Ah, November. Tis the season for declining mental health!
The end of fall and beginning of winter always make me anxious. In the past, it was the start of my competitive ski racing season that caused a lot of stress. After that were college midterms. There is no particular event pushing me toward the pit now that I’m a regular adult, but I feel it nonetheless.
Maybe it’s just tradition.
I know that wintertime gives a lot of people the blues. I’m not alone in hearing the whispers of doom between the gentle flutter of the last fall leaves releasing their hold. I have been open in my column about my struggles with anxiety, and I am no stranger to depression. I’ve shared my coping strategies, and the fact that I’ve gone to therapy to work through my mental mess.
The past month had a lot of highlights. I returned to the sport that I love after spending 16 months recovering from an injury. I spent several days driving around my favorite territory with my best friend. I visited family and friends, and I photographed the wedding of someone I met in kindergarten. I enjoyed my favorite Halloween festivities. I did not waste much time in October. But in the precious few moments I did have to zone out, I felt anxious almost every time.
My packed schedule served as a distraction, but it also increased my stress. On top of that, my husband was out of the country for two weeks, and the Pacific Northwest currently has fewer than 10 hours of daylight. The feeling of invincibility that I brought home after my mom’s transplant seems to be wearing off. Despite the work I’ve done in the past few years to heal and strengthen my mental game, I am feeling the pressure of the season.
I’m not going to go into detail on exactly what my particular brand of anxiety looks or feels like, but I will say that it often revolves around health. My anxiety causes me to get stuck in a nightmare loop about my health and the health of my loved ones. No amount of logic can reason me out of one of these thought spirals. That is why I flat-out refused to do any research on my mom’s illness until it was necessary for me to know.
Last November, my mom’s health crisis was set in motion by appendicitis. And two Novembers past, my cousin was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. So heading into this November I hear echoes of those traumas, reminding me that life is fragile and ephemeral.
If I am not mindful of my anxiety, a little monster in my brain latches on to whatever horrifying thing it can find and takes off running. It’s either a nugget of terror that it digs up from the deep recesses of my memory, or a new nightmare that it invents out of nothing. It can take me weeks or months to catch the fiend and wrestle it into submission.
The monster is coming out of hibernation — and it is hungry. I’ve had a cough for a month that won’t seem to go away. Logically, I know this is a remnant of the cold I picked up in the airport, and it will go away soon. Anxiety says, “Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis can have a genetic link. Isn’t that neat?”
I start thinking about IPF and immunosuppression, and how there are loads of things that can attack someone without an immune system. I think about infections, cancers, flu season, and organ rejection. The monster would have a lot to play with if I weren’t vigilant.
The trick is to stop anxiety before it has a chance to look for things with which to torment me. I am heading into this season with a plan. My mom’s hospitalization taught me that I can wield power over that little monster. I know now that I am capable of controlling my anxiety, and that’s half the battle.
This winter, the war for my mental health will be fought with plenty of time outside (despite the rain), lots of creative projects, a healthy diet, exercise, and therapy. I am more prepared to fight than in any season past. If you are fighting a similar war, take care. We’ve got this.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.