Illness, Medical Treatment, and Stigma

I see the gastroenterologist in the morning, and I’ve been worrying about it.

I’m not all that worried about the actual UC. No, what I’m worrying about is whether I’ll have to deal with mental illness stigma.

I can’t really hide my mental illness. For starters, I’ve got a ton of old self-harm scars. They can’t be mistaken for anything else, and they show if I’m not covered from wrist to ankle. And even if it were long-sleeve weather (it’s definitely NOT), the doctor would know as soon as she looked at my med list.

That shouldn’t be an issue, but it is in way too many cases.

When I was in the ER just prior to the UC diagnosis, I had so many obviously serious symptoms, so they didn’t try to tell me it was all in my head. But the prejudice amongst many medical professionals against people with mental illness wouldn’t give up that easily, no sirree.

A young woman–possibly younger than me, either a med student or an intern–was taking my history. They knew I’d come from an inpatient psych unit, no secrets there. I was on IV dilaudid and still in excruciating pain, so I wasn’t all there to, but I can easily imagine to people without a mental illness reacting like that to those circumstances.

At the end of the history, the 13-year-old in the white coat leaned forward and said, in a very patronizing tone, “Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”


“Are you sure?”

I could tell she was trying to get at something, but I had no idea what. “Uh…yeah….”

She sent my escort out of the room, which isn’t supposed to happen–everyone knows the crazy people need babysitters. “Are you sure there’s nothing you want to tell me about?”

I remember wanting to have some snappy zinger to toss back at her, but my brain wasn’t exactly working at maximum efficiency. “Yeah.”

“What did you take?” She sounded absolutely sure she was right, so condescending she sounded almost smug.

“Nothing. They’ve got all the meds locked up.”

Even if I had been administering my own meds, there was no scientific/medical reason to suspect my symptoms were caused by an overdose–or anything else self-inflicted. Yes, I have psychiatric disorders, and yes, I used to self-harm as part of my symptomology–USED TO being a very important phrase here.

If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras. Yes, I suppose there’s some chance that my symptoms were self-inflicted, but a much more likely explanation was that I was suffering from a serious physical illness.

The same woman later interrogated me for 15 minutes about why I was at the trauma unit, including pressuring me to share graphic details of the abuse perpetrated against me.

Then she asked me if I had any stress in my life.

Really? THAT’s what you’re gonna ask me? Are you fucking serious? Yes, I have stress in my life. It’s about 5 foot 2, standing next to me, and wearing a white coat.

I’m afraid I’ll have a repeat of that with the GI doc tomorrow, and I really don’t need that kind of crap right now. Or ever, come to think of it.

Why is this kind of prejudice so prevalent and tolerated among medical professionals? It’s incredibly dehumanizing and potentially life-threatening. If I know someone is judging me because of my mental illness, how am I supposed to trust them to take care of my physical illness?

Psych patients have physical illnesses just like “normal” people, and they usually didn’t cause it themselves.



Filed under health, psych

2 responses to “Illness, Medical Treatment, and Stigma

  1. God, I hear you on that one. It’s part of why I haven’t dealt more with some of my medical stuff (er, that’s not as- immiently urgent as your current situation). Because especially with things that are pain-related, where someone like you or I doesn’t have a “normal” pain reaction- they get all weird. I had a doctor in Fresno decided that the fact that *my whole right side* having spasmed and then curled up so I couldn’t move it- I mean they had to have a wheelchair to get me out of the cab- was “psychological” because I was a psych patient. He wouldn’t even give me muscle relaxers- pain meds, and ativan, but not fucking muscle relaxers!

  2. Oatsie

    “Yes, I have stress in my life. It’s about 5 foot 2, standing next to me, and wearing a white coat.”

    Amen to that!

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