I’m going to tell you what it’s like for me when I visit my psychiatrist. Before I do that though, let’s talk about why people call psychiatrists and psychologists “shrinks”. Where did this term come from anyways?
If you Google it, its various definitions include:
A psychologist who wrote for Psychology Today wrote,
“From what I can tell, the word shrink is a shortening of “headshrinker,” referring to Amazonian tribes who preserve and shrink the heads of their enemies – certainly not a very positive connection! So, on the dark side, there are connections to shamanism, magic, and spiritual rituals, but in a more positive light, it is also suggested that psychotherapists [the term was first used to describe psychiatrists and psychotherapists] who might “shrink” problems to make them more understandable.”
Personally, I prefer the problem-shrinker to the head-shrinker. I’m still not the biggest fan of either because my psychiatrist doesn’t do the work for me. He assists me along the way. I also don’t like the term “problems” because we all have problems. I guess. My psychiatrist and I work together to help manage my depression and anxiety so that I can live the most productive and happy life possible.
On one hand, I don’t want to be that person that everyone thinks gets uber-sensitive over vocabulary. But if I’m not some kind of version of that type of person than how do I give 100% to preventing the stigma surrounding mental health? I have to care to some extent. I want to. Now, I’m not going to lash out at you if you ask me how my shrink is. Honestly, it’s easier for me to write about it than to have a conversation. I’m a bit passive, but I need to work on that. I have to be confident and comfortable with having an open dialogue with others about the proper way to address and/or describe others. I get it. In the comfort of our own homes we talk about a lot and say things we would never say in public. So my advice would be to do just that, especially if you’re unwilling to make an effort to respect people. Calling me crazy and telling others I see a shrink is something I can personally handle. But this isn’t just about me. I hope you see that. Think about all the other things we say that may be offensive to someone. Go ahead, list them in your head. I can think of a few that I hear too often and I do not use them myself. People think they need to watch their every move and constantly pay attention to what they say. You don’t. It’s not that hard. Just be respectful and kind. Have you seen Bambi? Well Thumper’s mom tells him, “If you can’t say anything nice than don’t say anything at all.”
Now that you understand I see a psychiatrist, let’s talk about my visits to his office. No, I’m not going to tell you every detail, but my goal in sharing this is to let everyone know that it’s not so bad. Actually for me, it’s not bad at all. It’s hard sometimes, but let's not confuse the two. My opinion, everyone could benefit from talking to someone who has the skill to hold a neutral position and listen to whatever you need to say, without judgement. The only downside, it can be expensive. Other than that you’re talking to someone who’s not your spouse and who you don’t have to worry about fighting with. Sounds like magic to me.
When I first started seeing my psychiatrist I cried A LOT! Every time I went in I cried for at least half of the 1-hour appointments. I didn’t cry for 30 straight minutes. It was off and on. You talk about whatever you want, but because I share everything I was navigating through some tough stuff. It’s hard, so you cry. We all cry. I cried because I was scared about sharing. I cried because I felt helpless. I cried because I wasn’t sure how long I’d be feeling the way I was feeling. I cried because it was expensive and I had a hard time justifying the cost. I cried because I just wanted to go home without seeing my wife exhausted. I cried because people close to me became distant. I cried for us. I just cried.
We also spent a lot of time working through various medications. It takes a while to find one that works. That’s just the nature of the beast right now in these types of medications. So every visit we’d talk about any side effects I was experiencing; no sleep, too much sleep, not eating or eating too much, irritable, anxious, extremely depressed, suicidal, overly excited for long periods of time, extreme amounts of energy, and the list goes on.
Some things we’ve also worked through included breathing exercises that could help me control panic attacks. I’ve had panic attacks, some very mild and only a couple that were severe. The first one I ever had woke me up right out of a deep sleep. I literally sat up in bed, felt like I was going to pass out, had trouble breathing, and sat in the bathroom. My body went numb and I was naked on the floor. It was the strangest feeling and I had no clue what was going on. I had never felt anything like that before. Breathing exercises and forms of meditation can be very effective for some people. So if you think it’s corny that’s fine. Maybe it’s not for you. But don’t knock it until you try it. And certainly don’t judge someone because they are engaging in a strategy to manage their panic attacks. If you do, you’re just a bully. Grow up.
I’ve been doing very well for quite some time now. My appointments are down to once every 3 months and we meet for 30 minutes. The routine is different for everyone. I started seeing him twice a week. We talk about how I’m doing, any new changes, and we prepare for anything that I anticipate coming up because one of my triggers is big change. So that’s a bit of what it’s like for me. I enjoy seeing my psychiatrist and I would do it for the rest of my life. He’s very supportive and has even agreed to contribute to my blog. So what does he have to say:
A note from my psychiatrist
I’ve been a psychiatrist for the past 5 years and practice currently in Raleigh, NC. I view psychiatry as a unique combination of philosophy, sociology, literature, and medicine in the pursuit of creating meaning in our lives and addressing suffering. We all suffer in different degrees with anxiety, depression, anger, paranoia, grief, ect. And about 1/5 people suffer enough throughout their lifetime to meet criteria for a psychiatric disorder.
The simplest advice I would give to family and friends of those suffering is to have an open mind and listen. You don’t have to have all or even any of the answers, but the simple act of compassionately and attentively listening to someone’s struggle is helpful. In fact
that is probably the single most important reason psychotherapy (regardless of specific orientation) all work. Just the act of feeling heard is therapeutic.
The next piece of advice I would give is to take care of yourself and utilize your own support network if you find yourself caring for someone with mental and/or physical illness. See your own therapist. Keep up to date with your health. Cherish and cultivate your family and friends. Some people find it helpful to connect with others going through similar struggles. NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Health) can be a great resource for patients and family members alike.
So the next time you think about me seeing my shrink, imagine me reclining on a beach chair sipping on a pina colada, sharing my problems with the ocean. It’s pretty fu*king awesome. You should join me.
I just want all people to learn and grow together.