The Complexity of Living With Multiple Mental Illnesses

What does it mean to live with co-morbid conditions? It means that treatment may get a little complicated.

For instance, one medication that helps my obsessive-compulsive disorder may actually worsen the manic symptoms of my bipolar disorder. The life-changing medicine that I take for bipolar causes weight gain, which sometimes triggers eating disorder thoughts.

Having multiple mental illnesses means I use different therapies to target varying disorders — exposure therapy for obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, dialectical behavioral therapy for bipolar and borderline-like symptoms, as well as my substance use disorder, and cognitive behavioral therapy for generalized anxiety disorder.

Living with a myriad of disorders means I am often distracted. My diseases contradict one another. I will have intrusive OCD thoughts and compulsions while my brain is moving slowly because of my depression. My anxiety will tell me I need to be busy and on the go while my depression tells me that there is no point in putting in effort to get things done. Sometimes, I’ll have mixed bipolar episodes — feeling hyper and deeply sad at the same time. I always want to use alcohol or self-harm to escape, or even fall back into my eating disorder, but I know I shouldn’t and I won’t.

Life with multiple mental illnesses also requires having an extensive support team — a therapist, psychiatrist and nutritionist. It also may mean stints in intensive outpatient treatment or the occasional inpatient hospitalization. But it isn’t that bad when you have the right support network behind you.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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