Well, that's mental health

Mental health 1080x1080 blog hero

“In a strange way, it was a bit of comfort within the chaos.”

Tweet this!

Whenever I feel like I’m questioning my mental health, I usually feel as though I’m on the front foot with it and I understand why I’m feeling the way I do. But recently I found myself caught off-guard by a tidal wave of emotions.

I’m well aware of how illness, medications and vitamin deficiencies can affect your mental health and I always felt that if that was happening to me, then I’d be able to notice it instantly.

Then 2023 came along.

In my last blog, I detailed a recent stint in hospital which resulted in surgeries and being on multiple different medications. While being is hospital was tough on my mental health, there was something else that affected it even more. The pain.

The pain was constant. I would get a day here and there where it wasn’t so bad, but most of the time there was a constant underlying presence. Sometimes I could block it out by keeping my mind occupied, but any moment of relief was accompanied by the anticipation of being in pain and a sudden thought of “does that hurt?”

I put myself on a diet of paracetamol and ibuprofen every 4-6 hours. Yes, I know ibuprofen isn’t advised with bowel conditions, but I was desperate.

It wasn’t the pain itself that stopped me doing things I loved, it was more that there was no position I could be in that would give me any relief and I started to fear that the pain could become worse.

Painkillers were becoming useless, and my next option was to go onto opioids, which I didn’t want to do because I needed to still be focussed for working and trying to complete day-to-day tasks.

Over time, I found myself doing less and less. I stopped taking the dog for a walk or taking my daughter skateboarding. I felt guilty. But sitting on a hard plastic chair as I watched my daughter skate around became an unpleasant experience.

I started to build up an intolerance to life. I was slowly not committing to things, I wasn’t keeping in contact with friends, I was doing everything I could to avoid being put in situations that could remind me of the pain I was experiencing. But it was all subconscious. I was shutting myself off from the world and I didn’t see it.

Waking up each morning was the worst part of my day. It meant another day of existing, but not living. From the moment I woke up, I would just be looking forward to getting back into bed to close my eyes, fall asleep and forget the pain.

But then the pain started to invade my sleep, rolling over in bed involved taking a deep breath and preparing myself for more pain. If I woke in the night, I would hammer the painkillers hoping I would wake up in a better frame of mind to deal with the day ahead. I might wake up pain-free, but I still had the voice in my head saying “what’s the point? You’re only going to be in pain again soon.”

I was in and out of hospital with the pain, having treatments and tests, all resulting in no improvement. I was losing hope until one day I got some good news. We had found the cause of the pain, and I was scheduled in for an operation in just a few weeks.

I could finally see an end to the pain.

However, that same night, I got a phone call.

My father had passed away. It was completely unexpected.

My dad was a strict vegan, way before it was cool and had some very specific requests when it came to funeral, including a woodland burial. When it came to finding such a place, in a strange twist of fate, the only date they had was the date of my operation.

We booked the venue, and I rearranged my surgery date for a month later.

My mental and physical health was taking a toll and I developed gout. My mobility was affected even more and in turn, my negative thinking.

My head was a mixture of pain, grief, panic and an overwhelming sense of “I can’t take much more”. I decided that it was time to speak to someone, so I headed to my GP. I explained everything and they recommended a one-week course of antidepressants and some steroids for the pain.

I was nervous about anti-depressants; they were something that I’ve always avoided as I know that you can become reliant on them, but I felt okay with a short course and after a few days, I felt they were working. They took me to a level of what I like to call “just below crying” and it meant that I felt I could cope with attending my father's funeral and then focus on my upcoming surgery.

It was now just a waiting game, I had a month until my surgery and, in my desperation, I turned to Dr. Google, hoping to find a sense of comfort and investigate if my cocktail of medications was doing any damage to my body.

Now, I know Google isn’t an actual doctor and you have to take everything at face value. I tried to stick to trusted, informative websites, the NHS being my go-to.

Whilst scanning through the pages, there was a part that mentioned mental health.

At first, I ignored it, that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was on the hunt for physical side effects.

After coming across the mental health information a few times, I decided not to ignore it anymore. Turns out, it’s pretty normal for your mental health to suffer if you’re experiencing constant pain. I carried on reading and the bells were ringing, everything it was describing was how I was feeling, or how I was perceiving life. It was reassuring to know that how I was feeling, and my behaviour wasn’t abnormal.

In a strange way, it was a bit of comfort within the chaos.

It allowed me some headspace to focus on the positive things and allowed me to prepare for the impending surgery.

In the weeks leading up to surgery, I started to feel more like myself. My gout was under control, so I could walk again. Being able to move a bit really helped me feel more “normal”.

Post-surgery threw a whole new list of worries and fears into the mix, but I'll talk about that another day.


I know others may find themselves in a similar situation and admittedly if someone had told me 6 months ago that things get better, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.

Pain is a funny old thing and going through this has made me realise that outlook and perception is something that can really change how you manage your mental and physical health.

I didn’t see it before. I saw it as self-preservation. But in reality, I was denying myself elements of life that would bring me joy.

I will admit, there’s no easy fix and each person is different. But it’s finding what works for you.

Give yourself some time to think about what makes you happy and find out what’s stopping you from achieving it. It might just set you on the right path.

Share this article:

by Nick Axtell

Nick Axtell

About the author

Hi I'm Nick. Diagnosed with Crohn's in 2006, gained a Stoma in 2010 and Completion Proctectomy November 2015. I have a family with 2 girls and a somewhat unusual sense of humour, which I hope will come across in my blogs. I am trying to live my life to the fullest and not let my stoma get in the way.