All I want for Christmas is a good psychiatrist

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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.

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4 responses »

  1. “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.”

    I can relate to this entirely. I’ve often suspected that in the case of both mental and physical illness, I’ve been dismissed because of my need to look presentable. I may be falling apart on the inside, or in excruciating pain, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look nice for an appointment. Making an effort – having a bath, styling my hair, wearing nice clothes – makes me feel better about having to speak to a stranger about my problems. Yet I think they often see it as a sign of coping, not realising that it’s easy to fake being okay.

    • That is so true and I also think that it is possible to look fine whilst being in a terrible mess inside. I have learned not to look too presentable now, which is a shame because you should be able to walk in as you are and be taken seriously. When I posted my profile picture, I deliberately chose a photo that was taken at the height of my illness just to show how easy it is to fake looking ok. I know that people are probably looking at it thinking there is nothing wrong with me, but I don’t want to lose my dignity as well as my health.

      • the question is laura, what are you trying to find. the idea of needing to go to a psychiatrist and show that you’re neglecting yourself sounds like the idea of sawing off your arm in order to get an appointment with a physician. i t’s probably an apt analogy because you cut of the fact you were doing some things very well while still struggling with uncomfortable feelings. i got most of the support i needed from a psychologist who talked and talked and reminded me of robin williams. maybe you need an understanding person to talk with about what you’refeeling and to think that you can recover.

  2. What I was trying to find was someone who could explain what I was going through and hopefully suggest some way of helping me to cope with it all. Although it is wrong, I think the medical and mental health facilities work on the principle of ‘seeing is believing’. I think during a psychiatric assessment you are heavily judged on how you look as well as what you say. It is a real shame that in the past I have only been taken seriously when I had harmed myself in some way. But I have felt just as bad at other times too and not received help as I wasn’t deemed to be a danger to myself. It’s like you have to present ‘evidence’ such as self-harm, suicidal behaviour, losing your job, B.O, failed relationships etc. It has always been difficult for me to convince professionals that I really feel that bad because I am so good at appearing a lot better than I really am. I’m not sure where this skill has come from, maybe I developed it as a way to feel I was still ‘fitting in’ with the world but I am also terrified of losing control over myself and my life. As I also said earlier, I still would like to maintain some sort of dignity, even in a crisis. I’ve found this to be my downfall in terms of getting help and support. As I am describing my experiences retrospectively, this is relating to an appointment in 2009. Since then I have found more effective sources of help which I will be talking about in later blogs. I agree that finding an understanding person to talk to is a big help, it just took me a long time to find this through the mental health system.

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