I’ve been talking about secrets today. Over on my art blog, I was talking about secret dreams, but here, I’ll be talking about secret fears.
And my gigantic, mammoth-sized secret fear.
I’m afraid that I’m crazy.
When I was first diagnosed with CFS at 12, my pediatrician decided that I should also see a psychiatrist, just in case. I didn’t understand what he meant by “just in case”, but I went anyways.
I wish I’d never gone.
The psychiatrist decided that I didn’t actually have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She decided that I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I wasn’t really sick, I was just creating psychosomatic symptoms.
Apparently the definition of GAD is:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. People with generalized anxiety disorder can’t seem to shake their concerns. Their worries are accompanied by physical symptoms, especially fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes. (Courtesy of the NIMH)
I couldn’t understand. I knew that I was a worrier, but I would never have called myself anxious. I used to compete in dance competitions, and I was usually the only one who wasn’t nervous. I was informed that I was probably having panic attacks, like my mother had. When I said that I’d never noticed myself having a panic attack like that, she said that I just didn’t notice that I was having them. I couldn’t understand how you could be having something as horrible as a panic attack and not notice. And if I wasn’t noticing, then was it really a problem?
She subscribed a plethora of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. I refused to take them, but the seed of doubt had been planted – what if I was just crazy?
Years went by. I went about my life, trying to balance being sick, and going to school and having friends. The thought still worried at the edges of my mind, and I began to blame myself for being sick.
It didn’t help that when I was first diagnosed, everyone accused me of being a perfectionist, and that was why I was sick. What I didn’t understand was the statistically, perfectionists and A-types are more likely to be diagnosed with CFS.
(Note: This is actually no longer true – doctors suspect that there are more A-type personalities diagnosed with CFS, because they actually go to their doctors when they feel sick for long periods of time. B-type personalities are less likely to be able to be bothered to go see their doctor, and hence, less offical diagnoses.)
I didn’t know any of this though. So when doctors kept asking me, “Are you a perfectionist?” like it really mattered, I began to get scared. I felt like it was my fault that I was sick, and that if I just wasn’t a perfectionist, everything would have been fine. I denied vehemently that I was perfectionist, saying that I just liked to do my best, and that I was a high achiever. Apparently this was bad as well – those high achievers got this CFS stuff too.
I am actually a perfectionist. I don’t like making mistakes. But it’s taken me years to admit that to myself, because the fear that I’d caused my CFS was so strong.
I managed alright for several years, but at 18, I became seriously depressed. I was really sick, had dropped out of school, and was in a horrible, emotionally abusive relationship.I just felt like all of my doors were closing. I didn’t know what to do anymore, and one night, I came close to attempting suicide.
At that point, I realized that I needed help coping, and started seeing a therapist, and working through my issues, and about 6 months later, was feeling much better. But once my doctor found out that I’d been depressed, despite my having been to therapy, he decided that I needed to see a psychiatrist again. So off I went.
What is it with psychiatrists and being the coldest, hardest people you’ve ever met?
This woman was horrible. She never smiled, she never made me feel comfortable. She made me feel pathetic, and un-human. I felt like a scientific test subject that had broken.
At the end of our chat, she did not seem convinced that CFS was a real disease. She asked me if I knew why my doctor had sent me to her. I replied that it was because I had been depressed and he wanted to check that I was okay. Then she told me that she was a specialist in conversion syndrome.
I had no idea what she was talking about, so she attempted to explain.
“Its like when the crazy person thinks he has little green aliens living in his attic,” she told me. “You really believe that you’re sick, but you’re not. It’s all just in your head. You made it up, but didn’t even realize it, because it’s like being crazy.”
I was fuming. It took every ounce of strength I had to not slap her. In her eyes, everyone with CFS was a victim of conversion syndrome. We all just needed to attend some sessions with her, get pumped full of psychiatric drugs, and we’d all be fine.
I refused her offer of treatment. “But wouldn’t it be wonderful to be completely better?” she asked me in a syrupy, condescending voice.
I couldn’t respond I was so angry.
Conversion syndrome is defined as “a mental disorder whose central feature is the appearance of symptoms affecting the patient’s senses or voluntary movements that suggest a neurological or general medical disease or condition.” (Healthline) Its symptoms include pseudoparalysis, pseudosensory syndromes, pseudoseizures, pseudocoma, pseudoblindness and hysterical aphonia (where you lose the ability to make sounds). (Mind Disorders)
Ironically, I don’t have any of those symptoms. But apparently I have conversion syndrome anyways.
So for the longest time, I’ve been afraid that I’m crazy. I hid the fact that I was a worrier, and I tried to cover up that I was a perfectionist, because I was so afraid that if people found out, they would pump me full of anti-depressants until I was in a drug induced haze, and lock me up in a room with bouncy walls. I feel like I’ve been undercover for years, trying to hide from the medical profession, just in case they found out and fingered me as a fraud.
“She’s not really sane! She’s just pretending! Somebody get her!”
It’s not until now, writing this post, and reading the actual definitions of these disorders, that I’m realizing how crazy these people were to define me as crazy. They wanted to see me as someone with a psychiatric disorder, and because CFS doesn’t have (as of yet) biological markers that patients can be tested for, its a process of trial and error to make a diagnosis. These mental professionals were bound and determined to fit me into a psychological disorder, and be damned with the actual symptoms themselves.
I feel like such a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m not crazy. I’m not making this up. It’s not my fault that I’m sick. It just happened, for whatever reason. And now, I can let go of the blame and the judgement. Everything will be okay.