Shalom, friends. I have been thinking about my lost professional life a lot lately, as I have been working on my NaNoWriMo novel, which is loosely autobiographical. NaNoWriMo means “National Novel Writing Month.” It takes place every November. It’s an organized event wherein several thousand crazed writers attempt to rough out a 50,000 word novel in a month. It’s wicked fun.
This is my second year doing it. So far I haven’t managed to get to the finish point, but what the heck. I’ve learned a lot. And who’s to say I won’t do it this year? Oh all right, it’s November 19th and I’ve only got 20,000 words down. You never know.
As I was saying, my novel is “loosely” autobiographical. Deals with a, you know, woman pediatric emergency physician who, etc. etc. (I won’t tell you the plot yet, as I am still struggling to get a strangle hold on it myself and don’t want it to slip me a mickey while I’m sneaking up on it).
One of the things I have not done with my protagonist/heroine is to make her bipolar. I just realized that tonight, while sitting down to write this post. How extremely odd! Imagine, if I had copped to the fact that she is bipolar from word one, I probably would have topped 50,000 by now!
Why haven’t I done it? One word suffices: Stigma.
I lived my entire career petrified that someone would find out. Because in my personal experience, once a physician (psychiatrists excluded) has a known psychiatric diagnosis, s/he may as well pack up the old kit bag and light a shuck for Somewhere Else. Wherever that is. Because there is nothing that will turn one’s colleagues into non-colleagues faster than a psych diagnosis.
Once I ran into a former mentor from my pediatrics residency program during intermission at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting. She asked how I was doing. For some odd reason, the words that exited my mouth were, “Actually, I’ve been struggling a bit with depression.” Her mouth snapped shut and she did an abrupt about-face, and was off into the crowd faster than you could say “Stigma.”
The fear of discovery of my condition actually lead to my downfall, as I often went without treatment rather than take the risk of disclosure. When I did get treatment, I paid out of pocket for my psychiatric visits, therapy, and meds, so that they would not be on my insurance records.
How strange that I found myself envying an alcoholic colleague, whose stints in rehab were looked upon with broad approval by all of our colleagues, when I was unable to disclose my own disability because those same colleagues had nothing but nasty talk about another of our brethren who had taken time off to deal with an episode of mania!
I’ve read several blogs by other physicians with affective disorders, and a common thread is the need to keep their condition secret, trying to juggle heavy meds with 27 or 30 hour shifts, all the while trying to keep the old brain between the ditches and function in the 99th percentile.
And I know some of you who are reading this are doing the same thing, being very careful that no one suspects that you have a “diagnosis.”
How long are we going to keep this charade up? For me, it’s too late. I’m out of the game. But it makes me sick to think that my brothers and sisters who are physicians, teachers, and other professionals who deal with the public on a day to day basis, are not free to just “be themselves” but have to be very careful not to inadvertently “disclose.”
No, I wouldn’t have wanted all of my patients to know I’m bipolar. But for some of them, it would have been a big boost if they could see that even doctors can be bipolar. Kind of like having an endocrinologist who’s diabetic. See, diabetic kids can grow up and become doctors, too! Bipolar kids can grow up and be doctors, teachers, lawyers, folk singers! Folk singers? Oh, never mind. You catch my drift.