When physical health and mental health collide – stigma ensues. 

Earlier this week I felt unwell and ended up calling my out of hours doctor, who decided I needed to attend my local emergency room. There followed a bit of a mad panic as the first responder medic arrived who duly began taking down my details and telling me an ambulance was on the way. My daughter ran around trying to get some things together to take with us as the medic began to do basic observations like blood pressure. A short time later the first of three paramedics arrived at our home and they began to do more tests, I live in a remote rural area so the hospital and ambulance station are miles away.

image

 

The paramedic did some heart tracings and sugar levels and things and I tried to stay calm, except deep inside I felt anything but calm. My chest hurt like hell and I was starting to panic a little, all this attention was unsettling and when more paramedics arrived I felt well overwhelmed. Inside I was trying to communicate telling all my alters; the different parts of me, that we were going to be ok. I kept trying to reassure them and explain what was happening and what was likely to happen next.

A few heart tracings later and I was being whisked to the emergency room in an ambulance, the ECG monitor still connected to my heart. I was given medication to help with the symptoms and that in turn helped calm me down thankfully. On my way to hospital I remember telling inside that it was ok we’d probably be home later and all would be well, except I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The paramedic was great he asked me about any other health conditions and I’d said I have Dissociative Identity Disorder and he wanted to know more about it, he’d never come across it before.

The hospital staff were at first quite helpful, they did more tests and then we just had to wait for results. But then I noticed a change in attitude, it was odd but after I’d been put in a hospital gown and my arms and their scars were visible it seemed to change things. I’d like to think they were just busy but I realise actually it was more than that, there is and I guess always will be a stigma attached to self harmers and I was a prolific self harmer not that many moons ago.

I was sat alone in the hospital as relatives were not able to stay with the patient, something to do with space apparently. Yet for the little parts of me that meant fear and doubt creeping in, there we  were alone in a busy environment and so much chaos going on around us. There were people being sick, people shouting, people clearly more unwell than me and it wasn’t easy for any of me to be there. I tried to keep reassuring my alters and settling them down, but I was still suffering pain and I felt woozy so it wasn’t ideal at all.

image

 

At one point I felt on the verge of tears, but I daren’t cry for fear of being judged which in hindsight was a bit silly, after all I was already being judged by my scars. I tried to block the emotions pummelling through and at one point I texted my daughter who was sat in a nearby waiting room and said ‘I want to go home’.  I knew the pain was subsiding yet I felt tired even unwell, but I just wanted to feel safe and I didn’t there. Staff didn’t speak to me for quite a long time, in fact I think I sat waiting for the results for over 2 hours with no staff interaction at all. If I’m honest I felt quite abandoned and that was quite hard to deal with. Now I know most adults would find no interaction ok, some would maybe find it hard but they’d cope and yet I was there with chaos going on inside my head and I didn’t feel able to cope. I felt vulnerable, I felt exposed and I felt unsafe it was so hard to just sit there with a hospital gown on, things stuck on me and a cannula in my arm.

When I eventually had a chest X-ray that felt worse, my radiographer was a male staff member and for me that felt too scary. I didn’t have the courage to say I can’t do this, to say I have a trauma history that makes this too hard, so instead I retreated inward and felt as if I was no longer in control of me. Whoever came out did an ok job they kept us safe and they began to deal with the doctor too, when I came back the doctor was asking me more questions about my health history and of course my mental health came up.

I tried to explain I’m in the process of a medication reduction and as such I’m reducing my anti depressant, but of course that gave them something to hang a label on me. The conversation revolved around who was supervising the reduction, was I no longer depressed and why such a gradual reduction. The logistics of reducing meds is a whole other blog, but I tried to explain to the doctor and yet I knew I wasn’t making many inroads into the stigma she clearly held.

image

When eventually they said I could go home I was utterly relieved, and so were the other parts of me after all none of us were enjoying this time. My daughter helped me get changed back into my own clothes and that felt a huge relief and then together we left the hospital. On the drive home I sat and talked inside reassuring everyone and thanking them too, for they had been helpful and stayed  as calm as they could. By the time I got home it was the early hours of the morning and I was truly ready for bed, I felt exhausted.

But perhaps because I have alters, because I have D.I.D going to sleep wasn’t a straightforward  option. Little parts of me had missed out on their cartoons and they felt agitated and unsettled by our visit to hospital, the chest pain which had now gone had frightened all of me. I knew trying to sleep wasn’t going to work, I also had at least one part who was steaming mad at the stigma we had encountered. I decided to acknowledge the frustration being felt, I said I understood how it made us feel and I reminded us of just how good we are. I told myself that they had no right to judge me and it was their problem not mine, after all I don’t mind my scars or my mental health history it’s just part of who we are. I can’t help my past but I can help how I let it influence today and as such I can chose to not let the stigma and archaic views of a few medical staff hurt me.

I did settled down eventually to sleep, watching cartoons in bed as I tried to relax and calm down different parts of me. Since then well we have had more tests and more pain, but we are working through it as a team my alters and me. I guess that’s what I’ve learnt this week that if I face situations that freak me out or unsettle me I can deal with them if I do so as a team. A few years ago I would have just dissociated not for a short period but for days, I wouldn’t have coped with the stigma either I’d have reacted to it.

Perhaps the last few days have shown me just how far we have progressed in terms of working collaboratively.  I realise now that I need to accept stigma exists and whilst I don’t like it I can’t change other people’s ignorance. That doesn’t mean I won’t fight to end stigma, of course I will and I’ll continue to challenge where I can attitudes that need changing. Having D.I.D is a challenge especially when you are physically unwell, people don’t understand  it and they don’t want to either. Guess I have to work at educating people about this condition after all that can only help people like me in the future.

 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2015

Advertisements