Yesterday, my boyfriend and I went to see my new psychiatrist after not being seen by one since September because mine left and I never got put onto anyone else’s books. We were told we were attending to finally discuss diagnosis and I went hoping that would happen and I’d finally get a straight answer about treatment. Luckily, this psychiatrist is very thorough and seems to actually care. I met him once when I was 18 and liked him then as he was honest enough to tell me that because I’ve tried the main effective medications for my conditions with very negative effects to my health, I have medication-resistant depression and there was little to no point in trying those types of meds again in the future (sadly this information didn’t get back to my GP so when I originally became anxious I had to try taking these types of meds again before she’d try me on any new groups). The appointment was incredibly challenging. As usual, we were seen late and it turned out that slot had been triple-booked (I despair at the organisational skills of these places sometimes). I spent the entire assessment on the edge of a panic attack and cried twice because it was so overwhelming despite having taken diazepam in order to even get out of my flat to attend. I managed to get my points across though and have a tentative set of diagnoses that will be confirmed by letter within a fortnight. As a psychology graduate, I already had a fair idea that I’d be diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder as I fit all of the diagnostic criteria and have just about every symptom listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – used for diagnosing psychiatric conditions). What I wasn’t expecting was to be diagnosed with Social Anxiety and Panic as well. I always thought Social Anxiety was extreme shyness and an inability to be around people or to socialise. It turns out, it’s not that simple and that actually I fit very neatly into that box thanks to my fear of judgement from others and excessive worry about failing to meet others’ expectations or letting them down in some way (more posts in the future about this I’m sure).
I also got a big shock when personality disorders were mentioned. I have, at times, wondered if I had a personality disorder because many people with as many stress-related conditions as I’m racking up do have one. I’ve looked at the diagnostic criteria and got friends from my degree course to look as well and none of us think I fit the criteria so I really started to panic when the psychiatrist started to mention it because sadly, a diagnosis of a personality disorder leads to a great deal of stigmatisation, particularly within the medical community. Having worked with 10’s if not 100’s of patients with them, I’ve heard countless stories from them saying their doctors simply don’t believe them when they state that their conditions have worsened, they put all symptoms down to the personality disorder instead of looking at whether they have a second, third, or fourth diagnosis that needs to be made and they’re often labelled as manipulative hypochondriacs. Luckily, my psychiatrist agreed that these diagnoses of personality disorders are often very unhelpful and that in my case this would be true and I don’t fit into the criteria to be diagnosed with one because essentially I’m not severe enough. I was very relieved about this. He said, instead, that I can be described as having Adult Sequelae (seemingly not a diagnosis but a description hence the half in the title of this post). I’ve never heard of this at work or at Uni and when googling it, there is very little information, particularly for lay-people, just journal articles investigating links into drug addiction and alcohol abuse. However, how the psychiatrist explained it and what I’ve gleaned from the few studies that described it, is that issues from a difficult childhood or a pre-existing condition cause a second (or more) condition to develop as a result of the first. Because I had issues growing up, my ability to deal with stress has not developed and has left me very vulnerable to any future stress or adversity. I then develop physical or psychological conditions because of this lack of ability to cope and when I then learn to manage each condition but still not the underlying stress, I then develop a new symptom or condition each time I’m under severe stress or pressure again. It’s essentially like turning on a garden hose that has a hole in it. The water is the stress and the hole is a symptom/condition. I keep patching up the holes but then the hose bursts somewhere else (a new symptom/condition). I never manage to learn to turn off the water or re-route it somewhere else so I spend my life patching up the holes and learning to manage new symptoms and conditions without ever learning how to deal with stress or the issues from my childhood. This isn’t as severe as a personality disorder because seemingly, all of the other aspects of my personality are fully developed but my ability to deal with the negative events of my childhood and negative events that happen in my life today is still not formed. The psychiatrist has explained that I need to deal with the current issues of the anxiety disorders so I can get back to functioning and then work on learning how to deal with stress generally and combat the problems I’ve had since childhood. This means I’m going to be having a lot more therapy over the next few years and he did point out that while there is no reason to suggest I won’t improve, recovery is a much harder battle and one I’ve not yet won with any of my conditions as all those I’ve been diagnosed with still affect me to varying degrees despite my management of them.
Leading on from all of that, I’ve also finally had my treatment plan outlined! I’m to be allocated a support worker who will visit me at home and work on practical things to get me going out more. If/when that improves I will then be enrolled onto a group CBT programme at the local day hospital which I will attend with the support worker. After that, I may well be enrolled to attend the local recovery college where I will be taught about the conditions I have, how they work and what can be done to manage them. I’m not sure how much use that part will be given that I already have a psychology degree where I extensively studied these conditions and have not only worked for a total of 11 months with patients with these conditions but have also heavily researched them since becoming unwell myself but if I get well enough to attend then I’m certainly willing to give it a go to see what it’s all about and whether there’s anything new and useful I can pick up. After all of that, my level of functioning is meant to be a lot higher and I will then be assessed by a psychotherapist who will advise me about what long-term therapy I need to have and I’ll hopefully be referred to a highly skilled therapist from there for treatment which is likely to need to last 12-18 months.
So, I now have three and a half shiny new diagnoses and I’m still in shock about it all. I was so worried that I was going to be fobbed off again without knowing what’s wrong with me and what’s caused my life to turn upside down for the last 15 months. I’m pleased I now know officially what’s wrong with me, that I’m being offered treatment and now have a plan of what’s going to be offered and what we’re trying to tackle first, but naturally, now the worry is setting in about the pressure I’m likely to be under to improve, to constantly be getting better without being able to get used to any slight increases in functioning (there will be a lot of these in between being virtually housebound now and having a normal life where I can work and socialise). I’m worried about how I’m going to cope with a support worker when that’s the job role I was in when I became too ill to work, whether I’m going to get on with them, whether my treatment will be done at my pace or a pace set for me that I don’t get to have input into and a whole heap of other worries. The nature of Generalised Anxiety Disorder is that you worry about everything, particularly the unknown, so this is all very scary. I now have some labels that roughly describe what’s wrong with me and what I’m going through but I currently have no idea how long it may take to improve my functioning or even if the treatment plan will help. It sounds like the psychiatrist expects it to help but then he kept saying “if” so I don’t actually know what the likelihood is or what time-scale we’re looking at. I’m trying to just stay calm and take each step as it comes but such is the nature of the beast that I’m fighting that this is nigh on impossible for me to do and I’m already worrying about what if all of that doesn’t work and I’m left housebound still with another treatment option crossed off the list as not having worked. I’ll certainly be giving it my best shot and anyone that knows me offline will know how motivated and determined I am when I set my mind to something but the worries are still ever present. At least I know what conditions it is I’m fighting and have an action plan to try. Beyond that I’m just having to hope, and wait and see! Updates will follow as and when there are any. I’m still shocked and stunned that I’ve waited 15 months for one diagnosis and then three and a half came all at once.