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How Shaking Symptoms Led Me to Get My Second Mental Health Diagnosis


When I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, I felt like I finally had an answer for all of it. It was the reason for everything in my life that had gone previously misunderstood. It never occurred to me there might be more to it. And for two years, I didn’t know there was.

I remember what I thought were manic episodes. They had gotten more intense lately, and my medication was becoming a regular ally. Then one day, in the middle of an episode, my legs started to bounce a little. I had experienced the occasional episode when I felt compelled to pace, so it wasn’t a red flag right away. But the kicking only got worse, and I was never able to slow myself down. Instead my episodes were getting higher and higher strung. I was seeing my psychiatrist every few weeks, and the movement in my legs had now transferred to my entire body. My hands were shaking, my arms would swing outside of my control, and my legs were getting further and further from my control. I cried long and hard most days, and I hadn’t slept through the night in a long time.

A month in, I was hopeless. I went to the ER four times trying to find answers, but three of those times, I was sent home within a few hours. The fourth time, they admitted me. I don’t remember much of the hospital visit. I was too exhausted, too drugged and still moving and thinking too quickly to pay much attention. But the last day, I got an answer I didn’t really understand. My husband had to explain what the doctor said once we’d been sent home. My symptoms had little, if nothing, to do with my bipolar disorder. Everything had been the work of conversion disorder, a somewhat rare anxiety disorder. It was, true to its name, converting all of my anxiety into movement that my body couldn’t control. My mind wasn’t racing from mania. Instead, I was having endless anxiety episodes and panic attacks.

Despite the diagnosis, there was no quick fix. I had to deal with everything causing the anxiety, and honestly, dealing with things like that isn’t my strongest suit. I kept seeing my psychiatrist and started seeing a therapist. I took muscle relaxers to try and slow down my movements, but they didn’t seem to work. We asked friends to help make a few meals for us because taking care of me was exhausting my husband right along with me. My parents picked me up from work every day, so I wouldn’t be alone.

I hit my lowest point — complete and utter hopelessness without the will or desire to fight it anymore. I’m grateful I don’t remember a lot of those lowest nights, but I remember hitting rock bottom. It’s hard to forget.

In an unexpected twist, it was hitting rock bottom that gave me some ground to push off of — it’s not so cut and dry, but I’ll keep those details private. So in my signature stubbornness, I woke up the next morning, and still shaking, told him “I’m not going to do this anymore.  I’m going to fight.”

It took me about another month to stop the movement and get back to my normal rhythm. Much like my bipolar disorder, the conversion disorder isn’t cured. It still flares up from time to time when I’m dealing with a heavy amount of anxiety. I’ll have to deal with it for the rest of my life. But I’m still here. And that’s not something I was sure I could say in the middle of all of it.

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Unsplash photo via Christian Gertenbach.