I used to feel ok about the medical profession but in just a few short years that was all going to change. I would be made to feel like I was exaggerating my issues and underestimating my own abilities and I would be told by someone who only saw me an hour a month what was really going on with me.
I used to think I didn’t really need to see a doctor to talk through my issues with. I tried that with a psychologist once and it didn’t work out. I went to see her on advice to get help with my severe depression despite the fact I didn’t even feel mildly depressed. I did have thoughts of suicide coming up from nowhere a few weeks a month, getting worse as I got closer to my period.
This psychologist agreed with me that I didn’t have depression; instead we both agreed it was social anxiety. But throughout my months of therapy with her I started to see that my problems came from undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and not just social anxiety alone. My psychologist agreed but the eventual diagnosis was not official enough. Still, she tried to help me overcome my anxiety issues but she was giving me advice you give to a non-autistic person and so I stopped seeing her.
My official diagnosis for Asperger’s an ADHD came quickly enough that I thought the psychiatrist I had was a really good doctor but I eventually got to pick up on a few of his flaws.
But first I want to mention the first time I realised a doctor wasn’t really listening to me and was just rushing into things. When being prescribed birth control pills I had to tell him my weight. Naturally during this period of my life I was prone to ‘arring’ before I said anything, so he took this as me not knowing so he told me to stand on a scale. I knew that the best time to weigh is in the morning with little to no clothes on and I had eaten a lot that day and was wearing heavy clothes. Still, I didn’t think it would make much difference. I ended up developing pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, a severe version of PMS and my first taste of bipolar-like symptoms. Now I’m not sure if because the scales said my weight was a couple of kilos heavier that this happened –it may have happened anyway – but my own mental health was changed forever.
I self-diagnosed PMDD and then told my doctor about my suicidal thoughts. He told me to keep a journal of my moods for two months and then come and see him. A few days later I locked myself in the granny flat in my backyard and tried to strangle myself with a mobile phone charger. A few days later I was put on anti-depressants.
I know now that anti-depressants and mood disorders don’t always mix and I was put on a brand that was known to trigger bipolar. For about 8 months I was finally anxiety and depression free, if just a little bit unmotivated. But the honeymoon was over when I publicly melted down at a You Am I gig. I thought it was the beginning of a seizure disorder but now I can’t be sure.
Then came the ADHD diagnosis and I was already taking Ritalin before the diagnosis was official. I had all the benefits one has with ADHD medication: clearer and prolonged focus, more motivation, emotional regulation, more energy or a sense of calmness, reduced impulses and an increase in memory. My struggles with reading, writing and math was over. Overtime my social skills began to increase too.
But there were a few issues here. The euphoric period never seemed to end for me. I tried to put this down as being too sensitive to the medication. My psychiatrist had me taking higher and higher doses and when I got up to 30mg I completely lost my appetite and lost a lot of weight quickly, but I was also having hypoglycemic attacks. To make matters worse I started having seizures and this was when I learned that my psychiatrist wasn’t as open minded as I once thought. He said I wasn’t having seizures because if I was having them I wouldn’t know. I’ve since had many seizures ranging from simple partial to secondary generalized (what most people think when they hear about seizures – the very severe kind).
I decided to stop bringing it up with him and then I went off Ritalin but then I went back on when I wanted to be able to work on my science fiction. The next couple of years were a roller coaster ride. I got a lot of writing done but I stopped going out and taking photos of bands. I had been doing that since late 2004. By early 2010 I gave it up after having more suicidal thoughts. I was hell-bent on becoming an acclaimed science fiction author whose books would alter the perceptions of society. I came up with some unusual ideas that were perfect for the genre. I started to come up with my own inventions for future sci-fi tech and would be excited when I started hearing what I wrote about in the news. Then I started to have major depressive episodes in between these extreme spurts of creativity.
I eventually realized that I wasn’t going to become as popular as I thought I’d be but I still had to write because it was the only cure to my depression.
After I suffered a trauma and developed PTSD after barely living one year in Sydney these moods started to get worse. I was too afraid to be outside for long during the day and wouldn’t go out at all at night. I started to avoid going to see live bands and stayed at home having panic attacks if I was there alone.
Around this time I postponed a lot of appointments with my psychiatrist but eventually saw him again and told him about my symptoms. He told me it was an adjustment disorder and sent me on my way. No medication or therapy of any kind. When the PTSD subsided for a little bit he would then tell me my mood issues were from a lack of structure and that if I worked or socialized they would disappear.
Eventually it hit me that Ritalin was causing all my anxiety and I was well aware it was making me manic and cycling through 3-5 moods a day. It was normal for me to hallucinate and have the occasional seizure. I knew I had to stop taking it but I was dependent on it to do the basic of chores and I was addicted to the mania. It took several attempts to quit it; several extreme manic episodes where I broke up friendships and embarrassed myself in front of musicians I admired and a few near brushes with death to make me give it up for good.
The last time I saw my psychiatrist he seemed unconvinced that Ritalin had caused me to become bipolar and he thought these moods would disappear once I stopped Ritalin. It’s almost been three months and I still have the occasional manic episode and my depressions are longer and more severe than before. I’ve returned to my band photography and have now committed myself to deal with these symptoms, although it is hard. I’ve finally admitted to myself that I can’t avoid taking medication anymore but it’s made even more difficult – when the mania hits I no longer want treatment – when my doctor refuses to prescribe me medication at all. I still have fear for my own safety and have PTSD flashbacks too. And when I go through PMDD it makes my mood issues even worse. I become paranoid, delusional and on the verge of committing suicide again and often self-medicate with alcohol, making my moods more extreme and shorter than usual.
I have another appointment with my psychiatrist in a couple of days where I will make clear my demands: I want a thorough assessment so he can find out what is really going on with me. I don’t care if it doesn’t end up being bipolar but as long as I get the right treatment and begin to recover it will be enough for me. If not I’ll have to find myself another doctor which fills me with panic because of my fear and resistance to change. That in itself is another form of mental illness.