Monday, November 10, 2008

Is Depression A Symptom?

Kids in school now are often prescribed medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For those who grew up in the 1970's, the drug of choice was Ritalin. When a child was overly interested in books, art, and even, dare I say, schoolwork, it was more likely that she would be considered "withdrawn". But, when a kid has Irritable Bowel Symptom from the age of four, she isn't considered ADHD, nor is she considered withdrawn. She's considered, "unusual". I was unusual for many, many years.

Doctors spent a lot of time testing me for allergies. I was poked with a variety of needles and pins, and given the samples of things like "dog dander" and "horse spit", but I never was asked if there were any issues at home, nor was I asked about my diet. That wasn't important to the diagnosis back then. What they wanted to know is "Why did this kid poop so much?"

It took ten years until a family doctor finally said, "Have you ever been on antidepressants?" I was only 13, and had no idea what he meant. I had heard of Valium as "mother's little helper" because of the Rolling Stones. I had heard of Prozac, because it was on the cover of all the magazines as the breakthrough drug of the century. But, I hadn't really been given any knowledge as to why I was having these terrible panic attacks, followed by hours in the lavatory, that most doctors determined was a direct response to my lactose intolerance.

I also had nasty bouts of bronchial distress that were directly related to stress. It was asthma, but it always seemed to rear up when I was dealing with a parent's anger, or another parent's infidelities. I had asthma attacks and bowel attacks, and I had always wondered if I'd just go through the alphabet until I had Zebra attacks. My release up to this point was to visit with a school nurse who would have me lay my head down on a desk and wait until school was over so I could go home.

There were a lot of reasons for childhood depression. Our family set the trend of being the first in the neighborhood that went through a divorce. We had a pet- that was taken away by a neighbor two days later. We had a very limited income, like many people in our area, and relied on the food that arrived weekly from the government, or from donations. Some days that was a longer wait than others. We had a home that wasn't exactly safe for children, with violent outbursts from one parent. And, one family member decided it was okay to try to have sexual relations with his oldest niece, and that certainly wasn't fun, I assure you. We knew death, we knew life, and we knew what it was like to be outcasts amongst the outcast.

But, like most kids, I coped as best I could by creative outlets. I wrote a lot. By writing, I mean taking those manila paper sheets, folding them up, and stapling them into books that I would share with two or three other girls. I was the school artist, often asked to paint chalk murals on the walls of classrooms. And, I spent a majority of my grade-school years staying by the side of adults. Any adult. It was generally safer than being near other children who, frankly, scared me.

The ultimate events occurred during the days we were paraded in and out of courts as our parents battled to gain our possession. There was no sense of home, and no sense of safety. We were never sure of where we would wake up, and there was a court appointed psychologist sent to chat with us. In my case, she took me to bakeries to get me to talk to her- which leads to the idea that comfort and food go hand in hand. It took almost thirty years to break that cycle.

But, no doctor or psychologist ever brought up the idea that a child could have depression until the day my dad brought me into Dr. Carr's office in Hyde Park. Within months I was on lithium, librax, and was being treated for depression, which although didn't cure the IBS and panic, certainly curtailed it substantially. He did help stop the asthma attacks, and I believe that his ability to listen had everything to do with that. It took seven years of emergency rooms, thousands of allergy shots, and years of school nurse visits, and just two hours of a single doctor's time to discover what the real issues were. He was the first to use the phrase, "irritable bowel", and he was the first to approach my dad with the idea that I was clinically depressed.

Unfortunately, many doctors after him read his diagnosis of "depression" and stopped treating other real symptoms of real diseases because of this. It was as if the title was given to warn other medical professionals, "THIS person has something you don't understand, so please medicate as much as, and as often as possible."

When I first started showing signs of hormonal disorders, the gynecologist I saw read Dr. Carr's reports and determined that it must be something that's simply stress related. It didn't matter to her that my weight was jumping up and down by up to 20 lbs in a single month's time. It didn't matter that I was having a period for nearly 50 days per cycle. That had to be something I was just overplaying because of being so "Depressed". I ended up on even more antidepressants, and even more anti-anxiety medications. When my weight finally leveled off at 118, when I was 20 years old, the doctors stopped listening to me tell them that there were other menstrual issues. I was given birth control pills and told that it would solve everything.

They didn't hear that I was having cramps 12 days prior to any cycle that lasted up to four hours each time, for up to a week. They didn't want to hear that I was spending at least one day a month in bed because I just couldn't move. They didn't hear any of this. They saw "Depressed", and only treated THAT instead of ME.

So the question for this blog: Do you feel as if you are labeled Depressed? Do you feel as though that label has prevented care? Do you find that doctors will prescribe anti-depression medications without really hearing you talk about symptoms once they hear that "D" word?

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