Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My Mental Health Posse

As I waited outside of Dr. M's office yesterday morning, I was a little nervous and not sure what to expect. My foray into the world of therapy and mental health is a relatively recent one. Apart from a brief stint in family therapy back when I was 12 and my parents were getting a divorce, prior to this past year I had never gone to therapy and never considered it for myself. I had this notion in my head that I was supposed to be strong, and that seeking support through therapy would mean that I had failed in some way, and that I was "weak."

I have long despised the thought of being "weak" or appearing "weak." Not because I care what other people think, but because I don't want to be that type of person that I myself would view as weak if I were looking at them from the outside. I don't want to look at myself and find myself wanting. Not that I'm in the habit of looking at others and finding them wanting. Generally, I reserve that level of judgment and criticalness for myself alone.

I have never viewed the use of therapy by others as an admission of weakness on their part. Instead, I have always seen it as a sign of strength. I think it takes a great deal of courage to look inside yourself and face the issues that are troubling you, and even more to seek out the assistance you need to confront those issues, especially in light of the mental health stigma in our society. I also have loved ones who have sought therapy, both counseling and medication, and I have seen the tremendous benefit it has had on them.

Even so, when I found myself struggling emotionally and mentally this past year, it took me a long time before I was ready to make the decision to go to therapy. Looking back on it now, I realize that I have been dealing with feelings of depression and anxiety since I moved to New York, a little under a year and a half ago. I'm still not one with the term "depression." However, I am one with realistically appraising my mental state, and I still remember how I felt during the months just before I finally decided to see a therapist.

It was not a pleasant time. My life consisted mainly of working and sleeping. That was it. Emotionally, I felt like I had nothing of meaning in my life, and like I had nothing worthwhile to give or contribute. Most of the time, I felt utterly alone and isolated. I was having panic attacks, and I was crying frequently. After months of this, the point when I really started to worry was when I started feeling nothing for periods of time. I remember one day walking into work feeling as if my whole life was just this empty shell. I had this facade of a successful woman, but inside there was nothing. No hope, no excitement, no joy.

Rationally and intellectually, I knew that this was all wrong. I knew my perception was skewed. I knew that I had family and friends that loved me, and whom I loved. I knew that I was working on worthwhile pro bono cases that had the potential to change my clients' lives, and that I was doing a good job. I also knew that I was getting valuable practical experience on my nightmare of a case, and that it would serve me well when I decided to find a new job. And I knew that there would come a time when I would make a change, and that things would get better.

But as I have learned in therapy, knowing something intellectually is not the same as knowing something emotionally. It takes a long time to emotionally know something, and to believe it. Not to mention all the time it takes to emotionally unknow things.

I finally decided to go to therapy in August of 2005. I had been thinking about it increasingly for weeks, and one day, when I had been feeling like I was going to cry all day, I asked my officemate - after two false starts, and with great hesitancy - if he happened to know of any good therapists. I was trying to be tough and to hold back my tears. I could feel them welling up inside of me, just on the brink of rushing forth and overflowing. I was trying to sound nonchalant. I was afraid that he would think I was looney, that he would look at me and see a pathetic creature that was on the verge of cracking up. I feared he would doubt my ability to do good work, and that he would judge and pity me. I had LOTS of issues about going to therapy. The biggest one was shame. Shame that I needed help. (It's actually still hard to admit that. But it's a fact. I did need help. I couldn't do it all by myself).

His response could not have been better. He was compassionate and candid and gave me exactly what I needed. He not only provided me with the name of my current therapist, but he also told me that HE had been in therapy (with my therapist in fact), and that he had thought it was a fascinating experience through which he had gained a great deal of insight, and also learned about a whole different profession. He likes learning things. He said, "Buttercup, of course I've been in therapy. I'm a philosophy major. We love analyzing, and what could be better than paying someone to focus on you for one solid hour. That's great that you are exploring it."

His reaction was completely contrary to what I had feared it would be. It was supportive and informative and encouraging, and it made me feel a little lighter inside. I couldn't believe that he had been in therapy. He was so calm and collected. Talking with him not only made me feel normal, and like therapy was not a big deal, but it made me think it might actually be kind of cool. It was so very single 30-year old woman in New York trying to figure her shit out. I wanted to be that introspective woman taking control of her life.

I started therapy, and after 7 months, I too can unequivocally say that THERAPY IS THE BEST THING EVER. I highly recommend it. My therapist, CG, is excellent. Upon meeting her, I was immediately comfortable and had a sense that I could trust her. Her office, which is decorated with paintings of flowers, painted a soothing pale yellow, and furnished with a comfy couch with silky pillows, is a "safe place" that makes me feel peaceful inside whenever I step into it. Thinking of sanctuaries, her office is one of mine, for at least one hour each week. After a couple of months, our sessions started leaving me with a feeling of calmness and happiness. Sometimes it only lasts as long as my cab ride home, but I always get it back each week after another session.

I can not pinpoint exactly why I have found therapy to be such a positive experience. It's a process, and it works in subtle ways, and I'm still figuring it - as well as myself - out. Part of it is the process of verbalizing my feelings and getting out of my body and mind things that have been bothering me. It's like mental detoxification. Therapy also helps me sort through my feelings so that I can identify the major issues that are causing me stress, and figure out a way to deal with them. It was my therapist that made me realize a few weeks ago that I was crying in her office because I was stressed about the move, and that one way of dealing with that was to talk through my concerns with Raj. It also gives me perspective on my own feelings and actions, and helps me to see the areas of myself that I might be able to change in order to make myself a happier and better person. A more enlightened being in Buddhist-speak.

My talk therapy with CG has helped me a great deal these last few months. However, I have continued to struggle with feelings of depression. A few months ago, I tried medication for the first time. I had been adamantly opposed to the idea of medication, and had flat out refused to even consider it the first time that CG suggested it as an option. After that session, I went home and thought about why I had been so vehement. I realized that once again I was letting my fear of "being weak" influence me. I do not want to depend on medication to be happy. I feel like I should be able to be strong enough to make myself happy without chemical assistance. I also do not like the idea of putting chemicals into my body.

Ultimately, after much thought, I decided to try medication because this is my life, it's the only one I have, and I would rather spend it feeling like I was living to my full potential. How dumb would it be if I felt depressed for another 20 years, and then tried medication and found that it helped? I would have regretted not trying it long before. I also was finally able to reject the whole mental health stigma and just say fuck it. Trying medication is not like choosing a path that you have to be stuck on for the rest of your life. It's something you can try to see if it helps. If it helps, great. If it doesn't, then you stop. There is no harm in trying. Of course it's not for everyone, and I'm not even sure it's for me. But I feel like it was a good decision for me to at least explore this option.

The psychiatrist I saw was CRAZY. For our first meeting, I went to his office and sat in his waiting room for 15 minutes until my session was supposed to begin. There was no sound coming from his office door, so I figured he was either out, or talking to a patient very quietly inside. At the time of my appointment, the door to his office suddenly opened, and the Dr. looked at me and motioned me inside. He was an old white male, but so many of them are. When I entered his office, I saw that it contained a metal desk with an easy chair, and a lone chair sitting in front of the desk. There was not a single object on the desk, and there was no other furniture in the room. The walls of the room were white and completely bare. It was the most sterile, uninviting, and unfriendly environment I have ever seen.

During that meeting, which lasted all of 20 minutes, Dr. Crazy asked me lots of questions, and even ventured into a bit of dream analysis. He stared at me throughout the interview. He was very Freudian. I walked out of his office with a prescription for Lexapro in my hand, thinking what a bizarre creature he was and trying to imagine what on earth he had been doing in his sterile, undecorated, furnitureless (not even a couch!) office before our meeting, and what he was doing after I left. Maybe he had a secret drawer with a book or a cross world puzzle? I know that if I had to sit in that dreary office for any period of time, I would go crazy for sure.

I took the Lexapro and didn't notice a great change. Except in my libido, which seems to have gone on vacation during the last few weeks (I'm not sure if that's because of depression, tension between Raj and I, stress, fatigue, or because of the Lexapro, but I'm more than a little freaked out by it). I was supposed to go back to Dr. Crazy, but couldn't bring myself to go back to his office. With all the moving stress, I've been quite emotional lately, and it's been nagging me that I needed to find another psychiatrist and get a handle on this aspect of my mental health.

This brings me to yesterday morning, when I was sitting outside of Dr. M's office, waiting to see what he would be like. To my great pleasure, it turns out that Dr. M is awesome (at least based on this first impression). He has a kind face, an easy going but sincere and caring manner, and he's also an impeccable dresser. Dr. M spent almost an hour and half attentively asking me questions about myself and trying to get to know me and my issues. Our conversation went wonderfully, and I'm so happy that I found him. I also feel really good that I took this step to take care of myself.

Dr. M is not a hasty kind of guy, so we made no decision regarding the medication yesterday. Instead, we made a second appointment for later in the week. Dr. M wants to talk to CG, and I could not be more pleased. I'm more than happy to have them both working together to help me figure out my shit. Throughout this process my friends and family (especially Wood, Artemis, Bean, and my Dad and Mom), and of course CG have been very supportive of my efforts to become healthy and happy. Now with the addition of Dr. M, it's like I'm creating a whole mental health posse. With all this support, I have no doubt that I'm going to be able to kick my Depression's ass. Eventually.


Tracy said...

A posse! That's awesome. I wish you all the best as you courageously confront your depression. And I'm so glad you said goodbye to Dr. Crazy and found a doctor with more human qualities!

Tracy said...

Hey Buttercup! Thanks for the note you left on my blog. I just sent you a long e-mail. :)

Ally Bean said...

I love the idea of a mental health posse. And it sounds like you're on the right track with these two professionals.

Good for you. And good for everyone who gets to read your rational and real post about what you're doing.

lulu said...

Hi well done - I am also on lexapro (lexies) I call them. so far it is an interesting journey. Never thought I would need to take them. However, like you I will give depression the flick.

take care

Heather said...

I agree that therapy is a good thing. God knows where I would be without it.