Do you know who the #1 expert to talk to if you need help?
We seem to think we’re sick. No one is sick, and no one is their illness. If you are a bottle of coke, your illness/diagnosis/symptoms are ingredients. You are the delicious bubbly liquid. When it comes to mental illness, we seem to think that we are too sick to be any kind of experts on anything, yet we are all experts on at least one subject in this universe – yourself.
When it came to being “sick”, I wanted to understand EVERY single facet of this. You’re not going to slap a life altering diagnosis that commits me to likely a lifetime of taking medication without me covering some basics. In this process, I have become an advocate for myself, I’ve helped a lot of my friends get the correct kind of help, I’ve been a good ear and shoulder, and ya know, I’m pretty cool and funny with an itchy ass.
All of those fun facts aside, I wanted to share some “lessons learned” over a few posts.
You are the expert on yourself. If you are seeking help, have a good sense of yourself.
One of the most easily overlooked questions/areas for adults seeking help is actually their childhood. How do you learn, for one? Do you retain information by reading? Writing? Auditory? This seems like a completely odd question, but I tell you, it helps. For one, if you have an awareness of how you learn, you will be more likely to find helpful ways to understand your diagnosis, and you will be better able to communicate with your doctors – maybe they need to send you info via email for you to read at your leisure, maybe you need to take notes during sessions, etc. Remember – you are the one who has to care for you, so make sure you get all the help you need. If you want to study about diagnoses, long textbooks or the DSM-V may make you feel worse, but maybe talking to others/group therapy would be best. Having the knowledge about yourself will help you find better resources.
What was school like for you as a kid?
If you have a mood disorder, the co-morbidity (overlap of symptoms) is high amongst lots of diagnoses. It took me 3 or 4 years in treatment for someone to ask me what school was like and when symptom onset was. These points would have probably saved me lot of frustration. For example, ADHD onsets in childhood, whereas bipolar typically onsets in adolescence. If you suffer from depression, focus can also be an issue. Having details about your childhood and school can help doctors focus on more accurate diagnoses/medications.
Do you have childhood trauma?
Do NOT bury this away!!!!! I get it, nobody wants to talk about their “bullshit”. It feels weird, you feel like you are tattling, and you feel like you are “just being a baby about it.” We all know it’s not true, and it is a HUGE factor in diagnosing you!!! PTSD/CPTSD mirror symptoms of Bipolar, MDD, GAD, ADHD. If you are not open and honest about trauma in your life, you could be medicated improperly, so please be honest even if it is difficult. If you haven’t thought about it, etc. therapy can be helpful for helping you understand your past and symptoms. I can’t emphasize this enough – any trauma can have an effect on your psyche. Carl Jung has written a lot on this topic, as has Freud. There are many studies on all sorts of mental illnesses – bipolar included – being linked to trauma. This is not whining, this is helping yourself.
You are the expert on yourself. You know how you feel, you know what feels good, and you know what does not feel good.
What are your symptoms? What is affecting your quality of life?
The first time I was hospitalized, I said I was “hearing voices” but in truth, I was having intrusive thoughts. I did not know that word, because I had not had any psychiatric support until that point. The ability to articulate what you are experiencing is vital. Even now, I voiced my concern at how busy my brain is and the doctor offered a medication that may assist. Try to be as detailed as you can – it doesn’t have to be clinical terminology, just describe what bothers you the most.
I had always thought I had to “listen to my doctor” and “do what they said”. I thought about it one day, and I realized if my regular doctor gave me an antibiotic that made me feel like shit, I’d call and ask for a different one. Why would psychiatric medication be different? Especially when the effects are profound. I have been on med combos that literally shut off my emotions. I went from being a chatterbox to completely silent. I literally scared people. When my psychiatrist wouldn’t discuss changes, I didn’t switch doctors, I stopped taking my meds, and I ended up hospitalized about 9 months later.
If you have been diagnosed with Bipolar, you will struggle with an extremely, EXTREMELY frustrating stigma. “Bipolars are notoriously med non-compliant”. I have gotten eyes rolled at me as I’ve argued that I don’t like the combo I am on. I have gotten very good at arguing with doctors, because I finally realized that their piece of paper degree gives them a lot of knowledge in diagnoses, but no application of what that means to me. For one, I have odd reactions to medications. Most pills that may cause weight gain make me lose weight, and vice versa. Pills that may cause drowsiness occasionally make me hyper. Everyone is different.
The doctors do not live in your body and mind – you do. There are so many different combinations of medications, and you need to be educated on what you are taking, detailed about how it affects you, and assertive in what you need from your medication. Knowing yourself is important – what exactly are the symptoms that are most disruptive in your life? How are the medications handling this? Are the risks outweighing the benefits?
Good medications treat the problems, but leave the positives. Your personality and demeanor should not go away because you have started medications. There are no rules against you going to your doctor and insisting on different combos. If your doctor is condescending or not listening, try to find a new one. I realize how difficult mental healthcare is – it took me 6 months one time to find a doctor that took my insurance (which, thankfully, I have!), so I realize this is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation, but I do know from the doctors I have interacted with that they tend to listen to educated patients better. Educated both in understanding their diagnosis, and more importantly – themselves.
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