How I Became a Walking Drugstore
Since the diagnosis which I’ve had for years has practically been scratched off my chart, so to speak, I figured this was a good time to review what disorders we DO have, or at least the ones we’ve been branded with, be them true or false. Now my mind is still reeling over the statement Dr. H made yesterday (“I don’t think you have schizophrenia”) and I can’t help but wonder if maybe some-or all (?!) of the doctors from my past have been wrong.
The first time K ever saw a psychiatrist was when her parents had her committed, at the age of 16, to a psych hospital, for what they deemed my being inappropriate and out of control. Bizarre behavior led my parents to believe that I was on hard drugs (which was ridiculous; I’d never even smoked pot) when in fact I was just suffering through major depression with suicidal tendencies. I think I tried to kill myself for the first time somewhere around this time, but that memory just won’t come back to me no matter how hard I try to remember. So, I tried to kill myself plus my parents thought I was strung out on heroin, hence I ended up being committed to a hospital. First psychiatrist of my life, Diagnosis: Manic/ Depressive (a couple of years later called Bipolar II). This woman put me on Lithium and suicide watch, then proceeded to tell me that I wouldn’t be so depressed if I’d just wear more colorful clothing. The audacity! I was hospitalized for 3 months, during which time I was given a handful of different medications and yet I continued to dress all in black, and I kept writing gloomy and dark poetry. I think they released me after they decided that I was no longer suicidal, or else they were just sick of me. I continued to see that same psychiatrist (she had a different sports car for every day of the week, and I can’t stand people who are obsessed with money and possessions) until the day came when we had a family session, and my parents were told by this shrink that they, in part, helped contribute to my mental problems. My father was furious, and my mother was angry and in shock. They were good parents, they really were. They grabbed my arm and pulled me out of that office and I never saw that doctor again. (although I realize now that my parents probably did have something to do with my problems, even though they always had good intentions)
The next doctor proclaimed I had Major Depressive Disorder and put me on a handful of antidepressants. I can’t remember how long that lasted. When I graduated from high school, I moved to a new city and was without a doctor for a while. Bad idea. Two intentional overdoses followed Freshman year at college. After the second overdose, I decided it best for me to seek help with my mental “issues”, and so I went to the local hospital and inquired about mental health services for low-income persons (I was just a student after all). I don’t remember that, but I somehow know that it happened.
K found a psychologist who worked on a sliding-scale fee and who was near her apartment and she began to see this man every week. Sometimes he would make us take tests, all sorts of tests, sometimes written tests with questions, other times it was puzzles for K to solve, and one time he simply asked us to fold a piece of paper. Believe it or not, this was one of the more difficult tasks for us, for it had to be PERFECT and it took me a long time to fold the paper; these tests led to our new (additional) diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and some new medication. K’s OCD is easy to spot, although she’s not your stereotypical hand-washer or compulsive cleaner. (Actually, one of the K’s is a cleaner who’s afraid of dirt) K is an organizer, a list-maker…with a compulsion to turn the toilet paper around so that it rolls over the top rather than being pulled out from underneath. Silly things like that. K saw this psychologist for about a year, until the day came when he told her that she needed medication and he was going to have to hook her up with a psychiatrist, but all of that would have cost money, money which K simply did not have. So we left that place and went unsupervised and unmedicated (“all natural”) for what seemed like a long time…but we can’t be sure how long.
K had gotten married at the age of 19, and pretended to be “normal” and went “all natural” and thus didn’t take any medication or see any therapist during the year that her marriage lasted. After the messy divorce, K became very manic-her worst episode ever up to that point-and went a bit crazy and started partying and dating lots of guys and going shopping and doing a lot of risky, stupid things such as dabbling in drugs and driving really fast. This lasted for a couple of years, and K thought she was happy and having fun, like a regular college student…and then she crashed at the age of 23. She fell into a deep, dark pit of despair, the likes of which she’d never known and from which it seemed she’d never crawl out of. Somehow, someone helped us find a new doctor. I can’t remember much after that, I know there were more pills and more labels (Borderline Personality Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Bulimia, Panic Disorder) and this pattern of going from doctor to doctor and getting pill after pill went on until K abruptly disappeared and turned up on the other side of the country.
K didn’t go there alone-she was much too insecure and frightened by being out in public. She had a friend with her, who knew she had a history of depression but who had no idea the extent of K’s illness. They lived in this big, new city for a couple of months before K had a freakout and her friend had to take her to the hospital. (K got lost coming home from work; she totally forgot where she lived and had to call her roommate to come get her) They poked and prodded and questioned K all night. When it was finally over (a couple of days later? I don’t recall), K had a pocketful of prescriptions and the name of both a psychiatrist AND a neurologist. The neurologist took pictures of our brain, and determined that K was having little mini seizures in her head, and I believe these seizures are what destroyed much of K’s memory.
The psychiatrist made us fill out a mountain of paperwork and assessment tests and then there were hours of interviews and therapy sessions, and in the end, he gave K (who was 27 by this time) her new, improved diagnosis: Schizophrenia. That word scared the living daylights out of K, and she went into a state of bewildered shock. She turned up hours later at a girlfriend’s apartment; apparently K had walked miles from the hospital to the girl’s place (this was K’s best friend, whom she trusted with info about her mental illness) and K burst into tears when she got there and had a meltdown and proclaimed that she didn’t want to be schizophrenic, that it was too serious a condition, that it frightened her. It took her a very long time (years) to come to terms with that particular mental health label. How twisted it is that I’ve now been told I don’t have this, after it took so long for me to accept that I did have it. (sigh)
And so that diagnosis stuck, and after that wherever K went and whenever K would change doctors, she’d fill out all the required forms and papers and she always had to list her mental problems and so she wrote down what the doctors had always told her, and for the most part, each new doctor simply looked at her chart, took it as fact, and prescribed more medication: anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers and anxiety meds. This is how she lived her life throughout her young adulthood. See a therapist, take medication, get better, quit taking the meds, have a meltdown, repeat. In the spring of 2002, K had just found a new therapist. This therapist she found listed in a local new-age magazine, and K, being quite superstitious, took that as a “sign”. This therapist, Patty, was the best one K ever had. K liked her from the start, and they connected and K trusted her and she truly seemed to care about K’s mental health and quality of life. She worked in tandem with a psychiatrist who prescribed even more medication for K. This situation remained constant for 7 years. During those years, K would get to a really good, stable place and then she’d quit taking her meds and have a meltdown and have to start over with the pills and she went from one extreme to the other-either drowning in a sea of despair or elated to the point of skipping down the sidewalk. Patty was there to help K deal with her obsessive thoughts, or depression, or fears…she sometimes gave K homework assignments designed to provide insight into the mind of K and her subconscious. One of these assignments was to draw a picture of what K believed herself to look like. I believe this was a self-image/self-esteem test. At the next session, K showed up with at least half a dozen different pictures. Now I didn’t realize this until just recently, but about 2 years after K first started seeing Patty, the term Dissociative Identity Disorder came out of her mouth. K wrote about it in her diary, but then forgot about it. Perhaps it was just more than she could handle, so she removed herself from the reality of this diagnosis and went on with her life and blocked out anything that had to do with that disorder. Therapy during those years is difficult for us to remember, but I have little snippets of memories, like a few seconds of film; one of these mini-memories is Patty asking us what our name was. We didn’t know the answer to the question…we were K, weren’t we? In another partial memory, Patty is telling us that different people have come to therapy in our body. All of this was news to K, or at least I think it was…damn this memory loss! We were just starting to make strides in this therapy, these sessions which focused on who K was and what had happened to her as a child (she clearly had all the classic symptoms of sexual abuse). I believe Patty might have suggested K had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I remember someone said it.
Just when K seemed to be making progress, just when things were beginning to come out, just when K was starting to open up and be completely honest with Patty….well that’s when the unthinkable happened. K got dumped. She drove to her therapy session that day, just as she did every week or every other week if she was doing well, just as she’d done for 7 years. When she got there, she was eager to talk to Patty, she had a lot to say, but Patty sat her down and got all serious and told K that she had missed an appointment the week before. At this particular mental health facility, they had a rule: you can only miss 3 appointments. After that, you are automatically dropped for being a non-compliant patient. Well, K remembered that one day she had been trying to call them to change her appointment but no one would answer the phone. We called repeatedly throughout the morning and afternoon. It was Memorial Day, so K determined that they must’ve been closed for the holiday. This is why K missed that last appointment. She really did try to call and reschedule, honestly she did. But she was being dumped, and this HURT, terribly, K takes everything so personally, and so it hurt her feelings that Patty didn’t want to see her anymore. From somewhere deep inside us, this angry K suddenly appeared and acted like a total bitch and said horrible, insulting, rude things to Patty. I watched from outside my body, and couldn’t believe what was happening. It just didn’t seem real, it couldn’t be true. K stormed out of Patty’s office, got into her car, and hauled ass out of the parking lot. She started bawling almost immediately, and did so for the entire hour’s drive back to her home.
K’s world was turned upside down. Since her psychiatrist worked together with her therapist, K certainly didn’t want to see that psychiatrist anymore. She called and cancelled her next appointment. For the first time in seven years, K was without a doctor or a therapist. She had some medication, but would soon run out. She started frantically trying to find a new doctor. But it is harder than you’d imagine to find a psychiatrist who accepts Medicare and Medicaid. We were losing hope, then we called Dr. H’s office, and the lady on the phone was so nice and helpful and we explained to her that we really needed to see the doctor, that we’d run out of medications and we were having some withdrawal symptoms as well as feeling unstable. They got me in quickly, and even though my medical records had not been faxed from the other doctor’s office as had been requested, the doctor met with me and we talked for over an hour. I left feeling hopeful.
Our last psychiatrist, who’d worked alongside Patty, well, we hated her. She was an evil bitch who didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about me and how I was doing, she just wrote out my prescriptions; when I came in crying, she’d increase my dosage. I never felt anything but distaste for that woman. This new doctor, Dr. H, well she had shown me more compassion in one session than that other shrink had shown me in years. I had medication refills now, and I was eager to start therapy sessions with Dr. H. That was 2 years ago. It took Patty two years to label me DID, and it took two years for Dr. H to find out about my dissociative disorder. That brings us to the present day. We have had 2 sessions in which we discussed dissociative states. She’s ready to get to work it seems; she asked me to bring the diaries which are the evidence of our illness. I’m terrified, yet excited at the thought of beginning the healing process, of accepting what and who we are, and of learning to love K as she is, in spite of her faults.