Challenging Stigmas & an Imperfect System: My Struggle With Depression

Challenging Stigmas & an Imperfect System: My Struggle With Depression

For the first time in five years, I have health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. I’m often having to remind myself that this means I can now access medical treatment, something that has only happened on a few occasions over the last 60 months. I’ve been grateful to Planned Parenthood for my yearly exams that fit within my tight budget. I was happy about the clinic I found an hour from my home that charged on a sliding scale. Unfortunately, with two hours of driving to get there, both the time and the gas spent made that option not feasible. Thankfully, I’m fairly healthy and am not the type to run to the doc for a little cold. When you are without insurance, you learn to make do.

I’ve done all I can in the past five years to stay healthy. Sometimes we do our best, and we still get sick. Last year, I ended up with a kidney infection. I woke up in pain but ignored it. When I went to the bathroom, there was a blood clot. That’s when I knew I couldn’t ignore the pain. I had a high fever as well. I couldn’t take some vitamin C and Advil and be okay. The clinic didn’t have any openings, and even if they had, I wasn’t sure I could handle driving myself there and back. I decided my only option was to go to the emergency room. $1500 later, I was given a prescription and sent on my way. Medical debt is not something a single mother, or anyone, needs.

But back to the good news, which is, of course, the fact I am no longer one of the 48 million still-uninsured Americans. I will be scheduling my physical with a new primary care doctor this week. I’m fearful, I must admit. Could something have been lurking inside me these past few years and some blood test will discover it? I also have a dental cleaning that needs to be scheduled. I may actually need someone else to make that appointment for me since I seem to keep chickening out of doing so. I am happy about the chance to also have an eye exam and get some new glasses. It seems incredible I made it five years without too much wrong going on, with the same set of glasses, no chipped teeth, etc. I suppose I can get back to biking now since the fear of falling and breaking a wrist no longer need haunt me. I quit riding after I took a tumble, and all the debt I’d get into if I broke a bone flashed before my eyes.

The other aspect of my health, the one many only whisper about, is my mental health. I didn’t think much about not having insurance with regard to my mental health because I have seen that having insurance isn’t always the entry pass needed to receive proper care. There are far too many hoops to jump through when it comes to accessing mental health treatment. In the past year, I’ve been having a difficult time. Alright, I am depressed. It seems weird even writing it. I’m the first to advocate for mental health care and to end the stigmas associated with it. And yet, here I am, holding off discussing it for months.

When I was 15, I had major depression. I was hospitalized, and that saved my life. I was suicidal, self-harming, I had anxiety, OCD, and ADHD. It was an awful time. I was in-patient for a couple of weeks and then attended the hospital’s day program for about another month. I was on medication and slowly found more reasons to live than die and eventually felt better. I remained in therapy for a couple of years, and on medication most of the time. I was able to come off of medicine and no longer need therapy from about 18 until my mid-20’s. It was then that I developed agoraphobia. I found a great therapist, did a lot of work to overcome my anxiety, and eventually felt safe to be outside of my home. I mention those two events in my life, not because those were the only times I needed therapy or was struggling with my mental health, but because those are the two markers I have in my history that signify I really need help. Yes, in either of those, help should have been sought sooner. This is something I’m reminding myself of a lot lately.

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