The Minefield of Getting Physical Health Care When You Have a Mental Illness

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Mental health conditions can be the loneliest medical conditions on the planet. They can pull you away from others, or others may pull away from you due to stigma. If you have medical conditions in addition to mental health conditions, it often creates a minefield of mistrust, scrutiny, and gaslighting during medical appointments. In turn, this can leave us, the patients, untreated for extended durations, and/or fearful of seeking treatment.

One of the most hurtful things a medical professional told me was, “It’s all in your head. You need to look in the mirror and will yourself better.” The doctor painfully grabbed my shoulders, bringing me in front of a full-length mirror that was haphazardly leaning against the wall. For the next 10 minutes, the doctor stood there, hands still on my shoulders, and instructed me how to “will myself better.”

Now, the average, mentally healthy person might have politely excused themselves. Perhaps they would have been very direct and refuted the inappropriateness of the doctors’ conduct, or demanded to speak to the manager. But then there’s me, who could do none of those things! I was frozen. Frozen in trauma, frozen in disbelief that this doctor has a degree I can clearly see hanging lopsided on the wood panel wall. Disbelief that this is real life and I’m paying American dollars for this treatment. So, there’s me, standing motionless, pale, and quiet in front of the stupid mirror, doing exactly what the doctor told me to do. Obviously, that appointment was promptly followed by a beeline to the car for a good cry session.

Never give up! It took a couple of months for me to regain my emotional strength and will myself to attempt to get treatment again. As the appointment approaches, I stop eating, I can’t sleep, the hamster running on the wheel in my head got a hold of the neighbor’s crack and I’m having a complete panic attack. Full on! Can’t breathe, heart racing, skin burning, claw my chest open panic attack, but I’m wearing my CPTSD mask today and nobody else knows.

Finally, I found a professional doctor who was less affected by my mental health diagnosis and more concerned with my current symptoms. That doctor promptly sent me for an urgent MRI, which showed severe spinal damage affecting my cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine, requiring immediate medical treatment and attention.

I wish I could say that was the last, of my “worst” experiences and I’ve mapped this minefield of mental and medical health care, but just yesterday at an urgent care visit, the doctor told me that my oral thrush, caused by a recent botched dental procedure, was instead due to my anxiety.

Yeah, that just happened! You’d think, after all these years of repeated exposure therapy to medical personnel who are unable or unwilling to differentiate between mental and medical health care needs, I’d brush this off like nothing. But this is me we're talking about. I'm struggling mentally and medically, but even in these dark, frustrated moments, I refuse to give up.

Image by Mikelane45 via Deposit Photos

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Living with mental & physical health issues.

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