Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Today I Am Bipolar

Today, I am "that bipolar patient."  Today, my mental illness is on trial, as it is every three months.  Today, I have my three month medication checkup at the psychiatrist and it's not a trip I look forward to.

I admit to often changing the appointment times, or putting the appointments off.  I always have reasons, justifications, rationalizations.  The last time I went, I had managed to make it six months in between appointments due to this and that.  He wouldn't make the mistake of giving me another six month supply of medications last time and I am down to the last week of one of them.  This week, there is no getting out of my appointment

I don't know if not wanting to go (really, I do NOT want to GO!) is part of my more general anxiety of not wanting to go places in general all the time or if this particular appointment is far harder than my other forays out into the world.  I am the first to admit that I do not do "going out" very well.  I like my house, especially the inside of my house, more than is probably normal.  Every time I think about this not liking to go anywhere and the rationalizations I will make to put off a trip out, I wonder just how bad is this mental thing anyways?

Today, I must go and sit in the office where I am humbled by the fact that so many people suffer from mental disorders.  The office accepts all patients who have insurance and a lot of the patients are Medicaid patients, which means they are people who have already been humbled by a system that treats them like they are dirt because they do not have any money.  To get Medicaid, you basically must have nothing, and I cannot imagine how demeaning it must be to go through the process of proving you have nothing to get insurance.  Just having to see a psychiatrist is already demeaning.

The office can be a little frightening, even if you have a mental disorder.  I have been witness to a woman calling the police because the father of her mentally ill child had shown up in spite of a restraining order that was supposed to keep him away.  It appeared that he just wanted to see his daughter.  It was scary and I kept thinking, "How did I end up having to be in a place like this?"

Easy.  I am bipolar.  And on psychiatrist day, every three months, that fact slams into me with the force of one of those simulated car accidents you see on commercials and I am the crash test dummy that slams forward and back, in my mind without a seatbelt.

I get that I have a mental disorder and I am not ashamed of it.  Except that I am.  I'm ashamed of it when it makes me act unlike "normal" people and I cannot control it.  I am ashamed that I must take medications for these particular symptoms.  And I am ashamed that the doctor will sometimes use me as his guinea pig, suggesting that I try the latest drug that has been approved by the FDA for bipolar disorder.  The last time he did this to me, I took the drug and the result was that I couldn't walk or talk for several hours.  I felt as if I had had way too much alcohol to drink and I don't drink.  I took that drug once and returned the rest of the samples to him at my next visit, saying, "Thank you, but I don't think I can take this drug."  He looked at me with mild curiosity and said, "Oh.  Do you think you could write me a letter and tell me what it made you feel like?"  What am I?  An experiment for the FDA?  For the psychiatrist?

My doctor has medical students, so I am often not only subject to his scrutiny, but often the curious carefulness of these young people who are afraid of the nutcases in the lobby.  Except that I'm not a nutcase.  I am Chelle Newton and I have a mental disorder.  I hate that careful once-over I get as I am taken back to his office for my ten minute med check as they look to see if I am going to do something crazy right there in the office.

The problem with having a mental disorder is that you become, in the minds of those treating you and in the minds of most people who discover that you have it, something less than human.  Less than them.  Someone who might snap at any minute.  Someone who doesn't always act "quite right."  Someone whose behavior might be fine one minute and over the top the next.

We with mental illnesses scream that we want the stigma to go away, that we are people and deserve the same treatment as "normal" people.  That we deserve to have jobs.  We deserve to have families.  We deserve to have dignity.

Then, someone who is at the extreme end of the mental illness scale will do something truly crazy and it makes all of our hard work to erase the stigma go down the drain and we have to start over.

I don't know if the stigma will ever go away.  I don't feel comfortable, most of the time, telling people I have bipolar disorder because I am afraid that they will look at me differently or be uncomfortable around me.  Sometimes it feels as if I am a monkey on a stick and people are just waiting for me to dance.  Especially those med students.

So today, I go to my psychiatrist's office.  I will drive for 45 minutes, I will sit in the waiting room and look at the people around me with empathy (because their minds have also, in some way, broken), I will endure the questionnaire that asks everything from whether I am suicidal to what my sex drive is, I will endure the once-over and scared looks of the medical students, and I will talk to my doctor for ten minutes to get my expiring prescription refilled.  And I will do all of this with dignity, because I am still a person of value and worth, despite the fact that my mind broke quite awhile ago and, when they tried to fix it, they missed a few spots and there are still scars and cracks in there that I know are never going to go away.

Today I am bipolar.  And I will be bipolar tomorrow and the next day and the next.  It just is what it is and I can't change it.  But I accept it and each day I try my best.  I always accept and love myself for myself because I don't really know who else I can be.



  1. This sounds absolutely awful. Please try to find a good psychiatrist who doesn't have med students and who treats you like a human being, not a guinea pig.

  2. Thank you so much for your concern. I am actually fairly happy with this psychiatrist because he does not medicate me into a zombie-like state, which is what the two prior to him did. I have years that I don't remember now because of over-medication.

    I usually don't mind being an educational experience for the students - they need to learn somehow. Plus, there is not a very large choice of psychiatrists where I live, which is a pretty rural area. The one that is closest to me is one of the ones that over-drugged me, so now I drive a little farther to see this guy. Sometimes it's a good experience; other times it can be a bit demeaning. Usually, it's at least a fair experience and he does understand that my major problems are depression and having trouble sleeping, which I appreciate.

    There is a compromise between controlling the symptoms of my disorder and living with it and then being a person who sleeps 19 hours a day and spends the other 5 hours staring blankly at the television set. I prefer the lesser medication and dealing with some of the symptoms. And I really do like this doctor. I think it's more his staff and the way the waiting room is set up, because there is simply no privacy in the large waiting area. And I do not like telling the med students everything and then having to tell him again when he comes into the room. But again, they have to learn somehow and I knew going in that this was a teaching practice.

    Although he has, on occasion, said hey, there's this new drug out that was just approved for bipolar, he has always respected me when I said no, I don't want to try it. And when I went in this last time, I asked him for an anti-depressant and we ran through all of them and he asked which one had worked for me in the past.

    I need to post an entry on how the visit went - I've just been putting it off. Talking about this part of my treatment is difficult and I think no matter where you go for help, just knowing that it's a psychiatrist's office makes it somewhat intimidating.



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