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10 Things I Want People to Know About My Complex Mental Illnesses

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Major depressive disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Complex PTSD.
Stress-related anxiety and depression.
Cyclothymia (misdiagnosis).
Borderline personality disorder (BPD).

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Even I have trouble keeping up with the multitude of symptoms, (mis)diagnoses, maybes and what ifs, medications and referrals. In my short 25 years, I feel like I’ve fully wrung out the mental health system, and I’ve certainly been around the block a few times, shoved from pillar to post with no one quite sure what to do with me.

Somehow, this has landed me with a multitude of interweaving mental health issues, which I find rather alarming at times. But it must be even more overwhelming for people who I have to explain my mental health issues to – reeling off a list of issues makes people back away in horror, confusion and embarrassment. I’ve gotten so anxious about listing my mental health issues that I frequently just stick to the old adage, “I have depression.” It’s a lie, but it makes my life easier than having to cope with the pitying and patronizing expressions that people give you when you go into details.

I feel so awkward explaining my mental illnesses to people because I feel like I’m attention-seeking or asking for pity because of the multitude of diagnoses and illnesses that have crept out of the woodwork over the years. Even listing things for medical purposes gets me worked up – if only because I run out of room on the form.

So here are 10 things I want people to know about my interweaving, or complex, mental health issues.

1. I’m not after your sympathy or attention. If you’ve asked me to talk about my mental health and you genuinely want to know, please don’t start getting twitchy after illness number three. Mental health is much more complex than a single diagnosis.

2. I wish it were a lot simpler. Unfortunately, “simple” is rarely the case, and the intertwining of illnesses makes it very hard to find the right medication or therapy.

3. I don’t understand much more than you do. OK, that may be a bit of an understatement, but 90 percent of the time I’m as in the dark as you are, which is incredibly frustrating. I am a naturally curious person, and I want to understand things to their fullest with as much information as I can. To not be able to even understand myself is an extremely painful experience.

4. Yes, I am aware things exist to help me manage my illnesses. Sadly, getting access to the correct treatment is incredibly difficult. I once waited two years for trauma therapy because the waiting list was so long. The NHS does all they can to help, but mental health services are incredibly underfunded and access to the right treatments is getting harder and harder.

5. Please don’t let this list define who you think I am. I am much more than my mental illnesses. At times, when I am in a crisis, or particularly unwell, I will become all-consumed by my mental health. But there is much more to me than my mental illnesses. I am a baker, I am creative, I am a writer, I am a blogger. I am clever, witty, funny, kind, generous and somewhat eccentric. Please don’t pigeon-hole me.

6. I feel as awkward as you do when discussing my mental health. Trust me, it is no easier for me to sit down and reel off the list than it is for you to sit and listen to it. I am extremely adept at picking up people’s subtleties in their body language and I know by the time I’m halfway through the list, you’re tuning out. If you really want to know, understand you cannot have a simple answer.

7I am not a monster. It is more common than you think for people to have multiple diagnoses or mental illnesses, and it does not make us terrible people or people to avoid. I am just like everyone else. I just have some extra layers to peel and decipher.

8. Please do not make assumptions. One of the worst things someone can do is go away, read up about my diagnoses on the internet and come back to me thinking they understand everything. Mental health is unique to the individual, despite having blanket diagnoses and terms. Half the stuff on the internet doesn’t apply to me, and the other half is very bland. If you want to know more, just ask. 

9Do not be afraid. I would much rather be open with someone who genuinely wants to know more about (my) mental health issues than have someone skirt around the issue every time I see them. I am not ashamed of my illnesses, and if you have questions, I will answer them.

10. This is not something that I can get rid of. I have recently had to (finally) accept that I will likely be medicated for life and that despite my best efforts, I will never be “cured.” I will be able to manage my illnesses with medication and therapy and support from friends and family. I cannot say I will be able to live a “normal” life, free of worries because in all likelihood I never will. I cannot predict when the sneaky mental illnesses will rise again and tower above me causing unbearable pain. Please be patient with me when I am ill, and do not assume I am “better” until I tell you I am.

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Thinkstock photo by gi8

10 Things I Want People to Know About My Complex Mental Illnesses
Originally published: January 9, 2017
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