Comorbidity is the presence of one or more additional diseases or disorders co-occurring with (that is, concomitant or concurrent with) a primary disease or disorder.
Like so many people out there, I live with multiple mental and physical disorders. Each disorder on its own can be debilitating for me, but add them up and I’m a walking timebomb. Let me list them out for you. Shall I?
- Major depressive disorder
- Anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- PTSD (from a currently unknown cause)
- OCD (more O than C)
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Chronic migraines
- There are a couple other disorders that may be there, but I’m still waiting on diagnosis, so I won’t add them for accuracy sake.
If you’re counting, that is five mental disorders and two physical/chronic disorders. I’m tired just typing up the list.
I experience symptoms from these disorders daily and they often overlap each other in the worst ways possible. Most recently my UC has flared up and I’ve been in ridiculous amounts of pain. Because of the pain I am often stuck on the couch with a heating pad and a pillow on my abdomen curled up under a blanket, not able to do anything. Or I’m laying on my bathroom floor, giving myself an enema to try and heal the ulcers in my colon. This of course makes my mind race with thoughts stemming from my depression and anxiety: You’re being so lazy, Why does this have to happen to me, My husband hates me for not contributing to the household chores, Why won’t the pain stop, Will this ever end, Will I ever be normal again, Why is my husband so quiet, is he mad at me for this, and on and on like that. And because I’m obsessive, the thoughts compound on each other until I’m so upset I just would rather fall asleep and not wake up. And that’s just my UC flare ups.
Now let’s add in the migraine component. I’m lucky in that my migraines only occasionally cause nausea, but they do cause extreme sensitivity to light, sounds and smells. So my office with a window has to have the blinds drawn every day, I work with a desk lamp to light up just enough area that I can work but lower than my line of sight so I can’t be set off by the bulb. Not to mention the amount of medication I take to try and stop the migraine is clearly doing a number on my stomach and only exacerbating my UC. And on the very worst days, my office door is closed which causes coworkers to talk or ask too many questions about what is wrong with me. And once again, the anxiety kicks in to high gear, wondering what they are saying about me, who is talking about me, can I trust this person or that person, should I open my door and wear sunglasses inside so they know it’s a migraine, should I go home and rest till it goes away for my own health, will my boss be upset with me, maybe I just need to tough it out and make it through the day, and on and on and on.
When the mental disorders overlap, the negative thoughts are louder and faster coming. I spiral into a deep, dark hole that is nearly impossible to get out of. I obsess over losing my job because I don’t feel good enough to work, but then have an anxiety attack because I’m running out of PTO and my boss will be upset with me if I call out AGAIN. My FMLA has ended so there’s no safety net there for me anymore. All of this anxiety and obsessing usually cause my stomach to hurt which kicks the UC flare into high gear. And once again, I find myself on the couch, unable to contribute to my own life.
I know that with treatment (both therapy and medication) I will eventually get better. But for now, living with so many conditions with overlapping symptoms is exhausting. I take it one day at a time. I try to wake up and start the day as positive and happy as possible. Most days that happiness fades pretty quickly, but I put on the mask that most people with invisible illnesses wear and pretend everything is ok to ease the people around me. I spend more energy keeping them happy than I do on fixing myself.
The cycle never ends. I’m afraid I’m on a never ending carousel and the only way off is to jump into what seems like an abyss below and pray that there is someone there to catch me before I hit the bottom. And on the worst days, I pray that there is no one there to catch me so that I can hit the bottom and finally feel the relief from all of these conditions.
But for now, I write and try to give a voice to myself and so many others. Maybe helping people will in turn help me.