Archive for the ‘Do Doctors Take the Mentally Ill Seriously’ Category

Do Doctors Take the Mentally Ill Seriously?   1 comment

Yesterday I had a heart attack.  Well, at least I thought I was having a heart attack.  I was with my fiancée (I hate that word – so pretentious) and her parents at their home in a beach community in central  California.  We were having lunch.  I’d been feeling a lot of pressure lately from some relatively major events going on in my life.  I’d also started smoking again and I could feel the damage it was doing to my body with every inhalation of that toxic goodness.  I was sure my lungs were filling with cancer and arteries in my heart clogging every time I enjoyed a cigarette.  To top it off, the day before, my future in-laws both recounted their heart attack, angioplasty and open heart surgery experiences for me in great detail in a random conversation.

I was ripe to drop dead.  That morning my heart was beating slightly faster when I awoke.  So naturally I drank some coffee to slow it down.  Then I went outside on the front steps and smoked a cigarette, because you can not drink coffee without a cigarette.  It’s a rule.  They should put Starbucks coupons in every pack of Marlboro.  Finally I sat down and enjoyed that nice shortness of breath feeling as I checked my email.

Soon we had lunch.  At the table I looked at my future father in law to the left of me eating ravioli, but instead saw him lying on the operating table, chest ripped open having heart surgery.  Then I looked to my right.  My future mother in law was piling more ravioli on my already overflowing plate, but I saw her lying on an operating table amidst all kinds of flashing and beeping monitors with a wire being run through her arteries having angioplasty.  Suddenly I felt the pressure on my chest, pain in my heart, a pinching sensation on my left arm I announced “I hate to be a hypochondriac, but I think I’m having a heart attack.”

My future father in-law is the best.  I was at the hospital ER less than a half hour later.  Hooked up to a million monitors and an IV, I must have looked like a marionette.  And when given nitris tablets my pulse slowed down and my pain and discomfort subsided.  But it was determined it probably wasn’t a heart attack.  All my tests were normal.  I was told to call my doctor and get a stress test when I got back to San Francisco.  I still could have a blocked artery.

However, I got the impression when the doctor heard about the cocktail of bipolar medications I take, he surmised my heart attack may be psychosomatic.   I definitely felt the level of urgency knocked down from a code blue to a code magenta when he saw I was on six different bipolar medications.  Did he make a mistake letting me go because he assumed I was just having a panic attack or some sort of bipolar episode?  How many people with life threatening illnesses are not taken seriously by their doctors because they have bipolar disorder or another form of mental illness?  Is my heart a ticking time bomb due to the ER doctor making an inaccurate assumption that I was probably just having a panic attack?

As bipolar individuals, do we often feel or are made to feel incompetent because of our mental status?  Personally, I have experienced this many times since my original diagnosis of severe depression, back in the early 1980’s, before bipolar disorder was formally identified.  Doctors (non-psychiatric) always treat me with kid gloves, as if I may not fully understand what they are telling me.  They question the amount of medications I am on, even if they are only general practitioners.  Their nurses speak louder and more clearly to me after they read my psychiatric history, as if mental disorders have something to do with intelligence, auditory and visual perception.

Dishearteningly, family and friends can be the worst offenders.  Do something a little extravagant, like buy two new cars in one year, and everyone is asking if you are alright.  Have you spoken with your doctor lately?  Are your medications working?  “No Goddamn-it, I just made made a really stupid car buying decision!”  My father was beside himself when I got a divorce because he felt my ex-wife was level headed and would make sure “I didn’t “get into any trouble.”  He went as far as  trying to patch things up on his own, as if that was possible, just so there would be someone to keep tabs on me.

Let’s be real, there is and probably always will be a stigma about any kind of mental illness.  Even if you are bipolar but perfectly stable, when you take a drink of water right away some people see sit it as a sign you’re becoming dehydrated,which is a signal of an impending manic episode.  So, they strap a helmet to your head so you can’t hurt yourself when you start banging it repeatedly against a wall.  They even have the disease paired with the wrong symptoms!

My philosophy is allow people to have their misconceptions and fears.  I go about my life doing what I do and if someone wants to attribute my behavior as abnormal due to bipolar illness,  let them run with it.  Addressing irrational thinking only magnifies it in their minds.  And if it’s a health professional, I tell them exactly the medications I take and for what they are prescribed.  Then I say “I’m stable, feel fine and the drugs are working fairly well.”  With that we are almost always on to the next question.

Never ever let a doctor or an individual make you feel like you are less of a person because you have to take medication to treat your mental illness.  You are actually more of a person because you are confronting it and stabilizing it on your own accord.  You are actually courageous for fighting through adversity most people can never even imagine.  Don’t be ashamed of having what some feel is a weakness, but instead be proud for having the wherewithal to battle against it.