This week is Mental Health Awareness week, with a theme of 'relationships'. I'm going to be publishing a blog post each day talking about different ways in which relationships with various people (or groups of people) impact on my mental health. I've struggled with depression for years now, and my journey has been shaped by relationships and interactions with others.Today, I'll be writing about my relationships with all the assorted doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health nurses I've had dealings with over the years.
To date, I've had experience of professional mental health treatment in four completely different places across two countries, varying from cities to tiny little remote hamlets, and a range in between. With moving between university and home, back to university (but living in a different place), to my new shiny PhD in a totally different university, I've lost count of how many people I've seen over the years. It's well into the twenties, I know that much. From peer mentors to counselors, GP's to Mental Health nurses, Psychiatrists to Psychologists, and then of course a whole in-home crisis team for a little while, I've seen more than my fair share of MH professionals. But how were my relationships with them?
It is so incredibly difficult to tell a stranger you think you're suffering from mental illness. It's really tricky, too, when you know you're moving back home in a month or two so you'll have to go through it all again; but it's tricky on their end too. The amount of times I heard 'well we should be reducing your dosage but you're moving soon so we'll leave it just a bit longer', only to be told 'well your previous doctor must have kept it at this dosage for a reason, we'll keep it going' when I got to the other end... Once the GPs had sent me over to the specialists it became a bit easier I think; I became a recurring character to be treated rather than one of many appointments that day, so it was easier for them and for me to work things out (It must be said that that absolutely does not mean I'm criticising the GPs! One even saw me after more than a year but remembered me and was a] sad to hear that things were pretty bad for a long time but b] really glad to hear I was doing much better, he was great). But anyway, when you're seeing people on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis things get a bit less weird and its much easier to fully open up and actually allow them to help you, which ultimately helps the recovery!
While the weirdness of telling strangers your deeply emotional... emotions is a bit of a barrier initially, it really wasn't helped by my complete inability to talk to pretty much anyone under any circumstances. I'm shy, awkward, and incredibly softly spoken, all of which really get in the way when trying to tell a big scary psychiatrist about all the dark horrible stuff.
That's another thing that's really important to mention; big, scary psychiatrists are neither big nor scary (they are psychiatrists though). Neither are MH nurses, crisis people, whoever. None of them wore white coats, I never even saw a chaise longue let alone actually lay in one (which I'm a little bummed out about if I'm honest, they look so comfy in Hannibal), they were all ubiquitously lovely people who really wanted to help me. I guess that makes sense when you think about it; people have things they want to do, and for every flavour of MH professional that usually involves wanting to help people. People who want to help people through a rough time are heroes, not scary inhuman creepy people. While I'm talking about scary creepy, and mentioned Hannibal, none of them ever showed signs of any cannibalism or what have you either.
I think that's my take-home message from today; yes, telling a stranger your deep dark worries is hard, but at the end of the day the person sitting in the slightly comfier chair is a person just like you or me. They want to help you, and when they see even the tiniest improvement they're so pleased for you!
When the day comes when I'm finally off the medication, I'm going to send a big bunch of flowers and a letter to the folks at the specialist place that treated me through the worst of it. Because the people who wanted to help me, really, really did.
*** I'm planning on doing a Q&A post on Sunday, please drop me a question or two if you think of anything! Just comment on one of the week's posts, or send a private message here or on Twitter :) ***