It’s been a few weeks since my first appointment with my psychiatrist (who I’ll refer to as “Dr. G”, for simplicity’s sake) and I’ve truly needed that time to rebound from it. The experience was absolutely devastating for me and left me feeling invalidated and embarrassed. I wasn’t expecting anything significant to come from this first appointment, but I also wasn’t expecting what I got: a lot of nothing, really.
As you may remember from a previous post, I prepared a list of symptoms and experiences that I felt were important to mention in this initial appointment. I assumed that Dr. G would be interested in what I’d written and ask me to elaborate on various points to get a clearer pictures of my mental health situation. I also thought I’d have several appointments and a proper psychological evaluation before I’d be given a diagnosis of any kind. This is what my family doctor had sent in the referral for and this is what I had expressed interest in to the admin assistant booking the appointment. This is not what happened at all.
Dr. G brought me into his office and proceeded to ask me general questions (“what are you taking in school?”, “do you have a job?”, etc.) before continuing on with the more serious and relevant fare. I brought out my list and he refused to look at it or even let me read from it, insisting that he needed a “fresh perspective” to be of any use to me. I made sure to mention that I often have memory issues when I feel anxious and that the list was to ensure I didn’t leave out anything significant, but he said he would ask questions that would prompt appropriate answers from me and that I shouldn’t worry about it.
Of course, I did worry about it. I have anxiety. I became more and more uneasy as the appointment went on.
It became clear to me that Dr. G wasn’t interested in assessing me for Borderline. He asked me questions relating solely to my depression and anxiety symptoms and whenever I tried to steer the discussion towards BPD symptoms, he would dismiss it as further proof of my anxiety. For example, I started talking about dissociation and he said “mild dissociation isn’t indicative of a dissociative disorder” and “[he] wouldn’t worry about it because [I] haven’t experienced a fugue state”. I tried to explain that I didn’t think I had a dissociative disorder at all and that I thought the dissociation was related to BPD; he replied with a distinct implication that I had read about BPD online and latched onto it, disregarding the fact that my doctor is the one to first suggest it. Finally, Dr. G said that he couldn’t possibly diagnose me with anything since I’ve only tried one medication (Cipralex). He finished the appointment after only 25 minutes and told me that I’d have to follow up with my family doctor for my treatment plan.
I had my follow-up appointment last week and it was an interesting experience. Among the information in Dr. G’s report, he didn’t mention dissociation once; however, he apparently did feel that it was pertinent to inform my doctor that I was wearing a black dress, I don’t drink coffee (a detail that both never came up and is not remotely true), and that he was referring me to therapy even though I had “not complied with therapists in the past”. My doctor asked me if I knew what Dr. G had meant with that last point and I could not tell him. The only time I mentioned previous therapists was when I said that I had tried CBT and didn’t find it useful. Finally, the treatment recommendations Dr. G made for me included nothing that I wasn’t already doing (exercise, eating well, journaling). He provided a lengthy list of medications for my doctor to consider switching me to (we went with Zoloft), but also noted that it didn’t matter which he chose “as they are all essentially the same”. I mean, SSRIs are all very similar, but that’s not really something you need to passive aggressively include in a note to another doctor. From start to finish, Dr. G seemed to be completely disinterested in anything I had to say, as if he’d decided before I showed up that I was making up or exaggerating symptoms to get a desired diagnosis.
My appointment with Dr. G was absolutely awful and I allowed myself to feel bad about it for a short period, but now I’m looking forward and feeling better about what’s to come. The therapist I’ll be seeing at the end of the month works in the same clinic as my brother’s psychiatrist and comes well recommended. My new medication seems to be helping so far. I’m surrounded by loving, caring people who are incredibly supportive. I never have to see Dr. G again.
I really want to stress that, while I do have the ability to basically shrug off this horrible experience, there are so many people who can’t (or don’t know to). I’ve heard so many horror stories from friends about their experiences with psychiatrists or within institutions that were shockingly similar to this, but they didn’t know that it wasn’t okay. It’s never okay for doctor or therapist to disregard your lived experiences and symptoms, or to insinuate that you’re faking it or lying, or to treat you for a condition they haven’t made sure you have. This is unprofessional and dangerous. I complain a lot about the fact that I’ve had to wait so long to even see a psychiatrist, but I know that that time (and what I’ve done with that time) has afforded me the clarity and knowledge that my symptoms are valid and that this doctor’s behaviour and attitude was wrong. It scares me to think about how I would’ve handled this doctor’s attitude six years ago, when I was much more fragile and much less self-aware. It scares me to think about other young people who have to see doctors like him. It scares me to think about how the stigma of mental illness will never go away with doctors, supposed trustworthy medical professionals, who make their patients feel ashamed of themselves.
This is also why I believe in and fully support self-diagnosis. But that’s another can of worms for another time.