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When Mental Illness Affects More Than Just Your Thoughts and Feelings

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Most illnesses are very visible — but with mental illness, you cannot always tell how someone is feeling on the inside.

Someone struggling with mental illness may experience some pretty bad physical symptoms that they often hide because they get sick of hearing “It’s all in your head” or “Stop being so lazy.” It seems like society finds it hard to understand that someone with a mental illness can have symptoms that are not focused inside thoughts and feelings.

When I wake up, it takes me a good hour or two to get out of bed. I find it hard to move and it takes me time to adjust to the light and the things going on around me. I am always tired, even when I’ve had a good 10 hours sleep — sometimes I can sleep for 14 hours. If the doorbell rings, I sometimes leave it and have to encourage the dog to be quiet. If I am still half asleep, the sounds make me shake and go into fits and panic; the sound is piercing and painful.

On the topic of shakes, I can be completely fine and randomly start shaking uncontrollably, usually in my hand. This can make it hard to move; and if I don’t sit down, I feel like I might collapse.

I get headaches and migraines a lot — some will not go away with medication or sleep. They can be blinding and prevent me from doing anything. They can happen as much as four times a week.

Without going into detail, I can be left with a very overactive bladder and waste system. I can go to the loo so many times in a day I forget count; and as soon as I get stressed or overthink, I’m back in that bathroom. It’s embarrassing because it can lead to unwanted gas or awkward walking while I am running around town trying to find a loo.

I am hypersensitive to sounds and smells. It can be so irritating and makes me look a little bit silly when I tell someone that I can smell something really badly and they cannot. It makes me start to doubt reality.

I get arm and shoulder and chronic abdominal pain often, to the point where I’m so uncomfortable I can’t sleep. I have had problems down below with bleeding often and skin conditions.

This all seems to be triggered by my mental health, and these symptoms do feel as painful as a “real” illness and look very convincing. I spent a good year being investigated for debilitating abdominal pains, but there was no cause. I’ve had all the tests. This is the same for many other problems I have had.

My mental illness can lead to “hysteria,” which is basically my mental illness manifesting into real physical problems. If you are scared of cancer, for example, you might mimic the symptoms so realistically that it looks like you really do have cancer.

There was a period of a few days about two years ago where I had such bad and constant heart pains that I thought I was having a stroke, heart attack or had a blood clot. The pain was really that bad, and I did not even feel anxious at the time to tell me it was stress.

These are all my physical symptoms that I have on a day-to-day basis which are caused by my mental health. Other people may have other symptoms and problems, though I’ve been told mine are the “bog-standard” ones for severe anxiety. These symptoms are real and physical, but might not present a cause even through testing (severity may change depending on mood).

They do pose a problem for my social life. I get into uncomfortable and awkward situations and I can find it hard to tell if I am ill or if it is in my head. I don’t go around telling people what I am feeling on the inside. I try to be polite about it because I don’t want to be judged or make people uncomfortable.

On good days when I am relaxed, the problems are minimal or will subside completely. Since looking after my mental health, the abdominal pains are rare — so there is hope! I’d also like to mention that anxiety symptoms like sharp breathing and sweat are all physical problems that can be hard to deal with too.

It’s more than just anxiety, anger, addiction, hallucinations and compulsions. “Invisible” illnesses — mental illnesses — are so much more. So just because someone may look physically able, doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with their mental health.

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Unsplash image via Piron Guillaume

Originally published: June 26, 2018
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