Photo: Joshua Rawson-Harris

The Impact Of Illness On Mental Health

Do not be defined by disease.


This mental health awareness month we are sharing personal stories from several of our writers – to destroy the dangerous silence around the issue. This is Brooke's story:

Mental health is becoming much less of a taboo subject, making it easier for us to share our stories in the hope that we can all benefit from them.

My first encounter with mental illness was during my rocky start to sixth form. Copious amounts of work, and stress, led to me falling ill. After many tests, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. As doctors are not 100% sure what causes the disease, this makes it treatable, but not curable. Coming to terms with having a life-long illness didn’t come easy. I’ve never been a ‘poorly’ person growing up, so being told you’re going to be poorly forever hit me hard.

Once the diagnosis was confirmed, it was the only thing on my mind. I found it hard to think about anything else, I allowed the worry to consume my mind. My family tried to distract and told me not to keep bringing it up, in the hope I would forget about it. I’m from a very humorous family, so they all tried to make light of the situation. I know they thought they were doing the right thing. But I felt like I needed to talk about it. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want sympathy, I just wanted them to see how much it was affecting me. The medication and hospital appointments were a relentless reminder and made it difficult, at the age of 17, to feel like a normal teenage girl.

My constant worry over my bowel disease and inability to talk about it resulted in struggles with anxiety, particularly health anxiety. I would worry over every symptom, expecting the worst. My anxiety lead to symptoms such as chest pains and naturally I assumed it was something sinister. Luckily, it wasn’t. This made me realise how much my mind could control my body. As my Ulcerative Colitis can be made worse by stress, I knew I needed to try and drastically reduce my stress levels to feel better in both body and mind.

I made the decision to leave sixth form two months after my diagnosis. I joined online forums to speak to people who also had the same disease. I was able to share stories, experiences and feelings on a platform filled with people who had been through similar situations. With the help of like-minded strangers, I developed the ability to rationalise my thoughts and stop myself from spiralling with worry. Once I could control my mental health, the symptoms from both my Ulcerative Colitis and anxiety subsided and with that came a bout of relief and happiness.

Looking back, I never realised how shitty I felt until I compare it with how happy I feel now. I’ve been in remission from my bowel disease for over two years and I am capable to control my anxiety levels to the point where I can thrive outside of my comfort zone. At present, I feel truly content. And contentment is an amazing feeling, I wish it upon every single one of you.

Next up, Why We Need To Talk About Mental Health