Ah, I’ve been waiting to express my outrage about this one for over a year now. Here’s the story.
As you may know, for many years I had no idea what was wrong with my head. I desperately tried option after option, consulting with no less than 12 mental/brain health professionals. Some of them I could immediately tell were wrong for me, while others I gave a chance and got nowhere.
As time wore on, Bianca and I began to question our strong gut feeling more and more often. Surely I couldn’t be right and 10 professionals be wrong? (As it turned out, they were failing me big time.) Not to mention the fact that I have a strong tendency to see the best in people and give them a chance. If I felt they were useless, they must be really useless.
Toward the end of that journey, at roughly number 11, still desperate for help but now with a much better understanding of what was wrong with me, I asked my GP to refer me to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately the only one that he knew well was retiring, so he had to take a stab at a new one.
At her offices, things felt sort of... 80s, you might say, which was kind of normal for the area the surgery was in. The psychiatrist was a thickset woman, reminiscent of an old-fashioned headmistress. Friendly, but with a no-nonsense undertone. I definitely don’t have a problem with any of that, but it fits with what followed.
She sat me in a dark brown corduroy armchair and took a seat behind a desk. As usual, I brought a small folder of notes I had printed out both as reference material and outlining what I wanted to discuss. As with every other mental health practitioner I’ve seen, she clearly tried to steer me away from my notes—as if my own self-assessment were invalid; as if she were better placed to figure out what I needed than I was.
At that point it was not a big issue, but in hindsight (and these are not words I say lightly): Fuck you.
There were the usual “tell me about yourself” and “why are you here?”
And as per usual, there was no understanding or attempt to understand what life was like for me and what I had been through. These people don’t know what type 1 diabetes is like, and don’t want to know. It’s like they think we’re whingers. I’m willing to bet that people with phobias or addictions or trauma don’t have their stories ignored in the same way.
But with her, it was worse. It was horrifying. I told her I had type 1 diabetes. She said “you must have eaten way too much sugar.” I said that no, it was type 2 diabetes where diet was a major factor. No, she said. She had a relative with Type 1 diabetes.
I started “I...” and shook my head nervously. “Generally speaking...” She was insistent. Very insistent. I tried one final “That’s... not true” but it was no use. It was just like being in a staring contest where the other person gives you a look that says “you can’t win.”
And you know they’re right.
Fair enough. Maybe she was ignorant and judgemental about diabetes but was very good at helping people with mental issues. No, wait, (I thought,) maybe it was some kind of test. Maybe she was trying to gauge my personality. Maybe she wanted to see how I reacted under pressure. Maybe telling me what she was doing would defeat the purpose of the test. (cf. secret plan.) Either way, I backed down and forgave her.
Then, “why are you here?” I made it perfectly clear why I was there. Some of my mental health problems were due to my epilepsy. Some clearly weren’t. Some were due to trauma, some to everyday events, some due to my medication, and some due to diabetes. It was really hard to figure out what was what, to unravel the tangled web of really weird, complicated and sometimes unnameable emotions and experiences.
Well that fell on deaf ears. As had been the case with many others, she acted like I had exceeded a word count that people go over when they are confused, when they are overcomplicating things. There was no “that’s a lot you’re grappling with, I’m very keen to help.” Nor was there “OK, there’s a lot to work on.” Nor was there “I’ve never dealt with this sort of thing before. I’m a little out of my depth.” Nor were there questions to try to understand better.
There was just an unspoken “ah... another one of those.”
There were some other procedural things, like what medications I was taking, family history, and so on. Then we got into her trying to “help” me. Am I eating enough fish a week? Am I eating enough vegetables? How much exercise am I getting?
Look, I appreciate it. A very common and very tangible cause of mental health problems is an unhealthy lifestyle. I may be arrogant that I’m already doing my best with everything, but I see the value in someone making me do a sanity check.
But then it got ridiculous. What kind of exercise do I like? I listed a few things including swimming. I explained that swimming is hard because of diabetes. I explained why. She tried to offer silly solutions like bringing a friend and having them hang on to my belongings, instead of actually addressing an issue that is really painful for me, namely the way diabetes gets in the way of things I enjoy. Solving practical issues is all well and good, but it will never change the fact that diabetes always has to be on my mind for safety reasons.
OK, she can’t be expected to know that about diabetes. Except I just told her about it. I literally just explained. Also, I had earlier explained why fruit is difficult to manage with T1D, but it went in one ear and out the other. I need to eat more fruit.
Then she spent at least 5 minutes umming and ahhing trying to think of local swimming pools. Oh, there’s this one, but you have to be a club member. Oh, there’s that one, no wait it closed down. Seriously, this went on for five minutes. I sat and smiled as she sat there wracking her brains for swimming pools.
I don’t pretend to smile. When I smile, it’s genuine. Being warm and patient and optimistic and trusting is just how I am. Unfortunately it doesn’t serve me very well when it comes to my health.
Time’s up, I leave, and think “that really sucked.” But then, as I do, I stopped myself and thought “OK, don’t give up after one visit. These things take time.” So I thought back to what was actually useful. Well, she seemed to know her way around medication, at least. Maybe she would be good in that sense.
Had fun? Read about my next visit here.