When Physical Illness Meets Mental Illness

I talk a a lot about recovery from mental illness, but the fact is most of what I talk about is when mental illness is your only concern. Today, I want to talk about when physical illness meets mental illness.

This is a reality I’ve had to face this week when I came down with my first cold of the fall/winter months. Having a fifteen month old in daycare, I doubt it will be the last. What started out as a tickle in my throat eventually became a faucet like nose that then morphed into a hacking cough. Fun. And not being able to breath normally combined with the extra energy of fighting off an illness, combined with the normal effort of maintaining my mental health all combined to leave me feeling exhausted yesterday, which of course proved to be one of my busier days at work, because isn’t that always how the world works.

And though I know the danger of judging yourself by your productivity when you have a mental illness, I nevertheless couldn’t help but notice that my productivity dropped dramatically, barely getting anything done around the house and having to ask for help at work. It made me feel like I was failing when really I was just healing from a cold and maintaining my health.

Yet so often our society pushes the idea that overall productivity is all that matters, to the point where even if we know it is harmful to our mental health, we nevertheless work tired, work sick, or work towards burnout.

Fortunately, I have an amazing support team that was able to help pick me up and pick up the slack when my body was repeatedly telling me to slow down.

Because slowing down is important when physical illness meets mental illness, at least for me. For me, recovery is all about being mindful of where my mental health is on any given day. When I am forced to also be mindful of where my physical health is, it means I have less energy and focus for the rest of my tasks. If I try to push ahead anyway, something is likely to suffer. And don’t even get me started about having to keep track of doses of cold medicine on top of doses of mental health medicine, especially when I am not one-hundred percent sure I should be mixing the two.

So if you ever feel like you are failing when your physical health meets your mental health because your overall productivity starts to wane, it doesn’t mean you are failing. You are merely succeeding at listening to your body as it tells you to slow down. And that ain’t nothing.


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