On World Mental Health Awareness Day, I don’t wish you happiness but wisdom. Not joy but understanding. Not abundance but empathy.
Years ago now I was diagnosed with Conversion Disorder, which I talk about on this blog often, along with Depression and Anxiety Disorder. I capitalize those here, though I don’t think I always have.
My husband is a mentally healthy person as far as anyone knows. I’m so thankful for that. But he often struggles to comprehend how Chronic Depression differs from sadness. How many shades removed Anxiety Disorder is from anxiety. And, yes, everyone converts. But what makes Conversion Disorder?
When an otherwise healthy person gets a tension headache, they are converting. They convert emotional turmoil, pain, or strife into muscle tension, which results in a headache. When that same person feels edgy after a near-miss on the highway, they experience anxiety. When they lose a beloved belonging or pet or person, they feel sadness.
So when that person comes face to face with a person like me, with Chronic Depression, Anxiety Disorder, and Conversion Disorder, they can both understand and wholly not. They cognitively comprehend sadness, loneliness, anxious feelings. They recognize tension headaches, nervous stomach, and passing out during a moment of intense stress. But they don’t usually understand what elevates these really common feelings and experiences to disorders.
I’m not so sure of the mechanics of it myself. But I know the difference is one of both magnitude and scope.
In re Scope and Magnitude
Anxious feelings tend to behave like a story. To begin, an inciting incident occurs. In the middle: difficult, uncomfortable, or unsavory events happen in real time. At the end, the potential bad thing has happened (or hasn’t) and that happening (or not) releases the anxious feelings. No matter how often a person experiences this type of anxious experience, it is a closed loop.
My experience with Anxiety Disorder doesn’t resemble a story process. There was no discernible beginning. No event ever happens to release the feelings. Instead, the scope of anxiety is untethered from specific events. Its magnitude is expansive, covering me and all my thoughts, actions, and experiences as a single whole.
Sadness differs from Chronic Depression in scope and magnitude similarly. Sadness comes after something occurs. It may extend into the future, but it does have a recession. In my own Chronic Depression, the scope wraps all time and space. The magnitude exceeds emotion and can impair cognitive processes.
Coverting. Well, that one’s a mite harder for me. I don’t like to ask whether every pain or illness relates to my mental status. It feels…less than. I want to just have a headache. Or a cold. Or whatever. Without analyzing the source as purely physical or physical by way of mental. But Conversion Disorder, regardless of my liking or disliking, will not be contained. It cannot be massaged away. It cannot be persuaded away. It claims every molecule of the body as owned by the mind. The scope: everything. The magnitude: consuming.
I imagine this is true for other diagnoses. Obsessing over the flatness of your sheets does not mean you are a bit OCD, because of magnitude and scope. Having a tumultuous day does not mean you should feel bipolar, because the magnitude and scope are all wrong. And on we could go with any mental health topic.
You cannot fully comprehend a clinical experience you have not had. You can, however, understand that the scope and magnitude of that clinical is fundamental different in scope and magnitude than your non-clinical experiences. It covers more area. It controls more, longer, harder. Never, ever the same.
So, please, enjoy a wise, empathetic, understanding remainder of World Mental Health Day!