When Juggling Chronic Illness and Mental Health Becomes a Full-Time Job
Over the years, I have become a prime example of how your physical health affects your mental health and vice versa. I was diagnosed with both depression and anxiety in middle school and being forced to juggle both, I couldn't see how life could get any harder- until it did. About a year after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I developed a chronic illness known as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS. POTS has a number of different symptoms including tachycardia (fast heart rate), dizziness, fainting, shakiness, gastrointestinal issues, brain fog, and more. Being diagnosed with these illnesses at the young age of 14 was life-altering. To make a long story short, I had to be removed from high school during my freshman year (thankfully, I returned sophomore year). I suffered, and continue to suffer from, countless fainting episodes (which almost always result in a concussion). On top of that, the POTS severely impacted my mental health; I went from being an almost perfectly healthy 13-year-old to spending months in the PICU in less than a year.
I've been dealing with my illnesses for about seven year now and, in a way, things have gotten better. But one thing I've come to realize over the years is that my physical health immensely impacts my mental health and subsequently, my mental illness also greatly affects my physical health. When my POTS flares up and I have fainting spells, my depression gets worse. My anxiety increases for fear of another episode. However, when I'm struggling in the depths of my depression or I'm not managing my anxiety, my POTS gets worse. This cycle goes on and on and it is difficult to control. For awhile, I felt like my body was controlling me when I should be controlling it.
Because of my illnesses, I, like many other people with this condition, have a difficult time going to school and/or work. Managing my health, both physical and emotional, is my full-time job. Trust me, I would love to be at my dream university with my friends by my side, but I can't achieve my dreams if I don't take care of myself.
Taking medication to help me manage my POTS and mental illnesses are vital in order for me to stay stable. I also have to be mindful and take in a lot of extra salt and fluids to help me manage some other symptoms brought on by POTS. However, I must also engage in rigorous behavioral therapy, both individual and group, to manage my mental illnesses. Like I mentioned before, when one health problem flares up, so does the other. It has been extremely important for me to take care of my illnesses if I want to stay healthy and out of the hospital.
Juggling these illnesses has been nowhere near easy and there is no doubt in my mind that had I not developed my POTS, my depression would not have spiraled out of control the way that it did. While my POTS was not triggered by any emotional issues, I know that if I stop managing one illness, the other ones rear their ugly heads out and will start to control my life once more.
As crazy as it may seem, my illnesses aren't as bad as others with these illnesses. I can still function and walk without needing a wheelchair, I was able to still play sports in high school (despite fainting several times), I'm not bed-bound, and I can still function like a normal young adult. Unfortunately, because it's hard to tell that I have these illnesses unless I'm face down on the ground, many people don't realize just how hard I have to fight to stay on my feet- literally. I do, however, believe that if I did not have these illnesses (as awful as they are) I wouldn't be as strong as I am today. I wouldn't be so passionate about ending the stigma around mental illnesses and invisible disabilities and I definitely wouldn't be a writer. Writing got me through numerous hospitalizations and helped me to express how difficult it has been to deal with my illnesses.
Like I mentioned before, as much as I wish I could be at school or working, my health is currently my full-time job. So for now, I'll just work on me, for me, and I'll keep working so that one day, I can accomplish my dreams.