If you’ve read my previous posts, I hope you have a better understanding of what living with a mental illness can be like. I let some of my skeletons out of the closet so you can see how debilitating it can be and how difficult it is to get help sometimes. It is far from what you see on the commercials for anti-depressants. You know the person lying around looking sad one minute and the next is out riding a bike in the sunshine. I wish it was that simple. There is no cure for Bipolar and it is not something you can turn on and off unfortunately. It is not mind over matter. It is not a choice. It is biological illness just like diabetes or heart disease and it should be treated as such. We should not feel guilty or ashamed because of a possible imbalance of chemicals in our brain but a lot of us do because of stigma surrounding mental illness. We need to have an open dialogue about mental illness and stop sweeping it under the rug. Not doing so perpetuates stigma.
One of the first times I witnessed stigma involved a primary care physician that was trying to treat me for anxiety and depression. He was so rude and disrespectful that the visit ended with me walking out and my husband announcing to the staff that the guy was a “fucking asshole”. I received a letter about a week later asking me not to come back. No problemo! Another time I was picking up some supplements from my naturopath when I overheard the staff talking about a new patient who was receiving the same treatment as myself at the time. They referred to her as the crazy one and questioned how she could afford the treatment. They went on and on right in front of me. I mentioned it to the doctor who was somewhat understanding, but said something about not being able to see mental illness so people don’t know. So that makes it ok to degrade someone who is ill in what is supposed to be a professional environment? They didn’t know I was mentally ill as well so I should understand that? The therapy wasn’t working so well for me anyway so I decided to spend my $1,000 per month elsewhere.
This year I had a minor gynecological surgery to check for endometriosis. A few days after I was feeling extremely lethargic and became short of breath after I walked up a couple of flights of stairs. I called my doctor to see if I should be concerned and the nurse told me to go to the ER. After reviewing my medications, the attending doctor asked me if I was depressed about not getting pregnant and if that’s why I was there. Yeah, you’re exactly right. I’m depressed about not conceiving so I decided to come to the ER by myself on a Friday night. She said something like “If you were to tell the toe doctor after surgery that you were short of breath they would send you to the ER”. Yes, the moron actually said toe doctor. She was dismissive and rude. I was dehydrated so I got my fluids and left.
I had a friend tell me once that I should volunteer to help my depression. I should spend time with others that are worse off than myself. I should hold babies in the NICU. Let’s see…I am so completely fatigued that it takes everything I have to work all day and come home and make dinner, but I should volunteer to help others. I knew what she was trying to say, but it was still hurtful. I’ve also been told to take a brisk walk when I was losing my mind. Yeah, that should do the trick! Then there is my favorite, you should have a baby to help your depression. Not sure how that would balance my neurotransmitters especially while I have raging hormones, but ok. I’ve noticed that people want to give advice when you talk about your illness, but most of the time what we really need is just to be heard and little empathy.