Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Myth Mugshot Contest -- Medical PTSD

The only real way to combat myths, misconceptions, & stigma is by raising awareness and sharing what is real: facts, stats, info, and narratives. This is exactly where Health Activists excel and align. No matter what your condition or health focus may be - you are dedicated to filling in the information gaps where stigma. That's why we've created the Myth Mugshot Contest.

So often, patients and caregivers are labeled (or at least feel labeled) by their health. Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and other things that go along with having (and fighting for) a health cause can open us up to judgment from others. But, at the end of the day, no one can label you - only you know yourself and what you're going through. Only you know which myths are myths and which misconceptions are outdated, off, or just plain wrong. But instead of dwelling on these labels we so often hear - we're doing something about it.

Let's play off of that idea by sharing what is real, true, and correct - and labeling ourselves with that instead.

This week we'll be sharing Myth Mugshots - where members of the WEGO Health team share one thing we think is true, important, and will affirm Health Activists and patients. Then, next week, we hope you'll do the same. Share a picture of yourself holding up a piece of paper that tells your truth. Think of a common myth, misconception, or discouraging thought and reclaim it by writing down something true or a fact about you, your health condition, health community, healthcare, or patients in general.

Now - share your photo! Add it to our Facebook wall and have your friends/followers "Like" it. The photo will the most "Likes" will get a feature on our blog, a highlight on our FB page, a feature in our June Newsletter, and a WEGO Health T-shirt (here's what they look like).

Looking forward to your Mugshots and seeing your mugs as well as your truths. Feel free to invite your community members to make one as well. We'll post our team Mugshots this week so you get the idea - and then you can start posting your pics next Monday, May 21st and having your friends "like" it. We'll pick the winner on May 28th.

I've written about Medical PTSD before. It's something that is very common among people with chronic illnesses. Too often, we are doubted, and our very ability to judge reality is called into question. We know from psychological studies done on other at-risk groups, that disbelief of our situation, of our struggle, caused depression, shame, and low self-worth. We become unable to view ourselves as in control of our lives:

"Our results show that perceptions of unfair treatment, like other chronic stressors, are psychologically burdensome... Many... suffer emotionally because they are unable to view themselves as efficacious and competent actors when treated with suspicion and confronted with dehumanizing interactions." Keith VM et al (2009). DOI 10.1007/s11199-009-9706-5

The easiest thing for a doctor to do is not treat. The shortest sentence in the English language is: "No."

When I'm not believed by a doctor, it's almost an instant panic attack. See, I sat alone, for years, in excruciating chronic pain. No one had to treat me. No one did treat me. And when my pain finally was treated, with an electronic device, I was the only one in the study to use it at maximum strength. My migraines could still shoot past what the device could do. I floored doctors with my ability to act as if nothing was going on, as they turned the juice up to 20 milliamps of current, direct to my Occipital nerves. They could make me go back there again, simply by saying, "No."

Doctors are the gatekeepers to treatments, advanced medications, and nearly all methods of symptom management. They mean the difference between living life, and enduring torture. Plain and simple. Is there any wonder, then, that chronic illness patients are walking around, traumatized?

One of the therapy methods for treating PTSD, is re-establishing the patient with a sense of safety in their own body. Chronic illness patients don't get that safety. It's our own bodies we need to be saved from! To quote a pretty hard-core rap song, by Rage Against the Machine, "There'll be no shelter here --- the front line is everywhere."

And other things have happened. Things I still have trouble writing about. I was hurt. I told him to stop, and he didn't. No one else in the room stopped him, either. My screams were heard three floors down, in the pharmacy. They almost needed pliers to remove the needle from my skull, he dug into the bone so deep. No, it wasn't sexual rape. But it was a violation of my body, all the same. It's perfectly normal to be a bit bent out of shape around doctors after that. Other people have stories like this, and worse.

I tried for years to ignore just how badly I was traumatized. But it came out in my behavior. It come out in an overwhelming sense of doom, that would leave me paralyzed and speechless. It would come out when small things when wrong, and I'd freak out like the world was ending (because, for me, it had been close to true too many times). I would assume I was inadequate to meet the challenges of the situation, and navigate them safely, because too often in the past, this was correct. It wasn't until my brother pulled me aside, and identified it as PTSD, like his military PTSD, that I realized what was going on.

Even still, it wasn't until my health was on the line (again) and I absolutely had to go back to the doctors, that I sought out treatment for my PTSD. I tried to do it on my own at first. I made it through the doctors appointment. I was polite and did everything right. Then I lost my $#!+ in the parking lot, after returning to my car. I broke down in near-hyperventilating tears. Nothing in the doctor's visit had gone wrong! But I was still inconsolably freaked out. I knew then, I had to get therapy before I started trying to do this again.

Things have gotten much better since then. I'm on medication, (or what I like to call #headmeds) which has helped significantly. I'm on a long-acting anxiety medication, and I have short-acting anxiety pills for breakthrough panic episodes (now fewer than 3/month!). I have my symptoms managed, and my success with doctors over the past year is not small feat (including withstanding an awful situation at the University of Colorado). Talk therapy, including EMDR, had a lot to do with that success. The doctors and counselors over at Boulder Mental Health Partners have done a wonderful job. (And it sure does help that they don't have stuffy medical offices and don't wear lab coats!)

I will have this the rest of my life, no doubt. But as I get older, those wounds will heal. I can still be triggered, but as time goes on, those triggers should fade. There is always the possibility of future trauma, but that's true of any human activity. I will face the situation as best I can, and worry about picking up the pieces after. I don't have to try to anticipate every possible bad thing that might happen. I'm capable enough to be able to think things through in the moment. And if I'm overwhelmed? I can always return to therapy.

PTSD is very real. And you don't have to have been in the military, to suffer from it.

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