When I was a teen to early college age, my main mental health goal was staying out of an inpatient department of a hospital or other mental health facility. I knew, though I wasn’t yet diagnosed, that there was something wrong with me – that I had some kind of mental health problem based on my aberrant behavior and how people reacted to me. That fear has never completely left me, though as I’ve grown and learned more about my diagnosis of bipolar disorder with anxiety, I’ve come to think it is less and less likely. Yet I know that bipolar can sometimes lead to psychosis and necessitate hospitalization. That’s not as likely to happen to me as a person with bipolar 2, but it still crosses my troubled mind.
Later in life, it became my goal to find a therapist and a psychiatrist who could help me. I tried various ones, including ones through EAPs, therapy groups, and couples counseling. Some seemed to help, but others were spectacular failures. Some positively shredded me, leaving me worse off than when I came in. Others misdiagnosed me (which I can’t really fault them for, as bipolar 2 was a rare or even nonexistent diagnosis when I started looking for help). Among other things, I learned that group therapy was not for me. And I learned that Prozac did help, at least to some extent.
At that point, my main mental health goal was to find someone who could tell me what was happening to me and to figure out what could help. I no longer remember how I found him, but eventually I came to Dr. R. He was the one who finally gave me the correct diagnosis. Then my mental health goal became finding a medication that would help me with this new diagnosis better than Prozac did.
Dr. R. was patient with his patient. He and I began a journey that lasted for several years, trying one medication after another and then combinations of medications, in hopes of finding a “cocktail” of drugs that worked for me. That became my new mental health goal – along with enduring the years of failures as just the right combination eluded us.
One of my other (it seemed irrational) fears and mental health goals was to avoid being subjected to electro convulsive therapy (ECT). But that became a real possibility when my case proved so resistant to medication that Dr. R. recommended it. I freaked out. It seemed that my fears were about to become reality. I eventually agreed with him that it might be necessary and began to prepare myself for what had seemed to me like an ultimate horror, right up there with being hospitalized.
Fortunately, however, Dr. R. had one more medication in his arsenal and it proved so effective that the ECT was deemed unnecessary. We achieved that effective cocktail of medications that would stabilize me.
Then Dr. R. retired. Immediately, my new mental health goal was to find a new psychiatrist who could prescribe for me and a therapist who could help me with the day-to-day difficulties of living with bipolar 2. It took a while to find a psychiatrist who had an opening – though with a wait of about six months. (My primary care physician continued writing prescriptions for me while I waited.) Eventually, I found Dr. G., who said that, as I was fairly well stabilized on my assorted medications, he needed to see me only four times a year for maintenance and to tweak my meds if I encountered any further difficulties.
It was also time to choose a therapist, and my goal became finding one that I meshed with. (I had learned this was necessary from all the bad experiences that I had had in the past.) I started “interviewing” therapists. I tried to find one that had dealt with mood disorders in the past, wasn’t a Freudian, and could come at things from a feminist perspective. I found Dr. B. I wasn’t exactly typical of her patients. She dealt mostly with college students. (Her practice was in a clinic within the Student Union building at a university that was, fortuitously, right down the road from me.) I have been with her and Dr. G. ever since.
My current mental health goal is to maintain – the medications I’m stabilized on and the sessions with Dr. B. to help me navigate through the difficulties such as anxiety that still pop up from time to time.
It’s a whole lot better than having that goal to stay out of a mental hospital.