When “It’s all in your head” is a curse, not a dismissal   2 comments

Working with teenagers in school, I had my fair share of seeing the development of a number of psychological conditions in my students.  Sometimes, non-professional diagnoses would be conversation fodder in the teachers’ lounge.  Other times, the students would just come out with it in the middle of class.  (I still remember the student who waited until the last week of school to tell us he had Tourette syndrome…the two other kids in class who knew what it was started encouraging him to violently swear, just to say they’d seen it.)  Still other student cases were in the file and discussed prior to the student’s arrival.  In any case, getting thirty teenagers to function respectably in an enclosed environment is a psychological challenge of its own kind; knowing behaviors and indications came in handy.

Then, dating a bipolar has brought with it a dramatic learning experience, as well.  I’ve read reports, books, diagnoses—you name it—about bipolar, trying to determine what applies and what doesn’t.  Thankfully, Chad has a very mild case, but that almost makes it more difficult.  What of his behavior and mood is an actual result of the disorder, and what can be blamed (however accurately) on personal mismanagement?

I replied at length to Will’s post, and in it, I talked about finding where to draw the line in self-diagnosis.  I often wonder where that line gets drawn with official diagnoses, too.  How many mental disorder diagnoses are really just the result of pushover psychologists who can vouch for as many false-positives as the patient can throw out?  This is a case where online self-diagnosis can be particularly troubling.

Like Will’s “Are you annoyed by changes in daily routine?”, the questions for depression are so all-inclusive, it’s terrifying: “Do you feel down, slow, sluggish, or simply unable to face the day?”  Any time I hear those leading questions, I chuckle. “Yes,” I think, “and that’s because it’s before noon.”

In my reply below, I talked briefly about an attempted self-diagnosis of mild Asperger’s.  I found a site that corroborated my theory: Asperger’s Syndrome Test told me what I wanted to hear.

And based on the way I phrased that, I’d like to also reference an article about diagnosing bipolar disorder, which is understandably difficult due to how complex and variable the disorder is.  The fourth paragraph of The Challenge of Accurately Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder is troubling to me: “Roughly half of people with bipolar disorder see at least three mental health professionals before getting a correct diagnosis.”  The correct one?  How do we know the real correct one won’t be found on doc #5?  I think half the measuring stick for the “right” diagnosis is whether the patient wanted to hear that diagnosis in the first place.

Posted September 21, 2010 by Chris Friend in Uncategorized

2 responses to “When “It’s all in your head” is a curse, not a dismissal

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  1. I think about this “turning the normal into pathology” quite a bit when I see those depression, bipolar, or other such commercials. Of course we feel these symptoms sometimes–we are complex emotional beings affected by our circumstances at every turn. Just because they are uncomfortable doesn’t mean they should be stunted through medication. Of course there are legitimate needs for medicine but I believe (mostly from personal experience) that we are wayyyyy overmedicated. I sought help for insomnia after a particularly devastating breakup (we had been living together for 4 years and all was “perfect” until…I’ll save you the details but it really messed me up emotionally). My primary goal was help sleeping until I got through the post-breakup anxiety and sadness (not to mention the extreme life upset, since I was staying with my parents in another town). Since the doctor deemed me “depressed” she decided I should take Cymbalta and Seroquel. Not sure if anyone here knows about either, but Seroquel is quite extreme for a simple heartbreak. So is Cymbalta. I researched, took Seroquel one night out of sheer tired desperation and realized that it was a zombie med. I literally hazed through the next day. The Cymbalta was a little better but it was such an extreme measure for depression so easily targeted as the result of a breakup. Temporary…we have all been there. If I were not a critical thinker where meds were concerned, I may very well still be stuck on some antipsychotic medication (Seroquel) and an antidepressant (which I was stuck on for while but painfully withdrew from). This was not my first experience being prescribe unnecessarily meds but it was certainly the most extreme.

    On an only semi-related note, I met a (cute) guy at lunch yesterday and when he told us what he did I just glazed over and went back to my lunch. My best friend was like, “what’s the matter with you?? that guy is so cute!” and I whispered, “he works for the devil…he’s a pharmaceutical rep!” She didn’t quite understand, but I did.


  2. Together, Chris’s and Genevieve’s posts vividly illustrate how vexed diagnostic processes (medical and otherwise) can be.

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