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Your Treatment Is More Important Than Your Doctor’s Ego

When I was 12 or 13, I was misdiagnosed with bipolar II disorder. That label followed me through all of middle and high school. It determined which meds I was put on, and just as importantly, which meds I wasn’t put on. It factored heavily into how my talk therapists treated me. And, especially because I was so young when I received it, my diagnosis shaped a significant portion of my self-image.

That matters a lot.

The world and I saw each other through the filter of bipolar disorder until I was 20. At that time, I was seeing an ineffective psychiatrist whose advice and prescriptions weren’t helping me feel better. When I finally got fed up with his cold bedside manner, I decided to seek out a new doctor. On our very first appointment, I talked about my psychiatric history for about half an hour before he looked me straight in the eye and said,

“Has anyone ever told you that you have borderline personality disorder?”

And I was so fucking relieved.

I know how counterintuitive that sounds. Who could possible be glad to find out they suffer from the mountain of emotional and behavioral issues that comes along with a BPD diagnosis? But, with nearly ten years of experience as a mental patient behind me, I realized that what I call my symptoms doesn’t actually change them. It just changes how my doctors treat them.

Now that I have an accurate diagnosis, my life has improved enormously. I’m on the right meds. I was approved for life-saving electroconvulsive treatments, which probably wouldn’t have happened had I kept my inaccurate bipolar diagnosis. Finding the right label for my condition has also had the absolutely crucial effect of allowing me to rebuild my self-image in a way that suits me. In my mind, the term “bipolar” never quite seemed to fit, so I felt like I was walking around in someone else’s skin for the better part of a decade. Now that I know I have borderline personality disorder, I can relax into myself.

And I never would have found that relief if I hadn’t questioned my first psychiatrist’s opinion. Instead, I did independent research. I learned about my disease – or at least, the one he told me I had – through books and seminars and websites. I even Web MD’d myself. And that’s how I knew I probably didn’t have bipolar disorder.

That’s why I encourage anyone with any diagnosis to get a second opinion if they think for a moment that their doctor is mistaken – even if that second opinion is your own. You know yourself better than anyone else does. No one knows exactly what it feels like to be you, except for you. You’re the world’s leading expert on your own experiences.

So if you have a hunch that your doctor/therapist is wrong, tell them.

Again: Never, ever, ever be afraid to question your doctor’s opinion. It isn’t your job to make them feel good about how well they do their job.

I promise they won’t judge you for “sounding like a know-it-all” or “acting like an expert”. They went to med/grad school in order to help people like you get better, so if you can offer up a thought they hadn’t considered, they’ll graciously consider your perspective as a legitimate possible step in the right direction for your treatment. That’s their only priority.  And if it isn’t, you might consider finding a new doctor. That’s what I did, and it might have saved my life.

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