When Doctors Question Our Physical Symptoms Because of Mental Illness
From my early teenage years, I have suffered from anxiety and it has never held me back. Through years of counseling and therapy, I learnt how to manage my anxiety and how to handle my triggers. However, that word is plastered all over my medical records and is something I am almost ashamed to admit in fear that my anxiety will be blamed for my symptoms. In some instances, some of my symptoms actually have been dismissed entirely because I am labelled “an anxious person” by medical professionals.
I’ve spent a lot of time denying my anxiety because of this, which I shouldn’t have to do. Yes, I have anxiety, no it is not the reason for my symptoms. It is my symptoms that worsen my anxiety. One-third of those who live with chronic illnesses are likely to develop a mental illness, such as depression, than the general population. Living with chronic illness is such a hard thing so it makes sense that we are more susceptible to mental illness. With this in mind, why are so many chronically ill people dismissed because of their mental illnesses?
My anxiety does play a role in my everyday life but this anxiety stems from my symptoms, not the other way around. For instance, I have a lot of anxiety about leaving the house sometimes because I can’t help but worry about the effects the activity will have on the rest of my day or even my week. I often stress about going out with friends because I am not sure what kind of “tax” I’ll have to pay and how much I’ll have to suffer because of it. I’ve never ever experienced anxiety about this before, it’s purely related to my symptoms and nothing else.
Why is it that doctors continue to question the validity of our symptoms because of mental illness? It’s like we cannot be both physically and mentally ill at the same time. Mental illness and chronic illness are not two mutually exclusive terms. In fact, mental illness sort of becomes a “package deal” alongside chronic illness due to the emotional effects of the disease.
Let’s say one day you lost your health completely. You’re working through it though, finding your “new normal.” Losing your health then leads to losing your job, your education, your independence and eventually a lot of your friends – and sometimes even family. How on earth are you meant to cope with all this on top of an unpredictable condition that is quite drastically lowering your quality of life? Some of us do, and some of us don’t. That shouldn’t be a taboo subject though, chronically ill people should not have to hide their mental illnesses away in fear of others invalidating their conditions.
Not only is this disrespectful to those live with chronic illness, it is also shaming mental illness. The amount of times I have heard “you’re just depressed” or “you’re just an anxious person” by both medical professionals and otherwise, is absolutely ridiculous. I feel like saying to these people that if their lives were like mine, they’d sure as hell be depressed and anxious! By saying things like “you’re just depressed,” you’re dismissing the serious issue that is depression as if it were a common cold. You’re invalidating one’s experiences and difficulties due to their mental health, which is a serious issue.
While I don’t personally suffer from depression, I do have my bad days where I just need to curl up and cry and feel sorry for myself; and that is OK. I’d be living in denial if I didn’t say my life is hard and there aren’t rainbows every day. The important thing is, is that I have more good days than bad. Even after a bad day I will try and find a silver lining to it. But not everyone who struggles with a chronic illness is as fortunate as me for maintaining a strong mental health, and that’s also OK. It doesn’t mean their problems are any less real, in fact, it actually means their problems are so much harder. I fight my body every day to function, I can’t imagine also having to fight my mind as well.
We need to break the stigma about mental and chronic illnesses and stop being ashamed of having a mental health condition that stems from your physical one. When you think about it logically, when your life changes in such a drastic way, it only makes sense that your mental health will struggle too.
So, if you’ve ever been ashamed to admit your mental health condition in fear that it will invalidate your physical one, remind yourself that anyone else in your circumstances has a very high risk of developing a mental illness and you are definitely not alone.
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