Why Should I Visit a Psychiatrist

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19 Aug 2012

At some point we all have to go to a psychiatrist or a therapist of some kind.

I remember what my very first time at a psychiatrist was like. I was about twenty five or so and my parents had suggested that I visit him because I had just come off a period where I had been acting weirdly. Since this was before I even realised that I had a problem and before I knew what the term "bipolar" was, I didn't see much purpose to visiting him. But I went because, well, I went because of parental pressure.

Anyway, I was somewhere between uninterested and hostile when I arrived at the doctor's office. I can't remember what we talked about. I do remember that we talked for about twenty or so minutes, that he was on one side of a fairly big table and I was sitting on the other side. He asked me a few questions, and after twenty minutes or so gave me a prescription for Paxil (an antidepressant). Since I didn't think I had any kind of problem, I just thought the entire episode was a farce, that the doctor was a fake, and that I didn't need to get or take any antidepressants.

I didn't see a doctor or psychiatrist for depression for another 4-5 years.

These days, I'm one of the converted. I think that seeing a psychiatrist (psych) or some kind of therapist is a good idea. They aren't perfect and they certainly don't cure us, but they are valuable as one of the resources we use to help get our mood swings under control.

It is likely that when it is first suggested that you visit a psych to help with your mood swings, your first reaction will be like mine, which is to raise your hackles, bare your teeth, and say "no I don't need this, I can handle it." In fact for me there was a gap of 6 years between when it was next suggested that I try a psychiatrist and when I actually went. After all, no one can really force you to go to a psychiatrist's office.

What I did and what you will probably do is to develop some workaround for the immediate problem. And since you aren't stupid and you do realise that something is wrong, you will probably also make some other adjustments in your life. You may even be mildly successful in coping with the mood swings and problems that you are having. But you won't be successful enough.

If you don't make the excuse, your parents or your spouse or someone will make the excuse for you because no-one likes the thought of having a child / partner / sibling needing to see a psychiatrist.

We all have preconceived ideas about what psychiatrists do and what kind of people go to psychiatrists. The automatic reaction I used to have was that the word "psychiatrist" leads naturally to "mentally ill" which links nicely to "crazy" which jumps immediately to "mental ward" which means having padded walls as wallpaper and being close friends with moaning people tied in strait jackets. Like Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys. Don't forget the constant twitchiness and wild look.

It's not like that.

Psychiatrists or therapists are very nice people (well, they are supposed to be very nice people) whose office can be a temporary refuge from the mess your life is in. And trust me, if you have reached the point where you agree to see a psych, your life is in a mess, and you do need a place of refuge.

The psychiatrists (or therapists or psychologists or counselors) are also pretty handy; they can suggest methods that you can use to cope better, and they can help you deal with anxiety and guilt, which are big problems if you are manic depressive.

They will also listen to your whole story without judging you, which is important because at some time you are going to have to tell it to someone, just to get it off your chest.

Psychiatrists can also prescribe drugs, but I deal with this elsewhere.

I may not have convinced you and you'll probably need some more persuading that you should be seeing a psych. But the bottom line is that seeing a psychiatrist is a Good Thing. Do it.

Even if you have been persuaded to see a psychiatrist / therapist, you may have some difficulty actually getting to the psych's office. It's because of the social stigma that goes with the preconceived ideas I talked about above. You worry that if you are seen going to a psychiatrist, people will think you are "mentally ill."

For me, visiting a psychiatrist at first also meant having people seeing me walk into the psychiatrist's or counselor's office and point and say "See, he can't handle himself, he needs help with his problems. He is not strong. He is not a real man."

Heck, I didn't even need other people. Going to a psych felt like an admission to myself that I was weak.

You'd be amazed how effective these two concepts of being "mentally ill" and weak are in preventing you from getting useful help. I suspect these "what will people think; what am I admitting to" concepts are a major reason that people don't get help. It's a pity because they are so completely wrong.

Think about this. If you had been getting blurry vision for a while, you'd go and see a doctor. You wouldn't think that going to the doctor is a sign of weakness and you should handle your vision problems on your own. You would think that seeing a doctor is the responsible and sensible thing to do.

It's the same with being manic depressive. You have a problem which is clearly medical in nature. In fact, in my opinion being bipolar is completely a physical disease, like having diabetes, and that our moods and anxiety are simply symptoms of the disease, just like blurry vision is a symptom of diabetes.

If you deal with the cause of diabetes, the symptoms go away. If we deal with the cause of being manic depressive, the mood swings go away. Seeing a psychiatrist to deal with being bipolar is therefore the responsible and sensible thing to do.

As for being weak, well, psychiatrists don't make you better. You make yourself better (eventually and with nearly as much backsliding as moving forward). All the hard work is done by you. What the psych will do is to provide the support, the space, the time, and the focus to allow you to heal yourself. They are coaches, important as support and advice. But it's the athlete who runs the race.

You don't need to put up with the weirdness in your life. You don't need to waste five or ten years of your life by denying yourself the opportunity to learn how to understand and manage being manic depressive. Learning to cope is very difficult; you are going to need all the support you can get.