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When Mental and Physical Illnesses Overlap

It goes without saying that when a person is plagued with a debilitating, life-altering physical illness, they are most likely going to develop some mental and emotional anguish at a certain point. 

 This is mental illness as a more indirect result of physical illness; this is primarily psychological. 

Then there is a large portion of us who have conditions that mess with our autonomic or central nervous system. They essentially tamper with how our bodies and thus our brains function. 

This is mental illness as a more direct result of physical illness; this is primarily physiological. 

And lastly, there is that group of people who have had mental illness long before their physical illness began. The mental illness factually has very little to do with the physical ailments, yet every doctor you meet will attribute your symptoms back to mental health if some form of mental illness is on your medical record, regardless of your diagnoses. 

A lot of people somehow fall into all of these categories; I am one of them. When you have both mental and physical illness simultaneously, to an extent where your daily functioning is impaired by both in various complex ways, pinning down the exact origin of symptoms can become an extremely complicated process. This also obviously depends on the number of illnesses you have and how typical your symptoms are. But generally, when you deal with both mental and physical illness, seeing doctors on your quest for answers and effective treatments not only becomes incredibly frustrating, but it becomes what feels like a never-ending journey. 

I have quite a few illnesses that many people who are in the same boat as me understand; it can take a significant period of time to receive your diagnoses! It took me the majority of my life to receive the diagnosis of intracranial hypertension (IIH), and dysautonomia and coinciding others followed a few years later. I’m still in the process of receiving some of my primary physical diagnoses and have, like many, tried every treatment (Western and holistic) available to try to obtain some relief. 

When it comes to mental health, I’ve had depression my whole life, along with anxiety disorders that, throughout my life, manifested themselves in various ways. When my health issues worsened, my anxiety became debilitating. But whether or not the cause is more POTS, IIH, hormonal, or initially mentally driven is unknown. My mood is all over the place and no psychotropic drugs have worked on me (and believe me, I’ve tried them all!). I’ve been accused by a psychiatrist of having a somatic symptom disorder and have been told “it’s all in your head!” more times than I can count! I’m sure many of you can relate. It’s aggravating when there is so much symptom overlap that it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish the mental from the physical. It’s become so inconclusive over the course of my life with all of my wacky, invisible ailments, that I’ve decided the best method of coping for me is holistic medicine first and foremost.

I’ll still see the neurosurgeon. I’ll still meet with a psychiatrist. But what I’ve recognized (and everyone has their own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions; do what is right for you!) is that I have to take care of all of the “little things” first. This doesn’t mean sporadically or when I feel like doing so, but a healthy lifestyle has to become routine; I do what I know I can manage and stick to it. That way, I know I’m doing all I can with what I can handle on my own, and the rest I will continue to leave up to the professionals. 

I still do my own research and I’m still more than my own advocate. All I can conclude is that it is definitely a very long and tiring process. If you’re in a similar boat with the mental and physical illness overlap, feeling as though you will never get to the bottom of things, please know that you’re not alone; and no matter how scary it feels, never give up hope.