When dealing with mental illness for the first time, not everybody knows what kind of resources are out there. I know I didn’t know any difference between a psychiatrist and psychologist at first. All I knew was that I was suffering so much and I needed to find relief…. FAST.
I believe that’s usually how it goes for most people. Unfortunately, most of my experiences with psychiatrists have not been so great to say the least although I’ve had some amazing ones as well. Some of those experiences were not their fault at all. However, I do wish I knew more then what I know now. Here are the list of things I did not know that I would like to share with you so that you will be better informed before going to see a psychiatrist.
What do psychiatrists do?
Before going to see a psychiatrist, we must first know what they do and do not do. Psychiatrists are licensed physicians who specialize in treating psychiatric disorders. Therefore, they are not therapists and they will not spend an hour to sit and listen to you except for the first initial assessment. Just with any other medical specialists such as orthopedic doctors and surgeons, they will do what they are trained to do and nothing more or less. Their job is to accurately assess the symptoms, evaluate, and treat as good as they can. And of course, the treatment option is currently limited. Therefore, they can only provide treatments with medications at this time and as a last resort Electroconvulsive therapy.
Sometimes they do refer you to psychotherapy, but in my experiences, it was often rare. I say this not to criticize them but to make a point that they simply do their job and it is our job to do our research and educate ourselves about what types of options we have when seeking help. We should also not be afraid to ask questions whenever we are unsure.
There is no magic pill
Mental illness is more complex than we think. I know I used to think of mental illness in the same manner as cold and virus. I know it sounds so odd to hear but when you know nothing you tend to think that way. My thought process was that my mental illness will go away if I take medications. Just as your cold symptoms go away with medications, I thought all I have to do is take medications. One medication at that.
After living with mental illnesses for over 10 years now, I can say that was far from the truth.
The most accurate way I could explain would be using the example of Type 1 diabetes and the term medication management. Dealing with and treating mental illness is similar to treating diabetes in the sense that the medications are not there to “cure’ the disease but they are there to “manage” your disease and symptoms. That makes treating mental illness a lifetime thing for some people. Since there is no magic pill that works for everyone, what happens often is that we try one medication to another trying to find one that alleviates our symptoms with the least side effects, which takes us to the next thing on our list.
Every body reacts differently to medications
Although psychiatrists are trained and specialize in psychiatry, there is really no way in knowing how exactly each person is going to do with the medication. It’s not always as simple as taking the medication and you will feel better. Mental illness and the human brain are very complex and so are the medications. It is always good to do your research on medications and ask as much as you need before deciding to take the medication. Keep in mind that there are some pretty unpleasant side effects that come with the medications and the most important one to look out for is sudden suicidal ideations.
In my experience with taking some of those medications, I’ve experienced very odd and scary side effects that I never expected. They were restless leg syndromes like symptoms, brain zaps, and even worsening depression which resulted in suicidal ideations. Truthfully, those experiences were way worse than I could describe with words. My intention is not to scare any of you about taking those medications but to educate and share that these things can happen depending on the individual. So please be mindful when going on a new medication regimen or taking a medication for the first time. Do closely monitor your mood and look out for any change in your behavior.
When all fails
Medication therapy works well for some people while it doesn’t work quite well for others. I have been on so many anti-depressants, sedatives, and anti-psychotics and failed most of them although there were a couple that did work for me. It is not always easy to cope when you keep finding yourself feeling worse and hopeless each time you fail with the medication treatment. Personally speaking, I’ve found myself in the darkest place in the past and often thought to myself “There is no hope. Nobody can help me and it’s better off if I’m just gone.”. So I understand the despair when all the medications you tried just fail you. Here is what I like to suggest if any of you finds yourself in that same darkness as I was in before.
If you have failed every single medication your psychiatrist gave you, here are some things you can still try, which gives you more options and hope. I am sharing this with you because chances are most psychiatrists do not provide you with this information.
- Consider increasing your sessions with your therapist to twice a week
- Look into outpatient programs at a local hospital
- Learn how to meditate with the right coach
- Alternative medicines
- Incorporate routine walks or exercise into your daily life
- Medical Marijuana
- Electroconvulsive therapy **If you failed all the medications and your depression is so severe
The journey can be long
I wish I could tell you that treating mental illness is so easy but we know that’s not true. Depending on your mental illness and your unique symptoms, it can take a lifetime to manage and live as symptom-free as possible. If not symptom-free, we still want to get to a place where we learn to live with our mental illness as harmoniously with peace as possible. My journey has been long and at times tiring. However, I can say that there is light at the end of the tunnel and nothing is permanent. Our storm will pass and the most helpful insight I’ve actually gained is that light was not at the end of the tunnel but it was always with me behind the darkness that seemed to have swallowed me whole.