Hi, my name is Molly, and I'm here to talk to you about some really heavy sh*t (literally). Because I'm discussing sensitive (and potentially gross) subjects like IBS and mental illness, I feel like I owe you a warning. You deserve to know what you're getting yourself into by reading this, so here's my content warning:

In this article, I'll be talking about my experience with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and IBS. This will involve discussions of hopelessness, sadness, numbness, general anxiety, panic attacks, constipation, diarrhea, intestinal cramping, gas pains, binge-eating, starving myself, self-hatred, exercise addiction, among other things.

If reading about any of these things will trigger you in any way, please click away from this article. I'm here to spread awareness and de-stigmatize these conditions, not to set off a relapse. If reading about my health journey triggers you at any time, please stop reading and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. 

Now that's out of the way, let's get into my story!

Part One: My Mental Struggle

Molly Gallagher

Because I've been in therapy and on medication for some time, I've come a really long way in my ability to manage my symptoms on a daily basis. For example, I fell asleep in class several times a day last year from the fatigue caused by my depression, but now I rarely fall asleep in class. 

However, I'd be lying if I said that my depression, anxiety, and eating disorder don't have an impact on me almost every day.

Molly Gallagher

I get really stressed out if my daily routine is interrupted—not being able to walk as much, workout for the same amount of time, or eat something different than I had expected. These seemingly trivial things can send me spiraling down the rabbit hole of anxiety or even trigger a panic attack.

Even simple social interactions are very stressful for me. I often feel like a stranger in my own body, unsure how "normal" people talk to their friends or how I'm "supposed to" behave in a social setting. Walking into a room of people scares me, causes me to tense up, increases my heart rate, and sometimes triggers nervous sweating.

When I'm having a full-blown anxious episode, my chest feels tight, I feel like I can't breathe, and my head feels like it is filled with static. I feel like I have to think about everything, but I can't focus on anything. All I want to do is curl up in a ball and scream and cry.

The picture below represents how my anxiety makes me feel–like my head is filled with a nonstop loud noise. I'd describe it as aggressive static, but the "AAAAAA" in the picture shows it pretty effectively.

Molly Gallagher

Because I take antidepressants and have been going to therapy for quite some time, I have my depression largely under control. I sometimes even feel it dissipate entirely for a little while, which feels like a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.

However, my depression is still a huge part of my life. Even if I'm having fun with my friends,  I occasionally feel my mental well-being "turn off." Out of nowhere, I'll feel myself disconnect from the moment, overanalyze all my interactions, and start to feel numb. I'm not sure what triggers this, but it definitely sucks.

Some days, my mental well-being never turns on. On these days, I'm tired, disconnected from reality, isolated from my friends and interests, and uninterested in leaving my bed. Often, a relapse of this caliber is triggered by something like my stomach pain or an anxiety episode, but sometimes they happen with no identifiable cause. 

Molly Gallagher

Eating, while so much easier than it used to be, is still a source of tension in my life. I get nervous about eating in front of other people, my fear foods still cause me anxiety, and I am frequently tempted to fall back into restrictive habits. It's rare for me to like a picture of myself, because I often look bigger in photos than I'm expecting to.

Getting dressed in the morning is really tense, because how I feel about my body can determine my mood for the entire day. If my body confidence is low, I tend to hide it in baggy clothes and lay low in my interactions with other people. This also sets off my anxiety around eating, and can lead me to relapse into my eating disorder behaviors. 

Molly Gallagher

That was super dramatic, so I should probably also tell you that I'm a not an emotional wreck at all times. People who don't know what I'm going through probably wouldn't assume that I struggle with my mental health, because I front pretty well. 

Additionally, my medication and work in therapy have helped me make genuine strides in my recovery. These symptoms occur less frequently and/or on a lower scale than they used to, and when they do happen, I can identify and deal with them pretty quickly. 

The thing about recovery is that it's an ongoing process. I don't go to therapy to cure my depression, anxiety, or eating disorder, because that isn't possible. I go to therapy to accept those things as part of who I am and manage how they impact my life.

Part Two: Living With IBS

Molly Gallagher

This is where things get gross. IBS stands for "Irritable Bowel Syndrome" which means that my digestive system does not function properly. I'm still not exactly sure what's going wrong, but I'm very sure that the symptoms can be really terrible to deal with. 

For me, my IBS presents as constipation, bloating, gas, intestinal pain, and diarrhea. It's usually episodic, meaning that I'll have days/weeks of really horrible symptoms interspersed with brief periods of relief.

It's unclear what exactly triggers an episode, because nothing consistently causes or relieves pain. Part of it is stress, but that alone can't explain the onset of my symptoms. I know that cruciferous vegetables are problematic for me, so I stay away from those, but other than that I can't tell what specifically makes me sick.

Molly Gallagher

My eating disorder definitely exacerbated (and possibly caused) my IBS–physically depriving yourself of food leads your digestive organs to atrophy and your metabolism to slow down, and part of recovery is rehabilitating your digestive system. Also, the chronic stress and anxiety of my ED contributed to my symptoms.

I'm currently working with a gastroenterologist to figure out and treat what's going on, but the tricky thing is that many of the treatment options have my symptoms as side effects. For example, a medication to help with chronic constipation often has side effects of intestinal cramping and diarrhea, which I have already. 

Part Three: Why Am I Putting This On The Internet?

I have to assume that part of why you clicked on this article in the first place was to figure out what prompted me to share this deeply personal information in the most public way possible. I saved this section for the end partially to make you earn the answer to that question.

However, I also saved this section for the end because I think my answer to that question is more important than anything I shared already in this article. I wrote this article to help break the stigma around mental illness, chronic stomach issues, and anything else that people "just don't talk about."

coffee, beer, pizza
Nancy Chen

Listen, I get it. Depression is scary and poop is gross. That doesn't make my mental illness or my IBS invalid, and it certainly doesn't diminish the difficulty of my experience with both of those things.

Feeling like you can't tell anyone what you're going through makes dealing with chronic health problems so much more difficult, because it makes you feel unworthy of care. When my depression or anxiety is relapsing and my stomach hurts, I need it to be surrounded with care and support, not forced to struggle alone.

Pretending that mental illnesses and chronic health conditions don't exist doesn't make them go away, in fact, it does the opposite. The more society shoves these things under the rug, the more prevalent they become and the harder it gets to get people the treatment they need.

When people feel like they can't tell anyone about their experience, they are so much less likely to seek help and enter treatment. A good friend of mine struggled with depression for years because he preferred to suffer in silence than to reach out to his parents for help. 

Even when people do get treatment, they're so used to not being "allowed" to talk about their experience that it takes much longer for their treatment team to fully understand the situation – if you're unwilling to talk to your gastroenterologist about your poop (or lack thereof), it's really difficult to gauge what's wrong.

Molly Gallagher

I know that this article alone will do very little to break the systemic stigmatization of mental illnesses and chronic stomach problems, but it will certainly do more than keeping my story to myself. Anyone who rises against the stigma and tells their story regardless of it contributes to the dismantling of that structure, and I'm doing my part. 

If you're struggling, your pain is valid regardless of whether people feel comfortable talking to you about it or not. You deserve treatment, because you deserve relief. I'm rooting for you and doing everything I can to help the world get on the same page. 

If you aren't struggling, I'm glad you read this article. Paying attention to stories like mine will help you to respond when someone in your life reaches out to you for support. Even if you can't empathize with their pain, you can validate it and give them the love they need to get through it.

Obviously, this article is not a substitute for medical care. If you related to any of my symptoms, please seek care from a relevant medical professional (a therapist, psychiatrist, gastroenterologist, etc).