I’ve written about my struggle with mental illness before, but what I haven’t written about is my interactions, and frustrations, with mental health professionals. I want to be upfront with everyone, I am a proponent of seeing someone if you are struggling. Actually, I think it is of the utmost importance. I’ve encouraged friends to seek out therapists, just like other friends did for me; so, my complaints and frustrations are not meant to try to convince people not to go, or scare people out of going. Instead I want to be an example to people that if you do not mesh well with your mental health professionals to not stay because you’re scared of leaving. Let me reiterate that: DO NOT STAY WITH MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS IF YOU DO NOT FEEL LIKE THEY ARE HELPING YOU. FIND SOMEONE ELSE. You deserve to feel listened to, and you deserve to have someone that is invested in your mental health.
I briefly visited a child psychologist when I was younger, but I don’t really count that, because: 1. I didn’t choose to go, 2. I went maybe four times, and 3. I don’t remember much besides drawing (I don’t even know if I was given a diagnosis).
My first counselor was one of my university’s counselors. I genuinely liked visiting with her. My only complaint would be that I lead the sessions, and she rarely added or asked anything. It was really nice to just get all the awful things out of my head, and to have to someone that didn’t judge me and just listened. I saw her for almost two years before I moved to Columbus to live with HB. She is the reason I am on antidepressants, and I will forever be indebted to her for that. She made the suggestion that I might benefit from them. I just kept putting off making an appointment until one day I told her that I thought I was ready, and that I’d call once we were finished with our session. She asked what was stopping me from calling now? She told me to get my phone out and call. I walked out of that appointment feeling like I could take on anything. Diane came into my life and blessed me with the desire and the will to take care of myself.
I wish I could say the take-on-the-world feeling hung around until my doctor’s appointment, but it didn’t. Instead I went in feeling like a child. I was embarrassed and fragile. My doctor ran through the depression check-list/questionnaire, and “shockingly” I was, in fact, depressed. That was the first time, to my knowledge, that I had formally been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I’ve spent that vast majority of my life with depression, but now I had an official diagnosis. Together we went through medications and their side-effects. I have minor anxiety, so we decided on something that was more for depression, but would help with anxiety as well. We decided on Pristiq. I was warned to watch out for suicidal ideation as well as a few other things, so she suggested to keep a journal the first three to four weeks as the medication worked its way into my system to monitor my mental health.
I wish I could say that Pristiq worked for me. I thought it did, because I felt different. The reality, however, was that it made it worse. Several months later, my new general practitioner changed my prescription, due to unrelated issues, to Zoloft. Along with a new prescription I had an appointment with a new counselor.
Enter Ms. Grey: a young, outgoing, and talkative woman. I genuinely like Ms. Grey as a person, but as a counselor we didn’t click. During our first session Ms. Grey made it known that she thought it was weird how important my dog was to me. I know it sounds odd, but Nyx is extremely important to me. She also makes me leave the house when I can’t or don’t want to. Most of our sessions were dominated by her, and, truthfully, it was by design. I figured out quickly that she liked to talk and took advantage of it. Whenever I did talk I tried to steer the session in the direction of my depression and issues I was having, but she was so focused on my anxiety. No matter how many times I told her that my anxiety wasn’t the issue, and that I wasn’t all that anxious about moving to Germany at that moment that is all she wanted to talk about. It was both annoying and disheartening to not be listened to. I finally stopped going to see her, because I wasn’t getting anywhere, and, for the most part, felt relatively okay.
I didn’t see Ms. Grey again for almost six months. I originally tried to just make an appointment with an actual psychologist, because I thought they might be of more help, but due to the procedures of where I went I had to see Ms. Grey again and get a referral. This would be, probably, the most beneficial appointment I had with her. I was showing signs of mania. I was freaking out and worried, and I just wanted to figure out what was going on. I didn’t get a referral for a psychologist out of that appointment, but I did get one for a psychiatrist. After the referral she, once again, wanted to talk about my anxiety. I wanted to scream at her “ANXIETY IS NOT MY ISSUE!” That was our last appointment.
I saw my psychiatrist a total of three times before I moved. He was a very direct man. Think of a stereotypical military officer. Our first appointment he told me to go through my entire history. I can barely remember what I ate for lunch, and I almost told him that, but ran through what I could remember. The entire time he jotted down notes. I thought he was really listening to me. Once I’d finished he said he’d up my Zoloft prescription, and we’d see how I felt after that. We did not even mention my mania…you know, the reason I was there. I didn’t really think much about it at the time, but looking back now it just makes me angry. The following two appointments were formalities. The “how’s the medicine doing, do you feel like you’re going crazy again?” type appointments. I was in and out of his office in five minutes. Getting all my vitals beforehand took longer.
Fast forward to September 3rd. I have my novel-sized medical records in hand, and I decided to go through them to see what my diagnosis was. It turns out my psychiatrist changed my diagnosis to Adjustment Disorder. I was angry. I felt like he didn’t listen to me, or even my counselor who was the one that pointed out that I was showing signs of mania. He took the fact that I was leaving for Germany soon and decided that’s why I was depressed. He disregarded that I had been dealing with depression for the vast majority of my life at that point. Instead he just chalked it up to me having a difficult time adjusting. Even now it makes me angry to think that I wasn’t listened to by the person that was supposed to care about my mental health–as a side note the man was retiring at the end of the year.
Whether it was his readiness to be retired or just a general lack of concern I’ll never know, but what I do know is that I refuse to stay with mental health professionals that don’t listen to me. I was afraid to stop visiting, because I hate conflict of any kind. I don’t like to “fire” people, and that’s exactly what I would have been doing. I suffered for that, and I won’t make that mistake again. I need to take care of myself, and in order to do that I need to have a team of health professionals that want to help me do just that. If they can’t or won’t then they aren’t worth my time. Ms. Grey and my psychiatrist were a speed-bump in my mental health journey, but my negative experiences with them will not stop me from finding a new therapist and psychiatrist. My mental health is too important for that. Let my mistakes be a lesson to you, dear reader, as well. If you are struggling and you decide to seek help, do not be afraid to leave a therapist if they don’t feel like the perfect fit for you. Take care of yourself. You are important, and you deserve to be listened to, believed, and treated with respect.
To my dear friend that started his journey today: I want to say I am so proud of you. I know how hard it is to take that first step, but you did it. Be proud!