I finally saw my CPN, Christine, this morning. I say ‘finally’ as I had been meant to see her about – what? A month ago? Three weeks past? Something like that. I turned up on that occasion, early as usual, and reported to the CMHT/outpatients reception in the normal fashion. The bloke seemed a bit unsettled to see me, which should have been a warning sign that things were afoot, but then he told me to have a seat, as normal, in the waiting room. I dutifully did so.
And thus began the wait for which the term ‘waiting room’ was invented. To be honest, as soon as the allocated appointment time had been and gone, I somehow knew that she wasn’t coming – but rather than approach the reception bloke again and enquire as to Christine’s status on this plane, I just sat there rocking back and forth like the oversized bodybag of insanity that I am. Someone sat opposite me, curled up in her seat in a ball. Someone else sat to my right, shuddering and ‘ticcing’ with a remarkable frequency, as if afflicted by tardive dyskinesia (not such an improbable scenario in this realm, of course). I was struck by the obvious mental illnesses of all three of us: you might think that comes as no surprise in a psychiatric outpatients waiting room, but you’d be wrong.
In my two-plus years of attending the outbin, I’ve always been a little taken aback by how completely sane and normal most of the people looked – and then this makes me feel like a right stigmatising bitch. Mental health problems really aren’t that abnormal, and societal stereotypes on how people with such issues should look (foaming at the mouth, constantly existing in states of 1,000 yard-staring catatonia, running around wielding knives) are dated, inaccurate and sickeningly discriminatory. Madness can affect anyone – any age, any race, any gender, any religion, any sexuality, any class. It does not discriminate, and it can be well disguised. So why would I, someone who should have known better, have assumed that there must be a certain ‘look’ a mental must have, or particular behaviours he or she must present? Why does the the complete ordinariness of most mental health outpatients surprise me so? Because I’m a bigoted bitch, no better than the majority of the supposedly sane community who generally live in a similar ignorance – that’s why.
But I digress, as I am often wont to do. I knew Christine wasn’t going to turn up on this occasion because of the confluence of events in which (a) reception bloke had regarded me with an odd disposition; and (b) there had been a missed call from an unknown number on my phone earlier that day. No one had left a fucking message, though, so I did not consider it important.
Of course, it turned out that it had been the outbin calling me to alert me to the fact that some shit was hitting some fans in Shite Town, one of poor Christine’s unfortunate ‘community’-based stomping grounds, as poor reception bloke was forced to eventually admit to me. Not that I displayed it to him, but I was fucking irritated. Not with Christine – I fully recognise and accept that shit hits fans sometimes (especially in Shite Town…God, I hate that bastardhole with a passion) – but with her colleagues back at the bin for letting me drive all the way there when a simple fucking message could have saved me the petrol.
A secondary issue, of course, was that I was right in the midst of a major depression at the time, but meh. I was completely pissed about by (Old)VCB, but NewVCB and Christine have generally been very good in terms of seeing me, and have even afforded me the opportunity to contact them if I am in a non-crisis-team crisis – which, in de facto terms, means any serious (but sub-A&E) crisis, because it will be over my dead body when I ever deal with the bloody crisis team again.
Anyway, so it came to pass that this morning’s appointment was organised, and subsequently attended by both Christine and me. I was with her for about half an hour, which is relatively short by previous standards, but there wasn’t a huge amount of things to discuss. The poor cat had died since I last saw her, which was obviously rather a rather shit stabbing of fate, and it had come at a time when I was very mentally fragile anyway. Christine expressed what appeared to be sincere apologies for our loss, which I appreciated. Some folks say the words alright, but you can almost see them thinking, “but it’s just an animal..!” Others, of whom I’m guessing she must be one, realise that pets become your friends and family.
The odd thing is, apart from the first weekend after Ms Cat’s death, I think things have been stabilising ever so slightly. Obviously, one might reasonably assume that if one had atypical (AKA reactive) depressive symptoms, that such a horrible and untimely occurrence would have paved the way straight back into the depths of the abyss – yet in my case, it did not. It’s not because I’m cold or some sort of unfeeling droid – truly, I miss Ms Cat horribly and am horrified when I think about her being hit by that fucking car, her dying all alone in the middle of the road – but overall, putting a quite normal reaction to bereavement aside (and if viewed from an entirely pathological perspective), things seem to be ever so slightly moving upwards. This makes me feel smug. Why? Because I’ve been trying to tell the quacks for ages now that my moods are not reactive, and that my major depressions are clearly melancholic. What has happened in the wake of Ms Cat’s death exemplifies that well, to my mind.
Lack of a reactive mood suggests a lack of borderline personality disorder. I’ve discussed the fact that I don’t feel the diagnosis is relevant to me any more both here and here, in the latter case having made brief allusion to the issue with Christine herself. Today, I just came out and asked her: what the fuck actually is my current diagnosis?
The question was borne out of a discussion about mood stabilisers. As I had asked you lovely lot here, I so asked her about the pros and cons of Depakote and Lithium, both of which she actually seemed quite positive about. She must have seen some scepticism in my expression, because she asked me to articulate what it was that I didn’t like about them. I presented a redacted version of some of your responses to the aforelinked post.
“I know that’s a tiny amount of people compared to all of those that take these drugs, but still, I’m dubious,” I admitted. “What about Lamotrigine? I heard from various sources that it’s particularly good for depression.”
“Lithium and Depakote are the ones we most frequently use here,” she told me, “but yeah, Lamotrigine and [some other anti-convulsant-cum-mood-stabiliser whose name I have forgotten] are also used, and yes – Lamotrigine does tend to be good for depression. I know that [NewVCB] does recognise the severity of your depressive features. Would you say that they’re the most troublesome part of your illness?”
I thought about it for a moment, and then said they were certainly the most pervasive, which is undoubtedly correct. I kind of screwed up my face, though, because – although depression is a hell beyond the comprehension of those who have never truly experienced it – other symptoms I’ve experienced have been pretty ghastly too. ‘They‘ (especially on a bad day). The particular anti-delight that is the psychiatric mixed state. Insomnia. Fake Paedo and night-time peccaries. Dissociation. They all suck donkey balls that are bigger than I know how to quantify, but despite it all, I think that depression probably is still the worst of the whole sorry lot. It’s inutterably abominable.
For some reason, though, we ended up talking in some detail about my psychotic symptoms; Christine noted that whilst the psychosis had actually been pretty serious at times, that on most occasions it hadn’t been particularly prolonged (save for my ongoing GCHQ obsession, but then I don’t think that that is delusional. Those
nosy pricks honourable men and women watch all of us: it’s simply a fact). This is true – in the past I’ve even suggested that my psychotic symptoms were perhaps transient and/or stress-induced, though as I continue walking this darkened path of lunacy and reflect on times gone by, I’m less and less convinced that any of it was (is) as simple as that. Either way, though, it has been uncommon for me to be verbally persecuted or delusional or whatever for long periods of time, as is traditional in the likes of schizophrenia.
One thing I told her, that I haven’t mentioned here for a long time, was that I missed Tom. Not all hallucinatory voices are malicious, y’know. Christine empathised; she says she has one particular patient that has an extremely settled and successful life now (hope, perchance?), but who really misses her voices which (like Tom) were killed by the anti-psychotics that, all things considered, the woman had little choice but to take.
Anyhow, that’s by the by, apart from my worry about reducing the Seroquel to 300mg and adding a mood stabiliser. This concern, as I observed in the appointment, was that even with a slow titration back down to the half-dose of the stuff, I would become psychotic again. Christine reminded me that when I had tried a self-inflicted hand at living on 300mg, that I had only had one day of psychotic mentalness – that the rest of those few weeks, whilst they appeared to have fucked with my mood, had not rekindled voices, paranoia, thought disorder and so forth. True enough, to be fair to her.
“So, maybe 300mg can work to prevent psychosis for you,” she said. “But yeah – I think the introduction of a mood stabiliser is a good idea to make up for the loss of such properties if you lower your dose of Seroquel.”
I nodded, also expressing my willingness to “just deal with the weight gain” if indeed it turned out, after all, that 600mg of the stuff was what I needed. She said that it was good that I had such a philosophical attitude to the whole thing.
“I suppose so,” I adventured, “but I’m going to be taking 300mg of Venlafaxine, 300mg of Seroquel and God knows what dose of a mood stabiliser. That’s a bit…well, mad.”
She shrugged, but not in a dismissive fashion. “If you had a broken leg you you’d put it in as big a cast as it required…”
“Oh don’t get me wrong,” I said, “I agree. I’m not at all one of those anti-medication apologists; the stuff has saved my life many times. It’s just a lot of medicine to be taking when…well, when supposedly dealing with a disorder for which NICE don’t recommend medication…”
Christine made some remark that seemed derisive of NICE, which left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Then she continued by saying that, if I was referring to BPD, then NewVCB was seriously doubtful about my having it.
Good! (Though let’s be clear: I do believe that I did have borderline personality disorder, though I never met the stereotypes so nefariously associated with same – but then, very few people actually do. So here I am – proof that it can be recovered from). But if BPD is no longer applicable, what are we all dealing with, then?
“[NewVCB] doesn’t like to discuss diagnoses with me,” I complained forlornly. “But I’d like to know.”
Christine nodded and said, “I’d say she’s about 90% going with – predominantly depressive, bear in mind – bipolar affective disorder with psychotic features.”
Of course, bipolar type II was always my differential diagnosis, but it now seems that they’re looking at type I. In a way, it’s curious as I’m pretty sure I’ve never intimately danced with a euphoric mania – indeed, (Old)VCB (who met me about four times and was therefore the consummate expert on the idiosyncratic nature of my personal psycho-neurology) stated that I definitely didn’t have bipolar I. However, if I have had mixed episodes – and I certainly have – then clearly, by very definition under the current editions of the ICD and the DSM, it must be bipolar I. I’d always shrugged that reality off: these things exist on a spectrum. I haven’t changed my view on that, but an elevation from II to I is not exactly a non-issue for me, partly because specific diagnoses may (or may not) affect one’s treatment. In that regard – and it’s as unfair as fuck, because the popular, sensationalised images of it are not accurate – not being seen as having BPD any more is a positive development, even though it’ll obviously never leave my files entirely.
Anyhow, there is a window of doubt in this apparent bipolar diagnosis. It is, to no surprise of mine whatsoever, potentially filled with schizoaffective disorder. Essentially, the difference between it and psychotic bipolar disorder is that the psychosis can occur outside mood episodes in schizoaffective disorder, whereas in bipolar (or psychotic depression), such symptoms are exclusive to either depressed or “manic” states (I use the scare quotes* here ((which I normally loathe loathe LOATHE)) because I feel the term denotes euphoria, whereas clearly in my case – if I do have this – then my “mania” is of the dysphoric variety). Given my inability to properly rise from bed in the mornings, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that trying to keep track of my exact state of mood relative to other symptomatology isn’t entirely easy. My sense is that I have hallucinated when fairly euthymic, but then euthymic by my standards could be a mild to moderate depression by those of another, and thus I feel unqualified to judge this objectively.
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that I still have a number of elements of C-PTSD, regardless of whichever one of the other two conditions is predominant.
I rattle when I walk sometimes, what with all the tablets I have to carry about with me. And that’s going to get even worse! And lo, my poor brain must rattle now, with all these diagnoses in place to form description of it. But, although I know the terms aren’t important and that the actual treatment is, I still see value in diagnoses. I read recently – I can’t remember where, sorry – that the point of diagnostic psychiatry is communication. Without at least some guidance – to be taken with a pinch of salt certainly, but which can act as something of a sign post – surely all branches of medicine, even those in which spectra and classification-overlaps predominate, would end up jargonistic free-for-alls.
Diagnoses may not help diagnosees, but I still can’t see how not having them does either.
* On the point of scare quotes, actually. The verb ‘to label’ and its nominal, adjectival and qualifying derivatives are unlikely to be used synonymously with ‘to diagnose’ on this blog – but if they are, they are the only terms I will always put in scare quotes. I cannot express how much I completely abhor this usage of the word ‘label’. I hate it. I despise it. I feel repugnance and disdain and derision and other derogatory d words towards it (though, it must be noted, not those that use it!).
It’s not a rational objection, but please don’t kick me – we all have foibles, do we not, and this, sweet readers, is one of mine ;)
Random real life aside – in the wake of Ms Cat’s death, we decided to get a new kitty quite quickly. This was a pragmatic decision based on Mr Cat’s future wellbeing. It became quickly apparent that he really missed Ms Cat; so did we, obviously, but human mourning takes time – does the same apply to felids? We know not. Had it been about us, we’d have waited at least a few months before getting another
female cat, but on balance, we reckoned it would be better for Mr Cat if a new adoptive si sterbling came sooner rather than later.
she is! ShHe shall henceforth be known as Señorit ao (Srt ao) Gat ao on this blog :) [EDIT: As you can perhaps deduce from all the strikethroughs, we thought the bloody cat was a female when we got it, but alas it's a bloke. We never intended to get another male; the possibility of territorial disputes was too unsavoury. But although Srto Gato annoys Mr Cat with his kitten ways, they actually seem to get on reasonably well. Thank Christ.]