life on autopilot. I maintained relationships, was a satisfactory employee, and eventually became a decent mom. I didn’t excel at any one thing in particular, and settled for mediocrity, finding it too exhausting to be anything more. I spent all of my energy trying to appear normal, and hoping that my mental health could be swept under the rug, but when you’ve suppressed something for so long there are bound to be repercussions.

While I was outwardly “faking it”  my anxiety was finding clever ways to mark its territory.

I believe that by the time my physical ailments began to surface, much of the damage was done. Our body comes fully equipped with a powerful fight or flight response, and mine has always done its job, but what happens when the body is always on high alert?

Cortisol levels surge and cannot adequately come down from their high, therefore wreaking havoc on the body. So before I’d even heard of mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy, my body was hard at work looking for retribution.

Just to be clear, the health issues described below have not been proven to be a direct cause of anxiety. I am not a doctor. But I will say that upon my own research, I’ve concluded that these symptoms seem be further exacerbated by periods of stress.

Enamel Errosion

What does your smile say about you?

We all want that movie star smile, but stressing about it could do you more harm than good. Good oral hygiene does not necessarily promise a mouth full of pearly whites. 

Anxiety disorders can wreak havoc on the digestive system, causing an increase in stomach acid which can flow up the esophagus. To give you an idea about how bad it is, I am often asked by dentists if I am bulimic (thanks, anxiety!) My teeth have been subjected to years of acid wear resulting in severe damage to the enamel.  The process to fix the whole mess comes with a hefty price tag, one I will never be able to afford.  Basically I would have to remortgage my house to pay for it!

 

Narrow Angle Glaucoma

A few weeks back, I finally went to get the eye exam that I’d lazily put off for years. In my 20’s I was told that I had perfect sight so there was no rush to go back. It had become one of those insignificant things that I’d get around to eventually.

I walked into the appointment relaxed, but that all changed when the optomistrist’s face fell looking at my xrays. He pointed to the images and explained that I had narrow, almost non existent angles. I had no idea what this meant.

Basically every person has an angle behind their eyes where the anterior chamber is located. The chamber is like a vessel for fluid to drain, but if the angle to the chamber is inadequate (or too thin in my case) the fluid cannot drain causing the iris to push forward. This creates a surplus in pressure and can ultimately lead to narrow angle closure which is a medical emergency. The risk for glaucoma is very high in these instances and can lead to irreversible damage.

But what does this have to do with stress?

Periods of high stress and emotional trauma can lead to increased pressure behind the eyes. The more pressure that is present, the more likely a person is to experience full angle closure. So it is not far fetched to assume that years of anxiety provided ample opportunity for this condition to manifest.

TMJ

This one is more common and fairly well known for being attributed to anxiety. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, is when the muscles surrounding the jaw become inflamed and sore. From continuously clenching, the muscle can get really tight and even lock into place, causing temporary lock jaw (which really sucks!) Pain can be felt in the ear and radiating down the neck.

The MD was quick to write a prescription for muscle relaxants and send me on my way, but of course like many things this was a band-aid solution for a bigger problem.



Nutrient Deficiencies

Certain nutrient deficiencies can leave a person feeling anxious and depressed, This is especially true when the B vitamins are in a deficit. Shockingly the outcome is the same when reversed. Extended periods of acute stress and untreated anxiety can impair the bodies’ ability to properly absorb nutrients.

In my experience, trying to overcompensate by consuming extra vitamins did not work in my favour. Being in a perpetual state of flight or fight led to malabsorption of important nutrients iron and b12. The result was nearly a decade of iron deficiency anemia.

It isn’t a new revelation that stress makes us sick. Over time it can cause organ dysfunction and lead to a handful of dieseases. But what about those mysterious ailments that keep popping up? Are we mistreating them with medications and unnecessary medical intervention? Are we looking for a bandaid solution when we should be seeking the root cause?

I do believe that my body has been trying to get my attention for years by exposing me to painful conditions. Conditions that could have been easily remedied had I listened sooner. What I should have been doing is digging deeper rather than focusing on the surface. I should have paid more attention.

But hindsight is 20/20, right?

So next time you find yourself with a chronic condition that isn’t being resolved, take a step back. Maybe the answer is to stop seeking outward solutions, and to focus on digging deeper.

Again, I am not a professional, but I wholeheartedly believe that had I begun to tackle my mental health years ago, my health would be vastly better today.

6 thoughts on “Worried Sick

  1. After years of treating symptoms, I’m trying transcendental meditation to help me deal with stress and anxiety. It’s too early to tell for sure (about a month of practice), but I think it’s helping. Different from mindfulness meditations, it’s more like deep relaxation, almost sleep. I wish I had tried it earlier in life and been able to enjoy the benefits, since the most profound effects only seem to appear after a few years of practice. Hopefully it will alleviate most of my anxiety and stress issues over time. Have you ever thought of trying it?

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    1. Hey! Thanks for reading.
      I have tried yoga and some guided meditation, but have never been consistent. My head always gets in the way (surprise, surprise.)

      I am interested in looking into transcendental meditation, perhaps it could work for me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great read. Some perspective – a couple weeks ago when I was in a car accident, I escaped without injury – however, I find now that I innately drive with my leg muscles clenched beyond belief, which leaves me in pain, even if I’m just driving to the grocery store on a nice day. Though this is getting better, the mental trigger of being behind the wheel leads to physical imbalances that take time to get back to normal.

    If this was an entire-body thing, with no point of reference (like a car accident), it would drive me crazy. Good for you for delving deep into the reasons behind your body’s decision-making processes, and keep doing what you’re doing to overcome them!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Geoff!
      It’s crazy what are bodies are doing when we aren’t paying attention! I also find that they easily adapt to pain. So you only really notice how bad you felt, when that pain is temporarily lifted.
      So glad you escaped the accident unscathed, and good for you for mentally pushing through the anxiety!
      Thanks for sharing.

      Like

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