Overwhelmation: A Post on Physical Illness and Mental Health

alicecardsAnyone who has read my other blog knows I’ve been struggling through Pneumonia.  Anyone that doesn’t read my blog now knows as well, although really, you should go over there.  I’m just saying.  Anyway, while I have been able to see the humor in sickness and the medical profession, I felt it important to express that there is much more to being physically ill, especially when this is coupled with another illness, depression.

Sickness makes Sad Pony Sad

So what is overwhelmation?  I’m glad you asked.  Here is the definition.


O-ver-whel-ma-tion. noun

a. The feeling of being overwhelmed

b. A step before total meltdown

c. A totally made up word

Lately I have been feeling overwhelmation. Pneumonia is an impressive sounding name for a rather impressive illness.  It even has a silent “p”.  Why is that?  Did they add that in to give kids trouble on spelling tests, or is the disease named after the guy that discovered it?  Was there a Dr. Pneumon?  I could probably answer these questions easily, but who cares?  Where was I?

It stinks being sick.  This goes without saying of course, but if you are depressed, any sickness becomes much, much worse.  Your average person will contract some disease and feel bummed about it, but realize that it will pass and they’ll be back up again in no time.  A depressed person will contract the same disease and think ZOMG I am going to DIE and here I haven’t made a will or anything and my husband better not remarry quickly or I will so haunt him.

In case you don’t know much about Pneumonia, it’s a disease of the lungs.  Mucus goop gets lodged in your lungs and then gets infected and the body sends soldier cells off to defend you by burning you up from the inside out with fever.  Not exactly the best plan, but hey, the body has been doing it for centuries so why change now?  In other words, your body is much like the medical profession itself.  In my case, I happened to have strong reserve systems, so the doctor was shocked when my Xray came back with so much of this stuff on my lungs.  Apparently I was supposed to be without oxygen at that point, but there was my body, pumping away from God knows where.

Wait . . .they made stuffed toys out of the mucus in my lungs?

But at a certain point you reach a breaking point.  And I did.  They decided that two different antibiotics hadn’t worked, and put me in the hospital.  By this point, I’d been sick a week with a horrible cough that threatened to split apart my lower abdomen and a fever that just wouldn’t quit.  I was miserable.  And I was scared.  I got the IV and the blood draws and the Xrays, all at the most convenient of times of course.  And I got nurses who were quite good at taking care of my physical needs.  But then my husband had to leave me to take care of our children, and I was all alone, and I started to cry.  And the nurses backed off, leaving me in tears.  Only the sweet Hispanic janitor came to me and gave me a hug saying “God is with you, ‘kay?”  I really appreciated that, more than she will ever know. 

Why did the nurses ignore my emotional distress?  I realize they are very busy people, and they have a lot of work to do.  But would it have hurt for them to, say, touch my hand and say “It’s going to be okay” or something?  I remember when I gave birth to my eldest daughter, and was again alone in the hospital, and having a panic attack.  A sweet nurse brought me cocoa, and it calmed me down.  Did the cocoa really take her that long to procure?  I don’t think so.  But what a world of good it did me.

The cure for panic attacks.

The mind and body are connected.  We know this for a fact.  A mental illness can make you physically ill.  A physical illness can break you down mentally.  It is hard to say where the brain ends and the body begins.  Ever gotten a stomach ache when you were nervous about a test?  That’s your brain there, but the stomach ache is also quite real.  The two are connected.  So why do doctors ignore that connection?  The mind / body connection holds the key for many people getting over the harshest of illnesses, because hope is more powerful than any manufactured drug.

And that’s what I was struggling with that night.  Hope.  Despite my cynicism, I actually am an optimistic person.  I want to believe that the world will one day be in peace, or at least that countries will stop bombing each other for a few minutes.  When I was fourteen and my grandmother was ill with Cancer, I never lost hope.  She would get better.  It was just a matter of time.  One more Chemo treatment, and she’ll be fine.  When my father sat me down and said, “You realize that Grandma is going to die, don’t you?” my world crashed.  Hope was an illusion.  I’d hoped and hoped, and I’d thought positive the whole way through.  My grandmother still died of Ovarian Cancer, just months before she was eligible for Social Security.

Apparently even those writing ransom notes have hope

Hope is a huge part of many religions around the world.  I was raised in a secular household, with a family that did not care for organized religion.  They certainly had their reasons.  And yet here I was, growing up in the Bible belt among believers, but forever shut out.  I did join my husband’s church as an adult, but I never really believed.  I tried, truly I tried.  But I just couldn’t convince myself that there was a happy hunting ground out there for me at the end.  It didn’t make logical sense.  There were too many holes in the argument.  No one wanted to study the Bible with me.  I couldn’t make it out of Genesis without driving people crazy with questions.

My husband is a believer, and always has been.  His family has for generations had strong faith in God.  In some ways, I envy him, for my agnosticism adds one more level of fear to my life.  I don’t think about it most days, but when I’m ill, what else is there to think about?  There’s only so much Wipe Out you can watch on T.V. after all.  So, like Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter books, there I was, hanging about in bed, thinkin’ about death.  What would become of me?  Would I just disappear, vanish, for good?  Was that a bad thing?  Like Mark Twain, I’ve often wondered why some people wish for a Heaven that is so much like church which, let’s face it, is often incredibly boring.  Do we want that for eternity?  I don’t know.

There isn’t  just Christianity, of course.  I could be reincarnated.  If I was, I would totally want to come back as a house cat because those little furballs have it made.  17 hour naps and kitty food in those little glass dishes.  That would be great.  But even if I enjoyed the afterlife, there was one problem.  My children.  Who would be their mother?  That’s what scares me the most.  I am their Mom, and no one else.  No one can teach them the things that I can.  That’s my job.  And it can’t be taken away from me so soon.  It just can’t.

Reincarnate me as this guy.

Now did I truly think this Pneumonia would kill me?  No, not really.  But I did know that there were other illnesses that could, illnesses that run rampant in my family history.  Cancers that eat you inside out, slowly killing you.  That is the worst death imaginable for me.  I don’t handle ill well.  There’s too much time to think, and that is what someone with depression does not need.  So as I lay there, day after day, hoping that the next day I would wake up better, but didn’t, I felt the hope slipping away, and I felt myself realizing that this would be what a terminal illness was like.  Pain, nausea, misery day after day after day.  It’s a horrible thought.  And the relentlessly happy campaigns for raising money for Cancer, while noble, sometimes make people feel worse.  What do you mean you aren’t going to fight the good fight like a soldier?  How can you not be positive?  Because I’m sick, that’s why!  I’m sick, and I’m sad, and I’m so very, very scared.

Fear is a hallmark of depression.  Hope is one of the few cures, however temporary it might be.  This long illness, going on three weeks now, has taught me a lot.  I’ve realized what is more important.  It’s not keeping a neat house (let’s face it, that ain’t gonna happen), and it’s not being the top worker, or making the best grades, or even being a blogger champion.  It’s just enjoying life the best you can, and keeping hope alive for yourself and for others.  That’s why I believe that hospitals and doctors must focus on both mind and body, even for mentally healthy people.  Only then can you heal the entire person.  For our bodies are nothing without our souls.

Three great things that belong together

© Alice and A Canvas Of The Minds 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alice and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


28 thoughts on “Overwhelmation: A Post on Physical Illness and Mental Health

  1. So very well said! Mind and body as one in treatment, bring on the holistic approach in hospitals! That’s why I liked the idea of liaison psychiatry which treats people who have illnesses that have affected their mental health…it sort of worked for me lol.
    I’m glad you’re feeling better now and back to slating that blooming book! 😉 xx

    • Thank you. I’ve been doing more research (no, actual research!) on Mind / Body stuff lately and it is fascinating. I think it might be the key to at least lessening the amount or severity of respiratory crap I keep getting w/ my allergies and asthma.

      And yes, that book. Speaking of mind body, there may be a book reading/ nausea connection there for many readers. There should be a warning on the back.

  2. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it.

    I hope you are feeling better and wish you a speedy recovery. X

  3. As someone who has lived through and suffered from anxiety and depression, I always wonder why some doctors don’t make the mind/body connection. I guess they want to feel like they can “fix it” and with the mind, that often requires more than popping a pill a day.

    Glad you are starting to feel better!

    • Thank you. And I totally agree. Not everything can be fixed with a pill. Not everything can be fixed with a positive attitude and vitamins either (sorry, Tom Cruise). Often it’s a combination of approaches that can work best. If I do get physically sick, I usually need meds. But my taking care of my mental health better, sometimes I can avoid letting my immune system down and getting sick in the first place, or at least have a better chance at recovery when I do.

  4. I agree it is important for medical staff to connect emotionally. When my son was really really sick as a baby and the doctors tried to reassure me, none of their assurances touched me as much as the hug from the head nurse on the ward. She was an angel in scrubs and I would not have survived without her.
    Alice I hope you feel better soon and I think that posting your hilarious blog posts whilst so sick is brilliant. I am religious and hope and belief is what helps me survive.
    Btw your kids will always be your kids wherever you or they may be and in whatever life.

    • What a great story. Having a very sick baby would be horrible! Thing One got sick and dehydrated so quickly they had to take her to the hospital when she was four (I’d just had a baby the week before – wheee, fun!). She was only in one night, but it is the most helpless feeling ever to see your baby sick. She’s been hospitalized a few other times, but we’ve figured out that if we can nip stuff in the bud quickly (say, Strep throat symptoms) then we can keep her from getting sick and starting that cycle. And once when she was so sick, one of our preachers at the time stopped by and asked how she was. I told him, and then he said, “And how is Mom?” Yes, that helped so much that he understood. I love that man.

      And thanks for your thoughts on faith. It is something I have thought on and studied most of my life. Even if there is nothing else out there, we all achieve immortality through our children (and through those whose lives we touch).

  5. I am not at all happy that your are hospitalized for pee-noo-moan-ee-ah. I mean, I’m happy that you’re getting acute care, but I’m a bit ticked off at your lungs. LET ALICE ALONE, LUNGS! Phlegm be gone!
    I didn’t know that catastrophic ideation was a thing common for depressed people. I mean, I know I love my catastrophes, but I thought it was a me thing. My daughter has a weird oozing eye right now, so of course that means she’ll be blind by next year. Recently, I picked at a a pimple and it got infected so obviously I was going to lose half my face to flesh eating disease. I’m not a hoper. Le Clown is the optimist in the family.
    You have learned me some new things. I wish you a speedy recovery, and some hugs from strangers. xoxo

    • Luckily I only had to stay in the hospital 2 days. I’ve been out a while recovering . . . and recovering. I ran out of sick and vacation leave, and I’m trying to get on sick pool so I’ll still get paid for this extra week the doctor gave me. Should be cleared for work next Tuesday. Whee, fun. But yes, I am doing better, thank you. And Phlegm-be-gone would be an excellent name for a medication.

      I wish I had never read about flesh eating disease. While I was in the hospital, I was eying those nurses like a hawk – did they wash their hands? My husband is the optimist in our family too. He just takes everything in stride which is good since one freak out is enough for a family. Lol.

  6. I totally relate to you on this. I’m just on my way to recovering from a lung disease – not pneumonia- and I was terrified, and I am a believer. There is just so much going through the mind when the body is weak and vice versa.I’m really glad that you’re doing better, and without knowing it fear does give us hope, because without hope we’d all be dead

    • Good point. It reminds me of the tale of Pandora’s Box. All the horrors were released into the world, but she did manage to close the box and keep in hope. I hope your recovery goes well too.

  7. Alice,

    Glad to see that you’re not only making up awesome words, but you’re using them as titles! Also glad to hear you’re feeling better. How long does it take before you can get a clean bill of health after pneumonia?

    I think people actually do recognize the mind body connection since the evidence for it all over the place. I just think for most nurses, they probably feel like it’s outside their scope to be friendly with their patients. Also wanted to say, as someone who’s struggled with depression off and on since my teen years, that you’re not alone. And I’ve also wondered about the role of religion, and how some people with very strong faith are able to stay strong when others feel hopeless. We have friends who kid has spina bifida and childhood leukemia, and yet they manage to stay amazingly strong. I have a special needs kid too obviously, but I’m a big baby about it most of the time. I really don’t have their courage of their faith.

    I know writing about this stuff is profoundly un-fun, but I do enjoy reading your more serious pieces. -christy (I can’t write all of that, and then wrong-name you.)

    • Aw, thank you. Yeah, I’m a big baby about a lot of stuff, and then I look at kids who just take the worst crap in stride. My eldest had pneumonia, not nearly as bad a case, but still – she just pops right up. Hardly complained at all. Meanwhile I’m on the floor.

      I too have seen people with faith handle amazing things. My first thought is – hey, how come God let this happen in the first place, huh? And so on. My reaction to tragedy is the reverse – faith gets worse. I don’t know.

      Thank you. It’s getting out of my comfort zone to write stuff that has some more serious-ness to it, but I think that’s a good thing. Oh, no, you’ve given me your real name so I should give mine but I am the ultimate weenie. I could email it to you. I’ll give you a hint. It starts with the same letter as Alice! Thank you, Christy (It is a little weird to keep calling you lunch.) ;D

  8. Ha! It figures that the only one not afraid of talking to you and giving you a hug was the Hispanic Janitor.

    I find that people here in North America are so uncomfortable with 1. Expressing/Dealing with emotions, 2. Acknowledging other people’s emotions and 3. Giving hugs/touching people in anyway.

    My gut reaction to anyone crying is to hug them. To ask them if there is anything I can do or if they want to talk about it.

    Hope you’re doing better now

    • Thank you. I am doing better, bit by bit. I took the kids to McDs and Hastings, and that was too much – I was shaky and sweaty, ugh. It takes a long time to heal.

      And yes, many people are afraid of emotion. It’s like you’re supposed to say “Yes, I’m fine” even if your arm is hanging by a tendon.

  9. One time when I was in college, I became rather ill. I had terrible stomachaches and diarrhea, even a little blood. (TMI, I know.) This went on for weeks, and I got freaked out by it, so I went to the doctor. There was nothing “physical” wrong with me, so they concluded I had anxiety. It was sort of dismissed as not important. So sometimes when the connection is made, it’s not always seen as legitimate, and that might be something the medical establishment should look into.

    • That was how I was diagnosed with depression. Horrible stomachaches that wouldn’t go away. They must have tested me for everything. Finally it was like, well, she’s not physically ill, try the antidepressants. And that worked. Wish I hadn’t had to go through the Xrays first.

      But YES anxiety and depression are important, because you literally can get sick from it. It’s not like you were imagining stomach pain and blood – that was real. And even if you don’t have physical symptoms it’s still important, it’s still real . . . (curse words). Thankfully, I think some GPs are at least getting a little more clued in about the mental side of things sometimes. Bit by bit.

  10. I love that you’re back with us (mostly). Reading especially the comments from you and Angel made me think about how I have wreaked having on my body in so many ways as a result of mental illness, or just plain stress. Horrible migraines since my early teens. Two stomach ulcers before I was 20, and GERD for years both before and after. Most recently, I had psychogenic non-epileptic seizures from post-traumatic stress. That was actually how I discovered I had PTSD (not unlike the way you discovered your depression); I wound up in the ER after I already had myself diagnosed with the seizures. The doctor was flabbergasted when they actually showed up on the EEG, he hadn’t really put much stock in what I said when I came in. To his credit, he pretty much let me write my own ticket for what I needed after discharge. . . I’ve gotten a lot of that recently.

    Anyway, I need to get a post up on how I am the queen of repressing these things, but more to the point, on all of the things I learned in my reading and research on what “psychosomatic” illness actually means, versus what the common perception of it is. It’s some serious chiz (and I think I spelled that wrong, and clearly I’ve been watching too much iCarly).

    And thank you for this, Alice, because you just gave me a minor epiphany about my own life recently. . .

    • Cool. My daughter watches a ton of iCarly and it’s at least not as bad as some of the Disney. I like the insane blond friend. I had a seizure when I was 21 due to a massive amount of stress (breakup with boyfriend, school, perceived parental expectations, etc.) I never had another one. It might have partly had to do with depression meds I was on, so they switched them after that and I took anti-seizure drug for two years. That was just weird.

      I am looking forward to your post. I have been reading a lot about this recently. I checked out a book on it that looks like a textbook but doesnt’ read like one. It’s interesting.

  11. Great post even if it is lousy what’s been happening to you. Hope those lungs start doing what they are supposed to soon and the phlegm goes take a hike. Thank heavens for Hispanic janitors eh?! 🙂

    • Yes! That was a very sweet lady. The docs could take a lesson there. Thanks for your kind words. I’m getting there, but it is very, very slow and my patience is non-existant and now yay my daughter is coughing.

  12. I am glad to hear you are at home, but also begging you to be gentle with yourself. Don’t do too much too fast. I had pneumonia last year and it took me 6 weeks after my symptoms were gone to finally feel better. I do understand the depression part of it and that makes it so much harder to recover. You already feel tired and shaky & then depression is there telling you why bother getting up anyway!! It’s okay to take small steps, so you don’t wear yourself out and get depressed about what you can’t do.

  13. That janitor should be the best paid staff member in the hospital. But of course we all know that janitor is probably the worst paid. The connection between mind and body is so important and it is so frustrating how many healthcare workers just totally miss this. Great post.

    • It is a great word, isn’t it? My boss (who I love and who is anxious like I am) was the first one I heard using it. 🙂

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