This is a very small excerpt from the book that I’m writing about my experiences with OCD and depression. It’s the story about my first visit to see my first psychiatrist when I was 26 years old.
I’d like you to read this not just to find out about that experience, but to also give me some feedback on how you think this would fit into a memoir. What would you like to learn more about? What needs to be fleshed out or clarified? Are you interested in reading more?
And please share your experiences as you feel comfortable. If you’ve been treated by a therapist or psychiatrist, what was that first visit like? If you were diagnosed with a mental illness, how did the diagnosis make you feel?
I always appreciate your comments and feedback. Thank you!
She called me high functioning.
What the psychiatrist actually said was something like, “I would consider you high functioning since you have managed to stay in school and do your work.”
|Me at 26.|
High functioning seemed to be more than generous, because I certainly didn’t think of myself that way.
I spent countless hours cleaning my small bathroom. If I cooked or even just cleaned the top of the stove, I spent several hours checking to make sure the stove was turned off. Any cooking, whether it was on the stove or in the microwave, produced repeated and careful washing of the countertops. My hands and wrists were red and chapped from my repeated washings to rid myself of any germs that might hurt others. I couldn’t walk up a sidewalk or path without starring at the ground, looking for sharp sticks or rocks that could possibly harm someone. My mind was full of prayers and chants to a God I couldn’t really talk to.
I didn’t consider myself to be high functioning.
I had never been to a psychiatrist’s office before. I was 26, and after a year of talk therapy, the psychologist had decided that my depression was not going away and I probably needed some medication.
I had also revealed to her my obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. That surprised her.
“All the time we’ve been talking, and you never mentioned it,” she said. “I would have never known.”
So perhaps to her, too, I was high functioning.
When I arrived at the psychiatrist’s office, which was located in a town north of the town I was living in while attending graduate school in northwest Ohio, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Would I lie down on a couch? Would she ask me questions about my childhood that I wouldn’t want to answer? Would she judge everything I said through the lens of Freud?
I admit that I was glad her office was not in the same town that I lived in. I desperately wanted to keep this visit secret.
The waiting room looked like all the other doctors’ waiting rooms I had been it. Muted greens and blues. Semi-comfortable vinyl-covered furniture. Magazines.
I was embarrassed as I stood at the counter in the waiting room and paid for my visit. What was the receptionist thinking? That I was crazy? That something must be scarily wrong with me because I had an appointment with her boss, who was a head doctor?
When the psychiatrist called me back to her office, she had me sit down in a chair, directly across from where she sat behind her desk. There was a window behind her desk, shining light on me.
She then started with the business of the visit. She asked me a lot of questions, questions I’ve since been asked many times by any new counselor or psychiatrist.
Why are you here today? What problems are you having? Are you sleeping too little or too much? What are you eating habits? Do you get pleasure from daily activities? Do you feel hopeless? Have you ever considered suicide?
For the OCD, the questions were along the lines of, what do you obsess about? What kinds of things are you doing compulsively? How do they interfere with your life?
It was more like a job interview than a doctor’s visit.
Eventually, she diagnosed me with depression and OCD. I wasn’t surprised by what she said. I certainly felt hopeless, suicidal and dead inside. And I had read enough to know that my bizarre habits indicated I had OCD.
But hearing her say the words, officially diagnosing me, was an experience that I would now call life changing. Before, I could simply hypothesize that I had these disorders, especially the OCD. I could always imagine that I really didn’t have OCD. I was just a sinful, bad and weird person who wasted time, water and money, all in the name of my strange habits.
With the diagnosis, I had a stamp of officialdom on my habits. They were weird, yes, and wasteful, yes. But they were also symptoms of a disease, albeit a disease I felt humiliated for having.
The psychiatrist talked about a new drug that had just been approved by the FDA called Anafranil. It was the first medication that targeted OCD specifically. She had seen it used in drug trials, had seen its effectiveness.
But it had just been FDA-approved in December, and this was January. It wasn’t yet available to the general population, she said.
So she prescribed Prozac. It would help the depression, and it might help with the OCD. Time would tell.
I walked out of her office with some hope of help. But I also walked out with self-consciousness and a sense of shame.