Hits and Misses of my Past and Present Doctors/Treaters
I have been on a journey through mental health wellness for the past 24 years. This is my experience from my first treatment provider to my current providers. It shows how lucky I have been as I have had many “hits” and only 2 “misses.” My purpose is to not only suggest that there is hope but to stress the importance of navigating this system with support, whether it’s from a family member, friend or an advocate.
I first saw a therapist during my freshman year (1996) at my college health services and she was a social worker. I liked her and saw her a handful of times. She tried to push me and asked good questions about my thoughts and feelings. I, unfortunately, had difficulty answering them as I did not have the understanding or language to respond to her. She tried her best, for sure, though.
Social Worker at college health services: Hit.
I then saw a psychologist while home on break between my freshman and sophomore year of college. It was right before I went to work as a counselor at an overnight camp. She was a psychologist and what I remember of her was that she was sweet and had a scar from a burn that mesmerized me. When I saw her after I was sent home from overnight summer camp due to thoughts of self-harm, my mother asked her if I was depressed. She answered that she did not think I was and that I was just adjusting to adulthood. But I was having trouble sleeping, had low appetite, lost weight, was not motivated or interested and I am sure I was indeed clinically depressed.
Next I saw a psychologist beginning in my sophomore year of college whom I saw for the next 7 years. This is where the base of my structure, of who I am, was created. I saw her twice a week for 6 years and then once a week in the seventh year. I don’t remember talking very much during the first year as I was not sure what I was supposed to do there in her comfy upper west side office in New York City. As time went on I began talking and I began to trust her and her agenda which was to help me. I endured a lot with her, including self-harm and a psychiatric hospitalization and while it was painful and difficult at times, it was also rewarding, particularly when I graduated college and graduate school. Her role played a part in my reaching those milestones.
Psychologist in New York: Hit.
During my sophomore year, my therapist advised me to have a medication consultation which I had at my college health services. I saw a psychiatrist who started me on a medicine but it made me ill so I tried a couple of others but they also made me ill. He then put me on an older anti-depressant which seemed to help. I saw him a few times and began to feel unwell physically. I was sweating constantly, had trouble going to the bathroom and felt tired. After months of this, my mother was unhappy with the duration of my symptoms and she scheduled a second opinion while I was home on break in Boston. I saw a resident at one of the major hospitals whose first question to me was: “what is your blood level?” I had no idea what she was talking about since my psychiatrist in New York never ordered one. It turned out that blood tests are needed to monitor the level when on the medication that I was taking. It also turned out that after she ordered a blood test, it was discovered that I was toxic. After my break, I returned to New York and switched psychiatrists within my college health services.
Psychiatrist at college health services: Miss.
For the remainder of my time in New York, I continued to see my psychologist and a few different psychiatrists for my medications. One of the psychiatrists was referred to me by the resident I had seen in Boston.
Psychiatrists in New York: Hit.
I moved back to Boston (2000) and immediately called that resident (who was now done with training and in her own practice) to see if she would see me to follow my medication. Unfortunately, since I was not interested in therapy as well, she was unable to see me. I had felt a connection to her from that summer when we only met a few times. She was boldly realistic in her demeanor and communication style and I really liked that. She referred me to another psychiatrist who I saw for a while and who followed my medication. He was a bit odd but certainly knew what he was doing.
Psychiatrist referred by trusted doc: Hit.
I then came to a crossroads due to difficulty with relationships with men and knew I needed help. I then began to see the “boldly real” psychiatrist who I still felt a connection to even though our meetings had been few and were years earlier. I began seeing her for therapy and medication management.
Fast forward about 13 years when we came to a time when I was severely ill with a major depressive episode that was resisting every medication. I was hospitalized twice within a couple of weeks and began receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). As part of our treatment collaboration, I was referred to a psychiatrist for medication management closer to home in CT but I could continue to see her for therapy in Boston.
Boldly Real Psychiatrist in Boston: Hit.
The nurses, doctors and social workers in the hospital were stellar. They partnered with me and cared for me by providing constant information, data and feedback. I am still amazed by how well I was treated there. I was terrified and extremely ill and they were with me every step of the way. This was true as I continued ECT as an outpatient.
Staff at Hospital: Hit.
The psychiatrist I began to see to manage my medication was not unknown to me as he was sometimes the doctor administering ECT when I had my treatments. I liked him instantly as he was down to earth and he really listened to me. I continue to see him today.
Psychiatrist Following my Medications: Hit.
A year after those hospitalizations, I began to slip again into a deep depression. I returned for outpatient ECT and was, once again, treated respectfully and compassionately. The nurses remembered me and always asked specific questions about myself, my husband and my daughter. They felt like family.
ECT Staff: Hit.
A year following that fall (2016), I began to feel symptomatic once again. I was feeling worthless, sad, had trouble sleeping and a low appetite. Instead of trying even more medications, where options were low due to past failed trials, a referral was made by my psychiatrist (medication manager) for transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Before I could begin, however, I was psychiatrically hospitalized due to the severity of my depression. I was at the same hospital I had been at two years prior and the staff was the same which provided some comfort. I was treated as a partner in treatment decisions and always felt respected.
Staff at Hospital: Hit.
I began TMS at a different facility and was anxious. I was lucky to meet a doctor who was not only highly intelligent but seemed to me to be a “force to be reckoned with” in terms of fighting my depression. She provided some hope. The nurses who conduct the TMS treatments are warm and supportive and I look forward to seeing them each day right now. I feel well taken care of.
TMS Staff: Hit.
While I am having the TMS, I am also attending an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at the same facility. It is a group program that is geared toward professionals who need extra support and may be taking a medical leave from work. This has been an interesting experience for me and not only do I feel supported by the staff, but my fellow group members are my best supports and cheerleaders. It has been very helpful in terms of having daily structure while I recover.
IOP Staff: Hit.
I have been enmeshed in treatment 5 days a week for several weeks now and while it is exhausting, I am beginning to see those glimmers of light. I consider myself extremely lucky to have this current treatment team.
Overall I have been very lucky to not only have good treatment, but to have others supporting me and looking out for me at those times when I was not being treated well. The past few years, specifically, I have been supported by some great professionals and I would not be here without them. There are good professionals out there. There is hope. Therefore, we must continue to fight the stigma and crush the barriers that can lead to good treatment for those in need. We must provide advocates who can support those who do not have the family or friends who can look out for their best interests. We must continue to tell our stories.
Risa is mommy to a fabulous 6-year-old girl and wife to an amazing husband. She has lived in Boston, New York City, and now lives in Central CT. She has an MSW from Fordham University and a BA from Columbia University. She was featured in Women’s Health Magazine’s May 2016 issue regarding mental health and was a panelist on AOL Build discussing the effects of stigma on those with mental illness. She has written for Kveller, Huffington Post, Psych Central, Keshet, The Mighty, Bring Change 2 Mind and on her own blog, sillyillymama.blogspot.