Stigma Madness

May 30, 2010

Yesterday I was involved in a major car accident. It was very scary! I was driving on the interstate when another car pushed me out of my lane and I ended up spinning around and hitting the guard rail. My car may be totaled and I may have to get a new car, which means I have to speed up my process of looking for a summer job-I've already applied to a few places.

I am sore all over. The accident threw my glasses off my head and it is a miracle that I am not badly injured and that my glasses were not broken. It was a terrifying couple of minutes when I was searching for my glasses, because I am legally blind without them.

Since my neck was hurting, the police called the EMTs and they took me to the hospital. I had never ridden an ambulance before and there was a moment when I thought, "Well, this is an adventure!"

The scariest part for me was not that I might be physically hurt, but that I might be losing my mind, because for a little while I started hearing voices again. Schizoaffective disorder is triggered by stress, so it is no wonder that my schizo symptoms would reappear, but it's been a while since I've had those symptoms and I desperately do not want them to return. Some people have positive or funny voices, but mine are always negative and scary. This time was no different. It was like thinking really loudly and the voice was saying, "You're bad. You've done a bad thing. You are so, so bad." If I had listened to the voice I would have started crying, but I did not want to do that-I did not want to give in to the voices and become a slave to their fear. I told myself that I am not bad and that I am not cursed. Most importantly, I quickly realized that the voice started yelling at me when I first started thinking negatively-when I would tell myself that I am bad or when I would start worrying about what my parents would say. I discovered that first comes the negative thought and then the negative voice. If I do not want to hear the voice, then I need to stay in the moment.

Now this is a positive thing. The fact that in a time when I was really, really stressed and possibly injured, I was able to identify my triggers and stop the voice from terrifying me is a testament to my recovery. But one of the reasonse that I worked so hard to keep from giving in to the disorder does make me angry-I was afraid to tell the emergency medical technicians what was going on in my head due to its stigma. When the EMTs were asking me where I hurt, I desperately wanted to tell them, "My knees, shoulders, lower back, neck all hurt and I am hearing voices again," but I was afraid that they would overreact, so I just told them about my physical pain. I wish that emotional and psychological pain was taken in the same way that physical pain is. I wish that when a professional asks you how you are doing, that you could feel comfortable telling the person the whole story. But I have to have a certain amount of trust in the person to tell them what is going on in my head and unfortunately, I have been scarred by some medical doctors. I remember the time when I went to the emergency room in Milledgeville, because I thought I was going blind and when the doctor heard about the kinds of medications I take, she just acted like I was totally crazy. One of my friends was with me and she humiliated me in front of her. There is also the time when I was attending Georgia State University and I had my first panic attack. I went to the school doctor, because I thought I was having a heart attack and the doctor told me I was lying and yelled at me for being such a liar. All she did was make me more nervous and ensured that I never used the medical services at that school again.

You know, there may be mental health parity now, but mental health services are far from equal to that of physical health, which is "crazy" anyway, because I believe that mental illness truly is a physical disease. It's not that people make up their own "crazy" symptoms, but that they have a chemical imbalance in the brain. Chemicals are a physical thing, so mental illnesses should be treated just like any physical illness, but they often are not. Instead, the mentally ill person is many times mocked, babied, or avoided. I am angry at the stigma, but I am proud of myself.

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