This morning, I called the county Center for Mental Health to find out what I need to do to get back into their system. It’s been coming for a while. I’ve been struggling since early summer, with increased anxiety, decreased motivation, and all the other things pertinent to my several conditions. Because of my social conditioning, I can go a long time without it occurring to me that maybe I need help. I’m used to facing my troubles on my own, getting through, waiting for them to pass, starting over. When specific stuff comes up, I do talk about it with whomever happens to be around, usually my husband. But the day-to-day things rarely seem worth mentioning. Being tired, uninspired, not wanting to participate in regular activities–I don’t even know what that last one means. I don’t have a “normal” setting. I have to slip pretty far before I think of any problems as “warning signs” of increased depression.
Anyway, yesterday I posted about what I’m going through in a group of trusted friends, and as I wrote the post, I realized that, no, what I’m going through probably isn’t normal and, yes, I probably need to get some help. I’d toyed with the idea before, and I might have acted sooner, except that the local medical clinic has recently undergone a massive shake-up, and the doctor I’ve been seeing for the last five or six years, whom I really liked, isn’t there any more. The one doctor who’s left is someone I’m not incredibly fond of. I used to go to county mental health for medication management, but my provider retired two or three years ago, and I was stable, so I stopped going.
Since I decided to go back to mental health, I’ve gotten a lot of support from my circle: People encouraging me to take care of myself, and telling me I’m brave, and reminding me not to be ashamed or afraid. Most of the encouragement hits me in a strange place. I’m usually the one reminding people to practice self care. I don’t feel particularly brave for doing it, and I’ve never been ashamed.
I am, however, afraid. Not for most of the common reasons as I understand them (fear of stigma, fear of judgment, etc.), but because I have far too much experience with mental health professionals and how I tend to act around them. As I mentioned in this post, when I go to a psychiatrist, or to a therapist, or when I’ve been hospitalized, I WANT someone to be able to help me. I WANT someone to have answers I haven’t thought of. I WANT their suggestions to work. Consequently, I often become a sheep, at least at first, and especially when I’m in a really bad place. I give away my power. I leap into trust before anyone’s earned it.
it’s stupid and a bit ironic, because when I’m in a better mental state, I’m pretty vocal about the idea that trusting someone simply because they have a nice office and a string of letters after their name is an idiot move, and mental health professionals actually leverage your trust against you in many situations. I think most of them don’t do it intentionally, or if they do it intentionally, honestly believe it’s for the best. But the fact is, mental health professionals, as much as or even more than anyone else, operate on a bias. In their case, it’s the bias that they know better than their clients what’s going on and what to do about it, and the bias that they know what “mental health” looks like. For everyone.
Please repeat after me: “Mental Health” does NOT mean “everyone looks and acts the same.” It doesn’t matter how healthy I become, I ain’t NEVER going to be happy working a 9-5, 40-hour a week job, and I ain’t NEVER going to fit into standard corporate culture.
Something else I touched on in my “Gifted and Mentally Ill” post: people in the mental health fields are generally not used to working with articulate, self-aware people. Many clients have limited self-concepts, and limited vocabularies with which to express them. This isn’t meant as a slur on people’s intelligence; most of it comes from the way we’re socialized. As well, Western culture is thought- and head-centered, especially when it comes to mental health. Unless a therapist has training in Body-centered therapy (which I do), they’re not likely to ask how you experience your emotions, where you feel them in your body, or how they play out in physical terms. For example, a person with trauma trying to describe the experience of being triggered, if they lack a body connection and/or the vocabulary to express it, might say, “When this happens, I feel like I’m back at the traumatic event,” or even “When this happens, it sends me back to the traumatic event.” (If they can even articulate it as well as that.) And in response, the therapist (or whoever) is apt to make a check mark in the box next to “Experiences flashbacks” WITHOUT undertaking a deeper exploration of what that looks like. Since the mental health fields are head-centered, the therapist’s understanding will focus on thoughts and visual stimuli, and that reinforces the Hollywood-esque depiction of traumatized people hallucinating pools of blood in the street after a car backfires, or whatever. This may, in fact, be the experience of some. But then, if someone like me goes in there and says, “it’s an overwhelming emotional experience, I feel it in my stomach, the same way I felt when my mom abused me, and I’m sure I’m going to be abused again,” that person doesn’t hit the right check box on the list for flashbacks, and so their real trauma is dismissed. Similarly, if you can state, “I believe implicitly that this thing I KNOW isn’t happening is happening,” but it doesn’t fit the right model, you aren’t hallucinating.
The preceding paragraph says stuff I think is really important, and I’m not sure if it’s even coherent.
Well. All of what I’ve said here explains why I’m not looking forward to getting back on the mental health train, and why I’ve put it off so long (I hope). I’m in a better state than I have been when seeking help before; I didn’t let myself slip as far as usual. But I don’t know that I have it to train yet another therapist or psychiatrist to see me as a human being rather than a potential set of criteria for meeting a DSM diagnosis.
Mostly, I’ve written this so I remember all of these things during my intake interview. I hope I can say some of them, rather than keeping them back. I want to be clear to the person I end up with: I don’t trust you; you have to earn that. I don’t have a lot of faith in this system. I’m almost certainly smarter than you are, so you need to get used to that. I don’t think the way most people do, and that’s fine, but cognitive therapy isn’t going to work for me. Things like that. There are probably more.
Going in later this week to fill out the paperwork. Don’t know how long after that it will take before the interview. I’ll keep you posted.