3 Nov 2015

Mental Illness Isn't Always Mental


One common misconception about mental illness is that it exists only in someone's mind. In some cases a mental illness can primarily manifest in such a way (which in no way makes the illness any less crippling). But often mental illness manifests itself physically, sometimes with the only thing mental being the root cause (or a mental reaction to the root cause).

What prompted me to write this post was that I had a terrible panic attack a few nights ago. I hadn't had a full blown panic attack for at least a year or two, and it seems to be in the nature of them that you forget how bad they actually are until you're experiencing one. So I was in for (even more of) a shock.

I woke up bolt right, already in a panic. In hindsight I believe the reason for this was that I was breathing incorrectly in my sleep. My heart was going so extremely fast that it almost sounded like one long beat. When I touched my chest in an attempt to calm down my heart rate I could feel that the area of veins around my jugular notch was violently moving outwards with every rapid beat. I tried to calmly tell myself that in order for the rapid beating to stop I had to realise that I was safe and that what I was experiencing was just anxiety. But then what really scared me was that even once I had managed to calm myself down the extreme heart palpitations did not stop. It felt like my heart now had a mind of it's own and I had no control over it. I couldn't fathom how my heart could continue to beat at such an alarming rate with such vigour without just stopping. I truly thought that my heart was about to fail and that I was a moment away from dying (this of course does not happen from just a panic attack, but a panic attack can mimic a heart attack, so in the moment it's hard to tell the difference).

See this link for information about online psychologists: BetterHelp

Thankfully my heart soon began to slow down to a more regular pace. But as a result of the high anxiety my arms started to go numb and my fingers were stiffening and were beginning to curl inwards - I was starting to lose function of them. The numbing sensation in my arms also spread to other parts of my body (my body was aching for days after as a result). I actually started to get my phone ready to call an ambulance as I was worried that I was having a stroke or indeed a heart attack, and I didn't want to lose full control of my hands/the rest of my body before being able to dial emergency services. All these symptoms are common after you experience extreme panic but even when you know that can still be very scary when you're actually experiencing them. I spent the next half an hour lying down with my phone in my hand trying to calm down and assure myself it was just anxiety and that the symptoms would soon pass. But of course it's hard trying to calm yourself down when the nature of anxiety is to make you worry. Anxiety/panic is your body reacting to a perceived danger which it is trying to draw your attention to.

Depression is also something that can manifest itself physically - as well as mentally - in many ways. For example, the last time I had a bout of severe depression I was so fatigued that my bones felt as if they were physically weighing me down, which ,made it very difficult for me to do simple activities such as even getting up to walk to the next room. Other physical manifestations of mental illnesses can include loss of appetite, light-headedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, stabbing pains, change in speech, disturbed menstrual cycle, change in blood pressure, change in blood oxygen levels and more. It is also possible to experience any or more of these physical complaints without realising that they are actually caused by an underlying mental illness.

If you think that you could have a mental illness, or have any physical complaints that you don't know the cause of, it is important that you see your doctor.

Have you ever experienced major physical symptoms as a result of mental illness?

Amani x


  1. I'm sorry to hear you had a panic attack after so long Amani. It's interesting how when you have a mental illness it can cause physical symptoms and when you have a physical illness it can cause mental struggles... I guess they go hand in hand really.


  2. Thank you for posting about your struggles with mental health issues! It needs to be spoken about more!

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