Another Friday which means another My Mental Health post! Today’s post is from Kaelin and she will be talking about General Anxiety Disorder and Dysthymia.
What is your mental health condition?
I have two mental health conditions, generalized anxiety disorder and dysthymia, a form of depression. With my generalized anxiety, I also suffer from panic attacks alongside the common symptoms. Dysthymia, also called persistent depressive disorder, is milder than major depression but tends to be very long lasting. It’s likely I will have both these conditions for the rest of my life.
How did you come to find you had your condition?
My anxiety and dysthymia began when I was around 7 or 8, so this is something that has simply been a part of my life for as long as I remember. So I actually thought for a very long time that this was simply part of who I am, my personality. Unusual because I meant my personality was very different, but not necessarily something to be treated. How I realized this wasn’t simply a part of my personality or make-up was when I was about 15, and I was speaking to a teacher of mine about how I was feeling. She suggested that I talk to someone with experience in the field because it sounded to her like I may be depressed.
Does it affect you in your daily life? If so, how?
It does affect my daily life and has done so in varying ways over the years. As a teenager, it severely hindered my ability to socialize and be productive, which wasn’t ideal as I was an IB student at the time. I was very withdrawn, moody, my appetite was erratic and taking care of myself was a struggle. I would have panic attacks, which are more severe than anxiety attacks, daily. I felt like I didn’t matter, I felt like a failure.
For a couple years not too long ago, it caused me to completely shut down and my anxiety took over. I was so afraid of failure, and I felt so worthless, that my eating turned into binge-eating, I began drinking too much. I wouldn’t leave my apartment except for test days. I lost my job. I would forget to shower, to take care of myself. I stopped doing anything that used to bring me joy because I was at a point where nothing made me happy. I had severe mood swings, and my relationship at the time suffered horribly. Looking back, I don’t recognize myself. It’s a miracle I didn’t fail out of college. I knew I was drowning, but I couldn’t stop it.
But now that I’ve sought some treatment and have begun a lot of personal work and introspection, the effect on my daily life is much milder. I struggle with dissociation, where there is a cognitive disconnect between your awareness and the world around you. A lot of people have experienced something like it, have you ever driven somewhere, and then realized you don’t remember getting there? It’s like a more extreme sensation of that but in daily life. I will have anxiety attacks once or twice a month, but I haven’t had panic attacks in about six months. Some days, I have no motivation and I struggle to be productive. I sleep more than most, due to the depression. I’m messy and quite forgetful, both also symptoms of dysthymia. I have to keep a reminder to do certain things, particularly for when I’m running on autopilot, as I call it.
Was there a point when you got help for your condition? If so, how?
I finally began treatment for my conditions when I was 20. However, I don’t think I was ready because I wasn’t able to stick to the medication I was given and I hadn’t begun to address the thought patterns and behaviours I was exhibiting. When I finally, really, got treatment that made a difference for me, I was 22. I went back on medication, at a stronger dose, and I wasn’t drinking or taking anything else that would interact with the medication. At my university, they have counselling services, and I began going every other week, and with my amazing counsellor, we worked through a lot of what I was feeling and how I was thinking. In fact, both these treatments came from my university. Now, I can do a lot of the work on my own, through what is called shadow work and inner child work.
If you didn’t or haven’t got help, why so?
At first, I didn’t get help because my parents normalized my anxiety, and I did not tell them about my depression. I didn’t know how to explain my depression, but I could hide it. I could not hide my anxiety since I would have panic attacks at dinner. But as I got older, and I got worse, my parents would resist me talking to someone. I think the idea that there was something going on that they could not fix scared them. My dad would sympathize with me and help me with my anxiety, and only now, almost a decade later, have I realized he was able to help because he suffers too, but has gone undiagnosed and untreated. When my symptoms hit a lull, we all thought I was all right and would not need treatment, when I was about 18-19.
Why do you think your condition isn’t really talked about?
Anxiety is talked about quite a bit, but not my form of depression. Also, certain symptoms, such as dissociation, are hard to identify and are therefore easy to miss. And other symptoms, like forgetfulness and messiness, are talked about, albeit very little. I think that this is partially because this requires a nuanced discussion of mental health and mental illness symptoms. Which also, in turn, requires a level of education around mental illness that most people don’t have access to, and of which even sufferers aren’t informed. We have to hunt that information down, and that makes it difficult to discuss. Once society is better informed overall, I feel we’ll have the information foundation to begin looking into the high variation within disorders, and the wide variety of symptoms.
Overall, why do you think there is not enough money in the NHS for people with Mental Health Conditions?
To me, I think first and foremost it is because mental health is not yet seen as a necessary part of healthcare. Part of this is because of the lack of education. I didn’t learn about mental illness until I was in sophomore year of high school in a psychology class. The other part of this is social stigma. For as prevalent as mental illness is, psychology is a very new science. We still haven’t integrated it, socially, as a concrete part of our lives. So not only do people not understand what mental health entails, they don’t think it’s valid, on the whole.
Do you have any advice for those with the same condition?
You are not your disorder. You are not your thoughts, your feelings, especially not the ones that cause you pain. Talk to someone, contact your doctor, your guidance counsellor, and ask them for resources. There are a lot of free resurfaces for you to seek help and guidance from. Do not let anyone tell you that what you are going through isn’t valid. Let yourself feel what you’re feeling and learn your triggers. Working through episodes, as opposed to trying to make them stop, can be very cathartic. But if you do not feel ready for that, or don’t want to do so without guidance from a professional, that’s ok. Be gentle with yourself. Healing is a process and is not necessarily a quick one. In terms of managing your conditions, feel free to try different methods. Some people do in fact benefit from yoga and meditation and mindfulness, and some need medication. Some don’t find a medication that works for them. Mental illness is highly personal, and so is treatment.
Any other comments?
Something I would like to emphasize is that mental illnesses present differently for everyone. Treatment and management are different for everyone. Some people will have very mild symptoms and be able to manage it with only positive thoughts. For others, the symptoms may be more severe and need different management and treatment methods. Don’t disparage people for using holistic methods instead of medical, because for some it brings them peace. Keep in mind, not all advice on this matter is for everyone. Some advice given is harmless and is simply limited in scope and to whom it applies. But there is also some dangerous advice, such as quitting medication without guidance and rejection of medical care. Conditions are as variable and personal as personalities are in their expression, source, and treatment. If someone’s disorder does not present how you feel it should, it does not mean they are disingenuous. We should all be considerate of one another and care for each other with empathy and compassion.
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