April 9, 2021

Overcoming Medical Trauma with IBD

The content is produced by CCYAN and their fellow Nathalie Garcia.

I have anxiety. 

I am afraid to speak up, almost all the time.

I press my nails hard into my palms when I think about why I said “How are you?” too quietly. 

I bring this up because about one year ago, I had an allergic reaction to an infusion. I had been on this infusion for several months, almost a year at the time. At first, I stayed quiet about the symptoms I had been feeling for a couple of weeks leading up to it.

I think a part of me genuinely thought it was in my head. When people around you are constantly telling you your illness is your fault or that you look fine or that your symptoms are just your anxiety, you start to believe it. 

It started with red, blotchy spots all over my skin. Some days were worse than others and eventually, I went to see a dermatologist who prescribed me a topical medication and I didn’t think anything of it except for the occasional feeling of shame when the spots became more visible. 

At the infusion before my reaction, I remember just thirty minutes into it, I felt so sick. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and everything felt slow. I remember trying to explain that I wasn’t feeling well and then downplayed it for just being tired because I’m used to doing that.

At my next appointment, the same thing happened. I started to cough and my lungs and throat felt itchy. I felt little ants all over me, starting at my feet all the way up to my chest. I stayed quiet still because I thought I was just making it up in my head until my nurse pointed out that I looked a little flushed. 

When I got up to go to the bathroom to check it out, with the IV machine trailing behind me, I stared at the mirror in absolute shock when I saw welts the size of quarters flooding my skin and hives spreading quickly across my chest and neck. My mother who was with me became panicked and called the nurse who immediately notified the doctor. 

I remember I started laughing hysterically because I was so afraid. The nurse quickly started Benadryl through my IV and I was just shaking because I felt so cold. The doctor was asking clarifying questions but they just sounded like echoes in my head. Eventually, the reaction subsided and I just layed there, stiff, with anxiety. 

What I didn’t know was that ever since that day, anytime I go to an infusion or take one of my medications I am so afraid of it happening again. I got lucky that my nurse noticed something was wrong before it was too late, but I can’t help but wonder if I had just spoken up earlier I could have avoided all of this in the first place.

But I want to stress that it is not your fault for not speaking up. Sometimes it can feel like anxiety is taking control over your life but every day you struggle with anxiety and still choose life, you are the one taking control of your life. 

I don’t feel guilty anymore for not speaking up then but now I understand that I deserve to speak up for myself now. I deserve to be heard. When it comes to your health, it is never just in your head. What I mean by that is whatever symptom you are feeling– whether it be a physical manifestation of anxiety, racing thoughts, pain, discomfort– those are all valid and not imaginative. 

The next time you feel too anxious to speak up, just remember that you deserve to be heard.