Let’s have a little chat about co-morbidity, shall we?
Many people with mental health conditions receive multiple diagnoses. I am one of those people! In fact, I have 19 diagnoses total if we include my physical health problems. Co-morbidity is common. According to the ADAA, almost half of people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are also diagnosed with depression.
I live with Bipolar Disorder. I’m also diagnosed with severe anxiety (along with OCD, PTSD, and an eating disorder.) My illnesses work together to make my brain a very difficult and complicated place. I’d like to say “a living hell,” but then you’d think that I was being negative, that life was all bad, and that I need an attitude adjustment. This is not the case. I’m actually very happy. I lead a very full life and have endless gratitude these days. This does not negate my mental illness, nor do lifestyle factors (I understand that they help some. For me, that is not the case. That’s a post for another day. You see, mood and emotion aren’t the same thing. When my moods are “elevated,” which really just means more energized, that energy could go either way. It could display as extreme anxiety, dysphoric hypomania that makes me want to crawl out of my skin OR as absolute euphoria. When I’m depressed, that energy is lessened significantly. It’s disproportionate. At my worst, at age 14, I didn’t leave my house for three months, save for the times that I’d leave to go for a run in the dark (I’m a runner and when I am depressed, I continue to run but it does not improve my mood or energy levels, go figure.) I just cried uncontrollably and ceased to function.
As for my anxiety? It’s been with me for my entire life. A dear old friend, oh yes, just dear (please tell me that you’re sensing my sarcasm here.) Same goes for my OCD. I showed symptoms as early as my toddler years. My symptoms were very visible and clearly impacted my life, but I didn’t receive help until I was a teenager (post depressive episode at age 14.)
So, what’s it like when the depression and anxiety hash it out?
Think about it. They have pretty opposite symptoms sometimes – they’re bound to fight. The urgency of anxiety and the thick, dark fog of depression that does not allow you to think clearly or function properly. The depression causes body aches. Your depression makes you a slug and it seems that wherever you go, you leave a slimy trail behind. You can feel it on your back. You are dragging and dragging through the fog, with a sticky black tar trail attempting to dry and glue you to the ground.
But you have things to do. You need to do them NOW, says your anxiety. You need to do them RIGHT.
You’re a foggy-minded slug that is in a brutal amount of pain, your energy level is moot, and you can’t quite comprehend (literally – your brain has reduced itself to a fizzling, tiny dot) how to participate in any of the human activities that you’re supposed to participate in, and your anxiety is standing there SCREAMING at the top of its lungs:
YOU NEED TO DO THIS
YOU NEED TO DO IT RIGHT
MAKE THE PHONE CALL
THEY DON’T LIKE YOU
NO ONE LIKES YOU
YOUR FRIENDS ARE MAD AT YOU
THEY THINK YOU’RE A FAILURE
NO ONE WANTS TO BE AROUND YOU
YOU F*CKING SLUG
The screams spook you because you have anxiety. Sometimes, in defense, your body temporarily paralyzes you. Sometimes, you shake. Some of us even puke or pass out.
When that anxiety paralyzes you, you’re even more incapable. You cannot move. You cannot think. You cannot see straight. you can’t do the thing that you need to do. If you’re like me, you struggle to breathe sometimes when you’re having a panic attack. Then…you feel terrible for not being able to do the thing. This feeds into your depression. The scoreboard reads “Anxiety: 0:1. Depression: 0:1.”
Let me reiterate here that it isn’t all bad. Through treatment, I have learned how to navigate these symptoms. Again, I lead a very full life and I have a very positive internal dialogue. I’m careful what I let enter my mind. I’ve learned to identify what thoughts are mine and which are intruders that have been sent by my mental illnesses. I have learned to use my own healthy voice to talk myself through them. Some days, though, the battle remains. It’s brutal and it’s ugly. On those days, all that I can do is treat myself with compassion and get through the day. I’m writing this because I know that I’m not the only one with this WWE fight going on in my head. There are a lot of other people out there going through the exact same thing. I want you to know that I see you and that I’m sending you all of the love in the world.