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Being Present in My Treatment Means More Than Just Showing Up

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With my treatment, I know I can’t just wait and be complacent, but must be actively involved in my treatment plan. I have to show my face and introduce myself to those who are part of my support team.

I have been in the Veterans Affairs (VA) system since about 2006. During that period of time, I have seen several different psychiatrists. Every time I get a new doctor, I have to reintroduce myself. In doing so, I want to present my best self, I want to be seen as a person who cares. I try not to be late for the appointment, and I try to be patient with them as they get to know me and my mental health history. I realize I am not the only patient they see, and in most cases, they are overworked. I take a deep breath, share my past symptoms, and present symptoms. I want them to know I am more than just a computer screen. I am more than a number.

I have learned in talking to my psychiatrist it is important to get to the point. My mental health story is not an epic journey for Hollywood. So, often I jot down ahead of time what I would like to talk to my psychiatrist about — any symptoms I have been experiencing since our last visit, questions about my medication, and any other issues I feel are important to discuss. I have confidence my doctor is trained to help me with any questions I might have.

On occasion, my doctor might be late for a scheduled appointment. If my doctor is late, I know complaining will not get me seen quicker, and raising my voice or being irritable will not make me seen sooner. Part of my self-care is for me not to be a “scary person” or to fit someone’s untrained stereotypical view of a mental patient. With a shortage of physicians in many areas of medicine, waiting is part of the routine.

By being “known,” people will remember you. In fact, since I was in group therapy earlier in my treatment, a psychologist recommended me to get my COVID-19 vaccine. I honestly think because I was nice and polite, she remembered me and that is why she stopped me the mental health waiting room.

I go veterans’ hospital once a month. My appointments are in the morning, so after I am done, I can go home and relax in my apartment. The psychiatrist, receptionist, and counselors have to spend their entire day seeing patients because that is their job. I am not saying I do not matter, but I am just 15 minutes of their day. I know they care about me, but I know they have more patients to see during the day, not just me. Because I have been going to the veterans’ hospital for so many years, many of the doctors and other health care professionals know me by sight.

They may not know my name, but because I try to be a friendly person, they recognize me from my previous visits. They make it a point to engage me in conversation which I appreciate very much. Just recently, one of my doctors saw me in the hallway and took the time to be sure I had gotten my coronavirus vaccine.

Being present with my treatment plan means more than just showing up. I am confident my doctors will do their part, but I also have a part to play. By working together as partners, we can be assured I have the best chance for success in my mental health journey.

Getty image by Traimak_Ivan

Originally published: November 19, 2021
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