As I sit in the comfort of my boyfriends apartment I think, what a great day. I’m feeling good. I’m looking through my assignments for university, deconstructing task sheets and creating detailed study plans for the semester. You know, the stuff I love to do.
And I’m feeling great. So when I begin to lose concentration, feel the familiar nausea creeping up my constricting throat, become unnaturally hot and sweaty and have an uncontrollable tremor in my hands I think “Oh shit. I have a stomach bug again.”
And when I realise that’s not true, I believe it is an undiagnosed illness that has come and gone since I was 13.
And when I realise that’s not true, I wonder if the tiny amount of dairy in my hot chocolate is enough to send my lactose-intolerant stomach into this state.
What would it take, I wonder, to make me recognise these symptoms as part of an illness all too familiar to me? General Anxiety Disorder.
Google. Google is what it took.
It may seem silly to not recognise a panic attack when it occurs, yet after years of therapy I’ve found that the emotional side of it all has become quite insignificant at times. And that leads me to wonder, are mood disorders really as emotion focused as they are made out to be?
Of course what separates mood disorders from physical illnesses is the distinct shift in mood and behaviour, yet the predominant attitude I have faced is that they are a purely mental condition. But that’s just not the case.
Shall I explain?
Yesterday (when I started this post) I experienced intense nausea, hot flushes, and abdominal discomfort. I later noticed a serious tremor in my hands, which spread to my whole body making it difficult to walk. My throat had swollen and made people believe I was suffering an asthma attack from my difficulty breathing. The emotional symptoms? Dread, and some fear. Today I have found myself with the same symptoms, add a sever weakening of muscles, an intense dizziness and the fun abdominal cramping I’m facing right now. And the same couple of emotional symptoms.
But yeah, sure, it’s all in my head.
And this is important to distinguish because it is not Anxiety whispering sweet nothings into my ear that makes me disfunctional in my daily activities, but whatever Anxiety slipped me to make my mind go numb and my body weak.
I can tell myself that I WILL pass university, and that I WILL be successful in life. But how does that help the overwhelming sickness? The headache? The trembling hands that can’t right notes?
By treating mood disorders as if they are only mood, we limit ourselves in our treatment. We dismiss some of the most damaging symptoms. And we perpetuate this attitude that it’s all about thinking differently. I don’t know about you, but if I can have panic attacks without particular feeling panicky because I’m so good at the counter talk, we’re clearly missing something.