Hello! Frankie here! It’s funny how I’ve never really directly addressed something that I’ve learned about myself last year. I suppose I was afraid, even after a formal diagnosis, that I was just making a big deal out of being “emotional”: something I’d been labelled since I was a kid. But I suppose I’d be making an even bigger deal out of it if I pretended to be “fine” when I’m obviously not, so here goes!
Last April, I went to a psychiatrist in order to confirm or else refute suspicions I’d been having about myself since late 2013. As I said before, I’d always been a rather emotional person, but back then those emotions had been easier to understand as they had obvious triggers. Starting December 2013–around the time my dad had a massive stroke–that started to change, until by February 2014–the month my paternal grandmother passed away–I was grappling with bouts of sadness, anger, and fear that felt like they would come out of nowhere.
It was around that time that my mother revealed we had a family history of depression/depressive episodes, but I suppose both of us were reluctant to make that suspicion official for the fear that naming it gives it power. I have always felt that people consider me a “drama queen,” and feared this would just look like another bid for attention. Still, something really did feel seriously wrong, and while I got somewhat used to living with it (I became very good at putting up fronts for long stretches), it got to a point where I couldn’t pretend I was okay anymore. I wanted to know if I actually had something or if, indeed, I was simply an emotional drama queen seeking attention.
Last April, I took a day off work and visited a psychiatrist referred to me over the holidays by a relative whose own child was grappling with mental illness (anxiety, in their case). I won’t reveal the name of the doctor–for reasons that I’ll make clear in a bit–but I will say that they came highly recommended as supposedly they had experience with individuals coming from traumatically broken families, something that my relatives speculated was contributing to my psychological health. While I don’t believe I am “damaged” by my family history (or well, no more than usual; didn’t an author say somewhere that all families mess up their members somehow?), it seemed wise to visit someone who might be able to understand my situation better and chalk things up to unresolved issues versus actual mental illness.
I was very nervous walking in to the appointment, more so because the receptionist had asked me point blank if I was bipolar (apparently there was a “look”? But then again, the receptionist didn’t exactly have psychiatric training.). Half of me feared a diagnosis, while the other half feared that I didn’t actually have one and, again, was simply a weak and wimpy drama queen with no emotional maturity. My nervousness was apparently obvious to the doctor, because when he finally saw me he asked if why I seemed so scared.
The interview/consult itself didn’t go the way I expected. Really, I’m not sure what I was expecting: more…tests? Instead, we had a freeform chat where he asked me why I wanted to consult, what I had been experiencing, what I think triggered it, etcetera. He told me he found I often used “intellectualizing” as a way of deflecting emotions, which was odd because I definitely saw myself as more of a feeling than a thinking person, but when he mentioned that I probably had walked in with a suspected diagnosis because I’d already pre-researched my symptoms…I figured he might be on to something.
What I thought I had was something called “adjustment disorder,” which is described by Psychology Today as:
…an abnormal and excessive reaction to an identifiable life stressor. The reaction is more severe than would normally be expected and can result in significant impairment in social, occupational, or academic functioning. Symptoms must arise within three months of the onset of the stressor and last no longer than six months after the stressor has ended. The response may be linked to a single event (a flood or fire, marriage, divorce, starting school, a new job) or multiple events (marital problems or severe business difficulties). Stressors may be recurrent events (a child witnessing parents constantly fighting, chemotherapy, financial difficulties) or continuous (living in a crime-ridden neighborhood).
Adjustment disorder often occurs with one or more of the following: depressed mood, anxiety, disturbance of conduct (in which the patient violates rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules), and maladaptive reactions (i.e. problems related to work or school, physical complaints, social isolation).
I guess the words “abnormal or excessive” appealed to me because they felt suitably intolerant of my turbulence, which I disliked because I didn’t understand it (if you can’t tell from this blog, I like reasons and understanding things). Still, my self-diagnosis was bunk since it’d been more that six months since my identified triggers (dad’s stroke, grandmother dying) and I was still unstable.
In the end, after what felt like a relatively short talk (turned out we’d been chatting for an hour and a half), the doctor laid out his diagnosis: dysthymia, which he was kind enough to spell out for me knowing that I would try to Google it later. He also described my constant lack of will to do anything as asthenia, and recommended supplements for it (which, looking back, I probably should start taking again?). He explained my body possibly had a hard time converting serotonin, so said that my self-medicating with 5-HTP (something an officemate had recommended; it’s a mood stablilizing, organic food supplement) was a step in the right direction, but that he feared I might become more “unstable” in the future, and suggested I look into…well this is the reason I didn’t go back to him.
He suggested I go on lithium.
I’ve since sought a second opinion on the meds and everyone agrees lithium is pretty much overkill, but other than that the diagnosis seems pretty sound, especially considering people’s descriptions of me as “having a permanent cloud” (despite also being probably one of the wacky drunk-est sober people ever). It was a relief to know that this was actually something, and while I can’t as yet afford regular therapy (hence me trying to angle for a schedule at at UST), so far I’ve been able to manage it with a support group, plus occasional consultations. It helps to know that my perennial sadness is basically a “brain allergy” versus a character flaw (which was how I treated it), and knowing that my body’s just wonky somewhere has helped shut up my self-condemnation a bit.
I’m probably going to go for another check-up since I’m at UST now and I think they’d be less inclined to throwing heavy metals at me, but for now…hi. I’m Frankie, and I’m one of a huge number of people with some form of mental illness. And all things considered, I live a pretty normal life!
I hope this helps encourage you, if you feel you might be struggling with undiagnosed mental illness or just an emotional problem you feel you need to address, to seek counseling or diagnosis from a medical professional. Let me be the first to tell you that you are not being a drama king/queen, and that getting checked out is a perfectly valid act. I treat this a bit like having a chronic allergy: it’s just your body needing a little help running.
Anyway, that’s all for now! I hope I can update more often, but I promise that, at the very least, I’ll be posting a blog on how I coped with my most recent–and quite intense–depressive bout, which happened in Q4 of last year. Hint: it involves KPop.
Until then, I still am: