I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell: Depression or Narcolepsy?

Someone in a narcolepsy Facebook group recently asked the question “Before being diagnosed, what disease/s did they think you had?” Within minutes there were 6 responses. Every single response was “depression”. (Since writing this there were many more responses – all mentioning depression)

Yes, some of us do have depression, but generally it is in response to the fact that we have a chronic illness and have struggled to get our chronic illness diagnosed and/or recognised. I was diagnosed with depression after 2-3 years of bugging my GP every few months with complaints of being tired. Multiple times every year I was tested for glandular fever, anaemia, thyroid abnormalities, unbalanced blood counts, viruses, cancers…you name it – I’ve been tested for it. Every so often I become anaemic, but it was never enough to explain years of being unwell. So naturally my happy scale was slipping. This was when I was diagnosed with depression.

For a long time I blindly accepted the diagnosis. After all, my GP knew my family and their medical history so with their genetics I was predisposed to having clinical depression. So I was handed a prescription for anti-depressants and sent on my way. I can’t remember if I then improved or was just too busy to notice or bother to return to the doctor so the bi-annual tests and nagging ceased for a while. But, eventually I returned to the GP with the same old complaints of feeling tired. Because I “had depression” they just changed my meds and sent me to a mental health nurse. After one session with the nurse (where she simply asked me where I went to school/work etc) I was told I was “fine” and sent on my way to figure it all out myself.

Years later I finally received the diagnosis of ME/CFS, narcolepsy and ehlers-danlos syndrome. Finally something other than depression! I’m still treated for depression – 11 years of being ill will send you there – but at least now it’s being treated as a symptom, not a cause.

So if I, and seemingly a number of others, was misdiagnosed with depression, how much does the medical community really know about mental disorders? How many people are wrongly diagnosed and handed drugs that aren’t really needed? How many people are not diagnosed and therefore not given drugs or help? It is a lose-lose situation.

In writing this it’s made me think of the song Unwell by Matchbox 20. Reading over the lyrics it so perfectly relates to this topic. Whist the song is believed to have been written about depression and paranoia, it also perfectly describes some of the many symptoms of narcolepsy. It’s not that we’re “crazy” (depressed), it’s that we’re “unwell” (have narcolepsy).

So whether you go by the original song meaning, or by my new found altered meaning – depression is being wrongly dismissed or wrongly diagnosed. Either way, something has to be done to help us all.

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