If your car broke down, you would take it to a mechanic.
Sometimes it’s a good mechanic, and sometimes they are so-so.
And it can be hard to tell the difference…
It’s the same with your doctor. I think we have a cognitive bias that doctors know everything that they should AND come to the correct conclusion in your specific case.
It’s not true – doctors can be wrong.
“Doctors are like mechanics.”
— Geoff Martin
Following are two specific examples of when my doctors were very wrong, and the point is you should have healthy skepticism when visiting yours.
Note: I’ve also had great doctor visits, and have met many super smart doctors. Nothing in this article should stop you from seeing a doctor or generally trusting in their expertise. Also, in fairness, your doctor spends maybe 15 minutes with you and makes a diagnosis from your vague description of generic symptoms — of course mistakes are possible.
Example 1: Do You Have Physical Symptoms?
Throughout my 20s I had a handful of health issues: trouble sleeping, lethargy, poor digestion, chronic neck pain and brain fog.
For seven years I told a variety of doctors about these issues — the most common response? “It’s because you are a student and you will grow out of it.”
Spoiler: I never grew out of it. Instead, I hit a nine month period where I lost 50 pounds, about 25% of my body weight.
I told the next doctor I was mentally and physically at 1 / 10, and the doctor applied his two part test:
- Are you a law student and passing your classes? Yes — then there is nothing wrong with your mental ability.
- If I held a gun to your head could you run a mile? I told him I’d run 10.
That dude is a terrible mechanic.
I pushed for two specific tests. The results: I had celiac, which ravages your intestine and prevents you from getting proper nutrition; AND a parasite I picked up eating street food in China, an 8 inch worm living in my already impaired intestine. My ability to get any benefit from food was near zero.
The thing is that my symptoms were totally commensurate with both of these causes. It wasn’t because I was a student and it definitely wasn’t all in my head. If you have real physical symptoms, don’t let your doctor tell you otherwise.
Alright, next example.
Example 2: Are You Depressed or Just Feeling Blarg?
The cognitive impairment I had was similar to depression. Often when I’d talk about the symptoms with general practitioners or psychiatrists they were quick to diagnose depression and order drugs as the treatment. I tried antidepressants three or four times.
Sometimes your depression is actually caused from a brain chemical imbalance, and drugs could be the only way to correct it. However, in my case the antidepressants not only failed to correct my symptoms, but actually came with harmful side effects. Why?
It wasn’t until my late 20s that I found the cure for my specific ailments; a series of habits that I do to feel totally functional. I won’t write out my regime because it isn’t the point of this article, but IMO before you try antidepressants, try getting more exercise, improving your diet, sleep quality, etc. It may be enough to continue these habits and improve them, or maybe you will still need antidepressants but perhaps at a lower dosage.
This isn’t really about antidepressants. It’s about asking “what else can I do to improve my condition?”
Either way, maybe it’s not ALL in your head.
So What Can You Do About It?
Every time you visit your doctor, do so with healthy skepticism. I find this helps:
- Research your symptoms before hand and understand the possible causes;
- Make notes about your symptoms: onset, probable causes, what alleviates them, etc.;
- If you disagree with your doctor’s assessment, tell them!
- Ask what other causes there could be;
- Get a second opinion, and beware that it may also be wrong.
And remember, maybe it’s not all in your head.