To the Doctors Who’ve Treated My Mental Illness
Throughout 13 years of treatment for depression and anxiety, I’ve worked with many types of doctors. Some who listened, others who didn’t. Some who treated me like a real person with a real illness, and too many others whose insensitivity about mental health left marks on my life. My average appointment with a psychiatrist has been about 10 minutes long, leaving what seems like 0.2 seconds to say anything at all once the doctor is finished asking questions.
To my doctors over the years: here are some things I’d like to say but never got the chance.
To the doctor who told me to go off all of my medications in order to have a baby: I wish I had asked you more questions. I wish you had dug a little deeper and learned a little more. You could have referred me to a special practice that could have given me more nuanced and personalized guidance. But I didn’t know to ask, so I followed your advice. I followed it right down the rabbit hole into a psych hospital where my new doctor told me I could have stayed on my old meds while getting pregnant. Do you find that just a little bit ironic?
To the doctor who told me to “just take an Advil” and picture how wonderful it would be to have a baby when I was going off my meds: Do you even have a medical degree? Because when a doctor gives me advice that’s worse than what I could think of on my own, something isn’t right. Mental illnesses can’t be treated with ibuprofen and daydreams. Next time someone seeks your help who is clearly heading into a psychiatric crisis, know the signs and take appropriate professional action. Tell them their own personal safety is important. I walked out of your office and sobbed in the bathroom across the hall because I didn’t know where to turn next for help. Picture that and see how it feels. And if it gets too bad, just take an Advil.
To the doctor who told me to get back on meds and start taking my mental illness seriously: Thank you. You told me what I needed to hear, as painful as it was. When you compared my dad’s depression and suicide to having a relative with a heart condition, it made perfect sense. You helped me begin to understand that mental illnesses are physical illnesses, not personal flaws. And when you told me that kids who lose a parent to suicide are at a higher risk of suicide themselves, you opened my eyes about how important it was to treat my depression and keep myself safe. You took extra time and spoke with compassion, and though I didn’t know it at the time, you helped to set me down the path of acceptance.
To the doctor who told me we were running out of treatment options: I looked to you for hope and support, and you shut the door in my face. Taking six months to stabilize after a severe depressive episode is just not too long. Why did you make me feel like it was? Couldn’t you have helped me see the bigger picture, rather than shaming me for taking so long to recover? And just because the first several medications you prescribed didn’t have a miraculous effect didn’t mean I was out of possibilities. At the time I was too sick and hopeless to disagree with you, but now I’m stronger and I know how you treated me wasn’t right. Acknowledging I was trying hard and making gains, however small, would have gone a long way. And that person who was out of options? She’s back on her feet. She’s living life. And with little help from you, she’s found her hope again.
To the doctor who took time to talk and listen: You probably didn’t have the time, but you found it and it mattered to me. Treating mental illness isn’t just about medication, and although you’re a doctor, you reminded me of that over and over. You asked about my life. You encouraged me to keep working hard in therapy. And when I expressed fear or concern, you didn’t shut me down or dismiss me. You listened. You told me we were partners in my treatment and you empowered me to learn more about depression, anxiety and post-tramatic stress disorder. I left, and still leave, every appointment with you feeling more positive and hopeful than when I arrived. Finding a psychiatrist who makes me feel like a real person whose opinion matters is what makes recovery so much smoother.
I’ve learned a lot from my doctors, whether I liked them or not. Each one had something to teach me. How to ask questions and push back. How to listen and take advice. How to do my own research and come prepared. How to become my own advocate and listen to my gut instinct.
Most of all, I’ve learned how to keep trying. Nobody else can do that for me. I have to keep believing that my recovery is real and know, regardless of who my doctor is, that I’m worth it.
Follow this journey on Blue Light Blue.
Editor’s note: This story is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as professional advice.
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