The methods of diagnosis for mental illnesses are more accurate than they used to be but doctors still lack true scientific tests for various mental diseases. Diagnostic criteria can be desribed best as educated subjectivism and it leaves much room for misdiagnosis. It is subjective both on the part of the doctor and the patient. Symptoms can be common to many illnesses and it is easy to look at them through different lenses and come to entirely different conclusions. As a result, mental health patients are often left with a trial and error approach to treatment.
Baby boomers need to be aware of how mental illness is treated because as we age and our health breaks down, we will become prone to succumbing to some form of mental illness. It can be disarming to be diagnosed with an illness such a bipolar disorder and this often damages a patient’s trust in themselves. It is easy to be led down a certain path of treatment by a doctor whose knowledge outweighs one’s own knowledge. However, no doctor can know us better than we know ourselves and all diagnosis should be measured by our own understanding and by the understanding of those who love us. Obtaining second and third opinions is also vital before entering into any kind of chemical treatment.
I was misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder in the mid-ninties. I had suffered from depression and anxiety since childhood and when I tried interferon treatment for Hepatitis C, I became very depressed. My doctor put me on a tricyclic antidepressant and at first, it seemed like a miracle. I felt so much better but after about a month, I became hypomanic. I was then referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me as having bipolar II disorder. She said that antidepressants could sometimes bring a bipolar illness to the surface. She did ask questions about my background but they were all slanted toward bipolar illness because of the hypomania that I was experiencing. This diagnosis shocked me and everything I thought I knew about myself was suddenly, in question. I was also not in the right state of mind and not able to make good decisions for myself. When the psychiatrist wanted to add lithium to my antidepressant, I was eager to accept her advice. I knew little about bipolar disorder but it seemed to explain some of my past behavior that I didn’t understand. My feet were set upon a path that would lead to greater mental illness and damage to my physical health.
After taking Lithium for about three months, my thyroid function increased and I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism with another pill added to my regimen. I was still experiencing hypomania so the psychiatrist added Zyprexa to what she then began referring to as my ‘cocktail’. I gained 60 pounds in a little over a month and developed type II diabetes and high blood pressure. I was given two more prescriptions. I became depressed so my psychiatrist added another antidepressant. When I became hypomanic again, she prescribed another antipsychotic. I was also given an anti-anxiety medication which produced physical dependence. I was not warned of this and I was still too trusting of my doctors, I didn’t check into it on my own. I couldn’t sleep so I was prescribed Ambien. I began to experience pain all over my body. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and given Neurotin. I was still in pain so my internist gave me a prescription for Loratab. My psychiatrist was concerned because she couldn’t get my depression or mania under control. She changed my diagnosis to bipolar I and prescribed Cymbalta. At this point, I was taking 13 different medications. I began to experience rapid cycling and I begged my psychiatrist to admit me to the hospital, take me off everything, and start over. She refused and told me that I absolutely had to trust her knowledge no matter how crazy I felt. I was hallucinating at times and at one point, I found myself lost in a town that I had lived in for almost 30 years. This is when I quit listening to my doctors and began to listen only to God and myself.
I began weaning myself from the medications, one by one. I found a general practitioner who was willing to help me. I also studied how supplements are used in Europe and Canada and I learned which supplement supported what bodily function. The supplements helped me to ease off of the medications without ill effect. The anti-anxiety medication was the hardest and it took me 12 weeks to gradually wean myself from it. The physical withdrawals were horrible and I have never experienced such intense anxiety in my life. After coming off of all the psycho tropic medications, I quickly lost 50 pounds and my blood pressure returned to normal along with my thyroid function. I had known depression all of my life but I never had as deep of depression as I experienced while taking those medications. My mania was drug induced and my extreme, hypervigelant anxiety (PTSD was my true diagnosis) was misunderstood as mania. As a result, I spent eight years of my life as little more than a fat zombie. I learned how important it is to take charge of my health care.
About two years later, I read about a newly discovered bipolar disorder labeled as bipolar IV disorder. It is a type of bipolar disorder that is induced by psycho tropic medications. When I read it and realized that others were treated as I was. with the same result, I knew I was one of the guinea pigs that these new medicines were tried out on. I felt very blessed to have escaped from my chemical asylum. A cousin of mine had much the same experience only he completely lost his mind and committed suicide by cop. After he died, his family found 91 bottles of psycho tropic medications in his room. My attitude toward the mental health care system changed, forever.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from seeking treatment by sharing this part of my life but I do hope to make others aware of what can go wrong. The misdiagnosis of a mental illness can have disastrous consequences and leave one in much worse shape than they were in before treatment. It is important to be wary and always trust in one’s own knowledge of themselves. There is only one way to prevent such catastrophe and that is in taking responsibility for one’s own health.