It’s An Illness

“There’s something about addiction. When it’s about the people we care about we call it an illness. When it’s about someone we don’t know, we just look at them like criminals. I’m supposed to know it’s always the former. WE have a disease. But, it’s a disease we can treat. That’s my 5 year NA chip. I’m more proud of that than my MD. I want you to have it.” ~ Dr. Savetti, Code Black – The Same as Air

This heartfelt line by Dr. Savetti comes after, earlier in the episode, he chastised a patient who came in seeking narcotics. Prior to this line, he had not revealed that he also struggled with addiction. He has a really good point that we often think of mental illness/substance abuse differently when it is someone we love versus someone we don’t know. Furthermore, as he says, doctors are supposed to remember that mental illness and drug addiction and illnesses. This is definitely not always the case. I have had several doctors tell me that I should “know better” when it comes to the eating disorder, as if it was a simple choice just to eat or not.

I can also relate to what he says about his NA chip. Recovery has proven to me to be far more difficult than medical or graduate school. I have heard others in recovery also say it’s the hardest thing they have ever done.

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Uncertainty

From Grey’s Anatomy Season 14, Episode 22 – Fight for Your Mind:

Meredith: Fixing your mental health isn’t like surgery. You can’t just run the bloodwork and check the vitals. With mental health, progress is way harder to measure, and if something is wrong, we have to take action. There is a lot of uncertainty, there’s a lot of fear, and what might be easy for one person, for someone else might take inner strength you can’t even imagine. But we have to try. We have to stand up to our demons. We have to face reality whenever possible and ask for help when we can.

There have been a couple of times that I have blogged using Grey’s Anatomy quotes that discuss how recovery is a long process, and that recovery from mental illness is usually not as cut and dry as physical illness. Even the diagnosis of mental illness isn’t usually as cut and dry. Most of the time diagnosis is based on a cluster of observable symptoms and/or thoughts; there aren’t really clinical tests like labs and vitals. This is something that I struggle with a lot when it comes to my own mental health issues. Especially with the eating disorder, I feel like there has to be some proof in the sense of my weight being low or my vitals being off to warrant treatment.

Moving on from diagnosis, as Meredith says, fixing your mental health is a long, uncertain process. Often there are some evidenced-based treatments, but for most people I know, treatment and medication is often the process of trial and error. Everyone’s struggle also looks different. I struggle with some things that friends I have met in treatment do not struggle with (even though we technically have the same diagnoses) and vice versa.

I like also how Meredith puts in the part about asking for help when you can. It’s often really hard to ask for help for a problem that others cannot see. But, a good support system is a key factor for many people (including myself) when it comes to recovery.