Mental stress plus physical stress = Stress Plus.
The mind and the body are part of the same system. What affects the one affects the other as well. When the body is stressed, the mind suffers. When the mind is stressed, the body suffers.
When both are stressed, you get Stress Plus.
Here’s how it works for people with mental disorders. You feel depressed or immobilized and you don’t get up and move around. Your body responds by becoming lethargic and flabby. Your mind responds to that by becoming discouraged and self-blaming. What you have there is a feedback loop.
My body and brain have been going different directions of late. My mood disorder has lessened and my brain doesn’t seem to be trying to kill me at the moment. This is good.
However, my body is experiencing all kinds of unpleasant disorders and sensations. Some – the thinning hair, the jowls, the weakened eyesight – are simply functions of aging. This does not make them any easier to deal with. They are wrapped up in my self-confidence, my sexuality, my identity, how others perceive me, and how congruent my self-image is with reality.
Stress symptoms have affected me at least since junior high. I developed a tic in which my chin would jerk up and to the left, making it hard for me (or anyone sitting behind me) to study. My doctor put me on Valium, which stopped the tic, but did no good, I’m sure, for my then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
Other physical ailments and disorders are the result of specific events or diseases. I have a bad back, which required two operations, the second because I irrationally thought it would be a good idea to ride an Arabian horse bareback. The experience has left me with nerve damage in my left toes – idiopathic radiculopathy, they call it – and an unsteady gait that sometimes necessitates the use of a cane for balance. It does not make me look or feel any younger.
Also, my hands shake. My neurologist called this an “essential tremor,” which means it’s caused by nothing in particular. He noticed that I often sit with my hands folded in my lap to call less attention to it. Between this and my balance issues, sometimes I stagger and shake like an old street rummy. A friend, God bless him, once told me I had a long way to go before looking like a street rummy. It was nice to hear, no matter what my brain tells me.
When my brain was acting up the worst, it also gave me the worst physical symptoms. My reflexes were hypersensitive and that included the reflex that empties my bowels. Just imagine the literal shitstorm I created in the bathroom of a bookstore one day. Then imagine how much of my self-esteem got flushed along with the rolls of toilet paper I used to try to clean it up. Imagine the humiliation of telling a store clerk, “Someone’s been very sick in the bathroom and you probably need to send a janitor.” I’m sure she knew it was me, because of how embarrassed and sickly I must have looked, but we both pretended that I was simply informing them that an accident had occurred.
Needless to say, all these conditions make me not want to go out amongst people, which adds to the isolation that my bipolar disorder already exacerbates. And when I don’t get out, my body doesn’t get moving, and I become even more immobilized – both physically and mentally.
Like I said, Stress Plus – a vicious circle.