Health Services Experience

Sabrina Dengler

Content warning: mental illness, suicide, invalidation

This is a story of a negative experience with Health Services and another example of Hampshire College’s love of silencing.

The month before I came to college for Div I, I was put on an antidepressant called Celexa for what the psychiatrist told me was OCD and panic disorder. She was completely wrong, it turned out, and after Health Services suggested I bump up the dose another 10 mg, my head became a whirl of fierce, intense emotions and loss of impulse control. That week I was happy, I was suicidal – I got drunk on the balcony of a hall on a Monday night and amiably considered throwing my alcoholic porcelain mug and myself off it. Two days later I went to the doctor I was seeing at Hampshire and begged her to take me off the medicine before something bad happened. I’d never experienced something so disorienting before, and I had no idea what was happening. I wanted answers.

The first nurse practitioner I saw at health services was Sara. “Hmm,” she said, lips pressed together, eyes flicking over my file with her mouth shaped in a casual slight frown after I’d told her the symptoms – intense emotion, suicidal impulses, inability to function. “You know, these types of drugs take at least six weeks to fully kick in. Can’t you wait a few more weeks to see how the drug actually affects you?”

I sat there, in the chair beside her desk, while feeling like the world was spinning sideways under my feet, and stared at her in disbelief.

I ended up taking myself off Celexa under the disapproval of Health Services. The withdrawal from the drug was worse than the drug itself. I was in and out of bed for a month; every time I moved my head I would get brain zaps – imagine that your brain is a storm cloud, and that it shoots a bolt lightning down your body while the thunderclap ricochets inside your ears. There were days where I didn’t talk to another human being at all. I was in my first semester of college, and I was still learning to navigate college life.

I tried telling the doctors that I was having trouble making class. Against her belief that I was fine, Sara finally wrote me a letter to pass on to my professors about extensions. I received no other support or help from Health Services.

When Health Services put me on Zoloft next semester, I began getting heart palpitations, and memory loss, and complete loss of personality before I could even work up to the first full dose. So, after two weeks of the med, I decided to start taking myself off it – no way was I staying on something that was threatening my life. A week later I found myself back in a chair next to the other nurse practitioner’s desk, this time Ron’s, in almost the same exact situation I had been in last time. I told him that as soon as I’d started taking Zoloft I’d become a suicide risk, and that walking around campus for hours at night was the only way I was able to keep from hurting myself.

He listened to me speak while gazing at my file on his computer screen with a casual, easygoing expression. “Hmm,” he mused, eyes distant behind his glasses. “Why don’t you wait out a few more weeks on the medication? These things take around six weeks to kick in.”

I took myself off the medication. Two weeks after I’d finished the last dose of Zoloft, my world exploded.

I was at peace with the world. I was hated by the universe. I loved everyone, but no one loved me. I felt so in harmony with everyone around me – why was I having such horrible anxiety and feeling inferior? And at least once a day, the world would begin to scream at me. Racing thoughts shoot through my brain faster than I can count, sometimes multiple strands at once, and I can hear them but I can’t follow them because my entire essence feels like it’s being shot through a wood chipper and the little pieces flung through space. I’m so happy, no – I’m so alone – the world is made of sunlight and the energy sustaining it all is love and I feel overjoyed and I should definitely commit suicide because holy shit, I’m just so bored.

Dysphoric mania, it’s called. A mixed episode. On three Xanax pills to contain the dysphoric jubilee parading inside my body, I sat at my desk in my freshman dorm, searching my symptoms on the Internet. Wikipedia is the first to pop up. My first accurate diagnosis as Bipolar came not from the doctors Hampshire College hired to keep us healthy, but from something the college loves to have us do – independent work.

I was upset, but I was silent.I missed classes. I ended up in the hospital. I stayed silent. Medical professionals are supposed to discontinue the use of a medication at the first sign of suicide risk. Health Services’ inaction told me this was normal.

Our school loves to make us take charge of our own recovery, our own safety, while experiencing hurdle after hurdle set against us by staff.  I’ve stayed quiet for three years out of a belief that my story and my experiences were not valid. I want to share this in solidarity with anyone else who has had bad experiences with health services out of hope that my story will resonate with others. I also share this because it feels important for me to be able to put this out there.

If you have had similar experiences with Health Services, do not be afraid to come forward.

 

4 comments

  1. You need a qualified and talented psychiatrist. Nothing of the sort exists at health services, nor should you expect there to be. A fine place to go for strep or an std. Not serious psychiatric issues.

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    1. There are so many people at Hampshire WITH psychiatric issues such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. With how common those disorders are at Hampshire, Health Services probably SHOULD have a psychiatrist or at least a psychiatric NP. Hampshire tried to push me to an off campus psychiatrist to prescribe meds that I was prescribed before I even got to Hampshire. I was prone to panic attacks, especially in places where I felt stuck or as though help was not available. Being at Hampshire wound up exacerbating that issue because a. there is no reliable transportation to a hospital other than an ambulance or hopefully a friend with a car -and no way to get home unless you have a friend with a car b. no way to access health services on a weekend unless you have a friend with a car (relying on the PVTA on a winter Sunday to get to UMass for when you have a 102 degree fever is less than ideal) and c. If you were lucky enough to get sick on a week day, it had to be before 1pm or else you would have to wait until the next day to get your antibiotics! (unless it is before 8pm and you have a friend with a car -you’d think there would be a 24 hour pharmacy in a reasonable proximity). After those experiences stacked with relying on the PVTA for a 1-3 hour round trip, a psychiatrist who is in Northampton was the last thing that was going to help. I’m on field study after a 2 year absence (because of unmanaged anxiety and depression -thanks Hampshire) so I don’t know if this exists, but it would be nice if there were an “on call” healthcare shuttle as either a work study or a club or something to fulfill CEL-1 or CEL-2 hours.

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    2. When I applied, they told me there was going to be psychiatric support available, including medical psychiatrists. This turned out to be untrue, of course, but expecting a mental health service department to have access to a psychiatrist (which they do now, at umass) if not have one themselves is completely reasonable.

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  2. Alina Miglietta · · Reply

    Last year at Hampshire, I went to Health Services for a rapid strep test when my throat was in pain. Instead they did a regular strep test that would take a couple of day’s to get the results and told me that they don’t do rapid strep tests. I went to On Call in Northampton on the day that I got the regular strep test at Hampshire, where they preformed a rapid strep. It came out negative, and the PA told me that he though I had Mono. I left and came back to Hampshire where I was calling for 2 day’s about my results as my condition was worsening. I was told that they didn’t have them. After two days, my throat was in so much pain that it effected my ability to talk, and I was slurring my words. I could barley swallow and needed urgent care. I went back to Health Services, where after examining me advised me to go to UMASS health services because their was nothing that they could do for me. UMASS was already closed but took me as an emergency case. It was only there that they drew blood the correct way and gave me two bags of IV fluids to fight off the infection initially. The extremely nice doctor there was the one who gave me the RIGHT meds, medical attention that I needed, and gave me the necessary prescription that I filled when I got back to hampshire.

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