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It's a Physical Thing. Tuesday May 20, 2014

We bloggers always appreciate the comments we get from you lovely readers (well, the nice ones that is: we get a little hurt when anyone says something negative) and this is a reply to a comment made a week or so ago.

"Why do you refer to your mental illness as physical?" This reader asked. "Please explain."

Obviously everyone's experience of mental health problems and depression is different and I can only write from my own background.

I'm bi-polar and have been for forty four years, but I didn't know this until about five years ago; in fact, for most of the episodes I didn't even know I was depressed.

How could I have not known I was depressed?

Well, mostly, because I was too darn tired to know or feel anything. I knew I was ill, of course, but it was mostly a big mystery to my GP and me. A couple of times this exhaustion coincided with sad events in my life and then I was recommended some counselling. Three months of counselling and I was better and we all patted ourselves on the back and carried on.

The times when everything in the garden was rosy but I still got ill were more confusing. There were blood tests, thyroid tests, even brain scans. Nothing showed up. "You've been over-working: you're just exhausted" was the conclusion a couple of times. "Post viral fatigue" was used on other occasions. If any episode had gone on for longer than six months I'm sure ME would have been diagnosed. None of us thought to connect my socially energetic and workaholic tendencies with the reoccurring lethargy except in a very general way.

My current GP is a bit of a depression specialist and it was she who spotted that a) the exhaustion to the point of being unable to walk more than 50 metres was depression and that b) the rapidity with which it both appeared and lifted (unconnected with circumstances) argued bi-polar. Once I had sat down and listed every incidence I could remember (right back to my mysterious and scary illness when I was seven) it became completely obvious that every two and a half years, with a clockwork regularity, I get ill. Life circumstances have nothing to do with it; bad thoughts have nothing to do with it. Therapy, counselling and drugs help me get through it, but don't stop it happening. Proactively managing the hypo mania or energy burst that occurs before each down does help and enables me to be drug free for most of the time. Having a long cycle helps there too.

So I am adamant that this is a physical thing. The symptoms are physical and mental and it is a physical change in the chemistry of my brain which is responsible for the biology of those symptoms. That's one of the reasons I am happy to take anti-depressant drugs to alleviate some of those symptoms.

So, biology, chemistry and physics; it's all science. Please, all the research scientists out there, find out how we can stop this rollercoaster! It's a fun ride sometimes, but I'll like to get off now.

A Moodscope member.

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Anonymous Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 8:41am

Thank you, Mary, with all my heart. I know exactly where you are coming from with this one. My experiences have been so very similar to yours. You express it very well and with clarity which, hopefully, will stop the doubting Thmases in their tracks!

Mary Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 9:06am

Thank you so much for that encouraging comment. Managing the people around us and their expectations of our illness/condition is often the most challenging part of dealing with things. I wish you all the best with any doubting Thomases in your life.

Anonymous Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 9:29am

I don't bother to tell anyone who has never experienced clinical depression. Thank you for helping Mary. I read a lot about the subject when I'm well. Has anyone read 'The Road Less Travelled' by Scott-Peck? Sounds as if Mary has an excellent GP. We all need one of those. It would help reduce our suffering! Chris Williams on NHS Moodzone is good too.

Jim Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 9:45am

I really related to the mood swings independent of external events thing. When I was in rehab a few years ago, people kept asking me "why are you so down today?" and I had a hard time explaining that there didn't have to be a reason. I'm short cycle, about 3-4 days usually, and for many years I smoothed it out with booze. Being sober these days isn't always easy, but at least I've got a bit of self esteem, which I didn't have when I was drinking. It's good to hear about other peoples experiences as well. Makes it all seem more doable somehow.

Anonymous Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 10:51am

Well done on managing the booze, Jim. I'm still struggling on that one and it's great to know that there are folk out there who've come through on the other side. It's tough when there's never a reason and nobody understands that.

Anonymous Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 11:21am

With a bipolar diagnosis of over 45 years, I have to disagree! A high mood, for me, is the result of overwork and subsequent exhaustion. Low mood results from the consequences of life circumstances beyond my control that most people would find extremely stressful. Key for me is to recognise myself and to avoid those that think 'they know me better that I know mysef' - these are the people who a draining.

Julia Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 12:42pm

I still do not understand how bi polar works. I think it means different things to different people. Of course depression is not the same for everyone who suffers from it or who has it diagnosed. For example I often read about people who have "bouts" of depression which suggests to me that they are not always depressed.So I guess being bi polar or having that diagnosis does not mean every bi polar person suffers in the same way, has the same symptoms etc. Depressive illnesses are so varied in their symptoms, nature and how each individual perceives them.

Anonymous Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 12:44pm

I swing every few years due to major life changes many if which stem from depression, anxiety and isolation. My depression manifests itself in physical pain and exhaustion as well as a crushing lack of self esteem. I recognise that all if this started at a young age. Pacing seems to be the key but when I am in a high I feel I can take on lots of commitments. Mindfulness and mediation make me face the pain I don't want to. I lack the ability to really unite with others and want to be with another depressive who truly understands anxiety and depression. I have lost two marriages and wonder if I would be better in an intentional community as I do but have any family

Lex McKee Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 5:49pm

I messed up my language... let's try again...
My understanding is that the unnecessary and artificial separation between mind and body (and perhaps even 'spirit') is a domninantly Western pattern of thought. To me, there is a difference in function between what we label heart and mind, body and soul, but these do not separate body and soul or heart and mind. I know I can change my heart-rate just by using my imagination. By changing the physical music I'm listening to I can not only shift my heart-rate (and thus metabolism) but also my mind-state. For these reasons and more I do not believe any kind of mental shift is "all in the mind". One cannot be in the mind without being in the body - at least at this level of consciousness!

So what? Well, if I'm right, this means that any shift in physical state impacts our mental state - and any shift in mental state moves our physical state. This means that we can make many small physical adjustments to change our mind if we don't like the 'state' we are in. On the blog we've shared strategies that involve very physical intereventions such as exercise and food. The joy of a dynamically connected system is that if you change one thing, you change everything.

Sometimes massive change is necessary, and so tiny improvements need to be made in great number to "lift our spirit" - but at least we know it can be done.
Drugs offer a fast track to this shift by transforming body and brain chemistry. When the challenges are time critical, this kind of catalyst should be embraced.
These are my opinions not proven fact.

Mary Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 5:59pm

Absolutely, Lex. You put it so well. I find that if I am physically unwell (eg - I have a cold) then my Moodscope score drops dramatically and (as in the post above) vice versa.My firm stance on it being a "physical" thing is part of the crusade against the discrimination re mental health issues. Our Western separation of body, mind and spirit is also responsible for the theological problems some people have with the Trinity - but that's another can of worms to be opened only after midnight with the assistance of a good glass of port and in a forum other than this!

Anonymous Tue, May 20th 2014 @ 9:44pm

Mary I would love to chew over the Trinity question with you - and a glass of port of course! Since taking up yoga I find my perception of body / mind / spirit has altered dramatically. Frankie

Kate Horsfield Wed, May 21st 2014 @ 6:33am

Gosh Mary you absolutely hit the nail on the head in terms of describing the physical aspect of depression and bi-polar! It can at times be quite debilitating, which can then add to the spiral of depression. I have only recently in the past few years started to be able to recognize and start to proactively manage my cycles. Having a forum where you can listen to and talk to other people about their experiences is very helpful. Of course although I wouldn't wish this on anyone it is reassuring to know that I am not the only one who faces this. Thank-you for sharing and thank you to all the people who are also responding with their experiences.

Vanessa Wed, May 21st 2014 @ 5:14pm

I totally agree Mary, we are missing huge sections of the jigsaw if we look at ourselves one dimensionally and miss out our spirituality - whatever that might mean for us as individuals. I think maybe the Trinity is a beautiful reflection of our inter-relatedness both as holistic individuals and potentially as a community? But regardless of your theological stand point, spirituality is a rich resource for creating a life worth living!

heather Wed, May 21st 2014 @ 8:17pm

I describe my bipolar illness by telling people that the brain is just a physical part of the body which can go wrong like any other part of the body and can also recover. Regarding spirituality, I find this blossoms when I am "high" but is barely tangible when I am low, but the revelations I have when I am "high" are always remembered as an important part of myself. As I have mentioned before I have been on a "leveller" for over 30 years so I do not experience debilitating swings. I am convinced I would have been dead otherwise, instead of keeping down an interesting job.

Rosalina Harford Wed, Aug 20th 2014 @ 8:00pm

A mood disorder, like depression, is something that will definitely affect a person, physically. For example, someone with untreated depression will unexpectedly feel fatigue and exhaustion. Those are only a few examples of how depression can affect someone physically, and it's not surprising that some people are unaware of that. People might think that depression only takes down a person's mental and emotional state, but surprising enough, the changes it brings about, can prove hazardous to the body as well. Anyway, thanks for sharing that with us, Mary. I wish you all the best!

<a href="" rel="nofollow">Rosalina Harford @ Core Therapy Associates</a>

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