Be honest about your symptoms, critical for mental health

My entire four years at the University have been a struggle, because I was not receiving proper health care: I didn't tell my doctor all my mental illness symptoms out of embarrassment. But when I finally opened up, my psychiatrist realized what I had. I have rapid cycling bipolar disorder with psychotic features, not depression, which is what I was previously diagnosed with, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which we've known since I was 18.

I started seeking treatment by going to Counseling, ADAP and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) my first year of college when I was diagnosed with OCD and depression. OCD is not what it's portrayed to be in the media — mine centers around relationships, which is often abbreviated rOCD, for relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder. I constantly doubt that anyone cares about me and get intrusive thoughts that I'm hated and unwanted (obsessive thoughts) and constantly seek reassurance that my friends, family and significant other care for me (compulsive behavior), and when I can't get reassurance I'm often sent into an OCD “spike.” In these “spikes,” I feel that I am hated, unwanted and unloved by everyone, which leads to me ending a lot of friendships and relationships based off of this fear. As a person with rOCD, abandonment is my biggest fear and I see isolating myself as a way of protecting myself from abandonment from others, or from the possible triggers for “spikes” that come with having any form of relationship with anyone. I was able to describe all this with no issue and received an accurate diagnosis, as well as a diagnosis of depression.

My psychiatrist put me on antipsychotics the summer before my senior year to help with the intrusive thoughts and delusions caused by OCD. I went through five months of trying different antipsychotics before I finally found Zyprexa, which made the biggest difference of all. But it took away more things than I thought it would, and this is one of the keys to the change in my diagnosis.

Thanks to Zyprexa, I no longer thought the entire world wanted me dead. I also didn't hear voices in my head anymore and was able to recognize for the first time that the intrusive thoughts I got were sometimes hallucinations. I never told my doctors about the voices because I didn't want to seem “crazy.” I did some research on my own, and thought I was just a very high-functioning schizophrenic for months, which was wrong. This February I finally told my psychiatrist about the voices. I also told him that my mood is always very unstable, and that I could swing from being very happy to suicidal and depressed within seconds. He started to ask me questions.

“What are your work habits like?” I told him I work for 6-10 hours straight on assignments, be it writing a paper or studying or doing multiple assignments in one sitting, and that I often couldn't stop working until the assignment(s) were done. “When do you hear the voices?” I told him I only heard them when I get very depressed.

“Is this normal for someone with depression and OCD?”

The answer was no. He believes I was misdiagnosed all these years, and that I actually have rapid cycling bipolar disorder with psychotic features in addition to my OCD.

My psychiatrist increased my antipsychotic and now I take medicine four times a day to function like a normal human being. It sucks, and it requires a lot of remembering, but I have never been more mentally and emotionally stable in my life. Getting the proper diagnosis and proper medicine has made my life so much better. I am no longer suicidal, and I live every day as it comes rather than worrying about the past or the future (most of the time).

Getting proper care when you are suffering from a mental illness is critical. It's very important to tell your doctor all of your symptoms and avoid using the Internet as your doctor because it will probably be wrong. If you believe you are suffering from a mental illness, get help now. There are great resources on campus that can help you. I started with CAPS and ended with the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, and now I'm seeing a psychiatrist and therapist outside of the University. But if I never went to CAPS, I'd still be suffering. Remember that therapists, counselors and psychiatrists are there to help you, just like any other doctor. There is no need for embarrassment, and being open and honest will only help you get healthier.

Vicky Taft is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English with a minor in psychology.

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