Please welcome today's guestblogger as she shares her story.
Imagine spending most of your adolescence not pining over your crush, fighting with homework, or hanging out with friends, but being shipped from doctor to doctor, and with each new doctor or therapist, you are given a new description of what is obviously “wrong” with you.
The National Institute for Mental Health’s website claims that 26.2% of Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. What they do not discuss on their website is misdiagnosis.
I was eleven years old when my mother started taking me to a psychiatrist. My grandmother had recently died, and I was depressed. My grandmother had been more of a mother, at that point in my life, than my mother had. So, naturally, I was grieving. My sessions with the doctor felt like a three-ring circus; the doctor trying to nudge some form of communication out of me, my mum trying to tell the doctor what pills I should be on, and me in the middle, sitting sullenly, just wanting to go home and cuddle with my dog.
After months of failed attempts to get me to communicate, my doctor suggested that I should be admitted to an in-patient treatment facility. My mother was loath to do it, but her girlfriend convinced her that it was a good idea. At the end of that three-week hospitalization, the doctor told my mother than all I needed was “some love and attention, and maybe a new pair of glasses. “
Off we went to the next doctor. My mother was convinced, at this point, that something was terribly wrong. I had become more and more quiet, and while my grades were fine, I was dealing with a lot of transition. With each new person my mother took me to, ostensibly to “make [me] talk, and tell the truth,” since her girlfriend had her convinced that I was lying about everything, I received a different label.
Depressed. Schizophrenic. Bipolar.
Parts of my adolescent years are very blurry, because with each diagnosis came a plethora of medication to go with it. Some made me (even) more photosensitive than I am naturally, so I either wore a wide-brimmed hat when I went outside, or I didn’t go outside at all. Some of the medicines made me sensitive to specific foods. Many of them made me sleepy, all the time.
When I was 14, my mother insisted that I ride on the bus for children with special needs, because “that way we know you won’t wander off.” By fifteen, her girlfriend had decided I needed to be homeschooled, so I was. By the age of seventeen, I had overdosed twice on prescription medication, not by choice, but because every time I tried to speak up for myself, more pills were shoved down my throat to make me ”more docile.”
When I moved to Arkansas to live with my stepdad, I was seventeen. I was sickly, and silent. I had given up. My stepdad claimed I looked “like someone in a concentration camp. “ When I found out that, in the state of Arkansas, it was illegal to drop out of school before you were eighteen, I was happy, for the first time in a very long time. And then, the next round of doctors came…
I wish I could remember his name, because he changed my life.
The first few months of treatment were somewhat similar to what I was used to. Dad stating his case, me just sitting there, looking up from my book only when someone addressed me directly, then making as few and non-committal responses as I could manage. One day, though, the doctor made Dad sit in the waiting room; he said he just wanted to talk to me. Dad was flabbergasted, but far less than I was. I was shocked enough to follow the doctor back into his office, sit meekly in one of the cushiony chairs, and stare at him because I was simply shocked. He asked me some rather pointed questions, some of which he had asked before, but mostly questions about the gaps in my history that I had staunchly refused to talk about with any parental figure around. When he was done, he asked me why I had never mentioned any of it in session before, and my response was, “I really didn’t figure anyone would believe me. And I’m sick of getting hurt for lying when I’m not.”
I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. It changed my treatment drastically. Instead of anti-psychotics and sedatives, most of the medications he prescribed for me helped combat anxiety and depression – and they worked, without making me a zombie! I could function! Before this point in my life, I would have sworn that all psychotropic medications were meant to subdue any normal, healthy reaction to life. He proved me wrong. I will be forever thankful. Thanks to this paradigm shift, I graduated from high school. I went to college. I believed I could have a life, without all of the insanity I had been raised with.
I seldom talk about my diagnosis, or my diagnosis history. The stigma that comes along with any of the disorders I have been diagnosed with tends to leave people almost afraid of saying the wrong thing, or somehow afraid of upsetting me. I am tired of being handled with kid gloves.
The January 2001 Journal of Psychiatric Services states that fifteen to forty percent of bipolar patients are misdiagnosed. A variety of research suggests that African-American patients are more commonly misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. Doctors across America have been censured for the misdiagnosis of ADHD in children, and for the misdiagnosis of ADD/ADHD in adults. This is a pervasive problem, yet it’s not something you hear about in the mass media very often.
So my suggestion to anyone who reads this is to, please, do some research before accepting a diagnosis from any doctor, of any specialty. Knowledge really does give you power.
For those who might care to contact me, I can be reached on Twitter @faerielyght, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and via blog at http://faerielyght.blogspot.com
Monday, October 18, 2010
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