30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 1-3

Disclaimer: This is a 30 day challenge, consisting of one question per day pertaining to mental illness. Doing challenges for x number of days has become quite a popular trend, and I’ve been asked on more than one occasion to do these challenges. Each time I’ve refused for the sole purpose that I don’t like committing to something like that, knowing I’ll probably miss a day or forget altogether. That being said, this is one of those challenges that I thought would be really great, because it consists of some fantastic questions, so I’ve decided to give you all a treat and answer more than one question per post, with the promise that I’ll answer any additional questions submitted to me via email, comments, twitter, facebook, etc. within a week, and will finish the rest of the days as soon as possible. I’m trying to keep these brief as many of them have been answered in previous blog posts and I don’t want to get too boring. So here goes…

Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.

My formally diagnosed illnesses are Major Depressive Disorder and Conversion Disorder, though at one point a couple of years ago I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder/Panic Disorder (neither of which I believe are prevalent today). I’ll keep this brief at the risk of sounding redundant, so MDD is basically the most severe form of depression, which led me to be hospitalized for being suicidal on more than one occasion. Conversion Disorder is the term used for a disorder in which my brain doesn’t quite process emotion properly due to me supressing and pushing away emotions I didn’t understand since I was very young, but I only felt the conversion effects, which are mainly seizures, tremors or dissociative states, until about a year ago.

Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?

When I was diagnosed with Conversion Disorder – this will sound really weird – but I was extremely relieved. I had been hospitalized for my seizures and other symptoms of it, which altogether were called “episodes” and been given a number of different explanations that made no sense. The most common explanation was that I was making it up in an attempt to gain attention, while some said I was having these significant health problems as a result of not accepting myself for who I was. I finally found a doctor who explained this as conversion disorder, and assured me that she believed I wasn’t making it up, which was a huge relief and made me feel a lot better about things.

My depression diagnosis came as no surprise, as I knew from when I was junior high that I was a bit more prone to negative thoughts than others, but when it got really bad, I was the one who told the doctor “hey, I think I have depression” and she ran a battery of tests to confirm it before putting me on some anti-depressants.

All in all, I don’t have bitter feelings about my diagnoses, they are facts I cannot change and I’m lucky to be able to name them so I can explain them better to others. This isn’t to say I’m happy about having these struggles, but I am in some ways grateful for the diagnoses I have been given because they have made me a lot stronger. Due to stigma around mental illness, it’s a much harder diagnosis to accept because the support you receive from people around you can be quite inconsistent due to a lack of understanding, but I’d rather have an unideal label and be able to explain what goes on with me, than to not have anything to say at all.

Day 3: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?

For my depression, I take sertraline (commonly known as Zoloft) to help balance out my brain chemistry, although I often question how effective it can be. It’s actually a fact that these types of anti-depressants, known as SSRIs, only work extremely effectively in about half the patients who take them, so it could be a lot worse. I also focus on having positive experiences in my life to help mitigate the risk of really bad days. I wrote another post, titled “one fun thing” and that has been an incredibly important part of my journey.

Dealing with conversion disorder is a little bit different, because it involves me putting a lot of energy into altering my thought processes – not like how CBT works, but in a very unique way. Think of it like this: your brain goes through a particular emotional situation, say it angers you. Your brain takes that anger, realizes the situation its stemming from, processes that emotion and feels it, and then archives it, leaving the situation a memory with the emotional part resolved. For me, my brain doesn’t archive it properly because I won’t process that emotion – I’ll just push it aside and let it sit there, floating around waiting for a chance for that anger to be expressed and archived at a later date. As a result, I cope by forcing myself to focus on situations, asking myself how I’m really feeling, trying to label the particular emotion and then spend some time thinking about it. This process sometimes gets extremely frustrating and I don’t know what to do, so I end up getting really worked up and upset. In order to calm down after feeling unsuccessful at coping with my complicated brain, I found out that building lego really helps me. It sounds quite silly, but it calms me right down and I love it. It’s simple, doesn’t take a lot of time, and completely takes my mind off of the rest of the world, plus the instant gratification of making something from a bunch of little pieces makes me feel really good about myself. As a kid I loved lego, and it’s always been something I’ve associated with being happy and calm, so that’s probably another reason why I use it as my best coping mechanism.

Another thing that really helps, but isn’t really a coping mechanism because it isn’t something I can do for myself, but is just having someone to reassure me I’m doing a good job. Someone to tell me I’m doing okay and calm me down when I get really worked up. I’ve said countless times that for me, a hug can be as good as a pill, because it makes me feel safe and loved, and sometimes that’s enough to make me okay again. I’ve been told that while having a seizure, if someone just holds me, or provides human contact, my muscles will visibly relax as a result of touch, and it’s really quite interesting to me.

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5 comments

  1. I just linked your answers for 1-3 to the round up page of my 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge. So sorry it took so long, I’ve been in a rough depression lately but thanks for participating and I hope to get your other posts linked up soon.

    Like

    1. Hey!
      Thanks for the link 🙂 No worries about the timing of it, I totally understand that sometimes this can be put on the back burner as we struggle with handling other prevalent issues in our lives. I hope you’re feeling a bit better!

      Like

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