My husband recently told me he “fell victim” to not believe that I was, in fact, ill, and that I have been for the entire time he has known me and even before that. He stated that he thought that since I work hard, gave therapy to patients at my internship, maintained a near 4.0 GPA, was accepted into doctoral school, and care deeply about my appearance, that it couldn’t be “real.” He revealed to me that he is just now beginning to understand the pain and severity of what I go through. It is an unbelievable, yet powerful symbol of the misunderstanding of mental illness — that someone I have known for seven years and lived with for six, could not conceive of the reality of my suffering.
This also holds true for my parents who were shocked when I told them about my decision to attempt inpatient hospitalization: “But you were doing so well —I mean, you look great, you are doing — wait, how is it that you can be ill and yet know so much about psychology?”
I had to explain to them how there was no connection between having an illness and working in the field of psychology. I had to explain to them that just because I was able to meet occupational and educational demands, an illness can still exist.
If my husband could not see it, how could I expect a psychiatrist to recognize it during a ten minute intake? No, I did not show up to the intake falling apart. I wasn’t crying, screaming, hallucinating, or even with a particularly depressed affect. However, I did show up with a well-spoken appeal for help, in an effort to take control over my self-destructive nature. I presented as a pink shoe-wearing, therapist, doctoral student with insights and purse to match. Underneath, I am a frightened, exhausted, confused, destructive, impulsive, sometimes little girl, with forceful and dangerous mood swings.
I truly believe that if I had shown up that night with the exact same story, but different presentation, I would have gotten the help that I needed. It leaves me with this question: Where do I, and other individuals like me, exist on the treatment spectrum? Yes, we have our private psychiatrists and therapists — but what happens when we need a greater level of care? My personal experience exemplifies a struggle in simply trying to get someone to recognize that I am ill enough to need intensive treatment.
As I write this, I would like to say that I am fighting the urge to self-injure, but that would be a false claim. It is an impulse that is much bigger than my resolve and has not ceased or slowed down since my unsuccessful intake at the hospital. I was offered another try by my psychiatrist and therapist, to be admitted into the hospital with intense support from them in order to gain admission. I declined because of the unpleasant, yet realistic disconnection in being ill, but highly functioning. This means that I have an obligation and a vast drive to begin my new job as a therapist. This also means that at the same time, I will be dealing with all of the symptoms that I have previously described. For the most part, I have always managed to keep my illness from interfering with my professional and academic life. I suppose this is why it is difficult for some to realize that there is an illness at all. However, I never forget because every day is a struggle of mood swings, impulses, and chronic emptiness.
I would like to think that at this moment, I should have been in a safer place than I am now. Or perhaps by this time, I would have been discharged and would have had some time to break the destructive cycle I am in. Maybe I would have benefited from the short-term skill-based therapy that I am not presently used to. Conceivably, the psychiatrists at the hospital may have adjusted my medications a bit in order to better stabilize my mood in a safe environment.
Unfortunately, none of these things could materialize. Frankly, I will probably continue to self-injure until I either do something incredibly dangerous (which I am afraid of), or until I am just ready to stop. I will continue to see my psychiatrist and will deal with medication adjustments and side effects while working and going to school.
Nine years ago, when I lived in New York, I was voluntarily hospitalized for very similar reasons. It was somewhat of a traumatic experience. All of these years, I lived in fear of the hospital, thinking it was only a place that could devastate one further. At the age of 27, I finally conjured up enough courage to reach out for the help that I needed, despite my intense fear of the hospital. I was denied. I was denied from the hospital because I did not “appear” sick enough.
, p. (2008). Denied for Being Myself: An Attempt To Be Hospitalized. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/denied-for-being-myself-an-attempt-to-be-hospitalized/0001407
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.