Did you know that the majority of physical and mental illnesses never appear on their own?
I always felt like I was being a hypochondriac when I presented to my GP with a collage of symptoms. They always tell you to only go to the GP with one issue, but when it’s so difficult to get an appointment, I often found myself going with a few. It would be anything from frequent and unsettling heart palpitations, to crippling stomach problems. Each time I would be bundled up and sent on my way without even so much as a review of my medication or diagnoses. It was only when I started listening to my body and reading into my diagnoses more that I realised that this bundle of symptoms were all related in some way to the eating disorder, the depression, or the newly discovered anxiety. Not to mention the stress which we all know comes with its own host of issues.
But what is it like to live multiple diagnoses at once? How can it be managed and why should we always listen to our instinct when it comes to our own mental and physical health?
Managing multiple diagnoses.
I prefer to think of myself as medically interesting rather than medically complex. Although when I have to answer any questions, whether verbally or on a form, regarding my medical history I die a little inside. With a current diagnosis ‘tally’ of fourteen (ish) I often have to ask for an additional piece of paper. OK, two additional pieces if they want dates and medication as well. Which, let’s face it, is more than a little depressing.
Nowadays, depending on the situation I tend to omit whatever is unnecessary and/or, lump whatever I can together. Other’s I assume to be a ‘need to know’ basis. But, even then it can become more of muddied water than you might think. For example, adding PTSD and Bipolar is probably unnecessary if I’m visiting the G.P for a urine infection. That is unless I need an examination, which is one of my PTSD triggers. On the other hand, the PTSD may be of more interest to a mental health professional, who is probably unconcerned by the fact I have Asthma. Unless the appointment is medication related, in which case it’s probably more relevant.
“You see my point?“
The other problem with my mob of diagnoses is the overlapping of various symptoms. I’m diagnosed with fibromyalgia and M.E (Myocardial Encephalomyelitis, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Most often I can differentiate between which of them has flared up. It usually depends on whether the overriding symptom is a fuck ton of pain radiating through my body, or if I’m simply unable to hold my head up.
Realistically the overlap between Fibro and ME isn’t that important. The overlaps between them are significant, but, other than dosing up on largely ineffective pain killers and rest, neither of them has any medical advice other than ‘mind how you go now eh’ (more commonly known as pacing yourself). But this all becomes more of an issue when you throw mental health and other medical conditions into the mix.
“Fatigue has become worse Mrs. Jackson and you have difficulty swallowing? Oh probably ‘just’ your M.E. Move along now.” Said one GP.
“New shooting pains down your right arm you say? Probably your fibro. Oh, it’s worse than it’s ever been before? Fibro does stuff like that. Off you pop.” Said another.
“And my personal favourite: “Chest pain? That’s anxiety.” “
Frustratingly, they’ll often be completely correct. Which, of course, doesn’t make life any easier for me, and does often mean the professionals have limited resources to help. Now I mostly self-manage my symptoms and assume something within the mob has caused them. However, the fact that one day I may overlook something is worrying.
Another issue with overlapping symptoms is knowing the best method of self-treatment or self-care. For example, if I’m feeling agitated and an obsessive need to move both sides of my body in frequent succession, I need to ask myself is this OCD, anxiety, or autistic overload? The two former issues would exabit a need for me to reduce said behaviors, while the latter requires me to only regulate. Before deciding on the way forward, I have to tap into my instinct and trust my gut, which can be difficult.
“Medication has an interesting role to play in managing multiple diagnoses.”
Ever read the inserts that come along with your packet of medications? If so, have you ever wondered how you’re still alive, even with the vast possibility of horrible side effects? Each of which will have you questioning yourself many, many, many times. For example, if you suddenly find that you can poop through the eye of a needle is it IBS, medication, or should you place a plague sign on the front of your door? WARNING: Norovirus?
Likewise with palpitations, dizziness, nausea and even joint pain, all of which are common side effects of everyday anti-depressants. How does one differentiate from a side effect, a flare up or a new symptom?
So what can you do when you don’t know what the heck to do?
There are various things you can do, most of which is trust your body. Although this sounds difficult, then chances are you’ll recognize any strikingly different sensations and symptoms. Manage your existing symptoms as best you can by using adequate self-care techniques suitable to you. If that means going to bed for a while, ask yourself what could it be? If it’s depression, set an alarm to try and keep a routine. Even if it’s just wake you so that you don’t greatly impact your sleeping pattern, something which can be depremental to our health.
If you find that it’s something physical, then I suggest allowing yourself the time you need to heal and recharge. By pushing our physical body beyond its measure, we’re only succeeding in causing more harm and discomfort in the long run.
But what if you can’t place the symptom? What if it’s something entirely new or a particularly bad flare of something familiar? Then it’s best to approach your G.P, not only for advice but also management. While some G.Ps will be dismissive, others won’t, and in both scenarios, you are well within your rights to ask for a second opinion.
Managing multiple diagnoses is much like an office system. If you’ve six different in-trays sat on your desk, and everyone is dropping paper into random ones, then it becomes impossible to focus on one area. if you try, you’re probably going to end up sitting under a desk, rocking gently and dealing with none of it. Start with the most pressing and work your way down.
Good luck and good health.
About the author.
“The Beanie Bard is the place to go should you want to ask any questions directly about this or any of my other blogs, you can find my email address on the contact section at the bottom of the site. It’s a nice place, please pop by. I do a good line in sarcasm and self-deprecation.”