Saturday, December 19, 2015

Different strokes for different folks

I've lost count of the number of times I've been to the doctor over the past year. And by "the doctor" I mean any number of doctors, because I have quite a few. I've definitely been to "the doctor" tens of times this year. Three groups of 10? Five groups of 10? Can you tell I teach small children for a living? 

Earlier this week I made the decision to go to urgent care because my shoulder REALLY hurt. Before I arrived at said decision I was filled with doubt- should I go to the doctor? Can't I handle this on my own? Will I be wasting my time and the doctor's time? I knew I had just hurt myself and I didn't know what to do as I had to go to work and I can no longer take anti-inflammatories (like Advil, thanks to the Whipple). But I was seriously worried about whether or not this was worth the doctor's time and was I just being a wimp. 

I have a really hard time asking for help. I bet nearly everyone reading this would say the same thing. Why is that? Why do we feel the need to handle things on our own, without an expert? Why did I feel my shoulder injury was "silly?" I didn't want to go to the doctor when I had that awful heartburn that led to the diagnosis of my tumor, either. I remember saying it was "just heartburn." Ha. It was just heartburn, but it was being caused by something really huge- a 9.5 cm pancreatic tumor. I suppose I'm glad I went to the doctor then. There were three months between that initial visit and diagnosis, though, and during that three months I became a regular at my primary care doctor's office, trying to figure out what was wrong. At one point the doctor started treating me for depression, thinking maybe my stomach problems were a physical manifestation of depression. I remember later explaining to my would-be-surgeon that I was taking anti-depressants and him telling me "you're not depressed, you have a legitimate physical reason you are sick." He was both right and wrong. I had a legitimate physical reason I was sick, but I was also depressed. I have been diagnosed with "adjustment disorder," which is considered a somewhat temporary depression in response to life events. My definition of adjustment disorder probably isn't super medically accurate, but that's how I understand it. 

It's difficult to ask for help when something is physically wrong, but in my opinion it is even more difficult to ask for help when you can't cope emotionally. A physical problem seems less within your control than an emotional problem. I was raised to believe that emotional problems were a lack of strength or a sign of weakness, something you could think yourself out of. I know some people truly believe that their coping mechanisms and strength of mind are within their control, and that they should be within my control, too. I'm sure people think I'm weak for taking an antidepressant, that I should somehow be able to snap out of my funk with positive thoughts or exercise. A part of me believes that I should be able to snap out of my funk with positive thoughts or exercise, too. My life is pretty great, admittedly. I have a family, a job, a home. But I'm also depressed. And an antidepressant is just one tool in my toolbox of mechanisms to snap out of it. I am not going to feel bad about it or allow someone to shame me for needing medication. 

Each reader will make his/her own conclusions about the legitimacy of my depression, and I suppose that's fine. But the teacher in me feels the need to restate the moral of my story: don't judge. Maybe you can handle more than I can, but don't assign me the label of weak of character. Don't assign others that label, either. I ended up going to two doctors for my shoulder pain, and in the words of my osteopath, I "tweaked" a rotator cuff muscle. Ouch. She assigned me heat, stretches, and steroids. I feel much better today, and there's no shame in me having asked her for help. If you believe in asking for help for physical pain, please believe the same for emotional pain. It might not be what you need, but I'm not you. We all aim to be healthy and happy, and our paths to that aim will be different. And that's okay.

Different strokes for different folks. Some people make funny faces when having their picture taken.

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