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I must have been about 5 years old when I had my first panic attack. It is a somewhat foggy memory and I can’t be sure if I am right, but I do remember crying and gasping for breath a lot as a child.
Such episodes were always interpreted as my attempt at getting attention so, nobody ever treated it as a symptom of a bigger issue.
There was a lot of mental conditioning from my childhood that affected my own interpretation. I grew up believing that I am emotionally stunted so, when I did notice an increased reserve in my behaviour, I didn’t take it as a big deal.
Keeping to this destructive mindset and holding onto the taught perceptions of my childhood, I continued ignoring all the other red flags.
So, what was it that finally woke me up to the possibility of a mental illness?
It was a bunch of some very dangerous incidents that made me realize just how reckless I had become with my life.
The first such incident happened on the day I had a job interview. It was for a pretty good position and with a company that could put anyone’s career on the fast track so, I felt unable to simply refuse.
The issue with the position was that it was in a different city which would’ve meant leaving my apartment with its kickass security. Living in India has made me paranoid about my personal security.
Then there was the fact that I would have had to move further away from my parents and at the time, I was already unsure of my place in their life.
There were several other concerns that now seem so foolish but at the time, they were playing into my nightmares.
A Skype interview was scheduled for 3 pm. At 2:30 pm, I decided to make a cup of coffee to have with me during the interview.
As I was standing in the kitchen, my brain started obsessing over every ugly possibility.
The moment I was done making the coffee, I turned the gas off and then, I stood there for close to 40 minutes simply turning the knob in the off direction.
For 40 minutes I stood in one position with my knees knocking together and uncontrollable sobs shaking my whole body.
My brain was torn between processing the insanity of what was going on and trying to get me to stop. I just couldn’t make my hand move off the gas knob.
The whole thing was just crazy. Once I was absolutely exhausted, I was finally able to move out of the kitchen. Then, I pretty much passed out on the living room couch.
This one incident did alert me to a lot of my own abnormal behaviour. Even so, it was quite a while before I actually sought help.
As strange as it may seem, it is actually a fairly common occurrence where a person doesn’t realise that they may be suffering from a mental illness.
This post covers signs that are common to most mental health issues. If you notice too many of such signs in your own behaviour/lifestyle, it is advisable that you seek help from a professional.
Common Signs of Mental Illness-
1. Sleeplessness or Lack of Restful Sleep
Almost invariably, the first symptom of a mental disturbance will be insomnia or lack of a restful sleep.
When we are subconsciously nurturing a lot of fears, sleep becomes difficult.
As we go to sleep, our brain switches to beta state and your subconscious takes over. All the repressed issues come out to play and will be experienced as internal noise threatening your well-being.
Till you process the said issue, you will continue suffering from abnormal sleep or no sleep at all. It will worsen your mental, emotional and physical health.
2. Binge Behaviour
Bingeing on Netflix, food, alcohol, or sex isn’t normal – what a shock, right!
Every day, there is a new article on what to binge watch as if spending hours watching tv isn’t unhealthy at all!
It’s a classic escapist behavior!
For as long as your senses are engaged in mindless visual and audio stimulus, you don’t have to deal with any ACTUAL issue that may be derailing your life.
Eating a large amount of food floods your body with endorphins, temporarily elevating your mood and tricking you into finding it a suitable solution to the depressed mood.
Sex and alcohol – do too much of it and you’re an addict.
Put a healthy spin on the reckless behavior and you’re an addict in denial.
So, next time you get off the couch after several hours of television and having worked your way through several bags of potato chips, cans of Cola, and a whole cake – welcome the sense of shame overwhelming you and then, ask for help.
3. Feeling Disconnected
An emotional withdrawal from family and friends and a lack of interest in activities around you is a common symptom of a mental illness.
If you feel disconnected, you should assess your own reasoning for it. You may also feel like there is a distance between you and the rest of the world as if, you’re no longer a part of the general going on around you.
4. Irritability/ Moodiness
While irritability is typical to a few mental illnesses, moodiness is found in the symptom list of most mental issues.
You may notice a general inability to predict your own behavior. You’ll lash out needlessly surprising even yourself.
Later as you go over the scene, you’ll be left feeling confused and disoriented.
5. Defensive Behaviour
We are always aware of the disturbances going on in our life be it consciously or subconsciously but when you’re not ready to face up to the issue, you avoid anything that might push you into having to deal with it.
This includes the people in your life. If ever anybody questions you about your lack of involvement or any other unusual behaviour, instead of appreciating their concern, you may lash out.
You may also interpret a person’s simple interest in your life as an ambush and accordingly, respond with hostility or by shutting that person out of your life.
6. Substance Abuse
During my struggle with anxiety and depression, it took me a while to realise just how dependent I had become on painkillers and sleeping pills.
A few dangerous incidents resulting from my abuse of the pills made me realise just how they were eating into my self-control and crippling the functioning of my body.
If you’re taking too many pills, please consult a doctor.
A professional won’t leave you high and dry. He will recommend medication that would actually help you without promoting addict behaviour.
7. Physiological Symptoms
The following physiological symptoms are indicative of a mental illness –
- Lethargy/Low energy levels
- Extreme Sensitivity to external stimuli
- Headaches and dizziness
- Panic Attacks
- Extreme period pain
- Disturbed digestion
8. Cognitive Deficiencies
Cognition is the processing of information in order to acquire knowledge or actionable information for daily activities. It is a conscious use of mental processes.
In case of a mental illness, a lot of such processes may be impaired.
There is a general lack of attention, inability to process information quickly, communication skills and critical thinking may also be impaired.
9. Environmental Changes
Our environment is a fairly good reflection of our state of mind.
Take a good, hard look at your environment. Dull colors, inadequate lighting, chaos, and lack of hygiene may signal a depressed mind.
A depressed person suffers from an increased sensitivity to light which may lead to them putting thick curtains on the windows.
All those pictures of people sitting in total darkness – it’s not a dramatisation of the illness. In fact, it’s a fairly good reflection of the actual state of a depressed person’s mind.
While I was struggling with my anxiety, I would often find comfort in drowning my obsessive thinking with extremely aggressive workouts.
I would work out for over 2 hours stopping only after my body would be exhausted enough to simply collapse into sleep.
Sometimes, I would end up getting sick after a prolonged workout session. But as long as my body was in actual physical pain, there was no time to feel the pain from all the obsessive thinking.
Drug abuse may also be a sign. Healthy people don’t recklessly pop pills.
11. Hallucinations and Delusions
If you’re seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there, you should immediately get help. Hallucinations can be a symptom of Schizophrenia or Psychotic depression.
The individual may create an alternate reality to accommodate his/her insecurities, paranoia, manic-depressive episodes.
You may persistently hear whispers reinforcing all the most negative emotions. Please, ask for help!
If admitting to the illness is too much, you can reach out to people anonymously.
There are several helplines available and you don’t even need to give your name. The volunteers will work with whatever information you’re comfortable sharing.
You need to understand that any mental illness works by restructuring your brain.
As we obsess over negative experiences, emotions, and fears – they are reinforced and strengthened.
Depression can completely alter your brain to the extent of shrinking your Hippocampus responsible for regulation of emotions and memory. During a mental illness, because of cognitive impairment, the brain goes into overdrive.
There are factors at play that are completely beyond your understanding. All you need to do is educate yourself on the subject.
Consider the possibility of a mental illness being the reason for any and all of your abnormal behavior. We never really think it could happen to us until it actually does.
Also, look at your environment and listen to what other people are saying. If a number of people in your life are telling you that something isn’t right, chances are that something really isn’t right.
Proper information can really save you from some very dangerous consequences.
Most importantly, while you may blame yourself for everything going on in your life, it could simply be your brain chemistry leading to the problem.
None of it can be resolved if you don’t ask for help. Also, if you think I’ve missed out on something, please share it in the comments below and help your fellow readers.
This is an area where the more we discuss the better it is for everyone concerned.
Change your personal narrative and avoid self-sabotage
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