Psychiatry Changed My Life For The Better
How’s that for an obvious title? Okay, I mean, seriously, you all know that chronic illness affects us mentally as well as physically, and it isn’t about being a “strong” or “tough” or “capable” person. It isn’t about being good or bad. It is just logic that feeling crappy physically will bleed over into every other area of your life, too. Sometimes we need help getting the thoughts and memories swirling around our brains out in a productive, constructive way. When I’m alone, the chances of finding productive solutions to my problems are much lower than when I work them through with a therapist, but until recently, I had never met a mental health professional who knew how to talk to me. My current provider is a completely different story. I am overjoyed that I took that first step and called her office back to set up an appointment. It is like everything in my life was on hold until I met her, and then suddenly I started to see options everywhere, where before I felt helpless to change my situation.
I have been in and out of therapy throughout my life, but only ever with psychologists and therapists, never have I had the opportunity to see a psychiatrist, though I have wanted to for a long, long, long time. There is a massive difference between open therapy with my past counselors and going to see my psychiatrist. First of all, she’s kinder than anyone else I’ve ever talked to. I am usually so self-conscious that therapy is useless for me, I can’t wind down enough to think clearly or say what I mean. Not so this time around! It’s not fun, and it is work, and I do struggle with being open with anyone about my past or my innermost thoughts and worries, but it is worth it, and she makes it so much easier than my last few tries with therapy.
Many of us already know that trauma in childhood and chronic illness later in life are connected, especially for women because the mistreatment actually leaves scars on two areas of the brain for girls, versus just one area of a boy’s brain that is most affected by trauma. Perhaps this helps to explain, in addition to other factors, why chronic illness is often seen as a “women’s issue” and Fibro is diagnosed in women four to five times more often than in men. Either way, childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, and rejection are all linked to physical pain, and that is not insignificant for many of us. What I did not understand was how it was affecting me as an individual chronic pain patient, or how to do anything about it.
The hardest part was deciding to go back for my second appointment. I instantly felt comfortable with her but I was still judging the entire situation the first time I saw her, and weighing the pros and cons of emotional vulnerability. I was having a relatively lucid day and I think I came across as a lot more put together than I actually am, but I’m sure she could tell that I wasn’t really. Deciding to continue with the second appointment was so difficult because I started remembering things I did not want to remember, and it would have been really easy to blame the fact that I was seeing a psychiatrist instead of the people who caused the trauma in the first place. I wanted to get out of having to work on myself, and when the flashbacks started a week or two after my first appointment, I thought I had a good reason to not see her again.
However, some small part of me was ready to face everything this time, and the rest of me followed reluctantly. I went to the second appointment, I was honest about the flashbacks, and I was honest about fears and issues I have had for so long that I was beginning to think they were normal. It felt terrifying, I walked out of my second appointment numb and shaky, but reassured that I had a partner to help me work through things I wasn’t ready to deal with all by myself. Though I was still not sure how I was going to cope, I felt lighter having let it all out of me and having someone actually hear me.
Fast-forward three months later and I am pleased to report that the flashbacks don’t happen nearly as much. I have woken up mentally in ways beyond just feeling better emotionally: I am more confident in my needs and my value as a human being as well as in my abilities, I am looking forward to the future by making plans that reach out years ahead, and I have more coping tools than ever in my arsenal against chronic pain.
I am not saying with absolute certainty that I could not have gotten this far on my own, but I know that if I did progress this far alone, it would have taken so much longer, and been very difficult, and who knows what the end result would have been, really, except that I am so, so, so glad that I’m not doing this by myself.
I would urge anyone who is on the fence about pursuing therapy to start with a knowledgeable, extremely compatible psychiatrist that they trust from the start, and to be as honest as possible no matter how terrifying. From there you can figure out the appropriate kind of therapy for you. Therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, in the slightest. Another major benefit for me was that seeing my psychiatrist helped to solve long-standing questions I had regarding the nature of my anxiety and inattentiveness, for starters. Getting the appropriate diagnosis can help so much fall into place that you weren’t even expecting, especially if you’re like me and you feel a need to try to fit the puzzle pieces together as much as possible.
The work is certainly not done (and it will never be), but it is started, and that is pretty awesome considering how stuck I had been feeling the past two years. Just by getting a little bit unstuck, I no longer just survive my days, hoping for each one to end as quickly as possible. Wanting to change and not knowing how is both frustrating and overwhelming. I’m much less frustrated and overwhelmed now that I have an ally in my mental health and am learning the tools to carve out a life for myself despite severe and yes, depressing, amounts of pain that I deal with every day. I’m learning to stigmatize my own mental health less, to avoid behaving like a victim in areas of my life that I am not helpless in, and to look for positives in places I would not have bothered before.
Just writing that I was gaining ground six months ago would not have been possible and here I am, trying to write about it as often as I can.
If you’re feeling stuck, just keep looking for your opportunity, and know that it will come.
Until then, you’re doing your best. You are good enough. You have value and choices. People care about and love you, even if you don’t know it yet.
Wishing everyone extra spoons and days with less pain than usual. ❤
Tags: ACT, ADD, ADHD, adult ADHD, anxiety, CBT, change, childhood trauma, Chronic Pain Awareness, compatibility and therapy, condifence, DBT, depression, GAD, love, mental health, mood disorders and chronic pain, progress, psychiatry, psychology, PTSD, self-care, therapy, trauma and chronic illness, trust
About Jessi Finds Out FibroHi, and thank you for finding your way to my corner of the web! I'm on a journey to empower myself and hopefully others through shared courage and compassion. I write Finding Out Fibro, a chronic illness and chronic pain awareness blog that is not just about fibromyalgia, as well as a new project making jewelry under the Etsy name Hopeful Spoon. Please check out the shop and share if you can! Thank you for your support! My other hobbies include defeating ableism anywhere I find it, upcycling old junk into funky awesomeness, raising my voice to erase stigma against invisible illness and mental illness, baking, collecting vintage kitchen ware, sharing body-positive messages, playing around in photoshop, abstract painting (especially in neons and metallics!), advocating for those living with chronic illnesses and mental health challenges, seeking safety and upholding visibility for LGBTQIA individuals living with physical and mental disabilities, researching and testing plant-based remedies for chronic pain, and spending all my spare spoons in my veggie garden. This is my opportunity to do more than just survive with chronic illness. This is me learning how to live well, even though there is no cure for the war my body is waging on me.
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