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Are You Mentally Ill? Am I?

Although not in the medical field, medical topics fascinate this author. Liz urges folks with any medical issues to see their doctors.

What Is Mental Illness?

Who, exactly, qualifies under this banner? Surprisingly, it’s not rare, nor is it only the wild shooter out on a rampage that ends in suicide, or “suicide by police.” That’s only the more severely affected, and the news media is ever eager to jump on the sensational stories. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is their motto and m.o.

When a person loses it completely, and ‘goes off the deep end,’ there have usually been plenty of clues; it’s just that the average person doesn’t know how to spot the danger signs. Hence, you have the surprised and horrified neighbors remembering, “…they were such a nice, quiet family…”

Still waters run deep. This may be a trite and overworked expression, but it is true. Those who struggle with being open, and discussing problems and issues, or their own emotional distress, are the ones liable to blow. You can only “stuff” things like that for so long before it has a negative effect on both your body and your psyche.

In this piece, I speak from my own experience with some of these conditions, and the treatment I have found helpful. I've also relied upon research, and accounts both in the news media and from acquaintances.

There Are Many Components to Mental Illnesses

Anxiety causes much discomfort within the self, as well as with others

Anxiety causes much discomfort within the self, as well as with others

Emotions Are Powerful Things!

Our emotions cannot be separated from our physical bodies. Remember: Mr. Spock is a Vulcan, and Vulcans are a fictitious race of people. We humans do not so easily take up such an even-tempered, logical outlook on life with its humps and hollows.

Stress Used to Be a Useful Thing

Back in the days when we lived in caves, and perhaps had to out-run or outsmart dangers such as saber-toothed tigers, it was all about raw emotion. Anything that could eat us was dangerous.
That sets off the fight-or-flight response, releasing a mix of preparatory chemicals (specific hormones) into our bloodstreams. This internal cocktail gave us temporary extra boosts of speed or strength to help us survive.

Sadly, our emotions, and emotional response to stressors, have not evolved as quickly as our modern society. Therefore, when we have a cranky, picky boss at work, the primitive parts of our brain and nervous system sends that same chemical soup into action.

However, since it is not considered the done thing to whack the boss with a tree limb, we are left figuratively ‘stewing in our own juices.’ Running away would equally cause loss of the job; so, robbed of their original purpose, the adrenaline, and other stress hormones are left to wreak havoc upon our physical and mental selves.

Built up over time, repetitive episodes like this start to harm us. We could get an ulcer; have a heart attack or stroke; or simply become so distraught and distracted that we could walk right in front of a moving car because we were so worked up we were not paying attention to our surroundings.

What Are Those Stress Hormones?

The National Institute for Health gives an in-depth discussion of the various stress hormones, and their effects on the body and mind.

The article is fairly technical in nature, being more oriented toward the medical profession, but it has valuable information nonetheless.

A Wide Range of Disorders

Mental illness is many things, ranging from the mild to the severe. The reference manual for professionals in the field is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM (now in its 5th printing). This book is a good 2 inches thick, and represents over 10 years of research and input by professionals around the globe. The first edition came out in 1952, and the volumes have gotten progressively thicker as more nuances of various disorders were classified, and as new ones were included.

The fact that new disorders have been added is a good thing, because previously, the people afflicted led very difficult lives without recognition of their problem as a medical issue. Hence, they had no recourse to any kind of assistance or treatment. These include the range of severity on the autism spectrum for example. Some sufferers have a very mild form, and are able to function in society at a very high level, while others are barely able to even speak or make eye contact. There are so many sub-groups of this particular disorder that I won’t even try to mention them, as it would be an entire article in itself, and besides, I’m not a psychiatric professional, so am not qualified to discuss them.

In a nutshell, however, nearly every person on the planet has probably suffered at one time or another from a mental illness or disorder of some form; the most common of these being anxiety and depression. Both of these often go hand in hand, working together to make us feel miserable. When these two conditions become chronic and severe, so that self-help no longer works, it is time for the medical team to step in.

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Read More From Patientslounge

Anxiety and depression are the two most common types of mental illness, from which nearly everyone suffers or has suffered at some point in their lives; of course, there are varying degrees of severity here, as well.

Learning Disorders

I was surprised to discover that my lack of ability to understand and grasp mathematical reasoning is actual classified in the DSM 5 as a 'specific learning disorder with impairment in mathematics..' Wow! I even have a code: "DSM-5 diagnostic code 315.1.

It did not help one little bit that a 4th grade teacher I had should have sought a different profession; addressed in my article on homework. I struggled greatly, and continue to do so in many areas involving numbers, including occasional errors in my checkbook, which is never a good thing.

In addition to my lack of skill in calculations, I am also somewhat dyslexic where numbers are concerned. Dyslexia is the tendency to see or perceive things backwards, such as reading 'saw' for 'was.'

In numbers, it affects me with a tendency to transpose digits, seeing $1.89 instead of $1.98, for example. This is where I get into trouble with the checkbook now and then!

You’d Be Surprised…

…very surprised indeed if I were to lay a wager that you, dear reader, are very likely to have a mental illness. I know I do. Yes, that’s right; I’m ‘coming out’ and owning it. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for many years now, and have only in the last 2 years been able to access treatment.

Most disorders are due to some kind of chemical imbalance in the brain. Anxiety and depression though, can be temporary, and situational, meaning that you become anxious and depressed due to something that has happened in your life, but feel better once whatever it was has been resolved.

However, if the situation does not resolve, and the anxiety and depression become chronic, this can lead to changes in the brain, making it not so easy to recover.

The thing that makes it so difficult to understand, and has people reacting with shock and surprise to learn that a neighbor is mentally ill, is that this is an invisible disability. Sufferers look perfectly normal, and may function in their jobs and at home just fine; or, they may not. But you cannot, as the old adage says, judge a book by its cover.

What Is Anxiety?

The short version is: anxiety is constantly worrying about things over which you have no control. That “crossing the bridge before you come to it,” scenario; always worried about all the dreadful things that could go wrong (but probably won’t).

Of course, it is not a literal bridge, but any life event you may be anticipating (or dreading). Happy occasions can cause as much stress, sometimes more, than sad or scary ones. Look no farther than the stressed-out bride-to-be as she juggles all of the details in planning her wedding.

Maybe it’s not such a happy time, but a time when you lost a job, and had trouble finding another; or the death of a parent or other relative, or even of a beloved pet.

All are anxiety-producing events.

The Bride:

  • What if I can’t find just the perfect dress?
  • What if my dress isn’t ready on time?
  • What if I catch a cold?
  • What if I trip and fall walking down the aisle?
  • What if no one comes to my wedding?
  • What if the caterer runs out of food?

Being Fired:

  • That wasn’t fair! I didn’t deserve to be sacked!
  • What if I can’t find a new job?
  • What if my resume isn’t good enough?
  • What if my old boss gives me a lousy report for references?
  • What if I go broke and become homeless?
  • What if I get in an accident, and I don’t have insurance anymore?

A Death in the Family:

  • Oh, my gosh—I really loved my sister, but the last time we spoke, we argued! I never got to apologize; what if she died still mad at me?
  • My father was my mentor and best friend; now I’m drifting in the world—what if I never find myself again?
  • Oh, I can’t believe my dog died—we’ve been together since I was 8. What if I’d gone to college closer to home—he might still be with me.

Too Many Imaginary Problems

What if…what if…what if … the list of anxiety-producing ‘what ifs’ is nearly endless, and can be very stressful. The personality who habitually lives in the world of ‘what if,’ is an excellent candidate for chronic anxiety, and falling into depression. No matter what happens, they are never happy, for they are too busy worrying.

“What ifs” are so counterproductive that my karate instructor will not answer those questions, because it can derail the entire class session, as more and more students chime in with their own imagined scenarios.

As a child, my younger daughter was guilty of this, to the point of earning the nickname of "iffer-sniffer." And yes, to this day, with a family of her own, she's had several bouts with anxiety and panic attacks. It's not a funny thing: one such incident put her in the emergency room, convinced she was having a heart attack. Nope; just anxiety.