Depression Marathon Blog

My photo
Diagnosed with depression 19 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Internalized Stigma

Stigma: A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.

I made an unhappy discovery this morning. I'm holding onto stigma. The very thing I preach against in others reared its ugly head this morning, and I was all alone. I was working at the very same computer I'm using to compose this blog post right now, and suddenly it was there, stigma.

I'm a bit ashamed about this self-discovery. I thought I was way past internalized stigma, but I guess not. Here's what happened. In preparation for my upcoming hip surgery I was asked to fill out an online "pre-op survey" by my surgeon's team. It was all the basic information any surgical team would want to know prior to operating.

The survey consisted of a bunch of yes or no questions. So instead of asking me to list my medical history, it asked if I had this illness or that illness. High blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and cardiac conditions were all covered, of course. Before they put me to sleep I guess they'd like to know if I'm going to wake up. Like I said it was pretty standard stuff.

It felt like pretty standard stuff, that is, until they asked if I had been hospitalized in the past year. Of course if I answered yes, as was twice the case, I was expected to fill out the next little box, a box which asked, "What for?" Damn it! It took me less than two seconds to rationalize that my two stints in the hospital for inpatient mental health treatment were not pertinent to disclose, so I answered no and moved on.

Despite moving on, I felt a pang of shame and guilt almost immediately. I'm not a fan of lying, and I had just lied. The rationalizations quickly followed: how will it help the anesthesiologist to know I was hospitalized for depression? It won't! They don't mean mental health hospitalizations anyway. They're just looking for any recent significant medical issues...You get the idea.

I was doing well with the rationalizations until I was thwarted by the dreaded medication list. UGH! I knew this one would be way more difficult to rationalize my way out of. There was no way around it, I would have to list my laundry list of medications. I hate the medication list!

I reluctantly filled out the med list, but that didn't stop me from attempting to build up an indignant rage all the while. In the end I couldn't even do that. The medication list is necessary. I could lie, but that might put me at significant risk. The anesthesiologist needs to know what medications I'm taking in order to prevent any dangerous interactions with the meds he'll use during my surgery. So I filled it out, but I hated to do it.

And why do I hate it? Because it reveals I have more than a melancholy mood once in awhile. I take a cocktail of mental-health-related medications. Severe depression will be quite obvious to any MD observer. But here's the thing, why did I care??? Why did I feel so uncomfortable with revealing my medications?

My shame and discomfort surprised me. Aren't I the one who has preached about depression being an illness like any other, an illness which can and is successfully treated with hospitalizations and medications? Isn't that the crux of what I've been writing about for the last 11 years? Treat me and my depression as you would treat anyone else with any other chronic illness. I'm sure I've said or written that at least 1000 times since I began this blog.

Unfortunately, I'm also the one who began this blog partly because of the misinformed, inequitable and downright discriminatory treatment I experienced while seeking help for depression. But is that just another excuse? (I'm protecting myself by lying about my hospitalizations, right? I'll be treated differently after they see my list of medications, right?) The bottom line is I was afraid to fill out the pre-op survey honestly, and I feel shame about that. Whether my fears were rational or not, I still feel guilty. I feel like I, of all people, should be above such concerns. But clearly, I'm not.



Paul Lamb said...

I fully understand this. I rationalize the "they don't need to know this" line a lot myself (though not for anything as serious as surgery). I think in my case it's generally also in non-medical situations where untrained people would bring the usual bogeyman hysterics to the idea that someone is in therapy and/or on a "crazy drug." (My employer, for example, when I need to take a mental health day but say my son is in town or some similar lie.) Of course, that may be stigma avoidance just as much as you describe. I'm at fault, but society is at fault too.

Ain't being human an adventure?

etta said...

@ Paul: Thanks so much for that. It's funny. After I wrote this post I thought to myself, "I guess I'm human." Yup. Being human is an adventure! And an education. I'm okay with that.

etta said...

@ Paul again: Just re-read my comment. By "It's funny," I meant ironic. Not that your comment was humorous! Wanted to clarify that.

Unknown said...

I wish there were a 'like' button like there is on Facebook. I read your blog sometimes and I don't really have anything to comment, I just want to 'like' it, showing that I can relate to what you've wrote and I appreciate your writing. Maybe I'll just start putting 'like' in the comments lol. Thanks for writing.