Finding the right Psychiatrist can be a tricky ordeal. It can be hit or miss a lot of the time. It’s like any relationship. There needs to be the right chemistry.
The first psychiatrist I ever saw was a tall white haired professor type with a booming, deep voice, a flashy diamond filled ring with his initials on it and a father’s sense of humor.
“So, I was staying in Las Vegas, and I’m in our hotel room, and I phoned home and said to my wife ‘Can you guess where I’m calling from? The Las Vegas Hilton'” he recalled one day with a chuckle, as though he were performing in front of an audience at a comedy club. I laughed, albeit awkwardly. The way you do to avoid a lingering silence when the joke isn’t really that funny. Luckily for him, I was an 18 year old who took an interest in classic rock, so I got the musical reference, otherwise it would have fallen completely flat.
He was the first to diagnose me with Depression, Anxiety and a Panic Disorder. He was excellent at explaining why my brain was functioning the way it was. He would sit in his leather armchair in front of the huge wall of bare windows, and I opposite him in a recliner, looking over his shoulder and onto the Mcdonald’s parking lot downstairs. He was inclined to waffle, so I would sit and count the cars in the Drive-Thru, nodding my head every few seconds when he veered off track to recall a personal anecdote. I couldn’t complain though. He was friendly enough, his chairs were incredibly comfy and he Bulk Billed, so it suited me just fine. I was his patient for about three years, until I became so ill I couldn’t leave the house to get to his office.
A few years later, I began visiting a new Doctor. She was a thick, blonde woman in her early fifties who stood about 4’9. She was like a Rottweiler, stocky and tenacious. The type you’d want on your side in a disagreement. She practiced Psychotherapy and was a prolific talker. We’d dissect my life, analyze my dreams and occasionally do some hypnosis. I liked her, but her costs were prohibitively expensive so I could only afford to see her once ever 6 to 8 weeks, unless I was in meltdown mode. Insanity isn’t cheap, I’ll tell you that.
Our relationship lasted about three years. It was while seeing her, I actually had my first and only period of respite from my acutely poor mental health. I mean, I was still sick but I was functional for the first time in 10 years. I can’t tell you whether it was medication induced, or due to the fact I lost a large amount of weight and my hormones shifted, but it was amazing and I didn’t question it. It was at this point in my life I was well enough to actually attain my drivers licence, start dating again and get a qualification in a field I loved. I stopped seeing her altogether during this time.
It didn’t last long though. Twelve months later, and I was severely unwell again. This time, even worse than it ever had been. A few months after having my drivers licence, I had a car accident. It wasn’t huge, and no one was hurt but it was as though my brain started functioning differently after that. All of a sudden, I began feeling the distinct urge to do things I hadn’t done before. It started with little things, like when I would drive. I would drive through a green light, but instantly become unsure of whether the light had in fact been green at all, so I would drive around the block and come back to the lights to double check there was no red light camera. Then it became doubling back on my drive because I had hit a bump, and I couldn’t be certain that it wasn’t a person. I needed to check if there was a dead body in my wake. Sometimes I would have to do this two or three times over, depending on how strong the urge was. A fifteen minute drive started to take upwards of an hour because of all my repetitive behaviour. Eventually it became so stressful for me to be behind the wheel, that I just stopped driving.
In my dating life, I began to become obsessed with STI’s, like Herpes, HIV and Hepatitis. Did he have it? Did I have it? Had I been infected? Had I infected him? I never had any cause for suspicion that I was positive for any of these ailments, but the fear was constant. I would routinely visit my doctor, begging her to blood test me and to inspect my genitals. She would oblige me every time, but started to suggest that perhaps something else was wrong, and she didn’t mean with my vagina. I dismissed her concerns about my mental health. I had a lot of issues, but I didn’t have OCD. I was sure of it. I wasn’t a handwasher or a neat freak. I was just…overly cautious. And I lived with this overly cautious attitude for a year or so, putting up with the fearful thoughts a few times a day. I could manage it. But then, the thoughts grew more frequent, and more terrifying. These thoughts, in combination with assortment of others about myself and my self worth lead to a very dark place for me that ended with an attempt to take my life.
Obviously I survived. But I didn’t recover. The thoughts just got worse. I began to not be able to manage the intensity or prevalence of my disordered thinking. I was feeling paralyzed and trapped in a vicious cycle of anxiety, checking, short term relief…anxiety, checking, short term relief. The occasional STI freakout turned into a scene where I was laying on my back with a mirror on the bed, checking my genitals, forty, fifty, sixty times a day. (You can laugh here, it’s fine. I’m under no delusion how crazy my actions sound to someone who’s well.) Every cough or snotty nose was undiagnosed HIV taking form. And then, as if my brain didn’t have enough going on, the intrusive thoughts started happening. Shocking, gruesome images would come into my head with a flash. They lasted all of about 10 seconds to begin with, but it was 10 seconds of utter terror. They were horrible graphically violent or sexual scenes or thoughts I’m still too ashamed to talk about here, at this point in my recovery. They were images that didn’t feel like they could possibly come from my own brain. I tried to convince myself I wasn’t violent, or scary or a weirdo in a creepy sense. Surely, I was fucked up, but not in dangerous, ‘hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife’ kinda way. I wasn’t capable of doing the things that are flashing through my brain, but there’s that little part of my brain that whispered “But what if you are?”
Hence, I found my third Psychiatrist. A handsome middle aged man with an impeccable side part, kind eyes and what I would come to find out, some wacky suggestions. I came to him in a shocking state. Within my first two visits, he had established I did infact have OCD. Turns out, OCD wasn’t what popular culture led me to believe it was. It wasn’t the tidy desk, or the urge to keep things linear and while yes, there are people who are affected by the severe overwhelming urge to wash their hands til they bleed, it was just one of many behaviours OCD can manifest as. As he asked me about my childhood and teen years, I realized many of the things I did that I just figured were ‘quirks’ of mine, were actually OCD behaviours. This guy was pretty enlightening, and better yet, he had a plan of attack. Within a week of my second appointment, he had organized me a bed at the Private Psych Hospital he worked for.
He came to visit me nearly every night of my stay, to check in with me to find out how the new medication was working and to ask me to perform some homework we’d talk about the following session. I felt safe under his care, and as though he had direction for me. While he was friendly and kind when I’d visit him at his office, I found that he didn’t always remember things about me I’d kind of expect him to. Maybe he was just a poor note taker, but I found myself having to rehash my symptoms and why they caused me such stress every appointment. Every time he would act surprised, as though he were hearing the information for the first time. I’d never had that happen before with a Psychiatrist.
He also had some kinda…zany treatment suggestions. For instance, when I mentioned with disappointment that one of the new medications he’d prescribed to me was incredibly expensive, at over $120 a month, he suggested on the downlow, that I buy my medication online from overseas. I mentioned the plan to my regular Pharmacist who was shocked, concerned and who told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was a terrible idea and that he should never have made that recommendation and suggested I find another Psychiatrist quick smart. I let it slide, but it left me feeling a bit uncomfortable that he’d have suggested it to me. He went on to recommend a few other wacky suggestions over the next 12 months that made me uncomfortable, but I felt kind of trapped. A new doctor meant I’d have to explain everything all over again. That meant all of my history, and all the things I’d told my doctor that were difficult enough to speak aloud the first time, so I stuck with him for another 6 months. That was, until his last proposal for treatment. You’ll like this one. Let me set the scene. It’s a few months ago, and I was feeling a bit lonesome so I thought I’ll put a little profile on a dating site and just see what happens. Of course, I didn’t actually think I’d meet anyone from there in person, it was just really going to be a way to pass some time and get my flirt on. But, I did meet a nice enough guy who seemed to understand I was a ‘little quirky’ as he put it. We go on a few dates, and they go well. You’d think would be a good thing, right? Not so much, when you’ve been celibate three and a half years because your OCD is so relentless that any thought of physical intimacy with another person leaves you in meltdown mode because of the potential exposure to STI’s. This is where you say ‘Condoms Prue!’, and I tell you I’d need a full body condom to feel safe. So you see my predicament? I decide to talk to my Psychiatrist about this. I tell him how it’s getting to that point in a relationship, and my obsessive thoughts are out of control and I don’t how to reign them in so I might be able to enjoy even just some 2nd and 3rd base stuff. His suggestion? “I think you should buy a mannequin from the sex shop and practice at home…” he says, totally deadpan. *facepalm* I searched his face for a smile, but he was deadly serious. Like, I’m 35…I have no problem with the technicalities of sex. I might be out of practice, but I damn sure know how it’s done. No blow up man is going to ease my anxiety about the situation. Suffice to say, that was the final straw. The next day, I saw my GP and arranged a referral to a new Psychiatrist at the same practice that had come highly recommended.
And here we are, at my current Psychiatrist. He’s a tall, bespectacled middle aged man who looks uncannily like Jeff Goldblum with lush grey hair. He’s particularly proactive and dived straight into a new, additional diagnosis of Psychosis. By the end of my first appointment I had a script for a new medication to add to my current swag. He even chose one that is on the PBS, which was considerate. I needed another script from him during the week, and to my surprise, he didn’t force me to come in for a $170 fifteen minute appointment just to get it, like my last Shrink did whenever I found myself in a bind. He just left it at reception for me. I liked him already. Plus, he even tried to save me money after our visit ran overtime so, what was a $330 appointment cost me $33 and he billed the rest to my private health insurance. Not only do I like that because I’m a tightarse, but also because it demonstrates that he’s considerate. Now, as long as he doesn’t recommend a blow up sex doll, it should be smooth sailing from here on in.
If you’re looking for your own Psychiatrist to help you navigate a mental health diagnosis and potentially begin or manage your medication for you, your starting point should be with your GP. You can discuss your needs with them, for example, if money is an issue, or you have a Health Care or Pension card, they may be able to refer you to a Bulk Billing Psychiatrist or one that is willing to offer a sliding scale based on your income. Keep in mind, these low cost Psychiatrists are in consistently high demand which unfortunately means it’s a possibility you’ll end up on a long waiting list. That means a possible wait of weeks or even months before you’re seen. Don’t be discouraged by the wait, though. Most GP’s have some training in mental health issues and may be able to help support you, by encouraging more frequent appointments with them while you wait, which is something you should really take up if you’re struggling. Your GP can be an invaluable support, and may be able to even get you started on some medication if you both decide that’s the appropriate course of treatment for you.
You can always ask around your circle of friends if any of them have a Psychiatrist they can recommend and you can take their information to your GP and arrange a referral to that Doctor. First hand recommendations can be great.
If you have a specific issue you’re looking to deal with, there are many Psychiatrists who specialize or take a particular interest in certain conditions. Your GP may be able to recommend someone who is suited to the issues you feel you need to address.
Don’t be afraid to tell your GP if you’re in distress while you’re waiting for an appointment with a Psychiatrist. Call them and make an appointment to talk about your feelings. You’re not a burden, and they will become an integral part of your support network as you attempt to navigate the mental health issues you’re having, so you may as well begin setting those relationships up now.
And obviously, if at any point you find yourself in a crisis while you’re waiting for an appointment with a Psychiatrist, I implore you to go to your local hospital’s Emergency Department or contact the Crisis Assessment & Treatment Team (CATT) in your area. A mental health crisis is as valid and critical as any physical injury, and they are there to help you.