Googling symptoms and believing you have a medical problem: A look into Hypochondria

Hypochondriasis is as covert and confounding as ever. Regarded as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) it is defined as “preoccupation with fears of having, or the idea that one has, a serious disease, based on a misinterpretation of bodily symptoms or to put it simply, you know how you google a symptom you’ve been experiencing and suddenly everything leads to cancer?; a constant, uncontrollable paranoia of it is what hypochondria is.

Jeff Pearlman, a revered American sports writer accounted his experiences with hypochondria in his article for Psychology Today. Here is an excerpt of it:

I know I am dying, because, well, I just know. I’m certain of it. I can feel it.

That pain on the left side of my stomach still hasn’t gone away. It’s been there for eight or nine months now. The ultrasound came up negative. So did the CT scan, the MRI and the colonoscopy.

“It’s probably nothing,” said one doctor.

“You likely pulled a muscle,” said another.

“I’d ignore it,” advised a third.

They are wrong. I know they are wrong. So, with nowhere else to turn, I seek out reassurance. “What do you think my stomach pain is?” I ask. “Do you think I’m OK?”

Eyes roll. “You’re fine,” my father says. “You’re fine,” my mother says. “You’re fine,” my sister-in-law says.

“You’re 37 years old. You run marathons. You play basketball every Monday. You’ve never even broken a bone,” my wife says. “You’re fine.”

I don’t believe them. I can’t believe them. I refuse to believe them. I wish I could believe them.

This is what it is to be a hypochondriac—what it is to live a life too often based upon the raw, carnal fear of inevitable, forthcoming, around-the-bend death. Though I was only recently diagnosed with the disorder, it has plagued me for more than a decade. Over the past 10 years, I have been convinced that I am dying of (in no particular order): brain cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer, lung cancer, neck cancer, Lyme disease. When one ailment is dismissed by doctors, I inevitably rush to the Internet to learn why they are wrong. What? I don’t have colon cancer? Then it must be….”

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 [Image Courtesy: https://www.instagram.com/crazyheadcomics/]

In general most of us are concerned with our health. Any small injury or physical pain becomes a source for our discomfort. With the rise of information availability on the internet, many of us have started the trend of self-diagnosing ourselves. “Self-diagnosing” is an increasing phenomenon wherein any small physical symptom will lead us to believe that we have a major health issue. However what sets hypochondria apart, is the constant fear of having or the idea that one has a disease. Hypochondriacs face clinically significant distress and may often feel a lack in social, occupational or other areas of functioning. Despite  medical reassurances and multiple clinical diagnosis, such people continue be preoccupied with the disbelief of suffering from a serious illness.

Hypochondriasis is a serious condition which has more of a psychological basis than a physical one. Hypochondria can take a huge toll on an individual’s well-being and mental health as a preoccupation with the idea that one’s physical health is on the verge of constant deterioration can prove to be a major source of stress and anxiety.

“The brain is so powerful that it really can convince itself of illness,” says Caroline Goldmacher-Kern, a New York-based psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. “You know something is wrong because you believe what you’re thinking, and what you’re thinking is what you perceive to be feeling. So you can have five people tell you it’s all in your mind and that’s not good enough.”

The basis for the symptoms of hypochondriasis lie mainly in the preoccupation with one’s health, primarily physical. Incidents like reading an article or hearing about a particular disease can lead to misinterpretation and cause hypochondriacal thoughts. The state with these symptoms is considered as a disorder when the concern of being healthy causes distress and overt clinical disorder.

According to the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-4), some of the criteria for hypochondriasis are as follows:

  1. Preoccupation with fears of having, or the idea that one has, a serious disease based on the person’s misinterpretation of bodily symptoms.
  2. The preoccupation persists despite appropriate medical evaluation and reassurance.
  3. The preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  4. The duration of the disturbance is at least 6 months.

2[Image Courtesy: https://in.pinterest.com/pin/861383866206448155/]

Under the new 5th edition of DSM (DSM-5), hypochondriasis has been redefined as ‘Illness Anxiety Disorder’ which falls under the disorder class of ‘somatic symptoms and other related disorders’. Somatic symptom and related disorders are mental health disorders characterized by an intense focus on physical (somatic) symptoms that cause significant distress and/or interferes with daily functioning. Individuals with this condition may or may not have diagnosed medical conditions, but no serious disease is present in most cases. If a medical condition is present, the person displays anxiety around the illness that is clearly excessive. This new definition drops the idea of the fear of having a physical illness. It is rather the preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness.

The new definition focuses more on the anxiety surrounding the illness rather than the fear of it. People with illness anxiety disorder usually do not have physical symptoms, or if symptoms are present, they are mild. However, these mild symptoms may cause a great deal of anxiety. A doctor’s reassurance and even a complete medical evaluation often will not calm the person’s fears. Or, if it does calm them, other worries may emerge later.

To simplify the idea, illness anxiety disorder is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD) to some extent, wherein the centre of obsessive behaviour is the idea or a thought of illness which causes people to compulsively do things to reduce the anxiety they feel due to this obsession. These activities include browsing for medical information, regularly visiting the doctor and so on.

The symptoms as per DSM-5 for illness anxiety disorder include:

  1. Preoccupation with having or developing a serious illness
  2. Absence of physical symptoms or, if present, symptoms are mild
  3. Behaviour indicating health anxiety, such as checking for signs of illness
  4. Easy alarm about medical problems; persistent fear despite medical reassurance
  5. Overuse or underuse medical care.
  6. Clinical distress or functional impairment
  7. The patient has been preoccupied with illness for ≥ 6 months, although the specific illness feared may change during that time period.

Individuals with hypochondriasis and illness anxiety disorder are usually apprehensive of approaching a psychologist as they fear that people view the medical symptoms as “all in your head.” Nonetheless, a combination of support and care from the primary care doctor along with psychotherapy (when it is acceptable to the patient can be helpful. Another helpful procedure can be stress management. Learning how to cope with the stress of your health can result in significant benefits. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy(CBT), which is one of the most common form of therapies can help individuals realize what triggers their anxieties or fears with regards to their health and how it can be reduced through meaningful procedures. Nonetheless, hypochondriasis and illness anxiety disorder are still not considered to be serious mental health issues. Many people spend their entire lives not knowing they had such mental health problems. They fear that “it’s all in your head” would be frequently used to ignore their concerns. Awareness and changes in the perception towards such illness can prove to be beneficial to the well-being of all.

If you do think you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then do not hesitate in reaching out for help. There are solutions available and you are not alone in facing this and rightly shouldn’t be.

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[Image Courtesy: https://m.imgur.com/gallery/mp2qoTh]

To know more about Illness Anxiety Disorder and its treatment, read the following articles:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/illness-anxiety-disorder-a-to-z

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/conditions/illness-anxiety-disorder

To know more about Hypochondria, read the following articles:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201001/hypochondria-the-impossible-illness

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/life-after-50/201703/hypochondria

References:

[1] Pearlman, J. (2010, January 1). Hypochondria: The Impossible Illness. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 9, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201001/hypochondria-the-impossible-illness

[2]Harvard Health Publishing. (2019, March). Illness Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved May 9, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/illness-anxiety-disorder-a-to-z

[3]Bidaki, R., Mahmoudi, M., Khalili, B., Abedi, M., Golabbakhsh, A., Haghshenas, A., … Mirhosseini, S. M. (2015). Mismanagement of a hypochondriacal patient. Advanced biomedical research, 4, 24. Retrieved May 9, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4333438/

Of Songs and Anxiety

Sometimes, words fail me.

Allow me to digress for a bit. I love words and I love writing, that is the best way I communicate how I’m feeling and it makes the most comfortable medium for me to get my thoughts out. I dabble a lot in poetry and particularly love expressing spectrums of emotions and articulating them the right way to convey exactly what I want to, to people. However, when the same words sometimes don’t really fit together, don’t really weave themselves into what I want them to, what I want people to understand from them, all I’m left with is this frustrating pit of annoyance and helplessness with myself that I’ve somehow failed. And, for me, most of the time, these conversations happen to be on mental health. People don’t understand unless you communicate well, that much I’ve learnt. But what use is it if you can’t get what has been bothering you in your head, out? How do you make people take a look at all the swirling thoughts in your head and somehow hope that they’d understand what you’re feeling?

So, I suppose sometimes, words seem to fail me.

Or maybe I’ve yet to learn how to place them correctly.

Most of the frustrating moments for anyone battling mental health issues come with trying to make the person they’re talking to understand what they’re feeling. And what people have to realise is that it’d hard, incredibly hard to talk about it, to start a conversation. There will never be a right way to start, a right way to manoeuvre through the feelings and all that comes out is stuttered words spit out after being tongue-tied for so long. And hope. Hope that they understand, that the other person makes sense of the words, to relate, to empathise. And if the other person has dealt with the same or any other of the same sorts, then they will get it and it takes a big weight off of your shoulders. But when they don’t, all you are left with is this feeling of inadequacy and embarrassment and crushed hope.

We’ve all been there.

So then the question becomes, how do we communicate better? Better yet, how do we make people understand?

I’ve dealt with anxiety for quite a while. And I’ve dealt with trying to make people understand why I’m not all that comfortable being around too many new people, with starting conversations, with making small talk with barely known acquaintances, with why I cancel out on plans quite often. But they don’t understand most of the time. I hope they did try to but I don’t blame them for not “getting it”. Humans are creatures of habit, anything we don’t relate to, we don’t really try too much to understand. But it becomes overwhelming when everyone around me seems to be fine and normal while I’m always freefalling with my stomach in knots and my heart in my mouth even at the mere mention of social interaction or any other thing that might trigger my anxiety. And after every unsuccessful attempt at making others understand, I’m always left with the parting thought of “Why can’t anyone just tell me it’s okay and just let me be” And then I just shut up, giving up to ever try making the oblivious listen.

However, there are people who get it, on the internet. So many support groups and forums are on the rise and I see so many other struggling with the same issues relating to each other’s experiences and finding relief in each other. It’s a big leap and one that is much needed yet while it’s comforting to find people who finally know what you feel like and are going through, the bigger picture still remains blurry.

Coming to the main point of discussion, during one of my late night YouTube surfing fun-time, I came across this new song that Julia Michaels had put out. I like her and decided why not take a listen. [Again, the way that music has helped me get through some of my worst days can form another piece on its own]. The song was titled “Anxiety” and I thought, alright then, I’m intrigued, let’s see where this goes. But to be very honest, after the song ended, for the first time ever, I felt like words in my head finally found their place.

It was a very honest, open and vulnerable song on what having anxiety feels like. Suddenly, there I was, sending the song to some who I tried to explain my anxiety to, getting excited that they would finally understand. And they did or at least I think they know better now. Anxiety can take many shapes and forms and is different to all people. This song might not relate to your anxiety but it is a start. And suddenly there I was wondering how much of a gap music can bridge if more songs were to come out openly talking about people’s experiences with mental health issues and emotions. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful artists and bands that are already trying to do the same, I’m a fan of a lot of them yet there is this invisible glass barrier that has to be overcome still to start a dialogue about mental health. Music is a great way to start conversations and nothing would make me happier than to see music and words come together to help people understand the said swirling thoughts that people can’t bring to explain properly by themselves. There is so much potential to help people and I really hope that more artists come out to create incredible music like this and more importantly, that more people are accepting of them.

Every dialogue starts only when the silence breaks. So why not have fun while we’re at it?

Let me know what songs helped you during your hardest days and take a look at the song by the wonderful Julie Andrews as well.

Anxiety- Julia Michaels ft. Selena Gomez.

New Year Resolution: I chose to be happy.

You deserve to be happy because you are alive. You were built to use happiness as a tool to assess the world that surrounds you. It’s in your genes, in your nature, in the way that you have functioned. Happiness is at the core of our experiences – it is as incomprehensible to deny ourselves the feeling as it is to deny ourselves the experience of eating or sleeping or breathing. We are human beings and happiness is a vital part of our survival/living.

 

This time last year, I wasn’t sure who I was or what I was capable of being. I was unsure of how things were going to turn out, was lost and thoughtless. I kept looking for ways to outlive negativity, to hold myself tight, to keep fighting, to never give up and to rise. I was desperate; but patient.

 

Last year, I let go of a lot of things. I let go of the person who I thought was the one for me. I let go of the things that never really belonged with me, held me down and pushed me into the dark. I let go of the pessimism that was brewing in me day in and out and the anxiety and paranoia that devoured me wholly.

 

I realized how busy I was fixing my invisible crown which was always at the hands of those I needed approval from.

 

But, here I am now, stable and no longer hanging off the edge. I can’t assure that this is permanent, but I am going to work on making it one because I believe everything can change and it’s only a matter of time. I believe in the universe and Law of Attraction; what you give is what you receive. I am now fixated on staying positive throughout, negating pessimism, staying low-key, working on myself, not letting my thoughts overcrowd my mind at difficult situations and above all, staying sane with sanctitude.

 

Now I try to explore different arenas, learn from my past experiences and grow into a new individual. It is also quite exhilarating to wonder what challenges you can run into each day.

 

I remind myself of this everyday:

Strive to be the best version of yourself, even if you have to lose certain qualities. 
Strive to make the people you love happy, even if you disappoint them from time to time. 
Strive to achieve what challenges you for the purpose of growing.

 

Love yourself first.

 

-Kirthana Ravi

Bipolar Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association describes Bipolar Disorder as “… brain disorders that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. People with bipolar disorders have extreme and intense emotional states that occur at distinct times, called mood episodes. These mood episodes are categorized as manic, hypomanic or depressive.”

A friend of mine suffering from Bipolar Disorder describes it like this, “If Depression is a dark tunnel, Bipolar Disorder is a rollercoaster which takes you deep inside this tunnel and out of it, over and over again.” As a bystander, it was always an enigma as to what she might be going through. Each Day was a different experience in itself.

Her diagnosis came as a surprise. It was during a low phase in her life when her father, who was a Psychiatrist by profession, broke the news to her. It was almost like it broke her. Her father was as helpless looking at his daughter’s condition as she was in her depression.

Bipolar disorder
• Formerly known as manic depression, it is a condition that affects moods, which can swing from depression to mania
• Symptoms range from overwhelming feelings of worthlessness to feeling very happy and having lots of ambitious plans and ideas
• Each extreme episode can last several weeks
• Treatment includes mood stabilisers which are to be taken every day on a long-term basis, combined with talking therapy and lifestyle changes
Source: NHS

The medicines prescribed for a condition like this are called mood stabilizers. When you’re ecstatic, they lower your mood and when you’re deep in depression, they lift you up. The latter sounds like a good idea, making you feel better when you’re in a state of depression,  but when you’re ecstatic why would you want to suppress ?

Well, it’s because if you don’t take your medicines when you’re happy, they don’t work when you’re sad. Sounds complicated right? Imagine dealing with this every single day and convincing yourself that that medication is important for you. And that’s not even the main problem. You wake up every morning not knowing how you’re going to feel. You only wish for the mania to last but all good things come to an end and so do your happy days. One day you’re on cloud nine – all smiles, extremely productive and enthusiastic and the very next day, the light seems to fade away, you lose your will to get out of bed and who once seemed like an extremely positive person turns into negative and introverted shunning everything.

I saw my friend during her highs and I saw her during her lows. It was almost like she was a different person in a matter of weeks. As well-wishers, we always encouraged her to take her medicines but a certain question of hers always intrigued me – “If I need medicines to be normal then is it truly my normal?”

Bipolar Disorder is not when your mood changes each day, it occurs in phases i.e. a gradual process where each stage seems  to be stable for a while before shifting. The two extreme phases i.e. mania and depression could last several weeks or a few months before the shift happens and when it does, you get absorbed in it. Doctors do say that between the two extremes, comes a time which can be stated to be emotionally balanced but one cannot seem to decide when that happens. By the end of the day, you are left in an emotional turmoil, indeterminate and confused.

Problems like these made me appreciate what it feels like to be mentally healthy and appreciate my mental health more. When we feel low, we might ignore it for a really long time but there comes a point where it is okay to accept that there may be something wrong and seek help. Trust me, running away from something like this is not the better option.

It is difficult to comprehend what people having Bipolar disorder go through. That is why it is important to listen to their experiences. Let us look at one such young woman diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and how she is spreading awareness about her condition through art.

Missy Douglas and Bipolar Disorder
Missy Douglas was first diagnosed as bipolar aged 19 when she was studying art history at the University of Cambridge. She said it finally joined the dots as to why she often felt withdrawn and melancholic, or precocious and arrogant.

Fed up with keeping her mental health a secret,she spent a year creating a painting each day to express her feelings. Controversially, she decided not to take her medication during this time, in the hope that paintings demonstrating her highs and lows would raise awareness of her condition. The following are some of the paintings from her collection.

Day 177 by Missy Douglas

Day 177. “I was really in a dark place here. I was completely in a depressive phase.”

Day 236 by Missy Douglas

Day 236. “I was burying feelings and my emotions were all over the place. Very turbulent.”

Day 242 - by Missy Douglas (detail)

Day 242. “I was at the height of mania here, but there was a massive wave of white depression heading towards me.”

Day 314 - by Missy Douglas (detail)

Day 314 – Mania. “I was buzzing and everything was technicolor and beautiful. I was flying and felt invincible.”

Day 359 - Christmas Day 2013 - by Missy Douglas (detail)

Day 359 – Christmas Day 2013. “I was feeling very depressed yet I completely compartmentalised and concealed it. The twinkly forced jollity hid the sadness.”

Day 5 by Missy Douglas

Day 5. “I was really anxious, angry and feeling trapped.”

In 2009 Doughlas left the UK and established her own fine art studio and art school in Brussels. Two years later she headed to New York and now spends her time immersed in the creative scenes of Long Island, Queens and further afield in Seattle.

Missy Douglas composition

Image and information source

 Shristi

What it’s like living with depression

When I tell people for the first time that I’m depressed, people ask me the one question that, to this day, stumps me, makes me feel like I just pulled my tongue out of the freezer: ‘why’.

Courtesy : TeenRehab

Now, this question is not entirely strange; depression is a product of many things-from death of a family member, to divorce, to a messy breakup in romantic relationships, perpetual negative reinforcement from parents and society to a bajillion other things- can cause it. But there’s often an expectation that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move the fuck on.

The real horror starts when, you don’t.

Failure is a part of life. Courtesy: osmanpek/Getty Images/iStockphoto

So I’m currently awaiting to determine how severe it is by a professional psychiatrist but I’ve come to understand that I’ve had depression for about eight months now. I can still function fairly normally and do most things expected of me. I can go to college and hold conversations, engage in a classroom and ask the teacher doubts, hold a decent CGPA and, if asked, have a ready answer about what I really want to do with my life.

Under most circumstances, there is no problem but, if you’d indulge me in a little bit of a cheesy sales pitch,

‘Would you want to wake up every day to want nothing more than to just go back to sleep for good? Would you like to feel tired for doing nothing and want nothing more to just have a sharp object so you can kill yourself?’

‘Then, boy oh boy I have the product for you its: depression!’

Depression is not just sadness. It is waking up every day with a heart full of pain for no discernible reason. It’s in the way happiness dies on our face because we are smiling to hide it from those who probably wouldn’t help anyway. It’s constantly, despite your best efforts, feeling completely and utterly useless and that, if you could die tomorrow, no one will give a shit. It’s being unable to feel anything if you can’t feel pain. No joy, no anger, no sadness just, the numb, emotional equivalent of TV static.

When nothing seems to matter. Courtesy: Elite Daily

Touching back on the pain, it’s the kind that feels like you are being eaten from the inside. That makes you a husk that simply cannot be filled. If it goes on long enough, it feels like you could go mad from it. Yet, all of this is discredited when unable to answer the simple question ‘why?’

When I quip and say I didn’t do it, throwing out how it’s possible that the death of three of my grandparents when I was in 12th affected me deeper than I ever let it, most retorts I get include ‘But they were old no?’ or ‘But that was years ago right? Why are you letting that affect you now?’ To this day, I have no idea why I have depression. It’s not something one chooses to have. As I said before, several things could trigger depression and it could manifest itself in many different ways.

To this day, I thought about killing myself several times. I looked at methods from hanging myself, to running a razor across my wrists, to starving myself; the only reason I didn’t was because I didn’t want to make my family unhappy I never attempted suicide yet. But I know I could if things go on like this.

To say that depression isn’t real is like saying one’s emotions aren’t real. Sure, many can’t see them or feel them but they are there. I’m sorry if this post makes you uncomfortable. Or reminds you of feelings that you’d rather forget about but I am telling you how I feel because I think no one deserves to suffer in silence.

 After all, silence is where the demons lie.

Courtesy: https://claudiathewolfgirl.deviantart.com/

–  Siva

LonePack Letters 2018 – We are back !

The wails of suffering emanating from mental health concerns have lasted for ages, yet society has failed to recognize the importance of recognizing mental health issues as a primary health concern and to establish a fantastic infrastructure for treating it. With time, the prevalence of such concerns have only exacerbated.

 

Thus, in 2016, a group of passionate youngsters formed LonePack, a non-profit aimed at combating this very phenomenon. Since then, LonePack has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about mental health issues using a community driven approach, surrounding their motto, “ Shatter the Stigma”. They have been able to do this by working on a set of driven, passionate campaigns, the magnum opus of which was Lonepack Letters in 2017. This year, it is returning to positively affect a larger scale of lives, and hopefully carry on the good fight.

Letters collected for the campaign
Letters collected for the campaign

Lonepack Letters is a campaign based on a couple of principles. The first is the effect of positive dominoes. The positive domino multiplication standard in modern psychology tends to examine the fact that a general positive reaction to anything during any given time of the day only spreads it, with the effects often multiplying in magnitude down the chain. Lonepack Letters involve handing out anonymous positive letters to strangers when they least expect it, reading which brings a smile to your face. That starts a chain of positivity, the success of which has a very high probability. One of the finest ways for everyone to combat mental health is to face positivity. Merry, at its finest, is the unstoppable force denying to accept denial from the rule of any riddle but that of law. And to initialize happiness which only grows in magnitude in a domino effect serves the very purpose of Lonepack Letters. Ease the human mind, combat mental health issues and bring a smile in the process.

LonePack Letters featured in article in the Times of India
LonePack Letters featured in article in the Times of India

The second principle serves as a bigger backbone for Lonepack Letters. Awareness. Every Lonepack Letters envelope comes with the actual letter, along with a formal single page documentation about Lonepack and Lonepack letters, what purpose the campaign serves and how Lonepack wishes the person reading to be more aware about mental health concerns and keep spreading positivity. Not only does this allow people to know about Lonepack and potentially be a part of campaigns further down the line, but also know more about mental health concerns, understanding that they are legitimate issues and needs to be treated the same way. All of this aids in removing the ignorance of larger society about the aforementioned issues, and are steps in the direction of shattering the stigma existing around mental health in modern society.

 

In 2017, Lonepack Letters was conducted in Chennai. We collaborated with various institutions, events and establishments in the city, including DAV  Group  of  schools,  Sathyam  Cinemas,  Ciclo  Cafe,  SRM  MUN,  SSN  College’s  Instincts  as  part  of  this  campaign  which  allowed us  to  reach  over  6000  people. The  feedback  that  we  received  was overwhelming and our campaign was covered by various news outlets, including The New Indian Express and The Times of India..

LonePack Letters Distribution at VIT Chennai
LonePack Letters Distribution at VIT Chennai

In 2018, we intend to increase the effect of Lonepack Letters by increasing the scope of the campaign, collaborating with major companies, more educational enterprises and conducting the campaign in multiple major cities along with Chennai. Lonepack letters is our humble attempt to kick-start a pursuit of happiness while also removing the ignorance surrounding mental health issues. We hope to realize our vision, and succeed at the same.

  • Soumyajyoti Bhattacharya

HIGH FUNCTIONING YET DYSFUNCTIONAL

With 2017 coming to an end, this year saw a lot of debates and discussions about Mental Health issues than ever before. The Mental Health Act was passed this year on April 7th, which decriminalized suicide attempts. However, the world endured a lot of negativity as well. On the other end of the spectrum, this year also saw the rise of the Blue Whale challenge that shook the children of the world and we had to join hands to fight against it. The newspapers also carried headlines of an unprecedentedly large number of suicides, with most of the victims being teenagers and college-goers. And a mammoth of a question remains unanswered – What really pushed them to do this?

Charlie Brown from Peanuts

You see, the students that made it to the headlines this year all seemed to fit a certain profile. All of them were academically well off and had a normal relationship with their friends and family. No visible symptoms of depression or anxiety could be found out, they weren’t looking any different, their daily activities weren’t affected in any way, and all of them seemed normal and as they would every other day. Their suicides came as a big, unpredictable blow to their friends and family since literally nothing pointed to them suffering from any kind of mental health issues or, so they thought.

This observation or the lack of it reveals a darker truth. Most of us aren’t aware of a class of disorders that has now become to be known as “high-functioning” disorders. It is a recent development in the field of psychology and one that has come in a much-needed time.

Anxiety Girl Comic – Courtesy: Chat for Adults with HFA and Aspergers

For those who don’t know what they are, High-functioning disorders are the same as any other mental health disorder that one may suffer from but possess a darker trait, they do not affect your daily life. Psychologists are more worried of the people who suffer from these class of disorders since they are extremely difficult to diagnose. People with high-functioning versions of disorders such as anxiety and depression will not seem any different from a person without the disorders, superficially. They will continue with their normal lives as if nothing affects them at all, their body and brain cope very well with their conditions and as a result, their work and academic lives remain undisturbed. They’re social and active, all smiles and whatnot but on the inside, they’re still suffering and unable reach out to anyone.

For someone who is suffering and looks to the internet first to arrive at some kind of a self-diagnosis, it really doesn’t help when none of the mental health disorders’ so called “symptoms” fit them. Not many articles relating to these high functioning forms of disorders are present even on the internet, which is one of, if not the largest communicative space globally. And hence understandably, not much awareness is present with regard to these issues.

Anxious Overachievers – Courtesy: realbusiness.co.uk

 

However, people, one by one, are now coming forward to share their experiences with high-functioning disorders. This is an article written by a woman who suffers from High-Functioning Anxiety and Depressionhttps://themighty.com/2017/11/high-functioning-anxiety-depression-looks-like/

If you are suffering from not being the best version of yourself and doubt that it could be anxiety or depression or any other issues but experience none of the visible giveaways, do consult a psychologist.

It is never easy to battle these on your own and you shouldn’t either. The world is here to listen and to help. And if you doubt that one of your loved ones is suffering but do not know what to do since they do seem normal to everyone else, sit them down and talk to them. Ask them if they’re doing okay and if not, tell them that you’re there to help them get through this.

Everyone needs a hand sometimes. You could end up saving a life from further suffering because of the lack of awareness. Do your bit and spread the word.

 

-Srivasupradha Ramesh

The Cry of a Shadow

 

Water painting by Agnes Cecile

The wind whipped her hair against her face as she walked towards the edge.

The edge of existence.

Her feet slipped on the wet ground as she walked barefoot.

The storm seemed never ending. Memories flashing before her eyes.

Life is such a fragile thing. She was done with the pretence.

She wanted stability which she was never able to achieve. She fell for it every time jesting herself.

She had prolonged the moment too far. She shivered knowing it was time.

Time to end it all. The hallucinations. The voices in her head. The voices around her.

The perfect life she wished for was a lost dream. She was lost.

The sun was enveloped by the clouds. Oh where was her sunshine? Her ray of hope?

Shattered inside, unable to hold it together anymore. She took her final steps and slipped into oblivion.

As years passed, it was said that

Her spirit still prowls among the hills, searching for lost travelers (of life).

– Yoheswari Devaraj

 

The Degrees Of Depression

Cigarette buds. Substance abuse. Sleeved shirts to shut out speculations about the cause of the scars on your wrists.

Some posts have to be written from the heart. Some posts need not be perfect in  terms of grammar or structure. Some posts need not suffuse the eerie charm that it ought to have held. Some posts are essential nevertheless.

Into the void Source: Fine Art America

I spoke to a friend yesterday. Given the peculiar drop in the level of my conversations over the past six months, I must say that we had a fairly long conversation. We spoke about the bad cripples caused by depression and about the worse cripples caused by a lack of understanding about mental health.

Source: Pinterest

For those who lack awareness, depression is a feigned escape from personal responsibilities. It is a self induced state of mind where a creature is seen to be desperately craving for attention and support for problems that are apparently illusory.

 

Those who are sensible enough to understand that depression, like asthma or cancer is yet another disease plaguing human survival again seem to place themselves at the ends of multiples bifurcations within the common head titled ‘The aware lot’. Majority of the people fall under the sub-head where they visualize depression to be a mental state of mind which holds an ambience equivalent to hell. The insides are layered lavishly in a combination of darkness, sadness, helplessness, tiredness, substance abuse and suicide attempts.

 

The sufferer has been portrayed in a constant state of abuse and is seen to be self harming himself or herself endlessly. There is an abject lack of interest in waking up, doing your daily chores and survival in general.

Is depression hell on earth? Source: grahampeter.co.za/

 

This notion about depression reminds me of a post I read yesterday. The post spoke about feminism and equality. It said that most men when asked to imagine female liberation often visualized a reversal of roles where the woman holds the baton of a chauvinist in place of the male. The post went on to make an interesting observation that a man seems to have either a constraint in terms of imagination or he must be too apprehensive about the repercussions that he would be facing upon the reversal of roles.

 

An ample majority of people have the same limitation when it comes to understanding depression.Unlike the above example where it is completely erroneous to imagine equality along the lines of an inverted power structure, it isn’t completely preposterous to imagine depression as an equivalent to what we could call as the pinnacle of agony. Neither is it completely logical to compare the illness to such an extremity always. To put it simply, like fever, depression too can be measured in degrees. A severed wrist isn’t a mandate when it comes to diagnosing depression. There are less life-threatening yet painful symptoms that could be possible signs of depression.

 

The friend seated next to you with bleary eyes which you assume to be a result of a late night football match. Did you stop for a moment to ask him if he actually enjoys watching soccer? What if he went to bed at 9 pm in the night and fell asleep only at 4? What if it is a routine in his survival?

Source: Chronicles of a lumpy person

The colleague seated opposite your cubicle is unable to control his urge to masturbate. While your gang teases him for being a lecherous asshole, did any of you pause for a moment to contemplate the possibility of it being a serotonin imbalance?

 

Your girlfriend wakes up at 12 am in the night to binge on a packet of chips. She goes on to visit the restroom with two bottles full of water. A few moments later she falls back on bed content that the taste of the chips would linger just in her mouth and not as an additional layer of fat between her thighs. Master plan ain’t it? Or is it one? Have you ever read up on Bulimia ? Have you let those consequences scare you?

 

Source: Girls Gone Strong

Your next door neighbor sleeps ten hours a day. Yet at the mid-morning get together on a warm Sunday, you see him tired. This week. The week before. Two weeks back. Endless loop.  Is he just a sleepy head? A manifestation of Kumbhakarna as his father casually jokes around? Have you ever lost sleep about him? At least towards the fag end of the night when the burden of your suffering has exhausted its share of rants completely? What if maybe, it is hypersomnia? What if he actually wants to be active but isn’t able to?

 

Your own sister sleeping over your shoulder. Perfect job. Dream car. Childhood sweetheart. About to be married. You glance at her every night. A long jealous glance at her thick stock of hair. Her back facing you as she has curled up to sleep on the other side. What if despite this all, there is still a void. A void wrenching the depths of her existence. Dysthymia in medical terms. High functioning depression in layman terms. Wait. You are shocked ain’t you. You can’t believe that depression and high-functioning can be used together except with a punctuation mark separating them.

Source: DeviantArt

Have you ever tried to roll her over to your side? Maybe the tears are flowing down her eyes. Have you even contemplated giving it a single try?

 

I am not trying to say that every person we see might be suffering from mental illnesses irrespective of the magnitude. I am only trying to open your eyes to the possibility that  there is more to a mental illness than the portrait of a bearded man scoring weed endlessly with several deep cuts across his wrists. In terms of awareness, you are far ahead in the ladder when compared to truckloads of your counterparts who don’t even possess an iota of awareness about the distress. Yet, I believe that it isn’t enough and there is still a long way to go in order to shatter the stigma effectively.

 

Thank you.

 

-Maya

Why Don’t We Care About India’s Mental Health Crisis That Affects 97 Million People?

 

Our writer, Soumyajyoti Bhattacharya‘s article on LonePack‘s latest campaign got featured in Youth Ki Awaaz. We are reproducing the article here. Do give it a read. The original link is posted in the comments.

“As I sit in my room on a particularly dark afternoon, life seems all but a melancholic drone of has been’s and would be’s, mechanically wheezing into a nightmarish scenario where shadows are friends and humans seem unfriendly. The clock ticks like it is the harbinger of my doomsday, my mind screams, wanting everything to stop! Gears slip into motion, my monsters crawl out of my own mind and sing me the most painful soliloquy. My life squishes like a squandered set of useless paraphernalia while my mind keeps telling me to just not do it anymore.”

This is not an excerpt from a Stephen King novel, albeit it may be very scary. It is the rant of a mind suffering from anxiety, one of the many mental health illnesses plaguing the human population. Sadly, most people do not care.

report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Yet, major sovereign states have failed to provide justifiable legislation for the same, or have refused to put enough stress on it. To provide a particular example, let’s take India, the country of my birth and the subject of my patriotism. India is a nation of 1.34 billion people, constituting the world’s largest youth population and second largest population overall.

Image Credit: MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images

Statistical reports from the WHO show us that almost 7.5% of the population of India suffers from mental health disorders, with the number growing by the passing day.

These disorders constitute depression, anxiety, hypertension, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to name a few.

People suffering from such disorders require expert intervention and regular treatment for improvement, so as to ensure that a large part of the global population is not only physically fit, but mentally as well. However, a particular case study will show that might not be the case.

Mental health treatment institutions in India are mostly three-fold: private high-end facilities, government facilities and religious facilities. While the first case scenario is only for an elite segment of the population, it is mostly the other two which most people can avail.

However, India is facing a mental health crisis. With only 43 government-run mental hospitals serving a population of 1.3 billion, resources are spread thin. Moreover, mental illness is highly stigmatised in India, especially among women, who are typically committed to mental health facilities with no legal rights, and receive involuntary treatment sometimes without a proper diagnosis.

The worst-case scenario are religious institutions and independent cult leaders who proceed to treat mental health illness on their own with confounding, unscientific practices including the likes of black magic and sacrificial rituals.

Yet, however unsatisfactory the medical practices surrounding mental health or the interest shown in it from a professional aid perspective may be, the worst problem for mental health illness is social stigma.

Stigma is officially defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Mental health issues have often been deemed weak and disgraceful, a mark of wasteful elitism and a rotten excuse by people in human civilisation since time immemorial.

Because of this, a huge number of people still go on to ask a depressed person to just “forget it and move on”, call someone with ADHD or similar issues to be making excuses or being ‘elitist’ and ‘wasteful’, and not to forget, pin any behaviour deviating from the norm upon one strategic word, ‘madness’. Like a disease, not one which needs to be treated, but one which is disgraceful and needs to be exterminated.

When such levels of stigma exist as norms in the human society for centuries, people suffering from mental health illnesses hesitate to acknowledge their issues and seek public help for fear of having no personal comfort, and for being ostracised with mean, dispirited comments, along the lines of ‘weak’, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘loser’, to name just a few.

Corporate policies surrounding mental health illnesses are far too few, recognition of the same as a legitimate health concern is astoundingly low, even for educated individuals, and social acceptance for mental health illnesses are catastrophic. All of this does not cut a pretty picture for something we should definitely not be ignoring or castigating.

Of course, not everything is bleak. Many developed nations have constitutional laws and legislative precedence for acceptance of mental health issues and protection of those suffering from related causes. Developing countries are following suit, with India having recently passed a law to decriminalize suicide attempts and provide better healthcare for patients of mental health disorders.

Yet, until a higher number of facilities are provided at a sovereign level, and the social stigma surrounding the same is not shattered, progress, however promising, will seem unconvincing.

Sovereign improvements require better political philosophy, a discussion beyond the mandate of this article. However, no amount of legal or political support will matter till social acceptance for these issues do not improve, a conundrum which requires more education about the same, grassroots movements and an altogether improved level of awareness, thus leading to amicable acceptances.

Although this does seem a long way off, many local non-profits and popular public personalities have taken up this cause and have launched a crusade to improve circumstances surrounding it.

One particular initiative I absolutely love and am involved with is ‘Lonepack’. As a small, up and coming non-profit organisation based in India, we have been fighting the stigma surrounding mental health for over a year now through multiple campaigns.

Our latest campaign, ‘Save The Whale‘ challenge, is an attempt to increase positivity over the internet and provide a challenge to the despicable ‘Blue Whale‘ game. Many other organisations exist who engage in similar work.

However, it cannot just be institutions fighting the good fight, it has to be everyone. Only then will this crusade actually mean something and be successful in making a difference.

Maybe there is a future better than the situation we are in today, but that will never be possible without enough awareness. Next time you meet someone suffering from a mental health disorder, do not attempt to jeer or advice. Reach out a hand and be there for them with nothing but silent support.

Let us make this world a better and more acceptable place, one person at a time. Till then, all we have is hope. Surely, we can do better than that?

  • Soumyajyoti Bhattacharya