Last week, a new diagnosis was added to my list: depression. Apparently, this stems mostly from the fact I’m on steroids, because one of the side effects is depression, but, with everything going on, it’s hardly surprising I’m depressed. On balance, I’m impressed I’m not more depressed to be honest- I’m still getting up every day and trying to have a sense of humour about it all.
Not that long ago, I would have argued and said I was ‘fine’ and not depressed. Some of that would have been denial, because my favourite coping mechanism for dealing with my rubbish situation is to make jokes about it. I make some jokes because if I said some things seriously it would make people worry and I’m trying to look after them. Other jokes are because I’m worried and I’m trying to pretend I’m not. Or sometimes, like when I’m in hospital, it gives me a distraction to whatever else is going on and makes me feel a little bit more ‘normal’ again. It’s a coping mechanism.
The other side of me arguing against depression is partly engrained because of some poor care I received from various health care professionals before being diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency. One of the problems with having a random illness is that once people have got to the end of what they know and can’t find a problem, they start looking for other things to ‘blame’ and mental health is a good scapegoat in some people’s eyes. And, sadly, some HCPs see mental health as ‘not their problem’. So even when I was insisting that I had a physical problem and I needed some serious help, the response I got a fair few times was ‘it’s all in your head, go away and deal with your psychological problems’ (direct quote- hardly compassionate!). Which, you can imagine, wasn’t overly helpful, because
a) I didn’t know what ‘psychological problems’ I was supposed to be ‘dealing with’ and
b) it made me feel like having any kind of mental health condition was something I’d either ’caused’ myself from not trying hard enough or
c) that it was some kind of ‘dirty’ illness they didn’t want to deal with (for want of a better word) and the Doctor’s door, both metaphorically and literally, was very firmly closed in my face. Mental Health conditions still require treatment and have a massive impact on people’s lives, but I wasn’t offered much, if any, support.
I was also pretty sure I was actually physically sick, which I was right about, and being dismissed like that nearly killed me. And, again sad but true, once something like ‘psychological problems’ gets written on your healthcare record, it makes it more difficult to ask for help from other people if the next person to come across it has the same attitude, which is terrifying if you’re trying to access emergency treatment and avoid dying. The problem is, from experience, the more you argue and get defensive, the more they put it down to ‘psychological problems’. Hence why I would have fought against having ‘depression’ written on there in the past. Some doctors, even the ones who should know better, really aren’t very good at treating mental health and think it’s beneath them, not their problem or a way of dismissing things they don’t understand, I’ve learnt. There’s a massive stigma surrounding mental health, but I don’t see how it can be broken when medics don’t want to acknowledge it.
Things are different though now. I’ve had many tests that ‘prove’ my physical diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency, which can’t be argued with and ‘blamed’ on depression, which means that doctors now have to treat both my physical illness *and* my depression- meaning overall more holistic treatment for me (hooray). I have a really good endo who actually seems to care about me and how my mental health impacts on my physical illness and vice versa. Like everything with an endocrine illness, it’s not as straightforward to treat as ‘take some antidepressants’, and requires a balancing act which will take time. But it’s a step forward and I’m open to ideas. It’s just a shame that my negative experiences with doctors previously have actually contributed towards the way I feel about illness now and have definitely caused some of my symptoms, as that’s something that could have been avoided with a bit more care and compassion on their part.