In my experience, when psychiatry and counseling goes bad, it can go really bad. It can be extremely traumatic to the one trusting a professional for help. This is the story of my journey into the world of psychiatry and professional counseling.
My daughter passed away on December 11, 2016. As a mother, I had just experienced something unimaginable; It’s so unimaginable to lose a child that there isn’t even a name for it in the English language. I had just lost everything I knew true in the blink of an eye. This tremendous loss left my family quite worried about my well-being and rightfully so.
Within a matter of a week or so, my husband had taken me to see my primary care provider to check out my emotional state. My doctor too, was very concerned with my emotional well-being and the type of grief I would continue to face so he referred me to a psychiatrist. It happened to be an office that also offered professional counseling as well. My husband graciously handled scheduling my first appointment for both services. I was not able to get in for another 2-3 weeks…so we waited.
By the time my appointment rolled around, I felt I could handle going by myself. This was my first mistake. I met with the psychiatrist first. She was nice and seemed fairly understanding of what I had told her. My interaction with her was pretty brief though. She just wanted to put me on an antidepressant and some other meds then send me on my way. But before she would write any prescriptions, she ordered some type of blood test that my insurance 100% refused to pay and I ended up receiving a bill for around $1,300. I still have no clue what type of test this was or why on earth it cost so much. When I had hesitantly agreed to the blood test, I was under the impression it was a basic drug test. I wasn’t at all happy even going through with a drug test because I wasn’t there for any type of controlled substances, I was there because I had just lost my daughter. I was so offended and should’ve walked straight out the door at that point. This is what I consider my mistake #2.
I filled my prescriptions and took them for a month or so. Another big mistake on my part, I should never have been put on any type of SSRI drug; I react badly anytime I’ve tried. They make my mental state so much worse. I’m not sure why, except maybe my condition is grief and not a chemical imbalance of the brain. There is much sarcasm in that last statement, if you didn’t catch it. The drugs were only given to me as an attempt to mask my symptoms of grief. It was my grief I needed help with, not help with a cover up of my emotions. I eventually caught onto the fact that it wasn’t medication I needed and discontinued anything she had prescribed me. I also never returned to see her after my second appointment.
BUT WAIT, I’M JUST NOW GETTING TO THE GOOD PART
My first and only attempt at professional counseling until just recently (2 years later) was the second most horrifying thing I’ve ever experienced during my lifetime. Again, my daughter had just died; I needed someone to talk to. This so called licensed counselor is the very reason I shutdown completely and didn’t or couldn’t talk about my grief to anyone at all for two very long years.
During this first visit, I told this man how I lost Madison and why I was there. I began talking about my challenges and emotions of grief up until that point. I spoke of my faith in God; I discussed my faith in my afterlife. I talked about being angry with God. Then I said what I imagine is a very common statement made by ANY bereaved parent. I told him that I wanted to be with my daughter. Seriously, what type of parent would I be if I didn’t feel like this; I wanted her back. I still do. Every fiber of my being called out to her and it still does to this day. I talked about the only hope of seeing her again that I had left to cling to being when I entered the gates of Heaven myself. He stopped me right there and said that if I continue to talk about anything like this he would have no choice but to contact the “authorities” and have me institutionalized against my will for “passively talking about my death”. WHAT THE WHAT??? Did I just hear that correctly; Yep. I was absolutely horrified. Even through my horror, I managed to tell him that no person, professional or not was going to strip me of the only hope I had. I told him that he would not shame me for my spirituality and I stood up and walked out.
This office that is no doubt responsible for the mental health of hundreds of people, took such outrageous advantage of me and my situation in every way. They took advantage of my inability to know what was right or wrong regarding my own health care needs at the time because I was totally consumed by grief. They took advantage of a mother who had just lost her child.
I suppressed and quit expressing almost every emotion or feeling regarding my grief for two very long years afterwards. I was absolutely terrified I would end up in an institution somewhere if I attempted professional help or counsel again. I am not an emotionally transparent person by nature to begin with and it takes a lot for me to open up at all, even on my very best day. So when I did actually talk to those I’m closest with, I would barely skim the surface of my feelings at all. Along the way, I had many people suggest I needed counseling, pretty much anytime anyone (not so close to me) would catch me crying or having a bad day. They obviously had no idea of the traumatic experience I had already had. Why would they though, I didn’t talk about anything.
THEN EVERYTHING BEGAN TO GO HAYWIRE AND SOMETHING HAD TO CHANGE…SOON
Sometime around the second anniversary of Maddy’s death in December 2018 things started spiraling out of control. I was sinking fast and my anxiety was reaching an all time high. I was having constant panic attacks, everyday, and my heart rate would rise into the mid 200’s quite frequently. I was to the point where I felt I was dying of a heart attack or something every time it happened and I’m sure it couldn’t have been safe health-wise for my heart rate to jump that high so often either. My blood pressure was also all over the place.
I went to my primary care doctor again and told him about my symptoms. He sent me to a cardiologist to have my heart checked out and most tests came back in normal range so as we both suspected, it was panic attacks. Meanwhile, he had put me on a non-benzodiazepine medication to help with my anxiety and panic. After about a month of being on this medication, I began to feel completely bonkers, I was having very vivid flashbacks and my anxiety was rapidly getting worse and worse. I called his office to tell him what was happening and he told me to keep taking the same medication and said he was calling in an SSRI to my pharmacy to take along with it. By this time I knew I needed some additional help. And thankfully, I already knew better than to attempt another SSRI and I discontinued the other medication immediately too.
At the rate I was going, I knew I wouldn’t make it if I didn’t do something. So somehow, I managed to find enough courage to give a different psychiatrist and counselor a go. I had already experienced horrendous care & treatment by the first mental healthcare facility so I didn’t exactly go in with high expectations this second go around.
I am happy to say, they have been a great fit for me and my grief challenges.
The doctor I see didn’t and hasn’t pushed anything on me and even took the time explaining what happens to my brain when I take SSRI’s and also that other drug that caused the flashbacks. As it turns out, I am just incompatible with anything that alters my serotonin and it’s actually not that rare that she sees it in her line of work. I am free to discuss my faith and spirituality with both my doctor and my counselor at this new office. There has been no requests for offensive blood tests, drug pushing and absolutely no threats of institutionalism of any kind. And do you know why; because I am a mother, grieving the death of her child and my grief is VALID.
My new doctor has had to get creative in treating my anxiety with meds and now has me on a beta blocker which helps keep my heart rate under control. I still have anxiety, but it doesn’t make me feel like I’m dying nearly as often anymore.
My counselor has been a Godsend.
While I think dealing with someone like me is pretty foreign to him, he has been the one responsible for helping me drop my emotional barrier which has allowed me to begin sharing my story through my writing. I’ve learned a lot in counseling. The main thing being that I am actually quite aware of precisely what I’m feeling and what my emotions mean. My counselor is sometimes in complete awe of what I have to say and with the clarity in which it all pours out of my heart.
I still struggle every day. I still have terrible, terrible, terrible days. I imagine I always will, but I am thankful for the weight that has been lifted though. Because of that, I’ve been able to open up. He is the one who helped me do that.
NOW FOR MY WARNING
Everyone needs help from time to time and sometimes people need professional intervention from a mental health provider. There is no shame in this. Certainly seek professional help when and if you need it.
My warning is:
If it feels wrong, it is. GET OUT OF THERE, RUN if you have to. If you are uncomfortable taking medication or a particular type of medication, speak up. There are so many alternatives available.
Do not put your trust in the wrong professional(s) regarding your mental health, but don’t give up either. There is the right help and fit out there for you, if you are willing to give it another go.
I’m so glad I gave it another chance.