Navigating Psychiatry

It has been awhile since blogging (as of lately) but I sure miss it! I am not going to commit to posting on a consistent basis, yet it is something that I want to try to incorporate into my life more because it is good for my soul. Additionally, I feel I have experiences in areas that could benefit others. So with that I am going to jump right in!

Today I want to discuss a topic that I have recently been walking through. As a person who struggles with managing bipolar disorder, one aspect of treatment that I require is medication. For that medication I have to meet with a psychiatrist on a fairly regular basis. Anywhere from every couple of weeks to every three months if I am in maintenance.

In the last ten years I have seen five psychiatrists and I have an appointment the end of this month for an evaluation with a new one. Why so many you might ask? Well the first misdiagnosed me and put me on medication that drastically made me worse. At the time I was only 16 and they really had no business treating a teenager, but my parents and I didn’t know any better. That could be an entire topic on its own. (Side note, if there is ever a topic that you want me to discuss I am more than happy for the suggestions. I do have an interest in speaking with parents of teenagers or young adults to help them walk through this journey as a family as well. Okay back to me.) The second psychiatrist correctly diagnosed me and I stayed with this one for several years. Eventually I realized I was over-medicated and there was no room for discussion on a reasonable level. I was feeling very unheard. I had an instant connection with the third, but they took a job in a different location which wouldn’t accept my insurance. The joys of the medical system here in the United States. The next psychiatrist I didn’t really connect with, but they listened to me enough and I was able to be remain stable for a couple years. Unfortunately, they had personal reasons and left practice. Between that one and the fifth, I was off medication completely for a year.

There are periods of time where I am able to be off of medication. Slowly and surely though as the months progress, I have a slow and steady decline until I find myself in desperate need of stability. I have been through the cycle of on again off again meds three times and every time is the same. This last time made me realize and finally accept that medication is just going to be part of my life. I have done a great deal to work with my symptoms without medication and I am someone who needs that little extra boost to make my life go from okay and unbalanced to stable and great.

So with that notion, my therapist recommended the fifth one and I have seen them for the past three months. While they are very knowledgeable and we get along okay, I have been around the circle enough times so to speak that I need a little more from someone who is going to effectively manage me for hopefully years to come. Someone to work through issues with me and actually listen to my perspective on how the meds are or are not helping. It is very important to have that two-way form of communication and especially important that you are able to speak up and be assertive when needed. Psychiatrists may hold the “power” (or I like to think about it more as the knowledge) about how and when they prescribe certain things, but you have the power to choose someone who is going to work with you as a team. Find the right one, even if it takes time because with a chronic condition you will want someone in your corner who can form a lasting relationship to make your life the life you want. You are the one that has to deal with the treatment and side effects. They get to go home at night to their life without thinking about your life unless you are in their office. It is only fair you choose one that gives you that undivided attention at your appointments that you need. I am still in the searching phase, yet I have worked with enough psychiatrists to know that there are ones out there who fit my needs. It takes some patience and I don’t always have the patience or stability which is where the assistance of a therapist or other doctor is crucial. You can’t do this alone.

The things I would like people to get from this post today:

  • Medication can be a valuable tool in the treatment of any illness, mental or physical. The stigma that we don’t need medication is harmful and downright dangerous at times.
  • I understand that access to psychiatrists and medication can be a challenge, so find someone who can advocate for you whether that is a therapist, another doctor, even a friend.
  • If you have a crappy psychiatrist or you just need a change – do it! Do not feel obligated to stay with a certain doctor if you don’t like them or they do not fit your needs. We need a team and you need to be able to communicate effectively with each other to make your life stable and enjoyable. Maybe you don’t need to be on some medication now, but it is still a good idea to have a psychiatrist to talk through the symptoms and so they can be there if or when needed.
  • If you are prescribed medication, please take them correctly and on schedule! Don’t go off without talking to a professional just because you feel better or you don’t feel a change. Withdrawal is no joke on some psychiatric meds and trust me going through a small titration, again with a professional, can make that transition the best a situation it can be (still never fun though). If you don’t take the meds properly, they will not work correctly and you won’t get a chance to see if there is a potential for positive change.
  • If your current psychiatrist is working out great for you and they suddenly have changes that won’t allow you to see them anymore, remember they are human beings too with a life outside of their work. It is the hardest when you lose a professional you connected with, but you need to move on and pick yourself up right away to make sure you stay stable and healthy. This situation was very hard for me to deal with and although uncomfortable, moving on to a new one is just what needs to happen.

Bottom line: life can be difficult and unpredictable with bipolar disorder or any mental disorder, but in my experience medication has helped me resume a more normal and enjoyable life. I hope it can for others as well. I am not dismissing the fact that it is difficult to start or change a psychiatrist, but I am here to tell you that you are definitely not alone and millions of people are walking through this same process on a daily basis. Find community and connection and most of all find a treatment team that has your back every step of the way. In a few weeks I hope to update you with good news that this new one has the potential to be in it with me for the long haul. I realize that was a long-winded post but I hope it gave you some perspective on working with a psychiatrist. Have a great weekend!