30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 12 to 14

Day 12: What do you think about your diagnosis in general? (Some ideas are: stereotypes, commonalities, misdiagnosis, over diagnosis)
I think the dynamic of my dual diagnosis is quite interesting, and can make treatment slightly different, and while conversion disorder and depression are sometimes opposites, I do not think that I have been misdiagnosed. I say they are sometimes opposites because with depression, a recurring symptom is dwelling on extremely negative thoughts, whereas with conversion disorder, sometimes I block out emotion altogether. One commonality that is extremely significant, is that with both illnesses, I often don’t understand why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. With depression, I don’t know why I’m so sad and have absolutely no reason to be, and with conversion disorder, I either feel nothing or I feel an emotion that doesn’t make sense at that moment – like being irrationally angry over nothing, or feeling no excitement about something exciting. I must say that with both illnesses, although conversion disorder isn’t known as well, there are stereotypes that exist, and those stereotypes are often incorrect. Stereotypes such as depression hits overly emotional people, or depression isn’t a real illness, or even just the overall negative stereotype towards depression can hit me quite significantly at times. These stereotypes are a reiteration of the idea that people can be quite ignorant towards mental illness and that the stigma that is still so prevalent is entirely unacceptable.

Day 13: If you know the criteria of your illness(es) which ones do you think you meet? Or what are your most common symptoms?
At some point in my life, I’ve experienced close to every single criteria, especially with depression. The most common symptoms of depression are changes in sleep (insomnia or oversleeping), lack of motivation, lack of appetite or overeating (which leads to changes in weight), feelings of worthlessness, suicidal tendencies, extreme negativity, unexplainable and overwhelming sadness, inability to concentrate, higher levels of aggression or irritability…you get the idea. My depression is under control for the most part, but the most common symptoms for me, or the ones that end up being most prevalent on bad days are feelings of worthlessness, sadness and an inability to concentrate. I am fortunate that I no longer have to deal with suicidal thoughts or tendencies, due to a combination of therapy and pharmacological support, but there was a time when I was plagued by that every single moment of every day. I sometimes get scared that I’ll end up feeling that way again, and there have been moments where I’ve felt like I’m out of the woods, but I get hit by a bought of depression like a ton of bricks, and it can be terrifying if I’m being completely honest here. The way I was when I was suicidal, I never want to go back there, and the prospect of it is entirely crippling. It seems so surreal, that I was actually at that point in my life, but that’s reality, and if I expect other people to recognize how real it is, I must accept it myself.
As far as conversion disorder goes, symptoms vary from person to person, and since it’s a fairly uncommon illness, it’s hard to say which criteria I do and do not meet, seeing as it is very unique to each patient’s case. Personally, my most prevalent symptom is seizures, which are unlike epileptic seizures. My seizures are essentially complete body tremors or uncontrollable movements that at their worst lasted up to two hours. I am much more fortunate now that they are much shorter (usually about 15-20 minutes) and not nearly as often (every few weeks as opposed to every day). The most common symptom I deal with on a fairly regular basis is tremors. Mostly hand or leg tremors that make writing difficult because I can’t be steady. If you’ve ever seen someone with really mild parkinson’s, or how someone looks when they are shivering, I kind of look like that. It’s very embarrassing, because it can often happen in class when there are tons of people around and I can’t take notes. Fortunately, UBC has disability services that provide me with notetakers for every class and exam accommodations (such as writing exams on a computer), to mitigate the disadvantages I have as a result of my tremors.

Day 14: Have you ever experienced stigma?
Absolutely, 100% yes. I think it would be safe to say that nearly every single person with a mental illness has faced some sort of stigma at some point in their lives. The stigma for me first started when I was initially depressed in junior high. Everyone whom I felt close enough to confide in ended up telling me I was a drama queen, or brushed it off like I was just being over dramatic about small teenage issues. Later came the stigma attached to conversion disorder, which unfortunately came mostly from doctors, who essentially accused me of making it up, calling it a malingering disorder (ie, all in my head), and that really stung. However, that no longer matters because once I found a doctor who understood and helped me understand myself, I didn’t face nearly as much stigma with conversion – mostly because no one knew what it actually was – and my friends and family were quite supportive. Depression on the other hand, was quite a different story. The stigma I experienced from my friends and peers especially often became overwhelming for me. I am lucky to have a family that supports me and has worked to educate themselves to mitigate the risks of them feeding into the stigma that thrives in our society. One of the main ways I experience stigma is through people telling me my depression is something I can control, as if I am somehow not trying hard enough to get through it, or am doing something wrong as I try to cope. As I’ve mentioned earlier, for someone who struggles with feelings of inadequacy, hearing that is a tough pill to swallow. The other difficult type of stigma to handle was what I experienced from professors and UBC. People really struggle to wrap their head around the idea that mental illness is just as significant as any other illness – if I miss a class because I’m an epileptic and have a seizure, professors are quite understanding and its considered an acceptable reason, yet being unable to attend a class due to severe depression is considered an excuse, and accommodations are seldom made. To me, this is stigma being displayed at its finest, which is really its worst. However, I am happy to be part of a network of students and professionals in the Mental Health Awareness Club, who work to eradicate stigma in UBC’s environment, and it is an issue that slowly but surely will become closer to resolution.

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5 comments

  1. I used to have a “mental illness” but I no longer think in terms of the medical model today. I was once diagnosed with BPD, which I’ve now recovered from. The severity of the reliability and validity problems with “mental illnesses” eventually convinced me that they are not medical conditions on a par with diabetes, cancer, etc. Emotional problems are real, however, in a difference sense – that the symptoms are real. People who are emotionally troubled do have real differences in brain chemistry. But, it remains undetermined how much (or perhaps all) of that is due to the environment and its dynamic interaction with our biology. Although others have trouble understanding my viewpoint – the idea that emotional problems exist on a continuum or spectrum that cannot be reliably divided into different “disorders” – I find it much more optimistic, relational, and human.

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    1. Thanks so much for your insight and opinion! Emotional troubles are definitely tricky because there is no quantitative method to measure it’s impact or it’s origin, and I love the concept of these problems existing on a spectrum that differs from person to person.

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