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Why I Felt I Had to Hide My Mental Health History When I Went to the Doctor

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I recently made the trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota trying to find some answers and explanations for my chronic health issues I’ve been dealing with over the past four years. Before my mom and I made the eight-hour drive, we wanted to be sure that we were as prepared as humanly possible. That meant combing through my medical records and getting copies of every note, report, scan, and test I’ve had and organizing them by date and marking each subject with its own tabs. There was one report, however, that I purposely left out.

2016 has been the worst year by far when it comes to talking about pain levels. I was hospitalized twice within the first three months of the year and the second time I was there for 18 days. For the initial appointment that started that mess, I drove myself the four hours to the office despite being in excruciating pain and waited for an hour in the waiting room. I was then taken back to the exam room where I waited a while longer for the doctor to come in. After speaking with them it was decided that inpatient treatment was needed and I waited for another hour and a half in the waiting room for the orders I needed to take with me to admitting. After driving myself to the hospital, the admitting area was so packed I had to wait another hour before there was a room ready for me.

By the time I was taken to my room I was completely beside myself in pain, crying, and unable to open my eyes from the searing photophobia. That’s when the doctor came in and told me that I “was not having a normal reaction to pain” and that I “absolutely had to see psychiatrist.” I was put on suicide watch and felt completely dehumanized for the next 24 hours until the psychologist made a visit to my room and decided I didn’t need someone to watch me.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that after a combined total of nearly eight hours of waiting and traveling while dealing with immense pain, some tears are damn well deserved. I also believe if they were worried about my safety, they could have left someone in the room with me, but I wish they didn’t invalidate my reaction to my physical pain.

Also, I’ve been through the mental health battle before. I’ve had horrible reactions to medications given to me to treat depression and I am not interested in letting a neurologist tell me to go straight to psychiatry — do not pass Go, do not speak with a mental health professional and go straight to a prescription. I eventually told this doctor that I would be willing to make an appointment with a psychologist and would listen to their recommendation on whether or not they felt I needed medication, but please stop scolding me for not wanting to go to a psychiatrist.

Fast-forward to this project of gathering my medical records. I had nearly four years of records outlining the efforts I have exhausted trying to get a handle on this nonsense my body has been throwing at me, but I was concerned that this one report would be the only thing that mattered. I have heard so many stories of people with conditions like fibromyalgia and migraine and other invisible illnesses being swept under the rug of depression. I wholeheartedly agree that chronic illness and mental illness often feed off one another and mental well-being should be monitored and treated when need be, but to act like that is the whole diagnosis when there are clearly physical issues happening is something that makes me very nervous. I have been invalidated by doctors before and it. Feels. Like. Crap. I would do anything in my power to lessen the chance of that happening.

The more I thought about this, the more it angered me. Why is mental illness something we feel the need to hide? How messed up is it that lying seems like a better option than allowing a chance for a doctor to send you to the psychiatric ward? Why is mental illness often seen as a weakness? I don’t know the answers and I don’t know the words to say when I meet a new doctor and have these worries, but for anyone in my position who’s afraid of being seen as one-dimensional, know you aren’t alone. You are valid. Your struggles are real and people care, even when they seem hard to find. Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of and it shouldn’t keep you from getting the physical care you need.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 14, 2016
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