Monthly Archives: April 2012

All I want for Christmas is a good psychiatrist


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.

The curse of the terrible doctor.


December 10th, 2009.

I sat in front of my GP who was wearing a comedy Santa tie. I was new to the practice and had only seen him once before when I needed my ears syringing.

A couple of minutes into the consultation I realised that ear syringing was pretty much all he was good for. He asked only the most basic questions and didn’t look up from his computer while I sat mentally dissolving next to him. In true full scale depression style, I had lost the ability to form a coherent sentence. I tried my best to explain the hideous meltdown of the night before as he typed away, expressionless.

In ten minutes I was out, clutching a prescription for anti-depressants and diazepam in my sweaty, unwashed hand. He had referred me for counselling, which would take 6-8 weeks.

I was shocked at how different it was to access support as an adult. As a young person, I’d got used to being able to find counselling and support very quickly. At college, I’d managed to get an appointment within the same week from the on-site service and before that, I’d received help from the Young Person’s Advisory Service. No waiting, no fuss and no hanging around watching your problems get worse.

I’m aware that waiting lists are long and I know we have probably all had some experience of this. I also take full responsibilty for the fact I didn’t ask for help sooner. If I’m honest, I knew I was very down about 8 months before I crashed to the bottom. I’ll never make this mistake again and I could hit myself over the head with a wet fish for leaving myself to fester in my own depressed juices.

My boyfriend took me home and then had to leave for work. I started my tablets and told my boss I would be off for a couple of days.

What I didn’t realise was the door leading towards being able to cope was shut.  It wouldn’t be opening again for some considerable time. I thought the worst part was over, but sadly the night before was only the bread basket, while the starter was still being prepared in the kitchen.

I put Jeremy Kyle on and got about halfway through before another nuclear storm of anxiety built up in my head. This one built up to a terrifying crescendo quite quickly because I was on my own. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, or why I couldn’t control it. I ended up on the phone almost constantly to my boyfriend and a close friend who had seen me through a depressive episode once before.

Over the next couple of days, things got progressively worse.  It became clear that I wouldn’t be able to go back to work anytime soon. This thought petrified me, as I didn’t want to be on my own feeling that bad. I wanted the routine, distraction and feeling of purpose, even though I knew I was exhausted and overwhelmed. But I also felt deeply embarrassed at how emotional and unstable I was and didn’t want anyone to see me like that. By the end of that week, I was unable to function on even the most basic level. I could hardly eat, was too anxious to sleep and didn’t want to wash or get changed. This caused my anxiety to get a lot worse, as I need to look after myself to keep my blood disorder in check. I felt like everything was spiralling out of my control and I was losing everything that I had worked so hard to create.

Then came the questions about how often I should take the diazepam tablets. I knew my anti-depressants were not going to kick in for a few weeks and so the best I could do would be to keep my anxiety levels down. The instructions on the box of diazepam were to take one tablet twice a day. It was a very low dose and it didn’t have much effect. I decided to try and ride some of the anxiety and then try taking both tablets when it started to escalate. This worked for a short time but then I seemed to become resistant to it. So I took a double and triple dose and the same thing happened. The anxiety was just too bad. I became anxious about being depressed. I became anxious about being anxious. I became anxious that the diazepam weren’t helping.

I could see how people ended up getting addicted to tranquillisers and I could totally understand why. If you are in that level of distress and are given a way of alleviating it, then of course you will take it. I tried taking more and more in the hope that some sort of emotional numbness would result, but I knew if I carried on I would end up with more problems than I started with. I felt angry that the GP had sent me away so quickly without realising how bad things were. That prescription was handed out way too easily. I decided to reserve the diazepam for an ’emergency’, although most of the day was feeling like an emergency at that point.

I don’t drink and gave it up completely about 13 years ago. I’d also stopped using other unhelpful coping mechanisms and was very proud that. It did cross my mind that they served a purpose during other difficult times, but I didn’t want to go down that road again. Those ships had sailed, although this would mean I was facing this crisis with no buffer or safety net.

My boyfriend didn’t think I should go back to the GP. In the middle of another spectacular meltdown, he took me to the local NHS walk-in centre. Although in my case it was more like the drag-in centre.

Although I was humiliated to the extreme, I found the doctor there to be much more understanding. He took me very seriously and didn’t try to minimise my feelings. He told me about immediate sources of help, such as the mental health crisis team and said he would write to my GP and ask for a psychiatric referral.

It made a difference to know there were options available if I really couldn’t cope. But the biggest difference came from being listened to and heard.

Why is it so hard to ask for help?


It’s very easy to look back retrospectively and wonder why you didn’t do things differently. When I think about the great mental crash of 2009, I can’t believe it took me so long to admit I was struggling and ask for help. That’s the thing about depression, its sly and insidious tentacles creep around you so subtley that it is often hard to know it’s there, let alone trace back how it managed to sneak up and strangle you.

I thought I had it all worked out. I had reached my late thirties in fairly good mental shape. After spending years on medication and in therapy to deal with depression and anxiety, I had reached a plateau of feeling able to cope with life. I felt I understood how my brain worked and I had made big changes in an attempt to become more fulfilled. I’d also managed to get on top of a rare blood disorder I contracted in 1998. To cut a long story short, it arrived out of the blue, caused mayhem and illness for a couple of years and I’m now stuck with it as a chronic condition for life. Working with the doctors, I managed to arrive at a treatment plan that enabled me to live a semi-normal life, although the injections I have to take for it cause debilitating side effects. Having said that, I felt stable enough to come off sickness benefits and get a job. After a year in post, I came off anti-depressants.

I was doing so well I decided to push it. I went from working part-time to full time. I ended a relationship of almost 7 years and moved into a house on my own. It was tough coping with my illness and the increase in hours, but I was determined to stick it out.

Then one evening I got a call saying my Dad was dead. He had suffered a pulmonary embolism which killed him instantly. He was 60.

It wasn’t even that things started to fall apart right away. Although completely shocked to the core, I managed to hold it together quite well throughout the trauma of the post mortem and funeral. It was unbelievably awful, but I coped.

It was a year and a half later when I started feeling that I wasn’t ok. Rather than going back on anti-depressants, I decided to try St.Johns Wort for the first time. It wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy unpredicatable and violent stomach upsets. I decided to try other things such as attending writing classes to keep my mind off the encroaching doom. I signed up for 4 Saturdays on a script course and 7 on a film course. On top of working all week and managing the gruelling injection regime for my illness, the courses were a step too far. Would I stop? No, of course not. I had decided I must keep going no matter what. The less time to think about things, the better. If I filled my time as fully as possible, there would be no room for overwhelming feelings of despair. Plus, if I managed to get one of my scripts made into a film, this would knock the socks off any depression that may be coming my way.

Being able to keep going no matter what is a trait I’ve always had. I don’t know if it is a strength of character or a glaring flaw. It has served its purpose in propelling me through my degree, keeping jobs etc in the face of adversity, but also it has stopped me from listening to my body and knowing when I’ve gone too far.

In this case, I was pretty sure I was capable of keeping going indefinitely, but my subconscious or survival instinct had other ideas. The full reality and finality of my Dad’s death was dawning on me.

I began to get panicky and worried about people. If my boyfriend took too long at the shops, I became neurotic and worried he was dead. I started imagining what I would do if someone else close to me passed away. I thought about death a lot. I wasn’t particularly concerned about my own death, but that of other people. I found it hard to get my head around the fact you could be here one minute and gone the next. I kept imagining myself back in the evening I got the phone call. I relived every detail of the funeral. For some reason it had passed in a haze at the time. Now it was real and visceral and brutal. I felt like I couldn’t say this to anyone as it had been a year and a half since Dad had gone. I thought I was abnormal for having such a dramatic reaction so far after the event. The more time that passed, the worse it got, until I realised I felt completely and utterly traumatised. I felt that life was too unpredictable to be trusted and I also felt I would never be able to change that belief.

I was also exhausted and skint. I was working too many hours to be able to keep my health on track, but despite this, I still couldn’t afford to pay my bills. I wasn’t enjoying living alone either but didn’t want to admit that. At this time I was getting a lot of positive feedback from people that I seemed to be doing well. Working full time and managing a house on your own seems to tick a lot of boxes. The reality was I felt a total mess, but I liked appearing in control and on top of things.

It wasn’t even a massive thing that tipped me over the edge. I’d come to the end of my courses and learned that my script  hadn’t been chosen to be made into a film. Under normal circumstances I would have dismissed this as just another rejection, something I had been used to facing as a novice writer. It really was no big deal when I look at it now, but as I was in such a precarious state, it set off a veritable avalanche of events.

Three days after the end of the film course, I could feel that something bad was brewing. I asked my boyfriend if he would stay over a few nights on the run as I didn’t want to be alone. One night, I started to tell him I was very down, that I didn’t know how to deal with it and couldn’t accept the fact my Dad was gone. He sat up in bed, alarmed as my crying turned into hysterics and then into uncontrollable shaking and vomiting. That night seemed to go on forever as a nuclear storm of anxiety exploded in my head.

When morning came he called the doctor and made me an emergency appointment. I managed to sweep up my dignity off the floor and allow myself to be bundled off to the surgery. I felt destroyed inside, as though I had sunk into a black lagoon and got stuck in the mud at the bottom.

I realised then that I could never again take my ability to cope for granted.

I also realised that you can’t choose whether you are depressed or not.