Since I was about eight, I’ve been nervous about going to a doctor. It’s not because I’m afraid of needles or blood (I’ve been a platelet and blood donor since I was 15,) or that I’m worried I might have a severe disease. In fact, it’s the opposite. I’m always worried that the doctor isn’t going to believe me or think I’m exaggerating. That the problem is me just being a faker.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time trying to tell people that something was wrong with me. The general rule in our house was if you didn’t have a fever, you went to school. It’s really hard, especially as a child, to explain depression. I don’t think you quite get it yourself, you just know you don’t feel right. I remember just feeling exhausted, sad, and used up all the time. But when I would tell my mom, (and this was before a lot of people understood depression,) she would usually tell me it was hormones or the weather. And I don’t blame her. My nose wasn’t running, I didn’t have a fever, there was no asthma, puss, or any of the “signs” of “sickness.” How could she know something she couldn’t see from her third grade youngest child.
I started wishing I would get sick. And I started to feel like unless I had something to show, no one would really believe something was wrong. Maybe they would think I was trying to get attention. Or that I was a drama queen or a hypochondriac. I remember saying “Something isn’t right. I just don’t feel right.” But honestly, if I didn’t know about depression, and this was in the early 90’s, I would probably think my child was also just going through puberty or was having a difficult time in school or overanalyzing her studies. And all of these were true – but they were symptoms of a much deeper problem.
Anyway, I started to worry that doctors would also think I was bullshitting. So I would delay appointments, and find myself having panic attacks the day of. I would go in the office sweating, my heart beating out of my chest, and when they asked me what was wrong, I always felt like I was pleading a case – trying to convince them that I was sick. But I also over-compensated, smiling and not speaking up when I thought they were wrong or misunderstood.
When I had things like strep throat, eczema, asthma, or ear infections, it wasn’t a problem. But I would go in and tell them that I felt exhausted, depleted and sluggish, and they would run a blood test, put me on thyroid meds, sleeping pills, adderall. They tried to treat the symptoms individually instead of looking at the big picture and I always imagined them sitting there after they got my tests back and thinking “This girl is fine. What a selfish person – there are real people sick and she’s wasting my time because she’s ‘tired.'” I felt such shame.
But throughout my depression, I have felt like I have had to justify myself to everyone around me – even my psychiatrists and therapists. I worry they won’t believe my pain. I worry my family will think I’m milking it, my doctors will think I’m exaggerating, my friends will think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. (I don’t even get that expression and I think it’s from the 30’s but whatever.)
In retrospect, I think one part of self-harming was my way of saying “fuck you” to everyone who didn’t believe I was sick. I didn’t tell anyone or show anyone, but I knew I had tangible evidence of my problems and it made me feel justified in my internal pain. I also think the ECT made me feel vindicated and shocked the shit out of people. It’s hard to argue that anything is wrong when you are getting seizures three times a week…on purpose. My stomach was really bad a few months ago, but it wasn’t until I had to go to the hospital that I think my family actually believed I was in real pain. And of course, they couldn’t find anything “concrete” like an ulcer or lump, so they just told me to eat simply and do the best I could. I paid $100 bucks to have a doctor tell me I should eat rice and I was so embarrassed that it was basically just gastroenteritis and I have had and still have IBS.
I’m writing this because two and half months ago I had knee surgery. Of course it was “not that bad of a tear” which made me feel embarrassed that I didn’t have a really severe tear. (This is where the irrational thinking jumps out to play.) I had surgery and started PT. The doctor that did the surgery told me I’d be back spinning in a month. I was young and he had had the same surgery and was mountain biking 4 weeks later so I would be fine. After about six weeks, my PT would do the basic exams and ask about pain. I don’t know whether it’s because I have a high pain threshold or always feel the need to put on a show in front of people I don’t know and give them the answers I think they want to hear, but while I was feeling discomfort, it wasn’t “pain.” Once again, I started feeling like I had to justify something I knew was wrong but couldn’t prove.
In the past few weeks, I’ve started to think she has stopped believing me when I say that something still doesn’t feel right. I just feel my knee all the time. When I’m walking, standing, or on the bike, I feel discomfort, an aching, and sometimes a click or sharp small pain. Two weeks ago, she told me that at this point if I wasn’t in pain, she didn’t really understand the discomfort and but she didn’t see why I shouldn’t be getting better. There were no tangible symptoms – no inflammation, pain when bending a certain amount of degrees – she couldn’t see anything wrong and so she couldn’t see why I wasn’t better.
I felt really ashamed and embarrassed. Maybe I’m fine and I’m just overanalyzing or being ultra sensitive. So I’ve started to get on the bike and push myself again. I tell myself even if it feels weird, if it doesn’t hurt to just keep on going. That maybe this is just how my knee is going to feel and I just have to push through and stop being a baby. Stop being a drama queen that I’ve always assumed everyone thought I was. I have an appointment today and I really don’t want to go. I’m going to tell her that I’ve been spinning and she’s going to wonder why I’m there. She’s going to have me do my exercises but I’m going to see that look on her face that says “I really don’t know what else to do with this girl because she’s fine and she’s just making a big deal out of nothing.” I cancelled the last session and was going to cancel this one but missed the deadline and can’t afford not to go given the cancellation fee.
I’m angry that I can’t allow myself to feel injured, sick, or just unwell. I hate that I feel like I have to convince people something’s wrong and still think they are thinking I’m bullshitting. That I often am a mess before therapy but go in with a smile on my face in the beginning because I overcompensate and feel it’s rude not to be friendly when you see someone. That I play down my symptoms because I doubt my own feelings.
I know I don’t feel right, just like I knew when I was eight that something was wrong. But my worry that others won’t believe me make me doubt myself and what I feel. I’m scared to go and I’m angry that I’m scared. I feel like it’s going to make me feel bad about myself for the rest of the day and then I won’t do the things to make me feel better – like going to the gym, or cooking, or reading, or doing the list of things I need to get around to doing. I hate that this one thing could have the power to impact the rest of my day and that I’m too weak to push through it. But maybe I will. Maybe I’ll leave and be able to say “fuck it” and do a few things on my list.
Bad habits die hard. And I hope I will not shame myself into a depressive day. But until then, I just feel like a fake whose knee kinda hurts.