Monday, August 20, 2012

Be Persistent

It takes a strong person to admit that something is wrong health-wise. It takes an even stronger person to seek help. I think this is even more difficult when it's not a condition physically visible to the outside world. If you've got the chicken pox, most people will probably suggest you seek help and stay away from you if you do. If it's something you can describe but outwardly it looks like nothing's wrong, it can be tougher. Seeking a professional opinion is a huge step in addressing the concern. Unfortunately, I know from personal experience, and from talking to others, that all to often we finally get up the courage to take this step, and are told "nothing's wrong" or "it's not a big deal".

When I was in 5th grade, my parents (who are by no means the type to bother a doctor when really not needed) brought me to the pediatrician numerous times over the course of a month explaining to him that their incredibly positive and energetic child was so exhausted she could barely move. The doctor kept saying there was nothing and sending us home. Finally, after about a month, he did a blood test and it was determined that I had, and still have, Epstein Bar -  a chronic virus that I'll have my entire life, and was in a serious flare up.

When I was 19, I began experiencing more strongly what I now know is my cyclothymia. I went to numerous therapists, and while some helped me get through the symptoms (anxiety, down moods, etc), no one thought to look further into what might be causing these symptoms. I was told I was stressed with school work, anxious about my wedding, down because I wasn't getting along with my then mother-in-law. Over the course of about 10 years, I tried numerous doctors, therapists, and several medications which made me worse instead of better. I kept saying to them, "listen, my mom-in-law isn't my best friend and my schedule is busy but SOMETHING IS WRONG. Those things are not the issue!" It didn't matter. It wasn't until I found my current therapist that I was diagnosed. She didn't brush off my concern, she didn't ignore the fact that I had been experiencing similar symptoms most of my life, and her careful questions and analysis got me diagnosed and on the right medication.

Contrary to what you'd imagine, I was actually somewhat relieved when I was diagnosed. All of the other reasons I'd been provided with for how I was feeling hadn't felt correct. This did. I think I'd somehow known it all along. It can be frustrating going to doctor after doctor, therapist after therapist, and trying med after med without success, and even without much concern on the part of the professional. Be persistent. Just like my parents didn't settle for the fact that I was "just tired" when I was 10 years old, I wouldn't settle for the fact that what I was going through wasn't an actual condition and was all due to me "stressing myself out over little things."

It can be difficult to be persistent because, to be honest, it can be scary. Finding out what is truly causing the issues of concern may force you to be very honest with yourself. In both instances, I was diagnosed with a lifetime illness. The former doesn't flare up to often, but I am on medication for cyclothymia every day and have to have blood work every couple of months. But being persistant also opened the doors for treatment, for working through my condition, and for understanding the symptoms. It makes it easier to deal with the symptoms when you can say, "ah, I recognize this, and I know the best action to take in this situation." If nothing else, you can monitor any patterns, start to realize how long the symptoms last, and learn more about what you're going through.

So if you've not had luck with going to professionals and you feel frustrated, don't give up. Trust me that when you find the person who does support you and is willing to go the extra mile to work with you, it'll be worth it. Even more so if they can find the right treatment or medication. I know it's not easy. But you know your body and mind better than anyone, and you know when something isn't right. Don't accept "nothing's wrong" or "I don't know" or "there's nothing we can do" for an answer. You deserve way better than that. 


  1. This reminds me of one of the commercials that is going around now where a doctor is trying to perform someone else’s job and the add says, “you wouldn’t let a doctor to do your job, why would you try to do his?” My reaction to that is that if a carpenter is putting in a new kitchen for a doctor, the carpenter may be the expert, but it is still the doctor’s kitchen. While the doctor may be the technical expert, it is still always the patient’s body and no one else knows what it feels like to inhabit that body. In that sense the “patient” is always the expert. I don’t know how many times when I worked at Inglis House residents were experiencing serious pain only to be sent back from a doctor to say they could not find anything wrong. Even though most doctors are doing their best, saying “I can’t find anything wrong” is not equivalent to their not being anything wrong. Medical science hasn’t become all-knowing yet. On the other side of the coin, though, sometimes, we have to respect a doctor when he says, “I know you want a solution, but I don’t have one.”

  2. I very much agree. I know people who have gone through so many tests and truly the doctor can't find something wrong. I think my bigger concern is when people go to a doctor and the doctor basically, without saying it, thinks the person's a hypochondriac and gives them a silly solution to placate them and that's it. I think this is particularly prevalent when it's something "mental". People know when their stress or anxiety is abnormal. I know a lot of people with chronic depression that get so sick of hearing that they just have to "look on the bright side" when in fact it's actually a chemical, physical cause. I love the analogy to that commercial - I know exactly which one you mean. I agree 100% that often, the patient is the expert. Especially when it's something that can't be proven with a physical test, the patient knows better than anyone what they're going through. It might not fit a standard mold, but it's what they're going through whether the dr likes it or not. Sometimes I feel if the doctor would just sit back and really listen, they'd think to look into something that's not obvious right on the surface. And sometimes, if they really can't figure it out, you have to thank the doctor for their time and effort, and try to find someone that can figure out it.