Let the conversation begin.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to Kaitlyn Fischer, a volunteer LGBTQA+ Mental Health Advocate & Blogger for Hope Xchange, for bravely sharing her story about her own mental illnesses and the symptoms she experiences.
As someone who lives with numerous mental illnesses — Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) — for me, the hidden symptoms of my mental illnesses are often worse than the obvious ones. This is because the noticeable symptoms are just that: noticeable.
People compile these symptoms in a list and assign a label to them without a second thought. They are easily identified. But, the symptoms that my mind and body hide are the most dangerous for me because they aren't talked about as often. They are overlooked, dismissed, mislabeled, and not taken seriously. Yet, these symptoms eat away at me, affecting every minute of my day. These symptoms are ones that need to be spoken about and viewed as just as valid as any obvious symptoms are.
Symptom #1: Forgetfulness
First on this list for me is forgetfulness. I will have days where I simply can't remember anything. I will forget everything. Did I eat breakfast? Did I put my laundry in the dryer? Did I speak to someone that day? I'll often get so overwhelmed that I'll walk into a room and forget what I needed. I begin composing an email and then forget what why I was writing it. There have been days where I forgot an entire list of things and it's not because I was distracted or didn't care — it's simply because I just couldn't remember.
Symptom #2: Inability to Concentrate
This applies to concentrating as well. For example, I have spent the last hour trying to sit down and write this post only to forget what I was trying to write because I was worrying about other things. My mind is always running a mile a minute and focusing on a million things, so getting me to sit down for one specific purpose has proved difficult on numerous occasions. I'm still checking my email as I type this out because I'm worried that I'll miss an important message – thanks, anxiety.
Symptom #3: Sudden Mood Changes
Another difficult thing for me is difficulty handling my emotions. I will often get so upset over the smallest of things; like if I accidentally misspoke, if the ink from my pen smears on the paper as I write, if I forget to send a text and so on. It's not something that I choose to feel or actively want to feel, but it just happens. And, instead of it being understood as a symptom of mental illness, it is often categorized as being moody or difficult when that isn't the case at all.
While on the topic of moods, changing emotions during the worst times is a common occurrence for me and I suspect many others (I’m not alone in feeling this?). I'll often be sitting with a group of friends, laughing one second and then feeling like sobbing the next. I also find myself being irritable, which is something that I often apologize for simply because I don't realize it until after the fact.
Symptom #4: Nausea and Loss of Appetite
Nausea and loss of appetite are things that bother me and many people I know as well. I have a friend who was so nervous and engulfed by anxiety about her first day of work that she spent the entire day sick and couldn't eat anything from morning until night. This is an occurrence that affects me a lot, too. I will often get so anxious about something that all I can do is feel nauseous and struggle to breathe. Even if it's not a major event that I am worried about, my anxiety always hypes it up to feel that way. Meetings, conferences, phone calls, even emails can often feel like an insurmountable obstacle.
Symptom #5: Insomnia
Insomnia is a common symptom of depression and other mental illnesses, which is something that I know all too well. The inability to sleep is something that haunts me. I can't count how many nights I have spent staring at my bedroom ceiling simply because I couldn't get my mind to shut off. Thoughts, memories, worries, and over-analyzing situations and conversations spin through my head on repeat like a record player with no plug to pull to silence it all. I once went a period of six months where I never slept more than six hours a night, which was usually a low three or four.
Symptom #6: Difficulty Handling Emotion
Unexplained crying spells used to be a rare occurrence for me, but they happen more and more often when my stress intensifies. I've burst out crying simply because the shirt I wanted to wear wasn't clean (because I forgot to wash it) and because I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off in the morning. Little things that wouldn't normally have an impact on someone's everyday life can really get to me during high stress times, which is something that no one really tells you about mental illness.
Symptom #7: Depression and Feelings of Worthlessness
Withdrawal from friends and family is something that is often talked about with depression, but not in the way I experience it. I was told that depression can cause someone to enjoy time with their family and friends less or possibly be less engaging in their day to day lives, but I was never told that I would feel unworthy of them.
No one explained to me that my mental illnesses can convince me that I shouldn't be in their lives because I'm “damaged” or “broken” or simply not “normal” like them, which is the reason why I find myself distancing myself from those close to me out of fear that they'll eventually leave because I'm not good enough for them to stay. It's very isolating to have your own mind telling you that you do not deserve love and respect, simply because you struggle with something that they do not.
Symptom #8: Physical Discomfort
Headaches, chest pains and other random aches are a symptom of mental illness that I wasn't aware of until recently. I suffer from chronic migraines, which are almost always triggered by my anxiety and stress. They often leave me in serious pain for days at a time, unable to work or be involved with the rest of the world and I never knew why until lately. I also experience chest pains and tightness, which have affected me during various scenarios in my life. I had a job interview a few months ago and could barely breathe the entire time because my chest felt like it was being weighed down and my throat felt like it was swelling shut. No one ever warned me about that.
What Are Your Hidden Symptoms?
Not knowing how to feel is something that I deal with pretty frequently. Something will happen or a new opportunity will open up and rather than celebrating, I find myself stressing out and striving to be absolutely perfect for even the smallest of things when I don't have to be. I'll often sit back and look at my life and wonder if I'm doing as well as I could be and if I'm even happy where I am, despite the fact that I tell my friends and family that I am.
It's confusing to ask yourself whether or not the enthusiasm you're practicing is real. I have had to remind myself that being content is okay, being happy is okay and finding room for improvement is okay too.
What are your hidden symptoms? No matter what your hidden symptoms may be, I think that it's important that you all know that your mental illnesses are valid. Your mental illness may not own you, but you can own it.
Post a comment below if you'd like to share your hidden symptoms.