Early on in my illness, many people asked me if I thought my condition was related to stress. I resisted the idea because I wasn’t feeling any more anxious or upset than normal. By all accounts, I had a great life. I was working for large, reputable company making a six-figure salary enabling me to live more than comfortably. Sure, the job was challenging, but I was never one to turn down a good challenge. I refused to admit it then, but I definitely can’t escape the reality now that my need to succeed at work, even in a job that I clearly should not have been in, precipitated my illness.
Looking back, it is very clear to me that I was under more stress than I recognized. I had grown accustomed to the feeling of being under a microscope and needing to prove myself day-in-and-day-out. While I focused on work, my body was signaling me – at first, subtly (with some sporadic double vision and “whooshing” in my ears) and then, more obviously (with intermittent dizziness and loss of balance), that it was starting to shut down. As the symptoms progressed, you would think that I would start to see the connection between stress and my health. But I didn’t. Since my doctors didn’t find much physically wrong with me despite the symptoms, I decided to throw myself even more into my work believing that if I committed myself to living as normally as possible, my health issues would resolve themselves. My mindset was that I was young and therefore still invincible.
So, I hung on until a friend finally convinced me that something was terribly wrong and suggested that I should stop working. For me, leaving the workforce was scarier than the physical symptoms I was experiencing. Not working was the equivalent of having no value or worth. But I relented and left my job. I naively hoped that taking a short break would heal me. I refused to cancel any plans in anticipation that I’d be returned to my regular life in short order. However, the damage was done and it was extensive. I didn’t return to work for 2 years and during that time was forced out of life completely while my doctors tried to make sense of my symptoms. I was eventually diagnosed with unexplainable blood clots that formed in the veins that drain blood and other fluids from my brain. The clots caused the pressure in my head to skyrocket frequently, but sporadically, causing me to lose consciousness 4-5 times a day. It was a presentation that my doctors – at one of the best hospitals in the country – had never seen before.
I can’t say for certain that stress was the cause of the clots forming in my head. However, after extensive testing showed no predisposition for clots to have developed, it only makes sense that the stress I was under (but refused to acknowledge) caused my body to go haywire and at a minimum, contributed to my illness. I see this same stress happening to a friend of mine and while I don’t think what happened to me will happen to her, I’ve encouraged her (and would implore you) to pay attention to how you are really feeling (even if you’d rather not) and what is happening in your body and take whatever steps you can before the steps you can before things get bad or worse.