Physical & Mental Health: Not Two Different Things

by Bill Brenner on March 16, 2011

I got a note this morning from an old friend that brilliantly illustrates how tightly physical and mental health are intertwined.

Mood music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLrxQ2Cdwho&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

I’ll share his note, but keep the name out:

Went to see a chiropractor yesterday (after the urging of my wife) to help with my anxiety. Went in very skeptical. After a thorough diagnosis, she discovered I have trouble with my cranial nerves and have an “over excited” nervrous system which contributes greatly to my anxiety and makes it worse when I start “freaking” out about things (trouble breathing, headaches, etc…) I guess the point is that I never would have attributed my anxiety to my nervous system.

I just thought it was due to me “not being strong enough” to handle things and was the cause for me becoming a nervous wreck when anxiety builds up. I just met with the chiropractor this week, so not sure exactly what the treatment will be, but she said it’s pretty intensive. The chiropractor compared it to a computer, I have all the information, my body is not processing things correctly.

Just thought I’d share that with you. All the time, I thought my anxiety was mental, but seems like it’s more of my body’s nervous system not working quite right.

The notion of back and nerve trouble fueling mental illness doesn’t surprise me at all. Though a lot of people would fail to see the connection, I have my own experiences to draw from.

I used to have brutal back trouble and at the time I was a ball of anxiety on fire, rolling off a cliff. It’s no accident that when I started getting the proper chiropractic treatment in 2006, a lot of that started going away. That’s also around the time I started taking Prozac, but it was a good trade-off. One bottle of that replaced various bottles of painkillers. I was hooked on the painkillers after a point, and that sucks. Especially when they no longer touch the pain and you’re taking them simply to keep from hurting more.

I think the biggest point is that mental and physical health are not separate things. One ALWAYS affects the other.

There’s no question whatsoever that depression can cause physical pain.

I’ve heard a lot of people argue over whether this person’s or that person’s aches and pains were “all in their head.” You know the types: Never any real underlying disease, but they’re always calling out of work with a headache or some intestinal discomfort.

It’s all in their head, you say?

Well, yeah.

It’s called psychosomatic illness, when mental anguish leads to physical sickness.

http://www.rodale.com/files/images/458870.jpgI’ve been there. Migraines. Brutal back pain. A stomach turned inside-out.

But it wasn’t always clear that what ailed me was in my head. Childhood illness confused matters. A huge chunk of my digestive track was in flames and spewing blood because of  Chron’s Disease.

I’m told by my parents that the doctors came close to removing the colon more than once, though I don’t remember that myself; probably because the doctors had that conversation with the parents instead of the patient.

To throw it into remission, they used the maximum dose of a drug called Prednisone, which caused another kind of body blow in the form of migraines. These headaches came daily; always making me sick to my stomach.

Later in life, I developed severe back pain, the kind that would knock me onto the couch and keep me there for weeks.

All legitimate physical problems. But at some point my brain lost the ability to differentiate a real Chron’s flare-up or back spasm from an imagined one.

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. It may as well have been one of those things. Because when the mind thinks it is, it has a habit of BECOMING real.

It’s a little different for my friend.

He’s learning that a back and nerve problems are actually messing with his nervous system. The effect for him is what feels like anxiety. And in living with the knowledge that something is physically wrong, anxiety attack symptoms blossom into real anxiety attacks.

Funny how the body works.

I’m not telling anyone anything new. Everyone has an example of times when physical sickness left them in a depression, and vice-versa.

But it’s easy to forget the connections when we’re only dealing with one or the other.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve March 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Great column! Wonder where your inspiration came from.

wendy theres December 18, 2012 at 10:27 am

With all the current discussions on healthcare issues and recent talks of funding cuts it always seems they head straight for mental health (of which I wish we could find a different name for this since it has such a huge stigmatism), this constantly brings me to wonder why we have decided our brains are not part of our physical body. Why does any brain issue need to be carved out on a separate program. I am all too familiar with the association of a physical ailment leading to a mental and vice versa as I have chronic back issues led to depression and have a son who has a brain issue which has lead to back and head pain. Is there any discussion on changing this system so we can care for the body as a whole and what can we do to help making this change.

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