About a week ago I visited the dermatologist for the first time. I wasn’t really sure what to expect (getting poked with cold metal sticks? A giant skin magnifying glass? Maybe I watch too many science fiction films…) but I knew I wanted to ask a few questions.
After my general skin questions were answered (yes, the dermatologist said the most likely cause of my acne was the lithium I have been taking the last two years, surprise surprise) I asked about moles. Who should get them checked? When should they be checked? How does it work?
Instead of telling me she just began to look at them, and then quickly decided (though I am not at big risk for skin cancer, living up in Seattle where the sun never reaches my skin anyway) there was one mole that she wanted to biopsy.
For those of you (like me) who have never been to a dermatologist, biopsy just means they want to cut it off and study it, apparently.
I had no problem with it, jumped up on her table, she did her thing, and I walked away with one less mole.
The thing was, though… as I walked to the bus I found myself feeling increasingly alienated.
This is the first physical piece of me, I quickly concluded, that has ever been removed. Well, apart from teeth. But really, how often is a slice of your physical being removed?
Nausea crept in, and by the time I reached the bus stop the world began spinning and I had to collapse on a bench, sharing it with a silver life-size cast-iron statue of a naked man.
Over the course of the last week, this horrified feeling about a portion of me being taken has returned any time I needed to clean the area and replace the dressing.
After thinking long and hard about it, I don’t know that this is necessarily an unfamiliar feeling. True my horror and slight up-chuck reflex is a bit more present on the physical side of things, but that mental feeling of something being taken is what really bothers me the most.
I can’t help but wonder if anyone else has associated this feeling of loss, or damage to one’s being in response to receiving a diagnosis of mental illness?
I don’t remember many of the moments where I have been handed a new diagnosis of mental illness, bipolar disorder, OCD (which I remember slightly I think), PTSD, the anxiety disorder… but I do remember a range of different feelings upon hearing these things.
- Excitement (as weird as that is, I found it exciting to have potential explanations to what I was dealing with)
The same reactions I had when I heard the dermatologist wanted to remove my mole.
It wasn’t until the moment I’m alone and faced with whatever obvious wound remained after the discussion;
- Racing thoughts
- Panic Attacks
Suddenly I could see it in the face, this oozy, gross place, uncovered by the emotional biopsy done by whatever psychiatrist, Doctor X.
And my response is the same as looking at the place where that mole was. Horror, a grimace, and the overwhelming nagging feeling like I have just been robbed of a piece of me. A piece of what would have been a normal life, perhaps.
What confuses me the most is that I’ve had time to look at this yuckiness enough to get used to it. The emotional yuckiness, anyway, -the mole thing still grosses me out. Over the last 10 years, I’ve had time to adjust (though, somewhat slowly) to living with this “missing piece” or “wrong piece” or whatever one might call it (maybe just an odd piece), and it is something I’ve integrated into my life.
So I admit, when the mole biopsy happened I didn’t think right away of that old emotional biopsy of a mental illness diagnosis. My thoughts went straight for the idea that there may be one day I could go to the doctor who would do an emotional biopsy that slices off my bipolar disorder. They will check it in the lab, and I will receive an envelope in the mail that says everything went well.
If these irregularities in me are removed, would I react in horror? Would I feel overwhelmed with the notion that a part of my being was now lost, the way I felt about a little meaningless brown piece of skin?
They say the mind grieves when a diagnosis of mental illness is given because of the loss of a life and many dreams that will no longer realistically happen. We have to adapt, to evolve as our lives continue -with whatever comes our way.
So would the mind grieve the loss of mental illness if it was suddenly removed? Absolutely.
Part of me feels terrified to think about that, but the answer is just the same as in the opposite situation. We adapt. We evolve. Life continues.
So I will adapt and evolve with my (minus one) mole situation. Maybe I’ll be gifted a really cool scar, but until then I’ll just keep cleaning it and throw a dab of ointment on there.