When a Medical Professional Made a Joke out of My Bipolar Disorder
For the last couple of months, I’ve been facing some additional health concerns — not necessarily mental health related, although the stress from my mental illnesses has certainly impacted me in a negative way. My family has a history of high blood pressure and heart disease. Both my parents have or had high blood pressure, my mom had congestive heart failure, and my sister was just diagnosed with it as well. When I started to realize they were taking my blood pressure multiple times every time I went to the doctor, and it was always at least a little high, I started to pay attention. Suddenly, I was waking up every single day with a headache, and my right foot, ankle and calf were often very swollen. So, my dad bought me a blood pressure monitor, and I started watching it closely. It was never normal — it was high literally every time I took it. The day I went to the doctor, it was 182/99. When I Googled that, they said it was “call an ambulance” level.
I went to the doctor and he just happened to have a couple of young girls there performing ECGs and EKGs that day. I got lucky, I suppose. They were nice enough girls, but sometimes when you’re in your 40s, you forget you aren’t in your 20s anymore and you really have nothing in common with the younger generation, so I did a lot of nodding and smiling. My husband was with me and went to go get some blood work done, then came back to the room.
They were using the same goop they use when they give you an ultrasound, which I’ve experienced only to look at whether I have an ovarian cyst, not because I’ve had a baby. These young girls chatted away about their appointments, and how I smelled good. I had to roll over on my left side at one point — I had fallen on it in the shower earlier that week, so it was a struggle.
I watched the screen, thinking about all the times I had watched “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” and laughed about how it looked like a baby. I’m on the heavier side, and I was incredibly self-conscious lying there topless with essentially a large piece of paper draped over myself, as the tech chatted away and poked me with the glowing death stick of pain (as I came to know it). I made some kind of comment about how hot it was in the room and being overweight you’re always kind of hot. Nobody knew what to say, so I went on a bit about how I had lost some weight, but being bipolar I got really depressed and stopped taking care of myself.
The girl poking me painfully actually said aloud, “Oh my God, girl! I know what you mean! I swear I am bipolar. Ha ha ha. Seriously, I had this other job, and every night I would get home from work and be so sad, and my boyfriend was like… ‘you aren’t doing anything with your life, that’s why.’”
I was floored. A million things went through my head. The room was dark, but I tried to look over her at my husband, knowing he would be in the corner of the room ready to tear her a new one. I could’ve said a million things. I could’ve told her she was lucky she could work, as I couldn’t. I could have said, “You’re in the medical field and you’re comparing your day-to-day sadness about having a crappy job with bipolar disorder? I could have said so much, and yet I said nothing.
I had many reasons for not saying a word. The first reason was, based on their previous conversations, I believe it would go in one ear and out the other. However, the main reason was I was just so damn shocked that a young woman trained in the medical field could possibly know so damn little. All she did was further the stigma of mental illness and she was totally oblivious. I’m usually pretty good at thinking on my feet, but I wasn’t on my feet. I was lying on a table half naked and decided that now would be a good time to practice the theory of “picking your battles.”
Once I got home, I started thinking about starting a petition that all high school and college students be required to take at least a mental health awareness course. I did start that petition, and it’s making the rounds online but not getting the attention I feel it deserves, so I’ll include the link here. Perhaps, if we can get to them early enough, they’ll know not to say ignorant things to people who truly do have health conditions that aren’t humorous.
I hope you’ll consider signing it, and not just for someone like me but for the little girl with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or the man with schizophrenia who can’t fight for themselves. I wish I had been able to speak up and tell that young girl how wrong she was, but I guess I haven’t come to that point in my journey yet.
There will be a day when I finally know exactly what to say, and I’ll be sure it gets said. You can count on it.
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Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s family.
Thinkstock photo via Sudok1.