There are two main ways to get from my town to the county seat, where I do a lot of my reporting for the newspaper.
One way is mostly on a four-lane major highway. The speed limit is 60 mph. Even when I have to turn onto a two-lane road, it’s wide and well marked and I can make good time.
The other way is mostly on back roads, narrow and curvy secondary roads. It’s a more direct way to get to the county seat, but narrow and sometimes unmarked roads slow down safe drivers. You will eventually get to the county seat, but it will take longer than if you take the major highway.
Some journeys are straight and true, some not. Figuratively, the same could be said for the journey to effective treatment for mental illnesses.
My fantasy journey
I would have begun exhibiting obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression symptoms, which would have drawn concerned interest from my parents, which would have led them to take me to a doctor, who would have referred me to a psychiatrist, who would have diagnosed me and begun treatment.
Admittedly, since I started showing strong symptoms of OCD in the early 1970s, treatments would not have been what they are today. But as the years passed and knowledge of and research into OCD increased, I would have gotten better and better treatment for both the OCD and the depression.
And so, in my perfect dream, I would have spent my 20s, 30s and now my 40s living a life with OCD and depression, but a life not as greatly affected by them.
Yes, it’s just a dream. My treatment journey wasn’t that straight and true one, and I would bet that most people’s journeys aren’t either.
My real journey
I remember being taken to the doctor when I was about 9 or 10. My mother told me it was because I was crying at night and I wasn’t eating a lot. I don’t remember this. But according to my mother, the doctor said that even though it had been my brother who was in the hospital a lot, I had been through a lot, too, with being away from home and having to stay with relatives.
That was the end of that foray into medical diagnosis. The next time I saw a health professional for anything other than a physical ailment was when I was 25 and started seeing a counseling psychologist for my depression.
That was talk therapy. I talked about my life, and she listened. But she also taught me that my patterns of thinking were not healthy and were not a reflection of reality. For example, just because my mother told me I was lazy didn’t mean that I was.
When I was 26, I saw my first psychiatrist and was officially diagnosed with OCD and depression. I started medication, which greatly improved my symptoms.
In the years after that, I was in a little more talk therapy, but I focused mainly on medication therapy. I thought I was as well as I could hope for.
But in January, 22 years to the month that I was diagnosed with the mental illnesses, I decided to try cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD. Later this spring, I started Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System Psychotherapy (CBAS) for chronic depression, which was getting in the way of my OCD therapy.
I am finally on the road to real recovery.
How can we make it better?
What are some ways that we can better ensure that the road to good treatment is more straight than curvy?
Recently, Elizabeth, of Into My Own, reminded me of the importance of being our own health advocate in a great post.
When I worked as a health educator, I became interested in health advocacy because I saw so much need for it.
Advocacy is “(t)he act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support,” according to The American Heritage Dictionary.
Being an advocate for yourself means asking the questions, educating yourself, and getting the care, including proper diagnosis, for yourself as you navigate the health care system.
Being an advocate for others means doing the same thing, but for others.
Being an advocate or even having an advocate may help you get a diagnosis sooner rather than later and may help you get on the road to recovery more quickly.
The following are ways that I have discovered to be helpful in being your own advocate or an advocate for someone else (Note: I use the term “doctor,” but you can insert therapist or any health care professional):
*Research respected sources for accurate and up-to-date information.
*Before you go to the doctor, make a list of questions to ask.
*If you don’t understand something the doctor says, ask for clarification.
*Take notes and/or ask for available handouts about a diagnosis, test, or treatment.
*Consider taking someone you trust with you to the doctor so you’ll have a second pair of ears to listen and take notes. (I realize this may not be desirable or appropriate if you’re going to a psychiatrist or therapist.)
*Find out the best way to get in touch with the doctor between appointments.
*Don’t be afraid to change doctors if for any reason you are not comfortable or cannot build a trusting relationship with him or her.
Was your road to diagnosis and treatment long and winding, or was it more straightforward?
Do you consider yourself to be a health advocate? How do you advocate for yourself? How have you advocated for others?