Mental Illness, Misdiagnosis, and Forgiveness

About a year ago, I had a terrible, two-week anxiety attack. My eyelids twitched constantly, I couldn’t sleep without serious pharmaceutical assistance, and—in lieu of a heartbeat—cold-winged butterflies beat around in my chest.

At first, I wasn’t sure what had triggered my anxiety. I’d experienced one similar episode about six months earlier, after starting a new job (I didn’t work for nine months after John’s hospitalization) and having a confrontation with a woman at one of my Twelve Step meetings. I chalked that experience up to nerves around the new job and a fear of conflict, and I didn’t think too much about it after the anxiety went away.

The second time it happened, though, I had to dig a little deeper to figure out what was really going on. And the truth was, I was still traumatized by the fact that my husband had been misdiagnosed after all my efforts to communicate what was happening with his psychiatrist.

The worst night of my life, in fact, occurred two days after said psychiatrist—Dr. Black—decreased John’s dose of Risperdal, and then proceeded to tell him that she “wasn’t that concerned” as his psychosis escalated and I pleaded with him to return to the hospital.

After my husband went back to the hospital, I was furious. I had trusted his psychiatrist. I had assumed that, because she had much more experience with mental illness than I did, she knew what she was doing when she ignored my calls and input.

I had, of course, assumed wrong.

A few days after John was readmitted the hospital, I went to Dr. Black’s office to pick up the disability form she’d filled out on his behalf. On the form, she’d written that his diagnosis was depression, and she’d stated that he’d been fit to return to work the day before he went back to the hospital.

The fury I felt upon reviewing that form was visceral. I wanted to shake her. I wanted to punch her in the face.

I’m not an angry person, but when she came out of her office to speak to me, I was literally shaking from the effort it took to keep myself under control.

I understand that people make mistakes at work. But when I make a mistake, maybe a marketing campaign goes out late. People don’t lose their jobs, their families, or potentially even their lives.

A doctor’s relationship with her patients isn’t just professional, it’s personal, too. Dr. Black had forgotten that, and it felt like an offense I’d never be able to forgive.

*****

In the months following John’s psychotic episode, I:

  • Drafted a letter demanding that Dr. Black reimburse us for the co-pays associated with his second hospital stay, which totaled roughly $2,000.
  • Spoke with a representative from her malpractice insurance company and provided a lengthy statement.
  • Wrote to the state’s medical board, providing a very detailed account of what I deemed Dr. Black’s negligence, arrogance, and misdiagnosis.
  • Posted about John’s experience with her on all those doctor review Websites.

I was out for blood.

In fact, I wanted to sue her, and I even contacted a couple of lawyers about our case. But John had no interest in going that route. He wanted to put the whole thing behind him, and although I was very, very reluctant to let the idea go, in the end, I had to respect his wishes.

He was, after all, the one who’d been hurt most.

At the time, I felt completely justified in all my efforts to make life difficult for Dr. Black. She’d hurt us badly, and in my mind, she deserved to be taken down.

*****

A few days before Christmas, John and I went to see True Grit. In the movie, which is set in the Wild West, a teenage girl seeks revenge on her father’s killer and gets it—but only at great expense, hardship, and ultimately the cost of one of her limbs.

And although her determination, courage, and perseverance are portrayed in a positive light, putting her on par with the men in the movie during an era when women were not viewed as equals, at the end of the film, we’re granted a glimpse of a future in which she’s alone.

Independent and capable, sure. But also alone.

The hardness that helps her carry out her mission isolates her from other people. Her need for revenge closes her off from the possibility of love.

*****

In my Twelve Step program, I learned a long time ago how healing it is to pray for people I resent, but for more than a year, I’d been unwilling to do that for Dr. Black. She didn’t deserve my forgiveness, I thought, she didn’t deserve any prayers.

But after a year of holding onto my hatred for her, and after that second anxiety attack, I finally realized that—no matter how justified I was in my anger and my desire for justice/revenge—I was truly only hurting myself.

At first, all I could do was ask God to grant me the willingness to be willing to pray for Dr. Black. It was a baby step, but it put me on the right path.

Then I found a Catholic prayer titled, “Prayer for the Strength to Forgive.” I copied it out by hand and would read it aloud to myself during my daily meditation sessions. I still wasn’t ready to actually pray for Dr. Black, but I was willing to pray that God would make me ready to do put her in my prayers in the future.

In addition to these spiritual actions, it was also at this point in time that I joined a NAMI Family-to-Family class, where I was able to air my grievances about Dr. Black among people who understood. Their validation of me and my feelings helped me to start letting go of my anger around the fact that I’d allowed Dr. Black to make me doubt my own instincts.

That class helped me to forgive not just her, but also myself.

I did actually start praying for Dr. Black at some point during that class. I can’t remember the exact words I used, but for months I prayed for her every morning and every night.

The Twelve Step suggestion for getting rid of resentments is to ask God to grant the person you resent everything you want for yourself, so given that I generally ask God to help me be “open, honest, humble, willing, kind, and loving,” that’s probably what I asked Him to do for her as well.

And oddly enough, it worked. I don’t hate her anymore. I don’t love her, and I’d never seek her services or recommend her to anyone else, but I’m not consumed by the choking rage and driving need to see her suffer that I felt for so many months after John recovered from his psychotic break.

I haven’t had an anxiety attack in a year, and the statute of limitations on placing that malpractice suit expired and I didn’t even care. I don’t get mad every time I think about her. I’ve moved on.

Which, given that I’m about to become a mother, is a good thing. I can’t afford to let resentment cut me off from other people. I can’t afford to let it drive a wedge between me and my capacity to love.

*****

Prayer for the Strength to Forgive

Faultless Lord, enduring death for me,
You have consummated the debt of my sins:
Your sacrifice of forgiveness was absolute!
Grant me the strength to also forgive others,
To excuse their transgressions against me.
So I may truly reflect this spiritual fruit,
Obliterate any persistent feelings of malice.
Let each trespass end as a closing chapter,
My continuing on the road of righteousness.
Forgive my sins as I aspire to forgive others.
You are truly archetypical of forgiveness.
You are a most forgiving Lord!

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6 Responses to Mental Illness, Misdiagnosis, and Forgiveness

  1. Elizabeth says:

    This is a beautiful post and just what I needed to read today.

    I am going to copy that prayer and use it myself.

    Elizabeth

  2. I think anger is a (relatively) safe emotion to have. When we are angry – especially at somebody who deserves it (in our opinion) we don’t have to deal with feeling scared, helpless, confused… all the other things that were going on for you as your husband became sicker, and that happen for all of us, so often.

    Plus, I think it is much easier to forgive those who have hurt US, than those who have hurt somebody we love. I think on the forgiveness front, it’s important not to give ourselves a deadline – “I *should* be able to forgive so-and-so by now,” but just to keep praying, meditating, and trust that the time will come when we we CAN forgive.

    Hope all goes well for you with the upcoming birth of your baby. Very soon, isn’t it?

    • Thanks, Goddess. I totally agree that anger has its place. After a certain point, though, it becomes destructive, especially for an addict like me. :)

      And, yes, baby’s due soon — only a week and a half to go!

  3. Mina Hatz says:

    I have my son recently (a couple of months ago)diagnosed with bipolar disorder and he also has an eating disorder that has been going on for a few years now, but he does not want to admit to anyone. He was hospitalized twice, and on the second time he was put on a different medications that looked that they worked. The bad thing is that after he overcame the crisis situation he stopped taking his medications aboout a month ago. He just moved in with us about a week ago and the only thing he does is sleeping and watching tv all the time he is up, while drinking too. He definetely needs help but he was resenting us for getting him to the hospital twice when he was in crisis, so we are trying to build his trust again before we start working on getting him to seek treatment. Generally we always had very good relationship with him so we are hopeful that we will be able to help him. His siblings also are willing to assist us in this effort.
    Your posts are encouraging me that there is a way out of this situation, but looks that it takes time for us since he is not willing to admit his situation. Thanks a lot.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your son — what a tough situation! He is very lucky to have such a supportive family. I will pray that he gains the willingness to admit that he needs help. Good luck!

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