My Chronic Illness Just Happens to Be in My Head

I have a mental illness.

Saying that makes me cringe. It’s such an ugly phrase, “mental illness.” And “mentally ill” is even worse. Those terms conjure up unwanted imagery, none of which applies to me. At all.

I’m not crazy. I’m not violent, scary or a threat to others. I’m not drugged out and loopy on high-octane meds. I simply — and not so simply — have a chronic health condition that happens to be in my brain. I use medication to manage it. Sometimes I feel completely normal. Sometimes I don’t.

Lately I’ve been in the not-feeling-normal category. Yes, work has been really, really busy for me. That’s been a big part of it, for sure. 

The last time I wasn’t feeling mentally healthy, I was sad and unmotivated. I dreaded starting each day. This time it’s anxiety that’s kicking my butt, which is weird for me. I don’t normally deal with obvious anxiety symptoms, until I had a panic attack for the first time in many years. And since that night I can’t get rid of the tight feeling in my chest.

I’m irritable, impatient and jittery. I constantly feel like I’ve had too much coffee. I always have this dreadful feeling I’m forgetting something really important. I’m picking apart the skin around my fingernails. And I get lost in unimportant things (like wasting time on Facebook or checking my lists over and over), instead of being productive (like dealing with household chores or focusing on work).

Years ago, I would have just tried to grit my teeth and get through this phase. I’d convince myself it would pass, or that by the time I actually got in to see a therapist, I’d feel better and it would be a waste of time. It would take a complete breakdown to spur me to get help.

Not anymore. This time when I recognized I was in a downward spiral, I set up appointments with my occasional therapist and my doctor. I asked the therapist for strategies to manage my anxiety and stress. I told the doctor what was going on and he adjusted my medication and is monitoring me. I’m writing down which medicines I’ve tried, what side effects I have, dosages and other relevant information.

I’m also taking steps to reduce the stress in my life. I’m gardening more and online less. I’m actually not working this summer. My husband and I calculated due to my successful winter/spring of work I can take a break. Of course, the stress of that success has driven me to needing the time off. But whatever. It is what it is.

This dogged dedication to doing what needs to be done to feel better is a big part of effectively managing my chronic illness. It’s not easy. It would be far easier to hide under the covers of my bed and wish it all away. Or grit my teeth and soldier on, making everyone around me miserable while I suffer. But those strategies obviously didn’t work in the past. What’s that old definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Yeah. That. I’m done with acting insane.

Honestly, I’m not really feeling better yet. But I have faith that I will. I always do, eventually.

That’s the thing with my “mental illness.” Like many chronic health conditions, I go into remission and have relapses. Back and forth. Over and over. Living with a chronic condition can be exhausting. But I don’t have a choice. So I do it.

“Mental illness.” Yes, I have it. But I’m not crazy. My illness doesn’t define me. It’s one aspect of who I am. And that’s all.

Follow this journey on Honest Mom.

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