Mental Health Awareness: Living with Significant Mental Illness

Today, I’m linking up with Vicky’s mental health linky for Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. As regular readers will know, I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness for years. My original diagnosis was adjustment disorder, because I had landed in a psychiatric crisis when living indpendently and just didn’t meet the criteria for depression. My parents joke that I just didn’t wake up at the right time, because my doctor told me when I had sleep disturbances, that they weren’t typical of depression. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t clinically depressed.

Then came impulse control disorder NOS, which was basically an extension of the adjustment disorder I suppose, except that it reflected just my behaviors and not my moods.

In 2010, I was diagnosed wit dissociative identity disorder and PTSD. I want to tell anyone with a diagnosis of PTSD that it’s not a life sentence. I had a mild case as far as the regular symptoms were concerned (I also had symptoms of complex PTSD, and still do). EMDR treatment was suggested a few times, which can be very effective. However, because I had such a mild version of PTSD, the symptoms lessened to the point where I no longer needed the diagnosis with a lot of talking about my traumatic experiences. I later found out that talking and talking on about your trauma under a therapist’s guidance until it doesn’t hurt as much anymore may in fact be effective in people not responding ot EMDR. I don’t know the specifics of this therpay, which is called imaginary exposure, and I didn’t get any formal form of treatment for the PTSD myself.

As for the DID, I have or had a mild version of that too, probably more dissociative disorder NOS, and was able to hide the symptooms when people weren’t accepting of them anymore. There are many people, mostly peers, who believe my diagnosis of DID was incorrect. As for my therapist, she changed it to borderline personality disorder and feels this includes mild versions of DID too, so that I don’t need an additional diagnosis.

What is it like living with a mental illness? Well, for me, it is one confusing experience. I am very suggestible and have a poor sense of self. This means that I absorb many emotions from other people, and yet I do not know how to handle these emotions. I can have rapidly shifting, dramatic mood swings. One momnet, I’m fine; the next, i’m raging. Then again, my definition of “fine” is probably not the same as a currenlty mentally healthy person’s, because I’m always somewhat anxious and/or depressed.

Borderline personality disorder often co-occurs with other disorders. I have no additional diagnoses (other than autism, which I don’t consider a psychiatric disorder), but I could likely have been diagnosed with a range of disorders if this would make a difference. As I said, I have dissociative symptoms. I also have suffered from chronic, low-grade depressive moods since my teens, and likely had what is now called disruptive mood dysregulation disorder as a child. I also have some level of anxiety and used to have quite bad obsessive-compulsive symptoms in my teens and early twenties. They however went away witout treatment when I was hospitalized, so were likely a response to stress. Same with many of my somatic symptoms.

There is treatment for most of my mental health symptoms. In fact, I have improved a great deal over the years. That doesn’t mean my mental illness can be cured. I strive for recovery, which means living a meaningful life in spite of my mental illness.

Living a meaningful life, for clarity’s sake, does not necessarily mean not needing mental health support. It is a common misconception, which I fight even with my therapist, that needing less support is the ultimate measure of quality of life. I, for one, am likely to need support for the rest of my life. This doesn’t mean I can’t find joy or even happiness. I find joy in my hobbies, which include blogging, crafting and reading. I find happiness through my relationship with my husband. I do still have significant mental health problems, and I won’t say they don’t limit me. Then again, I’m more limited by the idea that needing less support is more important than feeling better.

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