Friday, June 15, 2012

She called me high functioning: My first visit to a psychiatrist

Dear readers,

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.

27 comments:

  1. This is great Tina! I really enjoyed reading it. My only suggestion would be to include the year. I'm always interested to hear the year since you're talking about what drugs were on the horizon and what was currently available. :-)

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    1. Lisa, Thank you! I appreciate your comment. That is a good suggestion. Including the year would provide some context.

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  2. Tina, I agree with Lisa.. the only thing I would change would be to add the year. This would provide context since you mention the "new drug" Anafranil.

    Your writing is very good. It's powerful, sensitive and informative.

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  3. Beautifully written and YES, it draws me to want to read more!
    This has nothing to do with your situation, but I went to a marriage counselor years ago when I was married to my first husband...he selected her...she was my first ever counselor. She said somewhere at the beginning of the session "I don't really believe in marriage, but I'll try to help"!!! I felt pretty hopeless!!

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment!

      I would have felt hopeless with such a counselor too!

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  4. This is so recognisable! I loved reading it and would like to read more indeed.
    I was 27 when diagnosed, but unlike you had not connected my symptoms with OCD, as my rituals were pretty different from the more common ones. I remember being incredibly relieved that what I was doing had a name and that there was even medication available. Started with Anafranil too, but got epileptic fits from it and unfortunately a long list of medications followed before I had the "right" ones.
    But I was so scared going to see the psychiatrist Tina, thought my world would end, because he would find out how crazy I really was and lock me away forever. But I had also reached a point where I simply had to tell someone, could not handle it all on my own anymore.
    I never forget that he told me that I wasn't crazy at all, because I realized that the things I was doing weren't normal. As long as that was the case he wasn't worried about my sanity. That is still a great help today.

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    1. Klasske, Thank you! I'm glad that your first psychiatrist set your mind at ease. I felt the same way--that she was going to find out that I was crazy. I'm glad you found the "right" meds, too--it took me a while also.

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  5. I found this to be a "great read" and definitely want to read more.....keep up the great work. Can't wait for the book!

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  6. Awesome!! So jealous - wish I could write like that!! I definitely wanted to read more at the end. Keep up the awesome work. I'll be first in line to buy your book!

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    1. Sunny, thank you, dear. And you write well--I always enjoy your posts. You always give me something new to think about.

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  7. I'm really excited to read that you're working on a book. Yay! I think it's great that you're tackling the issue of being called "high functioning" (been there). Also, it's interesting how different people respond to their diagnoses. For some, including me, it's freeing to know that there's a name, and that we're not "sinful, bad, or weird"; for others, the diagnosis brings up a lot of shame and embarrassment. These are great topics to write about!

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    1. Thank you, Nadine. I'm excited, too! I've got a long road ahead, but I'm enjoying it.

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  8. Of course I want to read more! I am so excited for you Tina. I love to read books on OCD, books by doctors such as Jonathon Grayson, Michael Jenike, Edna Foa, Jeffery Shwartz, etc. have all been so unbelievably helpful to me but when real folks with OCD write books they so inspiring..the real deal. You will be able to touch many lives with your book Tina!

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    1. Thank you so much, Krystal, for your kind, encouraging words!

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  9. Loved This!! Please keep writing... you have a beautiful way with words, that draws the reader in - leaving me so wanting more! The first time I seriously recognized the need for a therapist - it was a choice to either find someone to talk to who could help... or follow through with the nearly constant suicidal ideation. Thank goodness I chose talking rather than acting on depression's distorted thoughts. Yes I still deal with depression - but therapy gave me tools to use to avoid dark thoughts like that!

    Am interested to know how Prozac worked for you. Personally I hated it, and was glad to get rid of it. Yes it lifted the depression to some degree - but it also left me living in a "limbo land" where I was neither depressed nor happy - I just existed in a numb state of being.

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    1. Rebecca, I am very glad you chose the therapy, too, and I'm glad the therapy helped give you tools to use.

      I didn't stay on Prozac long in 1990 because Anafranil soon became available. I didn't notice a big change during the first time I took it. But the Anafranil helped the OCD and the depression. I stopped the talk therapy, though, and I think more of that would have helped me then.

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  10. I like your writing style. It pulls me (the reader) in and makes me 'see' through the eyes of your experience. Also makes me want to hear more of the story. The whole OCD thing is unknown territory to me. You hear the term a lot, most likely misused and misapplied. Also "..prayers to a God I couldn't really talk to.." more interesting stuff.
    Also, brave to write about. Do your palms sweat before you hit "post"? Mine would.
    steve

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    1. Steve, Thank you for your comment--I appreciate it. My palms definitely sweat metaphorically before I hit "publish"--but then, I just let it go.

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  11. I definitely would like to read more AND I would like a signed copy. Lol
    My first experience with a therapist was so traumatic. I was 15, had recently ran away from home, doing drugs and was super rebellious. My mom told me we were going shopping because we were leaving to go on vacation in a few days. We didn't go shopping. She drove me to a rehab/counseling facility. I know she only lied so she could get me there. I wouldn't have went otherwise. But when we got there she said I was going to just speak to a counselor. I agreed even though I didn't want to. Next thing I know they're giving me a tour of the facility. I found out soon after that she was leaving me there. Totally screwed my head up. I was in this strange place with all these crazy folks. Then they said I was depressed and gave me Paxil. I wasn't depressed. I was just bad as hell. Anyway, I hated my therapist. I still don't like that lady. It took me awhile to forgive my mom for that one. I know she did it out of love and because she didn't know how else to help me. But I swear that some of my OCD has been caused by that experience. At the age of 15 is when I first started noticing OCD symptoms, although at the the time I didn't know it was OCD.

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    1. You first therapy experience was indeed traumatic! I'm sorry you had to go through that. I have read that sometimes traumatic events can cause someone with the tendency towards OCD to start exhibiting symptoms of OCD. I am glad you're in a better place now.

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  12. Tina, since commenting on my post during the 15 Habits of Great Writers series via Jeff Goins, I have been reading and catching up on past blog posts of yours. I think your book sounds amazing - I love the candidness that you show through your writing as well as the way you've been able to make light of the darker times of your life. I think too often the words OCD and depression (and derivatives of both) are misused; I'll admit to doing so, so your narratives have been immensely informative as well. Looking forward to reading more!

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    1. Alisa, Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I very much appreciate it. I thought the 15 habits series has been really awesome.

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  13. I am so proud of you for being so honest about your issues. I wish you success with your book. Visiting from the Blog Hop. Happy Valentine's Day!

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    1. Thank you, Patty, for visiting and for your kind comment!

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