Month: August 2015

Dealing with a Dual Diagnosis

What a lot of people don’t realize is that more often than not mental illnesses like to stick together. It’s actually really likely for a person to have more than one mental illness, and many illnesses have overlapping symptoms. For example, many people with anxiety also suffer from depression and people with OCD can often have panic attacks. I’m one of the many people that have not one, but two mental illnesses: depression, which I talk about openly, and conversion disorder, which I still try very hard to hide.

Many people don’t understand conversion disorder. Simply put, it’s when my brain converts some sort of psychological “trauma” or stress into physical symptoms. This doesn’t mean that physical symptoms of conversion disorder are somehow less real, but it just means it has a different cause.

For me, my conversion disorder manifests itself in a number of ways that lead to other health problems. I am mainly affected by psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. That means that sometimes I lose complete control over my body, and every part of me convulses and shakes. Most of the time, I’ll end up losing feeling in at least one of my limbs or body parts and have to patiently wait for sensation to return. Other times I’ll forget where I am or my vision will become blurry. Though I’m not constantly having these seizures, I have tremors almost every day and deal with consequences of my muscles being so fatigued. Simple tasks like tying my shoes or buttoning up a shirt or rolling up my sleeves become really difficult. For the past three years, my ability to write has deteriorated to the point that I hardly write and prefer to type. I’ve had days where I can’t walk properly because my ankles will lock in weird positions, or my muscles are so tight that even small movements can be excruciating.

I hope that by being open about the struggles I face almost daily, people will understand that mental illnesses can be a very physical thing. And just because sometimes they’re not visible or noticeable doesn’t mean they are any less real. Getting a diagnosis for my conversion disorder was especially hard because there were unexplainable physical symptoms that didn’t make sense. Many medical professionals thought I was making up my struggles or looking for attention. They couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Most people haven’t heard of conversion disorder since it isn’t nearly as common as depression or anxiety, but it is a huge part of my life. I found a video the other day about someone whose story is quite similar to mine, and wanted to share it in case someone is interested in learning a bit more about this confusing and mysterious illness.

The video is a little long, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you have the time.

Conversion Disorder can be really scary and painful, especially because I have minimal memory of what happens during my seizures and have no control over what happens to my body. It takes a lot of patience that I sometimes don’t have, and it can be difficult to accept there are simple things I can’t always do. Ultimately, I still feel very blessed that I’m doing alright and am learning new ways to deal with my challenges every day.

Keep Surviving by Living.


You Are Still Here

I’ve talked many times about how recovery is an ongoing process – there’s ups and downs, and the only consistent part about my mental illness is that it’s inconsistent. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to forget that I have a mental illness, but there are still many reminders along the way. I think most people, myself included, get so caught up with our lives, our responsibilities, our obligations that we begin to forget how to take care of ourselves. We don’t allow ourselves those necessary moments where we slow down and take in the day. I always like to push myself harder than I sometimes should, commit to more than I should, and use my stubborn determination to remove the word “no” from my vocabulary. I asked myself why I do it. Why do I put myself through so much when it’s clearly a bad idea? Why can’t I cut myself a bit of slack and take a moment to just do nothing? I’m not sure I have an answer, but I think it has something to do with wanting to be in every moment, and not miss out on anything. In the worst of my mental health struggles, I felt myself slipping away and missing out on some of the best times of my life. I don’t want to slip away.

I visited the Aga Khan Museum the other day, and was amazed by the peace and stillness of the park. I didn’t have to be running around doing a bunch of things; I could just be. It was a feeling I’ve felt guilty for wanting but it was something I desperately needed. Sometimes you need a break from the craziness of every day life and the struggles that come with it.

I’m certainly not very educated when it comes to art, and though I appreciate museums and exhibits, I’m hardly ever impacted by pieces. Then, I saw one piece that I couldn’t stop admiring. In one of the exhibits is a small mirror. I didn’t think much of it, assuming it was one of those overrated and meaningless pieces that I didn’t quite understand. I moved closer to the mirror, and when I stood in the mirror staring at my reflection I noticed four words etched into the glass.

You Are Still Here.

Seeing those words over my reflection in the mirror hit me harder than I expected, and forced me to stop and remember that I’m still here. I’m here. I’ve been through hell and back, but I’m still here. The blurb next to the mirror spoke of the piece’s commentary on struggle and loss, and the idea that no matter what there can still be hope.

So for anyone struggling with their mental health, or feeling like they’re slipping away and becoming invisible like I feel all too often, never forget that you’re still here.

Keep Surviving by Living.