(Did you miss part one? You can read it here.)
May 29, 2016
Here’s a question. Why would someone with admitted mental health issues spend her entire adult life actively avoiding seeking out a mental health professional? It seems foolish and well, frankly, really stupid doesn’t it? But there were reasons that, at the time, seemed to be very sensible.
Here are just a few of them, in no particular order:
- The stigma. People have tried to tell me that there’s no longer a stigma, but they’re wrong. There IS a stigma. It is everywhere. And while people do tend to be more open about their mental health than they used to be, there is still the overarching belief by many that it is a weakness. That it is a choice. That they could feel better if they just WANTED TO BADLY ENOUGH, Dammit! It’s not very conducive to seeking help when a large segment of society wants to treat you like a failure just for walking in the door.
- The woo woo stuff. The few people that I know who’ve talked about therapy or counselors have been very into sort of new age, touchy-feely, get in touch with the Goddess within sort of thing, and I had no interest in that. I wanted straightforward, practical advice, not to be told I needed to hug my inner child. (Disclaimer: I have no issues with other people wanting/needing/connecting to that approach. It’s just not for me.)
- I had a bad experience with therapy as a teen. In hindsight, I guess it wasn’t a bad experience per se, but it was unpleasant. To begin with, I was there against my will… a mandatory family thing when my parents took in a foster child. I HATED IT. Hated the questions, hated the pressure, hating being expected to talk about my feelings when I just Wanted. To. Be. Home. In my room. Reading a book. Not in a weird uncomfortable room with this total stranger who kept asking me questions…. questions that I learned to begrudgingly answer, because if I didn’t my mom answered for me (with how she thought I’d respond) which ticked me off and made the whole thing worse.
- I didn’t know what to expect. With the exception of the people in #2, hardly anyone ever talks about this aspect of their lives. I mean, it’s private, and I get that, but more openness would be so very helpful to those who are new to the idea. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and the unknown – particularly when it comes to something as sensitive and personal as your mental health – is scary and daunting, which brings me to:
- It was overwhelming and scary. Even – or especially – when you know you’re at a point where you need professional help (and by all means, I was in that place for a long time), taking the step of actually researching different places/providers (when just getting out of bed is a lot of freaking work), calling someone (when you’d rather suffer a slow agonizing death in the talons of a velociraptor), actually driving to a place and having to see someone (when you’re not even up to seeing your best friends), AND having to face and talk about the messiest, scariest, most personal parts of your psyche with a total stranger is really, really, breathtakingly HARD.
Alas, despite all of the above…. I knew it was time. So I sucked it up, I made some phone calls, and I found a place that could get me in right away. I knew that 1) I needed to start with a proper diagnosis, so I went straight to a psychiatrist, and 2) a multi-faceted approach was important, so I chose a facility that offered psychiatric care, therapy, general medical care, and an overall holistic view on treatment.
And to make a long story short(er), May 10th ended up being one of the most important days of my life. It was weird and uncomfortable and scary… but important. Both people I saw (a psychiatrist and a licensed counselor) were professional and kind and reassuring and thorough – without veering into the overly caring/condescending behavior that drives me so absolutely batshit crazy. The bipolar diagnosis was a fairly straightforward one, and I do not mean in any way that it was rushed, or one that they came to quickly. They asked a lot (a LOT) of questions, they sought clarity, they asked me to word things in different ways when they needed more information. But what it ultimately comes down to is symptoms, and I read like a text book.
As for my own personal views on the experience? It was HUGELY powerful. The simple act of being able to answer questions like “Have you ever tried to hurt yourself?” with honesty… in a non-judgemental environment where no one is shocked, or horrified or phased in any way…. a place where they’ve heard it all before, and are trained to simply listen, and ultimately to help you… It was freeing, and it was healing, all by itself. And to have a diagnosis? There were other emotions, that I’m sure will continue to come and go, but in the moment it was pure relief.
And I mean, I knew. I’ve known it was bipolar for a long time. But to HEAR it; to be able to begin treating it; to be able to create a specific plan to get well; to finally move FORWARD… It gave me more hope than I’ve had in a long, long time. I cried the whole way home that day, which is far from an unusual practice for me, but this time they were largely tears of relief.
The immediate plan was – and is – just to get me stable. I was prescribed some appropriate medications for my specific situation (a brief word about medications, if I may: They were, for me, absolutely the right answer for this phase of my treatment. Will they always be a part of my treatment? Possibly. Maybe even likely. Bipolar is tricky. I feel no shame in taking them, and no shame in evaluating – and continuing to evaluate – the role they may or may not play in keeping me well.) I was also given a lengthy – but somehow not overwhelming – list of homework: practical things I can do to supplement my medication, and help me work towards getting better. Which is exactly what I was wanting, and needing. I’ll see my psychiatrist monthly for now, and my therapist (who is wonderful) weekly.
Eventually I’ll be living my life, learning to control it instead of letting it control ME. But for right now, this IS my life. Getting well, getting stronger, learning to live NOT as a “bipolar person”, but as the same complicated, multifaceted, creative, perfectly imperfect person I’ve always been, who also happens to have bipolar.
(Continue to Part Three)