Saturday, October 22, 2011

Men Vs Women

I read a long time ago on Seaneen's blog that men are more likely to receive a diagnosis of Bipolar, whereas a woman is more likely to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, or told to pull themselves together (this is not a direct quote). I'm here to tell you today that this is absolutely true.

I suffered quite severe mood swings when Mr Man was in hospital, and for quite a few years afterwards as well. I would swing from feeling completely elated, like my heart would burst with love and joy, to feeling that heavy crushing pain in my chest, with unimaginable emotional anguish. I was confused. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I kept a mood diary and went to speak to my GP.

My GP literally dismissed how I was feeling with "We all feel like that" before I had even finished my sentence. He obviously wasn't going to take me seriously, so I dropped it.

I struggled on until eventually it got too much for me again. This time I spoke to a lovely nurse at the surgery, who unfortunately could do nothing to help me, but she took me seriously and urged me to see a different doctor. This time the doctor listened to me, but explained that we all suffer from mood swings (sound familiar?) of varying levels. He refused to increase my anti-depressants, but referred me for counselling, which I never received.

Fast forward another year or so, and I saw yet another GP who increased my medication and I finally got some counselling.

During this time Mr Man frequently spoke about how concerned he was about me to his Occupational Therapist, because he too had noticed my mood swings, and particularly my "angry phase" when I literally wanted to kill people. I can speak about this now that I have recovered, but at the time I was so ashamed, and I didn't think people would believe me or take me seriously. Well... they didn't did they?

Looking back, I now know that I definitely wasn't suffering from Bipolar. I didn't really believe I was at the time, but I was just so confused about what was happening to me. Post Traumatic Stress also causes mood swings, which is what I now believe I was suffering from, but of course no doctor will ever concede that. For the most part I have had to struggle through it on my own, and yes, considering the amount of times I asked for help, and the amount of times Mr Man asked for help for me, I am bitter about this.

Of course, it would all be very different if I was a man. Now don't get me wrong; I am not a feminist, and I don't usually go along with all this "Men Vs Women" baloney, and "Men are from Mars" etc. etc. But, I know of men who have "achieved" the Bipolar status, by simply being... Well, I can't actually think of a polite way of saying it.

Now, I'm not saying that I wanted to be diagnosed with Bipolar - far from it. I simply wanted to understand what was wrong with me and to get help for it. But it really winds me up when I struggled so hard for so long to get help and was never taken seriously, when these men who are manipulative control freaks with a bad temper get told "You can't help it, you have Bipolar".

Being married to someone with a serious mental health issue, I am usually very sympathetic to others in the same plight, but for the same reason, I cannot tolerate men acting like spoilt children and being excused for their behaviour by their wives or girlfriends (or even ex-girlfriends) because they have "Bipolar". Mr Man has his limitations, but his illness never causes him to behave like a spoilt child.

Please correct me if I'm wrong (and I'm sure Seaneen will) but my understanding of Bipolar is that the mood swings are unrelated to daily events in your life? And I don't believe that people with Bipolar use self harm to manipulate the feelings of others? And I always believed that people suffering from Bipolar needed more than just anti-depressants, but mood stabilisers too?

To my mind, a diagnosis of Bipolar for these men tells them that they are being taken seriously, and not just being fobbed off with anti-depressants. But it also tells them that it's ok to act like a spoilt child when you don't get your own way, and it's ok to use self harm to manipulate others, or scare them with violence. And again, doesn't this reinforce the idea that people with mental illness are dangerous and violent? When in fact these people are just bad tempered individuals with depression? (Meaning, the bad temper was present already)

Two things need to change: a) GP's need to stop diagnosing patients with illnesses which are clearly beyond their expertise, and b) men and women need to be treated equally in the area of mental health. Yes, women are generally more emotional than men, but that doesn't mean we can't have mental illness too! And on that thought - when a GP says "we all have mood swings" do they mean all women, or men and women? And if they mean men and women, why are men told they have Bipolar and women are told "we all feel like that"?

I can't say that the counselling I received ever helped with the trauma I was trying to recover from. Even the counsellor preferred to ignore those events and focus on other things in my life. I have slowly recovered with the help of medication, time, and prayer, but it's taken about 9 years.

I can't possibly have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress though - because I'm a woman.