Mental illness can be an ugly disease to live with. People talk about the prejudice that they face when people know that they have a mental illness. I've been lucky. I've spoken before about sharing my condition with others and usually nothing too terrible comes from it.
Until this summer.
I spent three days in varying ER's being treated for “episodes” which resemble seizures. I have never lied to doctors. No matter how personal or uncomfortable a question is I have always answered honestly because I believed that without honesty I may not receive the best treatment for my situation. So when one of the doctors asked about my medical history and other conditions I openly stated:
He immediately prepared to write an answer as he asked “What medications?”
His reaction was less than pleasant. Suddenly there was “nothing they could do” and I was fine to go home. When I expressed any opinions, they were referred to as “behaviours.” We found out from nurses that the doctor had dismissed my seizures as a psychosomatic symptom. Simply because I had bipolar.
Despite this negative experience I will continue to share my complete medical history with doctors. Reexamining my history, I can see many occasions where a doctor's behaviour was negative and I can't help but wonder how often my treatment was changed because of a stigma or bias.
When we encounter these sorts of people, it makes us want to hide our condition unless necessary.
So when is it necessary to share our mental illness with a health care professional?
The answer? ALWAYS.
It is so easy to tell ourselves “we aren't here for bipolar, I won't tell them” but health care professionals need to know. If you're in the ER with a broken leg, it may seem to have nothing to do with your bipolar disorder, but nurses and doctors need to know you have bipolar – there are some medications that react badly to persons with mood disorders and your doctors need all the information to give you the right pain killers or anesthesia.
Getting the flu shot or other vaccine? Your doctor or pharmacist should know all medications you are on and diagnosed conditions – the variant of vaccine you are getting could have a red flag for certain conditions.
Both of these situations and many more also contain the possibility for something to go wrong. By disclosing your proper medical information, you can ensure you get appropriate treatment if you are incapacitated at some point during your procedures. This also carries over to simple things like dental work – make sure your dentist knows of any serious medical conditions, including your bipolar and bipolar medication.
Often, we think we only need to share the medications we are on. Looking to start a new over-the-counter cold medicine? Double check with pharmacists that your medication, and condition won't cause an issue and always read the inserts. Even if you aren't currently medicated you should disclose your condition to the pharmacist. We don't realize that in some cases, a certain medication may not be suited to someone with your condition or brain chemistry.
Whatever the situation is, it can be tough to find the courage to share your condition with those around you. Not everyone reacts the way we'd like. When you encounter those with a negative reaction, you can try to talk to them about how they are making you uncomfortable – and in some cases simply request a new person or in the case of dentists and pharmacists, seek out a new one yourself.
Always remember that your number one priority should be yourself, and your own health – not catering to the fear and stigma of others.
Read the rest of Jane's posts here.