Only crazy people see therapists — at least that’s what I used to think.
I was one of those individuals who silently suffered because of the stigma. But a few days after turning 27, I was in a mental institution. A full year later, I often wonder if it was because of my own anxiety or because of a major life decision that I had made a few months earlier — my decision to see a psychiatrist.
The summer before I began a new job, I called a local social worker, and within a few days, I was sitting in her office on the iconic sofa. I couldn’t believe I was there, but if this was what it would take for me to feel better, then I would sit on that couch and spill the contents of my convoluted life.
To my dismay, I only felt worse after each session. Nothing excited me. That is when my therapist made a comment that truly resonated with me: “If you don’t have anything to look forward to, then what’s the point of living?”
I had never contemplated suicide. In fact, the whole concept was unfathomable to me. I didn’t understand how someone could want to hurt him or herself. It was ludicrous and something that I would certainly never do, but my therapist did have a point…
Since therapy wasn’t prompting any progress, my therapist had recommended that I see the psychiatrist in her office and gave me her card.
When I called her, she was rude and judgmental. She told me that she did not have availability for a new patient for more than a month. Since she did not work weekends, holidays or any time after 5:00 p.m. I would have to miss a day of work to meet with her. We finally scheduled a weekday in November when I was off from work.
Two weeks before my appointment, the psychiatrist called to reschedule. I asked if we could meet the day after Thanksgiving, but, of course, that was her time off as well. I asked about the week of Christmas, but she was off. We then settled for a day in April — eight months after I had originally tried to book an appointment.
The following day, I became desperate. As I drove to work every morning, I thought about just driving off the highway. I was drafting my suicide note in my head. I sat in the front seat of my car and cried before I could fully compose myself and walk into the building with the same mask I had worn throughout most of my life.
A few days later, the psychiatrist called with availability. I had to leave work a little early, but at least I wasn’t missing the entire day, so I reluctantly accepted. I was unnerved about meeting with my first psychiatrist, and this woman was not one to ease those nerves. She was blunt and hostile. She spoke disparagingly and critically. I appeared to be just another onerous patient — not someone for whom she genuinely cared.
When she adjusted my medications, I felt numb and lethargic, yet she would always attribute those feelings to lack of sleep even though I was sleeping more than eight hours per night.
Not only did my new doctor not listen to me, but she actually bullied me. At the start of one session, she asked me why I said my weekend wasn’t great, but when I started to explain, she interjected and disparagingly said, “You need to know the difference with your doctors. I’m your psychiatrist, not your therapist. I only deal with your medications. If you want to discuss your problems, you’ll have to go next door.”
Feeling insulted, I quietly acquiesced and sat on the couch as she judged and criticized everything I said.
Several times, she had asked me about my social life, but when I explained to her that I had a fallout with my friends, she forced me to take out my phone and text them to hang out. I told her that I didn’t feel comfortable doing that, but she was relentless. I was not leaving that room until I had texted my friends and made plans for the weekend.
As I had suspected, my ex-friends were not forgiving. They used that opportunity to provide every reason for their visceral hatred of me. At one of my lowest moments, my ex-friends had successfully managed to break an already broken human being.
I began to think more and more about death. As I researched various methods for successfully terminating my life, I justified everything with that one remark from the start of my therapy treatments: “If you don’t have anything to look forward to, then what’s the point of living?”
I continued with my monthly psychiatry sessions just to fill the time. As my doctor noticed that I was becoming more detached, she threatened me with mental institutions. By this time, I was inured to such threats.
If anyone had succeeded with destroying me, it was my first psychiatrist.
I didn’t know that it was unusual for a psychiatrist to make me feel that way. I didn’t know that psychiatrists could be compassionate human beings who would adjust their schedules for your accommodation. I didn’t know that psychiatrists would talk you through your suicidal ideations without forcing you to be institutionalized.
After a brief stay in a psychiatric ward along with some futile group/outpatient therapy sessions (commiserating with other suicidal individuals isn’t exactly the best cure for depression), I finally found the compassionate doctors who devote themselves to my well-being.
I can honestly say that I am no longer a self-loathing individual whose feelings were once affirmed by a psychiatrist — the very person intended to provide relief.
But as my new psychiatrist says, “Finding the right therapist is like dating — you have to try them all ’til you find that perfect match.”
Having made a full recovery, I’ve enrolled in a graduate school program for mental health counseling.
I can’t promise to be everyone’s “perfect match,” but I can guarantee I’ll be unflagging in my efforts to offer relief.
So, in retrospect, I did learn something from my first psychiatrist. She is everything that I will not be.
If you’re looking for resources for helping a friend or loved one or trying to get information about treatment for yourself, you can turn to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling them at 1-800-273-8255.
A version of this story was published April 2018.
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