Stigma Via Health Professionals

This is my latest post for A Canvas Of The Minds. It was posted yesterday. I apologise for my lateness in sharing.

“Am I alone with this? Have you been on the receiving end of stigma from health professionals, be it general health or mental health?  How have you handled it and what effect has it had on the overall treatment of your health issue? If it isn’t something you have experienced, how would you handle it if you came across such stigma?”

Read on at: Stigma Via Health Professionals

Thanks for reading




Featured Image -- 5225

10 Reasons Why You Need To Stop Stigmatizing People With Mental Illness

Cate Reddell:

I don’t reblog often. Actually hardly ever. But Rachel Griffin’s post here makes for some great reading. and so I have broken my rule. It’s long, but well worth making it a ‘must read’.

This is the billboard she talks about:


Originally posted on wehaveapples:

I normally post online about Muppets, coffee, musicals and cats, (not Cats the musical, the furry-animal-kind) but recently all I’ve been posting about is the Kenneth Cole billboard that links mental illness and gun violence. Why? #1 Because it perpetuates mental illness stigma. #2 The effects of that stigma are devastating.

Yes, I am now on a tireless quest to get people to understand why the billboard basically ate my soul when I saw it. CRUNCH! Don’t worry- I recovered my soul, undamaged. Souls are really durable.

I posted a blog critiquing the billboard on Facebook which was mostly ignored.. (got maybe 2 likes) I’ve had friends say, “What’s wrong with the billboard again?” I got 318 likes on another post.. but that one was about my hair. :/

Believe me, I miss my tweets about Kermit and the keyboard cat, too, but for now I need to focus…

View original 2,566 more words

Last Post (…Mile, Kilometre, or Lap)

Sometimes you know that your time is up, and this is that time.  It’s time to hang up my blogging ‘shoes’.  I have been blogging on this site for just over three years.  It’s been a great ride.  Well most of it, anyway.

In the few years before I reached my 40th birthday (a ‘few’ years ago) I was somewhat addicted to long distance running.  This was very definitely a stint of over-exercising for me.  Tell me that I was a “jogger” as some people liked to call themselves, and I was offended.  I was a serious runner, in it for the long haul… literally.

My very expensive running shoes in retirement.

I wasn’t much into events.  Running with masses of people destroyed the peace of running for me.  I did a few races but it just wasn’t for me.  However my great aim was to run in the Christchurch Marathon in 2005.

I did it, but only just.  Within the first kilometre I pulled my right hamstring.  Stubbornness (and addiction) kicked in, and although I was in an extreme amount of pain, I decided to keep running.  Actually I was used to running in pain.  My knees never coped with long-distance running.

I was doing the half marathon so only had around 20 kilometres to go.  Of course, the further I ran the worse the pain got.  I never got to that “break through the wall” stage, but I simply kept running.

At the beginning of the last lap, the bell was sounding, just in case I didn’t know I was on my last lap.  Oh, I knew.  By then I was counting every metre, but the sound of the bell told me I just had to run through this park and down the road to the finish line.

I did it.  I couldn’t walk for the next three days.  But I did it.

I admit that this past year of blogging has been a little like that for me, sadly.  I was somewhat addicted.  I have loved blogging but I had hit some issues that were creating pain.

You see, as you will realise I have been blogging under my own name.  That has been very important to me, for a number of reasons but perhaps mostly because I have always believed that until we can speak out in our own names, we won’t crush the stigma of mental illness.

Ok, so I admit defeat (for now).

It’s not so much outright stigma that hit me, but the very real difficulty of protecting the privacy of those I care about.  That wasn’t just my family, but those who were having an impact on my life, and that I wanted to include in my writing here.  Mostly I just couldn’t, unless (as you would have witnessed on a number of occasions) I wrote a very vague, cryptic post.  Sometimes that worked.  Sometimes it didn’t.

Stigma came in as a second issue, in ways that I hadn’t expected.  Stigma is so much more than a public issue.  It is also very personal,painful and sometimes used against us in ways that anyone even realises.  That’s no excuse, but it is a very real explanation of some things that have gone on for me, particularly in the past year.

Calling it quits to blogging on this site is really difficult. My site is me.  Do you know that feeling?  It’s me in so many ways, but now I leave it. It is something that I have considered long and hard. Unfortunately it is my only sensible choice.  I have been silenced (for want of a better word).

To my readers, and perhaps particularly those who have followed this blog for a considerable amount of time, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comments.  Thank you too, for the ‘likes’.  Whatever way you have opted to interact with me, thank you.  You are the people who made blogging worthwhile. Thank you for making blogging an amazing experience for me.

So what of the future?  I don’t know where the future will take me.  I simply have to admit that this race is finished.  My feet (and my hamstring) are sore, but there is a future (somewhere) ahead.  Time will tell where that future will lead.

 “Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World

I Am Not A Demented Chameleon!

Do you remember back in the playground when the overweight kid got called “fatty”?  And the one who told some fibs was branded “liar”?  There were endless names that children named other children without a care in the world.  We (and yes, I probably was one of them too) didn’t know how hurtful those names could be.  Perhaps half the time we didn’t even know what the words meant.  We had simply heard them from others, and thought we’d give them a try ourselves.  I think it’s where the re-phrased “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will always hurt me” fits.  And yes, those names did hurt.

Today, I and all my friends who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with me, got called names.  We were called  ‘demented chameleons‘.  Apparently Borderlines (like Sociopaths) they said, are ‘demented chameleons‘.  The original name was tossed at sociopaths (as the site was focussed) and my thoughts about that are another issue   I just got angry when I saw someone throw Borderlines into the fire, calling us the same name, with probably no thought at all.

It’s something that I can walk away from.  I’m used to it.  This type of name-calling happens for people with BPD all the time sadly.  Actually it happens to all people with mental illness all the time.  I can walk away and that’s what I did.  The person who labelled me a ‘demented chameleon‘ probably doesn’t personally know anyone with BPD, and simply read it somewhere on one of the awful websites that set out to degrade us.  It is probably a combination of stupidity and ignorance… and so it deserves my walking way.

The difficulty I am left with though, is that ignorant comments like that get read by others, and believed.  It’s what builds up the stigma against both BPD and mental illness as a whole.  That’s what really gets my blood boiling.  How dare they blast me with their stigma but also contribute to the overall stigma that all of us with mental illnesses face.

This is my idea.  For each time I see such a combination of stupidity and ignorance, I need to post here, my opposing view.  Maybe it might not be the same people that read both accounts, but in my world one can still outweigh the other regardless.  If people choose to feed the world with negative views of me, then I can feed the world with the positive.  Does that mean you are going to be reading posts like this everyday?  No, that’s not my intention.  But when my blood boils, I need to speak out.

People with BPD are not ‘demented chameleons“.  If you stop to get to know someone with BPD you will find that actually we are beautiful people.  We are generally very caring people.  That’s part of our disease.  But we are not demented.  While we may change aspects of ourselves in how we come across to the world. we are not cynically one thing one day and another tomorrow.  Moreover that changing does not happen out of an intent to hurt and manipulative.  It is simply who we are as we battle with the internal struggle to own who we are.  It’s not easy having BPD, and name calling such as this doesn’t help us.

I suspect that most people have no idea about BPD.  The label tends to draw a blank expression on the faces of those who hear it.  BPD is  not well known (like say, Bipolar) and is certainly not well understood.  But I will not sit quietly and see myself and my friends named as ‘demented chameleons‘.  That simply comes from ignorance.

And now having said that, I walk away and breathe.  Frankly, the people who choose to live in such ignorance are missing out on you and me.  Emphasis on the missing.  I almost feel sad for them.

Ending on a lighter note… I have been called a ‘demented chameleon‘ but I’m still waiting for the ‘incorrigible’.

Image credit: Used with permission of Sue Fitzmaurice. Facebook: Sue Fitzmaurice, Author
Image credit: Used with permission of Sue Fitzmaurice.
Facebook: Sue Fitzmaurice, Author

PS.  Victory after Publishing.  I’m happy to see that the offending material has now been taken down

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

― Maya Angelou

Prescriptions And Privacy

About a month ago I saw my doctor, a General Practitioner.  It was just a routine appointment, although it quickly went from routine to fascinating when he said he had been wanting to talk to me.  The result was that after two long years of debating with him my need for adequate pain medication, he finally agreed to prescribe some.

He had previously refused, in spite of acknowledging the level of pain I was experiencing from fibromyalgia, because he believed that my history of mental illness would mean that I would get addicted to the stuff and my mental health would suffer.  One of my arguments was that my mental health was suffering already as a result of the pain I was in on a daily basis.  For some reason unknown to me that argument seemed to count for nothing to him.  It seemed that he didn’t accept it and so was only prepared to let me use over-the-counter medications.  The problem with those is that they did nothing to relieve the pain, perhaps because they are designed to treat a different kind of pain.  Our argument went on over the months.  When I felt I had some fight in me I would raise the issue, but basically he was quite clear that he would never prescribe anything stronger and more appropriate.

Let me say at this point (in case you’re wondering) the easy thing to do would have been to change my doctor.  For me though, that has some difficulties related to my past experiences of doctors.  More about that in a future post… when I’m feeling brave.

In the meantime, what changed my doctor’s mind?  It seems he felt a little backed into a corner.  At an earlier appointment he had arranged for me to have some short-term counselling to deal with a specific unrelated issue that had been affecting my state of mind.  It was only to be six sessions, which always seemed too short, but it was free and it was available.  I had no other options and so I took up the offer.

I had seen the counsellor twice when I went to my doctor a month ago.  That was what my doctor wanted to talk about.  He proceeded to read out to me word-for-word something I had said to the counsellor, on my second visit, about my doctor’s refusal to treat me with pain medication.  I was totally gobsmacked to find that the counsellor was giving my doctor a written report of my counselling sessions.  This was not something I had been told about, nor had I given permission for him to share the details of my sessions with anyone.

That was the end of the counselling sessions.  I guard my privacy carefully and I expect that when speaking to a counsellor or therapist that what I say will remain confidential.  I accept that if I am at risk of hurting either myself or someone else then the counsellor may have to call in emergency services but I could never accept that my doctor needed to hear word-for-word what I said when I was no where near being in a crisis state.

Well that might have been the end of the counselling, but for some reason (he didn’t explain) my doctor didn’t appreciate what I had said to the counsellor, gave me a small lecture about “keeping secrets from him”  (really?) and then handed me a prescription for medication to treat severe pain.  Weird.  It’s like he knew he was discriminating against me and was waiting to see how long he could get away with it.

I finally had my prescription!  Yay!  The only problem is that a month on I declare it totally useless for me.  If my body is anywhere close to horizontal, the medication will put me to sleep (which is one way of dealing with pain) but it does absolutely nothing to take away the pain.  Actually if anything the pain has been worse in the past couple of weeks.  I wonder is he just giving me sugar pills (unlikely, I hope) or just a very small dose?  This coming week I will be going back to my doctor to keep fighting.  I have tried that drug but now I need another.  The fight goes on.

Gotta love doctors (and counsellors) like him.

“Life isn’t as magical here, and you’re not the only one who feels like you don’t belong, or that it’s better somewhere else. But there ARE things worth living for. And the best part is you never know what’s going to happen next.” 

― O.R. Melling, The Summer King

Those In Peril On The Sea

Going back a few years, I remember having to sing hymns in high school Assemblies, three times a week.  The hymn that springs to my mind right now is this one (well, this is the first verse):

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

I knew it was a hymn often related to the Navy, and I knew it was old (written in 1861) but I really had little idea of what the words we were singing meant.  Wikipedia tells me it is something related to Psalm 107 about those being shipwrecked and calling for God’s mercy.

My thinking is that those in peril on the sea had no hope, and the issue of being no hope (sometimes) has been weighing heavily on my mind this week.

It was two and a half years ago that a man collapsed in my house and I had to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) on him in an effort to save his life.  I did CPR for 20 minutes.  If you’ve ever had to do it, you will know that it is an extremely physical procedure and in that time I completely exhausted myself.  But I had no thought that there was no hope, and so I kept on.  At one stage I heard a rib crack, and I thought ‘Dad is going to be really sore tomorrow with his cracked ribs I’ve just given him‘.  Still, I believed there must be hope…    and so continued.

Eventually paramedics arrived and took over.  They continued to perform CPR for another 20 minutes before telling me (and my mother who was watching all this) that there was no hope.  He had gone.  My Dad had died.

What was I hoping for?  I guess that the treatment I (and then the paramedics) were giving him, would revive his heart and bring him back to the person I knew. To bring recovery. I wanted him to be saved from his ‘peril on the sea’.

Image credit: John Desjarlais/


Then I started thinking about hope and how it applies to mental illness.  It’s something I talk about regularly because I believe that having hope is what makes the difference to me getting through my mental illnesses.  For me, there is hope of treatment, both pharmacological and psychotherapeutic.  My main diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a little tricky because as it forms part of who I am (my personality) it can’t just be removed.  For me, management of the symptoms of BPD is what I hope for, and right now I am pretty much achieving.

But is there that hope for all mental illnesses?  Most of us at least have hope of management of symptoms , if not complete recovery but it’s occurred to me recently that actually that hope is not there for all illnesses.  What if there is no medication known to treat the illness, and what if therapy is not known to be particularly effective?  What if most sufferers actually aren’t motivated to seek treatment, even if it was available?  While again, I need to emphasise that I am not qualified in psychology or psychiatry, and so I am speaking of my personal thoughts rather than proven fact, it does seem that there is little hope for those people.  And I’m talking about four in every hundred people.

This fills me with sadness because it is hard enough to live with mental illness when at least someone can see hope.  It also fills me with sadness because people close to me are in that number and I desperately want hope for them.  My heart is also filled with sadness because these people perhaps struggle against the stigma of mental illness the most.  I haven’t named the illness purposely, because as a society there tends to be little, to no compassion for these people.  They’re hardly even treated as people.  But what if it were us?

It’s not my role, or my desire, to be dictating who we should, and shouldn’t feel compassion for but I will tell you my own way of looking at this.  Sometimes even people with mental illnesses (like me) do things that aren’t nice, aren’t acceptable and aren’t what healthy human beings would choose to do.  I don’t like their behaviours one little bit.  I don’t like it when innocent people get hurt.  There needs to be appropriate punishment when crimes are committed.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the people with mental illnesses who did these things are human beings.  Look at it another way.  We were all once innocent babies, who needed and deserved the best care in the world.  For a million reasons things can go wrong, but we all still need and deserve care and compassion.  They’re not monsters, but babies.  That’s my way of looking at it anyway.

I don’t write this post today because it’s a good topic to debate, but rather because it is something weighing very heavily on my mind right now… because of my personal experience.  I can’t quite get my head around there being no hope for someone’s mental health, mostly because I had to cling onto my own hope (and others’ hope for me) for so long (and still).  Maybe someone will tell me it doesn’t matter because the person probably isn’t motivated toward treatment anyway, but we all have families.  While they might not always be perfect families, at least some of them would want hope for us.  Some of them would not want us to be at ‘peril on the sea’.  And I just can’t accept that these people should simply be left at peril.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

― John Bradford (1510–1555)

“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” 

― Richard Evans

Celebrity Rating Of Stigma

What makes me any different from Stephen Fry?  Or any other celebrity who speaks out about living with mental illness?  So I’m not a celebrity, but after that, we’re all the same.

There has been a lot in various forms of media this week about Stephen Fry coming out about his suicide attempt in 2012. Describing himself as a victim of his moods, he said that he views his role as head of the charity, Mindis not to be shy and forthcoming about the morbidity and genuine nature of the likelihood of death amongst people certain mood disorders“.

I think it is great when anyone is ‘not shy and forthcoming’ about mental illness and suicide, but a celebrity adds the advantage of perhaps a wider audience than the rest of us. It got me thinking though…

Do we think it’s easier for Stephen Fry, or any other celebrity, to talk openly about their mental illness?  I ask, because sometimes I think that we rely too much on celebrities for this, saying “it’s easier for them”.  Somehow their money, and their status means they apparently have less to lose in being open.  I’m not so sure.

Stephen Fry has friends who might judge him, just like me.  He has family who might criticise him, just like me.  He even has a job he could jeopardize.  I don’t have that right now, but I have in the past.  He also has an audience through his employment.  They could judge him too.

It’s interesting because earlier this week I read an article that suggested that celebrities exposing their mental illnesses actually make the stigma  of mental illness worse.  Apparently celebrities give a warped impression of what mental illness is really like.  They don’t have the same fears as the rest of us about the repercussions of coming out.  Oh, and they’re “less seriously ill” than the rest of us.

It seems to me that celebrities can’t win either way.  If they speak out about their mental illness, they’re somehow judged as not having a clue what ‘real life with mental illness’ is like.  Somehow we think they have it easy.  We can think they have less to lose by coming out.  On the other hand, we rely on them to speak out, even when we’re too afraid to do it ourselves.

I don’t think celebrities have it easy with mental illness.  Anyone with a mental illness will go through hell, regardless of their social status.  Maybe Stephen Fry’s own version of  ‘hell’ is different from mine, but if I choose to judge his ‘hell’ as not being ‘good enough’ then I am no better than the people who judge me… or you.

Personally I believe that the more celebrities who come out about living with mental illness, the better.  But only in that they reach a much greater audience than perhaps you or I might reach.  What is really needed is for people from all walks of life to be speaking out about mental illness.  After all mental illness doesn’t discriminate in who it affects.  It affects  all types of people.

I think the lesson we need to take from Stephen Fry’s decision to share with the media is that we should share too.  No, I’m not saying you or I ring up the local newspaper or television station but simply sharing with one other person, maybe a friend or family member, contributes to destroying the stigma that all of us bear.  It doesn’t have to be a big thing.  Simply telling one person we trust makes a difference.

“But just as we can all agree on what is red, even if we will never know if we each see it in the same way, so we can all agree – can’t we? – that no matter how confident we may appear to others, inside we are all sobbing, scared and uncertain for much of the time. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Oh God, perhaps it really is just me.

Actually it doesn’t really matter, when you come to think of it. If it is just me, then you are reading the story of some weird freak. You are free to treat this book like science fiction, fantasy or exotic travel literature. Are there really men like Stephen Fry on this planet? Goodness, how alien some people are. And if I am not alone, then neither are you, and hand in hand we can marvel together at the strangeness of the human condition.” 

― Stephen Fry, The Fry Chronicles

Coming Out

If your first thought is that this post is going to be about either my sexuality, or someone elses, you’d be forgiven. Coming out used to be about being presented to society, and more recently it’s been about coming out of the closet. Usually the gay closet. I’m not about to do either of these but coming out is something that I’ve been thinking about in terms of mental illness.

Lately I’ve been reading a number of blogs and articles about the stigma of mental illness, and more specifically the stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). And each time I’ve finished feeling a little frustrated, like we haven’t quite hit the nail on the head yet in addressing this problem.

That’s why I started thinking about the way in which sexuality, and more specifically, different kinds of sexuality have been moving toward a more acceptable space in society. I know that there is a long way to go yet for the LGBT movement, to enable all people to feel able to be who they are without being stigmatized. I look forward to the day when we all accept people for who they are.

Image credit: Hugh Young

It’s got me thinking. Head back nearly 30 years ago, in New Zealand there was massive reform going on to see homosexuality legalised in 1986. It was a huge reform which saw many protests and arguments. Actually it was much along the lines of the Marriage Equality legislation that is currently being debated in many countries (including New Zealand).

As a young, (I was 21) heterosexual I could have chosen to ignore the 1980’s reform. At the time I was very involved in a Christian church (as I had been all my life) where homosexuality was frowned upon.  Actually ‘frowned’ is not that word.  It was regarded as wrong, and as a sin.

For me though, at the time I was working in an office where my boss was an openly gay man, and a co-worker was openly transsexual. It gave me a completely different view-point than the middle-class, Christian upbringing I had.  At that time, to be open about your sexuality was a big thing.  Not only were my workmates going against the norm, they were also going against the law.

I have to admit that it wasn’t until I knew those people who I realised that actually we are all the same and that no one deserves to be judged by another.  At 21, I came to the conclusion that if they weren’t hurting anyone then why should they not be able to live freely the life they chose?  I accordingly voted for homosexual law reform.

What has this got to do with mental illness?  It strikes me that those of us who have mental illness need to ‘come out’ too.  I know only too well that when we’re dealing with mental illness, we’ve got more than enough to think about let alone taking on activism.  But it seems to me that it is exactly what had to happen (and still happens) for those of a sexuality other than heterosexuality.  They had to come out in order to see change happen in our society.  Maybe it’s not fair, but no one can deny that coming out has helped open society to different realities.

Image credit: GO LIME Awareness for Mental Health (GLAMH)
Image credit: GO LIME Awareness for Mental Health (GLAMH)

Maybe it shouldn’t have been the responsibility of the LGBT movement to change the thinking of society.  In an ideal world, I’d go so far as to suggest as this should have been a responsibility of all human beings.  The thing is though, that the LGBT movement were the one’s who had a vested interest in getting laws and attitudes changed.

In the same way it is those of us with mental illnesses who have the vested interest in seeing the end of the stigma of mental illness.  It seems to me that I will directly benefit if there is more openness and acceptance of mental illness in society.  For my neighbours who don’t have a mental illness the benefit is indirect.

I’d like to think that everyone in society would want this, but the reality is that there isn’t the same obvious benefit for them, as there is for me.  They’re not the one’s who have to think carefully who they admit their mental illness to.  I do though, and in that respect I am little different from my transsexual work-mate of 30 years ago.

I believe we have a choice.  We can sit and wait, hoping that one day society will magically change its attitude to mental illness.  Or we can think about speaking up.  Coming out about our mental illness.  Because the more people who realise that they have a friend, neighbour, family member or work-mate with a mental illness, the more acceptable it will become.

It doesn’t need to be a big deal.  I don’t think we need to list off all our diagnoses.  Actually I believe that would be as off putting as if we listed off everything that was physically wrong.  We just need to let people know that mental illness is exists, and is not the scary thing society has thought it to be. If we can admit to our friends that we have, say diabetes, then why not mental illness?  This is exactly what the LGBT movement has done… shown that different sexualities are actually normal.

I don’t for one moment think that this is an easy ask.  There is a lot at stake.  I’ve simply come to the conclusion that I can’t just sit and wait, hoping that one day things will change.  It’s not going to magically happen.  But if each person takes a small step, as the LGBT people have done over years, and as other minority groups have also done in the past, then we start to make a difference.

“We learned three crucial lessons from LGBT activists: We had to build a movement. We couldn’t be afraid to challenge our friends in power. And we had to give our cause a human face.”

 – Frank Sharry,  America’s Voice

“We have got some very big problems confronting us and let us not make any mistake about it, human history in the future is fraught with tragedy … It’s only through people making a stand against that tragedy and being doggedly optimistic that we are going to win through. If you look at the plight of the human race it could well tip you into despair, so you have to be very strong.” 

―    Robert James Brown

It’s All In Your Head!

What are we so afraid of?  Why does being told ‘it’s all in your head’ fill us with terror and completely write off any sense of being validated as a patient in need of help?

My view is that it’s all about the stigma of mental illness.  Somehow we’ve interpreted the message ‘it’s all in your head’ to mean ‘it’s not real’.  And we’ve done that for very good reasons.

I recently read an article about some work being done in understanding Gulf War Syndrome, which has many symptoms similar to fibromyalgia.  They have found that there is clear evidence of brain damage in sufferers, and one of the hopes is that in developing a test (a fMRI) to diagnosis the illness, it will lead onto the more accurate diagnosis of Fibro and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Here’s a quote from that article:

“Many veterans have had difficulties getting benefits and treatment for a service-connected condition because doctors assumed they were either faking it or suffering from post-traumatic stress. “That’s a problem with all physicians — VA, military or civilian,” Baraniuk said. “If it doesn’t fall within their small world of known diseases, then the patient is nuts.”

It’s actually the same with Fibro (and I assume, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), that patients are sometimes thought to be faking their symptoms, or somehow worse still, thought to be psychologically based… and therefore assumed to be somehow not real.

Maybe I have an advantage because I have both mental illnesses and physical illnesses.  I haven’t seen it as an advantage until now but it must be because I know that mental illnesses are real.  That means that I also know that if a doctor sees fit to tell me my physical illness is psychologically based, then I know that their opinion doesn’t remove my symptoms, and therefore my suffering, being real.

My Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is real.  The Anorexia I struggled with for years was real.  The Depression was real.  The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was even real.

They were also ‘all in my head’.  They were all psychologically based, although some of them also affected me physically too.  No one could realistically deny that I was suffering, or that I needed real help to either fight, or manage these conditions.

To add to that, there were very real physical consequences to some of those illnesses.  For example, it is difficult not to accept that Anorexia, as well as being a mental illness, has profound effects on the body which need to be medically treated.  The fact that it is a mental illness does not take away the doctor’s need to treat the patient medically.

If those conditions that I have had or currently still live with, can be identified as psychological but still be treated, then does it really matter whether my fibro is seen as a psychological or a physical illness?  Personally, I don’t think so.  The symptoms are still there, as is my suffering.  Is it ‘all in my head’, or in some other part of my body?  In terms of how it is treated there maybe a considerable difference, but there isn’t a difference in terms of my very real need for help.

My opinion is that the problem with issues addressed by the quote above does not lie with the veterans who are suffering.  The problem is with the medical professional who deem it fit to view that something isn’t real if it is psychological.  Either way the patients with symptoms need help, but it seems too easy for doctors to cast someone aside because their symptoms are from a particular basis.

Even if the doctor wishes to put symptoms down to ‘attention seeking’, my view is that there is still a need for that person to be treated.  Maybe treated differently, but the person still needs help.  Right now it seems that a seeming psychological cause, let alone fake, is simply dismissed often.  That is so wrong.

I actually had a similar issue to this problem a few weeks back with the medical specialist who monitors the auto-immune condition I have called Graves’ Disease.  Graves’ Disease affects a number of parts of the body but primarily the thyroid gland, leading to hyperthyroidism and eventually something called thyrotoxicosis (when levels get toxic and life threatening).

My endocrinologist examined my blood results which indicated that my thyroid levels are currently in a safe range.  The problem for me (and I’d like to think it had been for her too) is that sitting in front of her, I had many of the symptoms of thyrotoxicosis. I can tell you that those symptoms were not pleasant and I was hoping that she would help me to address some of them.  I could accept that the blood tests suggested I wasn’t dying, but I was definitely suffering.

Interestingly she was seemingly interested in helping me to alleviate the symptoms until she went to check my case with her supervisor.  Then she came back and told me that because the blood results were fine, there was nothing that needed to be done.  I was shown the door, and actually later I found she had then formally discharged from the Thyroid specialist service I had been under for several years.

My point is that I was still suffering, but she wasn’t interested.  There’s something wrong when doctors dismiss patients when there is clear evidence of suffering.  Just like the Gulf War veterans.  There is suffering, and whether it is faked, ‘all in the head’, Post-Traumatic stress, or clear sign of physical brain damage (as the fMRI will detect)…  there is a patient who is suffering, who has lost quality of life…  and needs help.

I think it’s sad that the general view is that if something is ‘all in your head’ that somehow the pain and suffering is not real and does not need treatment.  Somehow we need to move away from that view because while it remains, it increases the stigma of mental illness because that too, is seen as not real.  It also increases the likelihood that people won’t seek help when they need it.

But as well as the general population view on this, I am convinced that it is medical professionals that need to lead the way in change.  What they have in front of them is a patient who needs help.  That’s actually what matters.

PS.   There is evidence that the situation with my Graves’ Disease is actually quite common, where the blood results indicate everything is ‘normal’ but the patient reports a very different reality in terms of symptoms.  I’m not aware of a substantiated reason for this though.  Unfortunately many health professionals choose to deny the existence of such an anomaly and so patients end up going without the help they may need.

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.” 

―    Norman Cousins,    Anatomy Of An Illness

“A doctor, like anyone else who has to deal with human beings, each of them unique, cannot be a scientist; he is either, like the surgeon, a craftsman, or, like the physician and the psychologist, an artist. This means that in order to be a good doctor a man must also have a good character, that is to say, whatever weaknesses and foibles he may have, he must love his fellow human beings in the concrete and desire their good before his own.”

Auden, W. H.