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by Brooke Faulkner
Mental health doesn’t behave the same way other physical illnesses do. While they all have a list of possible symptoms that lead doctors and other health practitioners to solving any riddle, because of the way mental illnesses behave in different people, sometimes true diagnoses can go too long without a solution.
Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses all manifest differently in different people, depending on many outstanding factors, like personality, upbringing, current environment, and more. It’s not as easy as checking a list of boxes and realizing, oh, this person has the flu, or has a cold — and because of that, many people suffer without proper treatment.
There are many ways to get your doctor to listen up, especially if they are a little less than motivated when it comes to giving you a proper diagnosis. And perhaps they aren’t hesitating on purpose; it might be that you aren’t able to describe your symptoms in a way that they understand — in which case, the solution is a simple fix to doctor-patient communication.
Helping Your Doctor Understand
Many people suffering from mental illnesses are also burdened with other, less pervasive illnesses that can have a negative effect on the their attempts to find help. For example, imposter syndrome applies to more than the work you get done in the office — if you’ve never been properly diagnosed with depression, going to your doctor might become a stressful event.
You wonder if you’re really suffering enough to justify it, if perhaps you’re wasting the doctor’s time, maybe there’s nothing wrong at all and you just need to “buck up” — but all of those thoughts and feelings are symptoms of the hard-hitting self-esteem bombs that come hand in hand with depression and imposter’s syndrome.
The first step to finding proper treatment for mental illness is accepting that you’re suffering and that you deserve to seek help. Once you’ve accepted that, then comes the challenge of approaching a doctor with your fears and concerns, and being thorough enough with your symptoms that they’ll understand and come to the correct conclusion.
Don’t be afraid to get personal with your doctor about the ways you feel, the negative thoughts you have regularly, and how it affects your day to day life, whether positive or negative. Emphasize the things that have the biggest effect — do you struggle focusing at work? Do you have a difficult time getting to work in the first place, let alone getting anything done? Don’t be embarrassed, and allow yourself to be completely honest about everything you say and all of the answers you give to questions. This is the first step to taking control of your illness, rather than it taking control of you.
You do not need to protect it or be ashamed of it, and being honest about the ways it affects you is the first step to getting there and proving to yourself that not only is it possible, but you deserve to be treated.
Keeping Records of Visits
Whether you consult a family practitioner, a therapist, a school counselor, or another professional, it’s smart to be taking notes while you’re in the discussion. You should also consider taking notes with you to the meeting. Days before the appointment, begin writing down instances where your illness has impeded your regular day-to-day, write down the feelings you have and the thoughts that plague you. That way, when faced with questions, you won’t have to struggle with descriptions or forgetting that you’ll miss mentioning anything.
The notes will come in handy after the appointment as well, not only in helping to boost your own research into self-care and other options, but they will be valuable if you decide to seek another opinion. Even if you feel confident in the diagnosis the doctor gave you, there will never be any harm in seeking out another professional’s assessment, both to ensure you cover all your bases, but to also find other possible treatment options.
Some people prefer to take medication, while others might prefer something more holistic or natural — neither is more noble than the other, neither deserves more praise than the other, but one might work better than the other depending on you and your lifestyle.
Medication and other professional guidance on treating your mental illness is important, but so are the little things you do for yourself on the daily to boost your confidence, self esteem, and all-around mood when you need it most.
For example, things like tending to a small, indoor garden are proven to not only provide you with a healthy veggie harvest to cook delicious meals with, but taking care of plants, adopting a pet, and picking up other similar hobbies help to boost a person’s sense of worth.
Pampering your body also does wonders for mental health, whether that be through things like treating yourself to a massage or getting into the habit of working out regularly, the endorphins released during increased heart rate and blood flow help to boost your day just a little bit. While for many these endorphins aren’t enough to cure any symptoms, they certainly don’t do anything to make them worse, either!
Just like you deserve to find relief from symptoms of mental illness, you deserve to treat yourself to things that make you happy throughout the journey. Some days you may feel too tired, too stressed, too depressed, and for some of those days it’s OK — and healthy! — to stay in bed and rest, but otherwise, showing your mental illness who’s really in control can be more freeing than anything a doctor can prescribe.