Facing illness both physical and mental comes with its own set of challenges. It can be scary and frustrating and difficult at times. With the right communication, it can also be rewarding.
Physically I have been rather fortunate in the health department, touch wood. Other than strep throat every year as a kid, or the odd bout of bronchitis, my body has been pretty decent to me. My mind on the other hand, well…
I’ve had the same family doctor for almost twenty years. When I was young I hated the doctor’s, and refused to go more than once a year unless it was serious. Once my mom passed away after a battle with cancer, my opinion shifted. My health and my body had a higher standing at the forefront of my mind. I didn’t become an overnight hypochondriac or anything, but I started to pay more attention to what my body had to say, If something was off and persisted for a week or so, off I went.
When my health was good I still made a point to go for a yearly physical. In my twenties I started to develop a stronger relationship with my body, but also my doctor.
As my mental health would rock back and forth, I would seek the advice of my doctor. My being steadfast against prescription medications meant we would discuss health alternatives, and lifestyle changes that would ease my difficulties.
When I have questions he listens before he answers. We have two-way conversations. Open and honest communications. I cannot stress the importance of open and honest dialogue with your doctor. I know too many people who have health issues that freeze the moment the doctor walks in the room. People who don’t ask questions, never finding proper treatment due to fear or courtesy.
When your doctor asks about your diet be honest that you eat out five days a week, or cook everything in butter. Tell them you’re a closet smoker who sneaks three a day at the office. Share that you’ve started having a glass of wine or two with dinner each evening, instead of socially as you did before.
Tell your doctor the good stuff and the tough stuff. Tell them that you’ve recently kicked the drive-thru habit, or how you’ve stopped drinking coffee after lunch since the migraines started. Let your doctor in when your spouse is going through a tough time at work, you’ve been on edge around them recently, and sleeping less these past months.
Your doctor will not judge you. Doctors’ are bound by confidentiality and most I’ve met actually care about their patients’ wellbeing, it’s why they pursued medicine. But as with any relationship, it takes communication, respect and trust. How does hiding important information from your doctor instill trust in them, that you trust them to do their job? It doesn’t. I would much rather bring up something irrelevant (not pulled off WebMD) and be informed it isn’t relevant, than fail to share something significant out of pride.
For a number of years my doctor and I believed we were working together to manage my depression, and being that Bipolar is a form of depression we weren’t wrong. We just weren’t specific enough. We discussed options, what could be harmful or helpful. What I was and was not comfortable with. I didn’t just say yes to his advice and then call him a quack when I left the office. I challenged him, I asked questions and raised my concerns. Anything prescribed was thoroughly researched on my end before I ingested it. This is not because I don’t have trust in my doctor, or his twenty plus years of experience. It’s because we trust each other and we’re both invested in my health and wellbeing. He knows he can ask me anything comfortably and will get an honest response. He also knows that I will do my research, so we don’t have to discuss the minutia of every single decision we make together.
Has everything we’ve tried been easy or without side effect? Certainly not, but being confident when we meet that I can be specific of my concerns is comforting. It wasn’t until recent trauma in my life that I returned back to counselling, processing this trauma, that my doctor and I began to notice patterns. Rapid cycling. I complained of feeling like my old healthy self again for a period of time, then being back to square one. I was doing everything right, why wasn’t I getting better? How could life be like this now I had bitten the bullet and agreed to anti-depressants, meds I was faithful to? An honest conversation regarding Bipolar, a prescription first to help with my insomnia, and some homework to record my days. To look back and recognize “up” days or periods in my life. That was the first step to official diagnosis, steps that would change my life.
Finally after years of battling various stages of depression and anxiety I have relief. I have knowledge, understanding and focus. We continue to work together so I can live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. I’m now in control of managing an uncontrollable illness. Plans have formed for medications, life style changes, timing, warning signs and also how to communicate with my loved ones. How to identify the types of support I may actually need, or want, now and in the future.
My doctor is doing all that he can to set me up for success in life. He treats the person, not the problem. He also shares my opinion that is how a doctor ought to conduct themselves short of emergency room situations. This isn’t just bedside manner, its compassion and caring at a genuine level.
Think of your relationship with your doctor for a moment. Do you trust in them enough for full honest disclosure? Do you feel heard, as though they treat the person not just the problem? Are you willing to shift your approach the next appointment?
Doctors are people to, and one of many in a sea of professionals. If you don’t have a comfortable doctor/patient relationship it’s okay to shop around. Finding the doctor who clicks with you, makes you comfortable, provides you the opportunity to be in control of your own health, this should be your aim. You won’t lend the office asshole your car, so why let a removed doctor have such a large say in your health just because they have a PhD? You know your body better than anyone else, and just accepting whatever your doctor says without conversation sounds very frightening, and pretty stupid if you ask me.
People put doctors on some pedestal, and while I believe their dedications and service to the community should be respected and recognized, I know that they too are human. The doctor hat comes off at the end of the day and they are brothers, wives, parents, and people. You may feel as if sharing your life’s details is one way street, but is it? I enjoy hearing a thank you after I’ve held the door for someone. I can only imagine the rewarding experience a doctor feels when a patient returns in better health, grateful to their doctor for an improvement in life.
Medicine is a science that is constantly evolving and changing. There is no magic one-pill-cure that remedies all the world can throw at us. Working with your doctor is no different. Your body and mind are incredible beings that are also changing, adapting and evolving. Consider your health a year, five years or even ten years ago. Do you know when something is wrong? When what you are doing with your lifestyle is going well?
Pay attention to your body, embrace it, learn from it. Then take that unique set of knowledge to your doctor, speak openly and feel empowered by the support of working with a professional who is in your corner. It could save your life, as well as your body.
How do you interact with your doctor? Are you in sync or in opposition? Do you avoid the doctor at all costs? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, and click that follow button if you would like to be notified when the next part of “Working with Professionals” drops!