A week before Christmas 2009, a psychiatric appointment came through. It had been nearly fifteen years since I’d seen a shrink and I was nervous. My previous experiences with the psychiatric profession had not gone well. The last woman I saw was one of the most objectionable people I’ve ever met. She refused to believe I felt as bad as I did and then told me I had a ‘choice’ about whether I wanted to make a ‘career’ out of my mental health problems. Apparently, a lot of people she sees have made this ‘choice’. She thought because I had managed to get a boyfriend, nothing was really that bad.
What a moron. It is a real shame that when you are at your most vulnerable and feeling at your absolute worst, you have to engage with people like this. She gave me a prescription for Prozac and I tried it for two weeks before chucking it in the bin. It made me frantic, agitated and unable to think clearly. There was no way I was ever going to see her again.
Thankfully, the shrink I saw this time around was much more agreeable. I’ll call him Dr.H. He was gentle and softly spoken. He asked me a gazillion questions about my life, early childhood, adolescence, family, health, employment and relationships. No stone was left unturned. I talked about my Dad passing away and the recent hell I was experiencing. I found it hard to explain the level of awfulness I felt. I definitely think there is a gap in the market for some new and better words to describe mental trauma. There is certainly a job vacancy for expressions beyond ‘the bottom’, ‘hell’, ‘low mood’ etc. They are just so inadequate and I wonder if anyone else has felt this? I tried to sum it up by saying I felt as bad as it is possible to feel, but again that is all relative. The person you are saying it to can only relate to it in terms of how bad they have personally felt.
Dr. H summed things up by saying I had moderate to severe depression and mild to moderate anxiety. I was quite shocked by this as in my world, it was the other way around. He concluded by saying he thought I was coping well and that with the ‘right help’ I would get through it.
He discharged me and said I didn’t need to see him again. I was distraught. I thought I had told him how bad things were and how much I didn’t feel like I could cope. I thought we had connected and that he understood me.
I know it’s impossible for someone to understand you in an hour long appointment and in some ways I am flattered that he had such faith in me. But I didn’t believe I was going to get through it and I really, honestly thought I had told him how bad things were.
I immediately began to analyse the session in my head. Was in because I had walked in on my own to the appointment? If I had been accompanied by someone else would that have made him take me more seriously? Was it because I made eye contact and and didn’t smell of my own B.O? I had made a big effort for the appointment. I’d had a bath and changed clothes as I didn’t want anyone to see me out and about looking a mess. You can still have pride, even when in the throes of a crisis.
Perhaps in the grand scheme of things I am not a great worry to the psychiatric world. I know they must see lots of people in terrible circumstances with major illnesses who cannot function at all. I also know that because I wasn’t using drugs, alcohol or self harm to deal with my problems, I wasn’t perceived as being a danger to myself. I get that, but I wish he had told me specifically what the ‘right help’ for me was.
I was starting to realise I was part of my own problem, I find it so hard to let my guard down, even with a psychiatrist. Maybe I do cope better than I think, but it didn’t help me to mask the symptoms of what was happening that day. I really should have gone in there with all my emotional wounds on show, looking like I felt inside. I wish I had told him I felt desperate, maybe that would have helped? I don’t know why I didn’t.
Now I had to get by knowing the option of a psychiatrist was ruled out. Luckily, I got a letter from a counselling organisation inviting me to an appointment to discuss ‘difficulties I was facing’.
I have mixed feelings about counselling and over the years, I’ve seen a fair cross-section of the types of counsellors available. I’ve seen the good, the bad, the useless, the inappropriate and the ones who were both genius and ridiculous at the same time. I’ve gained some life changing insights about myself, but also realised there are a lot of crazy folk practising who should have their qualifications set on fire to ensure they are never allowed near a vulnerable human again. So I was apprehensive about what type of counsellor may be coming my way.
I went along to discuss my difficulties on 23rd December and sat through another hour of assessment and explaining my life story again. This time I put my pride aside and turned up in my uniform of unwashed clothes. I got straight to the point and told the lady I was desperate, unable to cope, very low, constantly going in and out of anxiety attacks and was unable to really eat or sleep. She seemed really alarmed and said she would prioritise an appointment for me, but it would be after Christmas.
I wasn’t sure how I would get through Christmas and come out the other side, but again, being taken seriously did offer me some comfort.