A week ago, I went to my last visit with the wonderful Dr Santastic.
I already had been sniffling and weeping at the visit before that. I've known for a couple months that he'd be leaving at the end of the summer, but truthfully, I guessed it, or felt it, or just gut-level knew it, a few months before he told me. (I used to crush those things down. I'm learning to trust it.)
Maybe it's not normal to have such an admiration for the person whose job it is to sit with you and listen to your darkest secrets and problems and help you work through it. Dr Santastic would freely admit that he's not the best guy for everybody. He's young looking and many patients don't believe this bright eyed kid is going to be a good doctor. But for me, he was the right guy.
My first session with him, three years ago, was tinted with anxiety. I'd already been through a few Pshrinks.
The first time around wasn't a great experience. Okay, to be fair, perhaps Dr Frankenbushybrows was perfect for somebody else, somebody who needed a psychiatrist to wear plain cheap shirts and a tie, round wire rimmed glasses, and have some kind of vaguely Eastern European accent. Like, seriously, look up "psychiatrist, typical" and you'd get that guy. I didn't have any problem with that. What I did have a problem with was the way he treated me -- like I was a whiny brat who didn't have big problems, that if my husband came home at 5:00 like normal husbands I wouldn't have depression, and that clearly my need to dye my hair pink was a simple act of immature rebellion, and that if I lived in downtown Toronto instead of bedroom community Affluencia, I wouldn't bother with it. Okay. Sigh. What really bothered me was his dismissal of my religious faith. Look, I don't expect everybody else to share my beliefs. I can even understand why people would not believe like I do. Just don't roll your eyes and release that extra puff of air in your mouth. I'd leave his room feeling worse about myself than when I went in. I asked him once if he was trying to make me angry in order to get me to... be honest? work harder? get in touch with my inner something or other????? He feigned innocence. Then insulted me a few minutes later. I'm sure that approach works on some people. Not me.
But I admit, this experience led to some of my finest moments, including my panic-induced exit from the hospital parking lot (not totally proud of that) and my famous Three Page Piss-Off Letter (totally proud of that though.)
Having tried to negotiate some kind of working and workable relationship with Flippenbrushoff, and deciding to not keep degrading myself, I quit. I didn't really say goodbye. I think I just failed to make a new appointment.
My next Pshrink was the charming DOCTA-CHAN! This is always how I pictured Dr Chan's name. He was a diminutive bundle of energy with a sincere smile and thick Chinese accent. He talked so fast my head spun but he was kind enough to repeat things for my fuzzy headed Canadian born slowness, and he was thorough in his methods. I liked DOCTA-CHAN and appreciated that he wasn't going to fill me up with five different medications. BUT. He was working on the theory that I was bipolar. I didn't feel bipolar. I mean, how would I know, right? That's why I was there, sitting in his office. Which was very nice because it was decorated with interesting artwork and a giant A&W Root Bear in the corner. Anyways, I'm not a doctor, I'm just an amateur cat vet, so I cautiously went along despite my suspicions that he was possibly not quite going in the right direction. I have seen bipolar. I didn't think that was my problem. He didn't push any meds on me. So it was nice enough, but maybe not life changing. Other than him assuring me that I needed to keep moving, and he knows it, because everybody in his family has heart problems or something so he exercises four times a week even though he hates it.
I moved then. So I said goodbye.
Once set up in the ol Homestead, I went to the medical clinic I had been to when I was a child. Actually, I'd been a sickly child with mystery ailments. Hmmm, anxiety possibly? I don't think kids were capable of getting that in the 70s. I mentioned that I should probably get set up with some mental health counselling. You know, on account of the previous few years of struggles and also the situation with the selling our house and moving in with parents while husband continues to work in the city and stay there during the week while teenagers and I navigate our new situation. And the depression anxiety thing. You know.
After I went to the emergency room with crippling chest pains and shaking hands, I called the number on the card I was given and was lucky enough to get an appointment quite soon. The doctor's name was Italian and poetic sounding.
I ended up talking to this good looking fella who wore plaid shirts and black jeans. No tie. He started off speaking in his cautious and friendly Psychiatrist Voice, just to explain to me what the deal is and that if I ever indicate that I'm about to harm myself or somebody else he's obligated to report it to blah blah blah... and then we started talking. The guy listened. He asked questions respectfully. He asked if he could crack a few jokes. We agreed that the occasional well-placed swear word would be okay if it was the only word that really expressed what needed to be said. Early on, I threw some difficult subject matter at him and he handled it without even a raised eyebrow. He never blamed me for anything bad that ever happened to me.
And it turns out, he'd worked with a few Old Order Mennonite patients. So my faith isn't practised exactly the same way, and my culture is not the same, but the roots are shared; it was enough that he understood where I was coming from. I don't know if Dr Santastic goes to church. But he's read the book. What would Jesus do??? Well, he'd probably annoy his grade 6 teacher for answering all the questions with more questions. That kind of thing.
Plus, Dr Santastic could throw the song lyrics and Spinal Tap quotes right back at me with lightning speed!!!!
I haven't written about him much here on the blog. I haven't had to. I left it all in his office.
Working with a psychiatrist to improve your life is a weird thing. This person is not your friend. You're spilling your guts to this person and that's what you're supposed to do -- this is stuff you will not tell your mother or your husband because it will break their hearts to know of your suffering, because they love you. That pressure to protect is gone with your doctor. He's there to hear it. When you trust that person - and ideally when you find a good one, you will - it opens you up to being able to really see the darkness in your soul and finally let it go.
He'll push you. That's his job too. We humans have a way of clinging to nastiness that doesn't do us any good. Maybe it's all we know, maybe that familiarity seems better than not knowing what we'll be like, what life will be like, when we figure out that we don't have to do that anymore. The doctor hits a wall of stubbornness and he has to crack it. It's upsetting. And you go back a week or two later, and it's okay. It gets worse, then it gets better.
You don't have to worry about facing him later at dinner. He assured me if I ran into him out shopping at Canadian Tire that I didn't have to say hi, that he wouldn't be offended if I walked the other way. You don't have to look at him every day and wonder what he's really thinking of you, now that he knows what kind of things go through your twisted mind.
I got lucky. I ended up with a doctor who actually appreciated my weirdness and encouraged me to flourish in it. Do what I'm good at, not force myself to fit into the rest of the world. I'd been working on that on my own since I was about twelve years old, but you get to the point where you're supposed to be an adult, and suddenly, your zany view of the world doesn't match up well with deadlines and payments and due dates. Here's a guy who wanted to understand this struggle.
So after I kicked the medication that solved a few problems and caused a few others, we started talking about what's really going on here.
Did I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
That was my first year.
For the last two years we worked on living with this, and looking at how DISORDER is really an unfair label. It's only a disorder because somehow this world of ours equates maturity and responsibility with boring abilities like concentrating and paying attention and being on time... and also missing details, not seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, all the amazing stuff that goes on around us. I have a brain that never stops. I can focus, actually. I can hyper focus. The rest of the time, my mind is a circus. It used to frustrate the hell out of me. Still does, really, But now, I've learned to appreciate the wild creativity. Yes, it's a drag to constantly fight to keep track of paperwork and figure out how long it actually takes to get from the house to the truck. I'll always have problems with stuff that most people take for granted as the most normal acts in the world. But I have skills and talents that don't have names.
For the last two years, Dr Santastic and I worked on getting to the bottom of what was really going on. (There's stuff I won't even get into here... I'm pretty honest but I have limits. Not everything needs to be shared. Only with your pshrink!)
Why was I having despairing thoughts before I was even a teenager? Why was I a sickly child?
How come I was on the honour roll one year but almost flunked the next? Why was school such a struggle?
I felt so stupid most of the time, but then why did I feel like I was surrounded by idiots?
How did I pull off high 70s and 80s in advanced English, but failed Grade 9 general math with a 34%? When I repeated math in Grade 10, I barely squeaked through with 52%. I failed Grade 9 art too. Wow. By Grade 12 I was one of the top art students. You know what else I failed? Typing. Look at me now.
And as an adult, why am I incapable of paying bills on time (other than the obvious meagre income thing) and how come I can't get my taxes filed on time?
If I like to be clean, why's my house such a mess of clutter and clothes and piles of paper?
Why is my life such a freakin' disaster???
Well people, live like that for the first 39 or so years of your life and then let's talk about your mental state.
Aside from the obvious constant confusion and low self esteem, there's an accumulative effect of the stress of never having it together, never being good enough, never finishing anything, always, always failing to keep up with all the basic tasks of life. It weighs you down. The depression oozes into you, and it doesn't leave. The anxiety rides in, twitching, on the chains dragging behind.
(edit - see the always and never talk up there? That's part of the problem - there is no always and never, just usually and mostly, but that's what you feel like and then you feel worse, get it?)
And then as an adult, it makes sense, on the surface, to treat the depression and anxiety. That has to be done, because if it's bad enough it's potentially life threatening. But it still doesn't get to the root.
I went on Ritalin. I could cope a little better. It didn't magically make me organized and punctual but it helped. I've been on Concerta for a while now and I think it's made a big difference. It allows me to concentrate on learning how to manage my world.
My doctor made a big difference in my life. He credits me with the positive changes. He insists he's just a guy in a room that I go talk to. Well, you know what? He's right. I did the work. I worked my ass off. I was determined, and still am, to be as mentally healthy as possible, even though I think I'll always feel slightly crazy. But then you know there are different kinds of crazy. I choose not to be dangerous crazy or deluded crazy or sick crazy. I'd rather be fun crazy. I made the choice. I chose to live. I chose to get help. I did that. I'm just lucky I found the right guy in the right room.
Santastic got offered a new job. He will go to the same place every day, as opposed to three different hospitals. He'll get a steady paycheque where all the paperwork is done and he doesn't have to keep track of it.
When he broke the news to me, my first thought was that I didn't want to see somebody else. I mean, training a pshrink is such hard work, am I right? Well, he actually figured I'd be okay. I don't have to see anybody else if I don't want to. Realistically, this was never meant to be a permanent arrangement.
He's been telling me - get this - that he's proud of me and that I don't have to be a mental health patient anymore. I get to shoot my wings out of my back and fly out of the nest. For six months I took every appointment I could get, feeling like I had to spill as much as possible, ask as many questions, and get enough reality checks to keep me going. Maybe I can do that myself now. I've learned. He's been a good teacher. I cried my eyes out, man, I'm not even gonna pretend that I wasn't a complete emotional mess about saying goodbye. It's been a week and I've been very confident about the future, but I've been getting teary as I write this and I'm all choked up. So glad you can't see me right now!! But it's okay. I actually am pretty much okay. Isn't that amazing!!!
I left that last appointment with a year long prescription, a fax on its way to my family doctor so she can keep up with the Concerta and know what the deal is with me... and the assurance that if I ever happen to run into Dr and Mrs Santastic and the Santastic juniors when I venture into the big town, that I can feel free to come up and say hello. And hopefully he and I will read each other's books some day.