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Why I Don't Tell Doctors About My Mental Illness When Treating My Physical Health

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Ashley at 11 years old, smiling
Ashley at 11 years old.

I have struggled with mental health issues since I was 11 years old — more than half my life, for the most part. I can’t deny it and say it’s been an easy road. It’s been a constant battle, and in the past I often played the “what if’s” game. Now, 13 years after being diagnosed with a mental illness, I’m struggling with chronic physical health issues.

Now that I’ve given some background information, I want to talk about why I’m really writing this article. The truth is I’m frustrated, hurt and angry with the stigma our health care system carries for people like me who struggle with both mental and physical illness. It seems to me that because many of my doctor’s countless tests ordered (which I did despite the pain, sickness and discouragement it caused) all came back OK, it must mean I’m not sick.

When in reality, my appetite has completely changed. I’m nauseous many days and have severe off and on stomach pain. I have different intensities of shoulder and back pain, as well as a mysterious rash and can pee eight to 12 times in two hours.

I must be ‘OK.’

Instead of really getting to the bottom of what’s going on with me, doctors have been pulling out the “mental health card” and assuming they are tied together.

To tell you the truth, I wish it was that simple. Sadly, it’s not.

It’s not anxiety, stress, or my emotions being out of control time to time. To clarify, I do know these things can play a part, as it can with anybody with or without mental health issues. That doesn’t mean that’s what it is, nor is it the whole picture of my physical health concerns. I’m getting very tired of having to fight with doctors to listen to me, advocating for myself and telling them constantly, “I know my body, and I know something’s wrong.”

Now when I see a new doctor, I have sadly learned to only stick with the physical health symptoms and leave out any mental health information. However, I do include this information on the three to five pages of paperwork. I choose not to mention any of it unless they specifically ask, because I’m sick and tired of being judged by my mental illness and having doctors use this “card” against me.

I want medical professionals to see there’s a terrified young adult who just wants answers as to why she has these symptoms. My hope and prayer is someday doctors will be able to look past my mental illness and address the physical issues at hand.

Originally published: July 27, 2016
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