As someone with a chronic illness that was once misdiagnosed as a psychiatric disorder, but who also does have mental health issues, it’s a constant balancing act trying to understand my brain while convincing doctors that mental illness is only one of my problems.
For eight years, the conclusion was that I was sick because I was depressed.(Since when did depression cause visible joint inflammation?) Even as a kid, I knew better than to believe that.
I was only thirteen the first time a doctor misattributed my physical illness to my poor mental health, but I knew that I knew myself and my body better than a doctor who’d just met me:
“I’m not sick because I’m depressed,” I growled.“I’m depressed because I’m sick.”
With Easter Week and Passover upon us, I’ve found myself face to face with the very thing my chronic illness has changed the most: my faith.
For years, I would’ve told you it was the most important thing in my life.All through high school, I was a leader in my youth group and involved in several ministries.I used to read scriptures daily because I wanted to learn more about God.I used to pray often because I wanted to be closer to Him.I even used to be enthralled by dense theological tomes, started to teach myself biblical Greek, and at one point considered going into ministry full-time.
But then I got ill.
At seventeen, I suddenly developed an extreme case of OCD. I’d already had OCD smoldering in the background of my mind for six years, which I’d concealed from numerous therapists due to shame, but out of nowhere it became incapacitating and all-consuming.
This week, despite recently having the best few days I’ve had in several years, my OCD came roaring back, worse than it’d been since 2014. I started ticking again, too. People would say things to me, but their words made no sense. All the symptoms that I thought were gone returned to taunt me. Just as you think you have the upper hand with this disease, it can swoop in to tear you apart all over again!
With this latest flare, I’ve been struggling with an eating disorder again. Restricted food intake is one of the two major diagnostic criteria for PANS, so my new obsession is nothing unusual. In fact, this is the third time in my life that I’ve faced an eating disorder: the first was when I was nine or ten and the second was in 2014, at nineteen.
As I approach final exams this week, I’ve been thinking back to three years ago, when my life changed forever, on December 17th, 2012.
At the time, I was seventeen and in my senior year of high school. I was excelling academically, and people told me I’d have a promising career. I was popular with lots of friends. I felt such a sense of freedom in being an “adult” by learning to drive. I thought the possibilities for my future were endless.