“If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.”— Selena Gomez
Hello, lovelies! Today I want to talk about mental healthcare. The mister and I have both tested positive for COVID-19. To keep my mind off the fact that the plague has entered my household, I decided to write. I’ve seen a lot of mention about people’s struggle in finding competent, compassionate mental healthcare. As much as I talk about my amazing team of doctors, it’s a struggle that I know well.
I can’t help but feel anger when I think of my time in the mental healthcare system. I don’t really know who I’m angry with, just angry. When I finally received my diagnosis’ late last year, I felt betrayed; let down. It’s sort of a long story, so let’s get started.
My Mental Healthcare Story
My parents took me to my first therapist when I was 9. It was 1991 and they didn’t have the same understanding of ADHD or mental health in children that they have now. I’m not sure why my dad and stepmom decided to take me, but I remember how I felt at the time.
My dad had just remarried. My mom had just moved to a state much further away and I wasn’t able to go see her as often as I normally did. I was depressed. I didn’t know that then, but I was so sad. I felt left behind by my dad and I felt left behind by my mom. I don’t know how that presented to either of my parents, I don’t really remember, but it prompted them to take their 4th grader to a therapist.
I don’t remember much about those visits. We played a lot of board games. I don’t know how it was helpful or if it was helpful, but that’s what they did. I have a very distinct memory of playing Chutes and Ladders. Those visits didn’t last long and eventually my dad stopped taking me.
Unfortunately, the trouble didn’t stop. By the time I was in the 9th grade, we were back in therapy. This time, as a family. I was still depressed, worse than last time, but this time I was angry too. We would have time with her as a family, my parents alone, me alone, and my sister alone. I was afraid to talk to her about anything meaningful because I knew she was immediately talking to my parents.
It was never going to work. Things at home would calm down for a couple of weeks after our visits but, by the time we went back, everything would be chaos again. I was getting evermore angry and defiant, but she didn’t seem concerned with my mental health or that more might be going on with me. Eventually, we stopped going.
At some point in my teens, I did find some peace and some normalcy. I moved to Tennessee to live with my mom and my grandparents and I had what I think would be considered a normal teenage experience. There were definitely signs of my mental illnesses then, I just didn’t realize it. I even balked at the idea of therapy. I wish I had gone.
The Road to Hell
As I entered my 20’s, my brain made it clear and present that something was wrong. I honestly don’t know what age I was when I started back to therapy. It was the beginning of a long line of faces and credentials and misdiagnosis. I don’t remember most of their faces or names. Taupe walls and sunken in armchairs; horrible wallpaper and boxes of tissues. It all runs together in my mind.
There was Arnie. He wanted to start EMDR therapy when I was 21. I was on board, though I thought it was more akin to hypnosis, something I don’t know if I believe in now. Anyway, the week after he told me about it, the practice called to tell me that he no longer worked there and they would call me when they got a new therapist in. They never called.
There was a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder when I was 24, after a 45 minute meeting. He immediately prescribed me meds for it and I immediately spiraled. My mental health was unmanageable and I was worse off then ever. I got fired from my job and lost my insurance and had to go off my meds, no tapering. I finally hit rock bottom.
I walked into an emergency room and asked for Mobile Crisis, a local crisis program. I told them that if they didn’t help me, I was sure that I was going to hurt myself or worse. I had been thinking about dying for weeks. The thought took up every spare minute of my alone time. I had even done research on the internet (surprise!). I was hanging on by a thread and I knew I couldn’t hold on forever. I needed help.
I won’t go into the debacle that ensued, but it only made my situation worse. I ended up at Mobile Crisis, signing a piece of paper saying that I wouldn’t kill myself until Monday when doctor’s offices were open and they sent me on my way because I didn’t have insurance. Her exact words were, “We can’t give you a bed here because you’re uninsured.” Just like that.
Friends and family rallied around me and I was able to dig myself out of that hole somehow. There were more therapists, more pills, more agonizing depression and anxiety. But no answers. I would go for long periods of time without insurance, which meant no care and no treatment. Then I’d get lucky and get a job that provided benefits and I’d see someone for a short period of time and then the cycle would repeat itself.
A Mental Healthcare Turning Point
When I was 32, things started to fall apart after a severe trauma and I knew that I needed to get help. My as-yet-diagnosed mental illnesses were in full form and I was suffering; it was the worst I had ever felt. Even then, I knew that I wanted to find a path out of this mess that my brain had become. I found a therapist through my company’s EAP and saw her for several months.
Our relationship ended the day that I was pouring my heart out to her and she fell asleep. I was *CRYING* and she FELL ASLEEP!! I had to “loud-cough” at the end of what I was saying to wake her up. She didn’t even acknowledge what had happened; she just woke up and started talking again. I never went back.
Next was a therapist that listened to me bitch every month, but never helped me move forward. I went there for almost 2 years before I decided that I was making no progress and decided to move on. That was one of the best decisions I ever made because it landed me in Dr. W’s office and the rest is history. She was able to finally get me a diagnosis and on the road to recovery for the first time in my life.
Here’s the thing, though. I had to be ready for recovery. When I first walked into Dr. W’s office, I was still very sick. For the first year that I saw her, every session went back to the same unhealthy topics. No matter how much I promised myself that I wouldn’t bring those topics up again, I inevitably did. I showed almost no interest in learning coping skills or overcoming trauma.
For me, finding the right fit in my mental healthcare wasn’t just about finding a great team of doctors to help me work on all the facets of my life that need to improve, but also getting to a point in my life and in my mind where I could accept the help that they are offering. I had to hit my rock bottom (again) to be ready for help and the day that I walked into Dr. W’s office for the first time I was swamped with my disease and desperate for a hand in the dark.
My point in telling this story is that I was let down and disappointed. I was over-looked, misdiagnosed, turned away, left out in the cold. Despite that, I never gave up hope; hope that I would find the right fit, hope that I would find the answers that I needed to get better. I have been just surviving for so long, but now I’m ready to thrive and I’ve been privileged enough to have found the care that I have.
If you’re feeling discouraged with the quality or the pace of your care, here are a few bits of advice that I would give, based on my years of experience inside the mental healthcare system:
- Don’t be afraid to “fire” your current provider. That sounds a little dramatic and you don’t actually have to vocally fire them; but you are under no obligation to continue seeing a provider that you don’t feel is a good fit; no matter the reason. Get comfortable with the idea that there are “plenty of fish in the sea,” and not every provider will be a good fit for every patient.
- Be honest about what you want and need from your providers and be vocal about your care. Only you live in your body and mind and you are your very best advocate. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Tell your provider what is working and what isn’t. If they are worth their salt, they will take your feedback into consideration and adjust your care accordingly.
- Educate yourself. If you have a diagnosis and you have a name for what is happening in your brain, make sure you learn about it. Read books, do Google searches, read about personal experience on blogs and social media. You can only advocate for yourself effectively if you know and understand what is happening to you. It will also lead to a LOAD of self-acceptance.
- Don’t give up! I know, this one is harder than it sounds. Its a long and lonely road out there and it can get discouraging. Please don’t give up on yourself. A better life is out there and you deserve to find it.
- It takes time. You didn’t get where you are overnight and you can’t get better over night, either. Be willing to put in the work and the time.
- Therapy is a two-player game. Yout therapist can guide you and give you the tools you need, but it is up to you to implement them in your life and do the hard work of working through trauma. Your therapist can’t help you if you aren’t participating in your own care.
So, there you have it. a brief history of how I waded through dozens of mediocre, and sometimes downright shitty, mental healthcare providers only to finally stumble into the office of the doctor that would eventually change my life in the most positive of ways. I hope that it inspires even one person to hang on; to keep going even though it hurts. You matter. You’re worth it. You deserve it.
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