When You Live With Six Mental Illnesses
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) — the doctor’s voice droned on the first time anyone gave me a list of all my diagnoses. At the end of the appointment, he handed me that list and suggested “I do some research.”
I counted everything labeled “disorder” and came up with six illnesses that were all interacting to make my life miserable. I had been aware of some previously and knew them quite well, but others were new to me. The feelings were mixed; relief that what I was dealing with had a name, relief that it was in fact “disorders” and not merely something I was doing wrong. There was shame, too. Six disorders is a number that is far more than enough to make a person feel like they are a disorder in and of themselves.
Every time I begin a new friendship or a new relationship of some sort, it’s complicated to know how much to disclose. Saying that I deal with anxiety or depression doesn’t scratch the surface of what my life is. There are multiple trips to the pharmacy each month. There are the days that I end up holding myself in a ball and hyperventilating in the stairwell at work. There are the never-ending flashbacks that come from repeated trauma. There’s the mess of learning to heal from the trauma in order to deal with the more visible disorders.
There’s the fact that I take six prescriptions and two supplements every day, each one used to treat a different aspect of my brain that is “malfunctioning.” There are the side effects of all of these medications: dry mouth, weight gain, reduced appetite. There are the twice-weekly meetings with my truly amazing therapist as I learn how to be a more “functional” human.
More than anything, though, there is loneliness. I have yet to meet someone else who struggles with this blend of illnesses. My friends who struggle more with anxiety or more with ADD or OCD don’t quite get what it means to live with all of these monsters. Although I’m truly glad for them for that, at the end of the day, it can feel like it is just me on an island dealing with the horrors of a brain that feels broken and doing the best that I can to make it through.
It is isolating to see the looks on my friends’ faces when I inform them how much medication I take. It is isolating to defend that I really need it to survive. It is isolating to be exhausted but to not have any way to give up. My therapist is my lifeline in all of this, consoling me with the fact that I am not just broken and that what I have been through caused most of this. I count the days between our sessions because they make me feel less on my own. I wonder, though, about how much easier life would be if there was more understanding of this battle. At a minimum, maybe I wouldn’t have to explain quite so much.
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