Seeking Professional Help: A Personal Journey

PazAt what point do you say to yourself, “I need help”? And how many times do you say it before you actually reach out? Do you wait to hang by a single thread? Or do you wait for that last thread to start tearing before someone else tells you to grab on for dear life because you’ll end up at the bottom, dead?

Well, we’ll all end up as putrid corpses. One day the braided threads of our lives, as we know them now, will unravel. But you get my drift.

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For years I’d been telling myself, “Mouse, you seriously need help”. I went on screaming it even, but never knew how to ask for help, never knew how to vocalize my pain unless it was lashing out in fits of rage, banging my head against walls or locking myself in a room to tear at my skin. It wasn’t until the spring of 2008 that I finally got the professional help I so desperately needed.

That spring I had fallen into the depths of another depression. Fueled by heartbreak, I spiraled down to a point where no one could avoid the fact any longer. No one could pretend that I was okay. I could barely make it to class, barely sleep, barely speak. For several weeks in March, April and May, my brother kept finding me passed out, drunk on the bathroom floor, usually with some sort of self-inflicted wound that I tried to hide. It wasn’t until two of those nights, when he found me on the ground, with my hands and knuckles bloodied up beside a pair of porcelain cherubs that he finally asked me to “please get help P”.

I had smashed the cherubs to shards. Their pieces spread about me on the ground–a leg here, a butt and an arm there–not just on one occasion, but evidently two nights in a row. Yep, there were enough cherubs in the house for a two-night-smash-a-thon. Apparently, I was in a dissociative state and was going on about how these cherubs needed to die like me, how I was “Sick of them all! I had to do it. Had to kill them!”  All night, I had seen them in motion, there floating above the window sill talking in the voice of my mother, making grotesque facial expression, yelling at me, mocking me–mocking my “miserable” existence until I just smashed them to bits. I shut them up for good, leaving my hands cut up from the fight.

This was a battle I’d endured for years, a battle I could no longer hide or run from.

****

When my brother found me there lying bruised and hopeless, I was no longer just the “problematic sister,” the “dramatic” and “negative” one. I was no longer “Miss Shotgun” as my parents had dubbed me for my raging outbursts. I became the sister than needed help. I became a genuine concern, and maybe that’s what I wanted but didn’t know how to vocalize the words, “Help, I’m struggling here.”  I became the daughter that “might have to be hospitalized” as my mother put it. Actually, what she really said was, “Ay Dios mío! Esta niña la vamos a tener que llevar a el manicomio!” (Google’s poor translation of that is: Oh my God! This girl’s going to have to take the asylum.)

That morning, my brother called a psychiatric clinic that is run by a local university. They told him that they wouldn’t admit me involuntarily unless I was a direct harm to myself or others. He said I wasn’t; he didn’t fully grasp the depth of my despair, but he knew I wasn’t right. He pleaded for me to call the clinic, and that very day I agreed to schedule an appointment. That’s when my journey into the “mental health system” began.

I had no idea what to expect when I went into the clinic. I’d been interested in psychology for years; I even got into psych courses with the second highest grade in college. I’d feverishly read about depression and bipolar disorder and a myriad of other mental disorders/mental health issues for years. In fact, I suspected I had bipolar of some kind though I quickly rejected the notion.

Going into a clinic for “mental health problems” is scary. It’s not the same feeling I had all those times I had to run to the hospital after a broken bone or an inpatient stay after yet another orthopedic surgery. This was on a completely different level. It was terrifying to grasp at the core of my problems like this. Head on.

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How do you even begin to describe so many years of inner turmoil? How could you be expected to open up to someone you just met, someone you barely know?

At first it was difficult. It was terrifying. It was painful. It still is at times. I sat there with trembling hands, not knowing how to answer the questions the psychiatrist asked me.

2012 (c) paz

I was quickly–too quickly– diagnosed as having bipolar II (BP) and put on a line of medications starting with Seroquel. For a period of three months, I tried several of these concoctions. Eventually, I asked to get into therapy. I simply had a feeling that therapy was what I needed most.

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In order for therapy to be effective (as effective as possible), you have to be ready for the therapeutic process. It doesn’t always feel helpful. Sometimes, it isn’t. There are a lot of factors that go into getting good therapy, and being ready is one of them. What do I mean by being ready? I mean being willing to take someone’s hand so they can pull you up some. It’s willing to accept your current situation. It’s willingness and a craving for change. It isn’t just needing help. It is knowing and wanting it. That’s a difficult thing for a suicidal drunk fighting little fat, naked baby angels on the bathroom and kitchen floors in the middle of the night. How could I want help when all I was thinking of was jumping off a bridge and taking those cherubs down with me? I obviously wasn’t ready then, but like most things in life, being ready is a process.

It takes time, even when time is exactly what we don’t feel we have.

I went through a series of four therapists from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2011. I would quit for a while then would return. I was in a revolving door of counselors, therapists and psychiatrists at my university. I even walked out (or rolled out) on one and slammed the wall with my fist on my way out. They all had their different methods, educational backgrounds, styles and personalities. They each had their opinions of what my “condition” was and what I needed to work on most.  But again, you have to be ready to crack open that door into the darkest room of your mind. You don’t have to swing the door open right away. That’ll be letting in too much light after being stuck there in the dark for ages. But it is necessary to let in some of that light in order to find some form of stability, some semblance of a life worth living.

A fellow blogger here on Canvas, Angel Fractured, wrote an interesting post (“Interactions With Mental Health Professionals”) about her journey with therapists and psychiatrists. Though different from my own, I could see similar patterns taking shape between our experiences with mental health professionals. I had focused on different issues of my life with each therapist. But it wasn’t until 2010, when I saw my fourth therapist, a doctoral student about my age, that I finally got the best type of treatment I could get with my wanting resources.

With this young therapist, I had finally come across the kind of treatment that was most helpful to me, to my type of mental distress. The young therapist introduced me to dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and placed me in intense cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help me restructure my “maladaptive” thinking patterns and behaviors as well as my automatic thoughts that were often “distorted” and harmful. In other words, she taught me practical ways to realistically even out my black and white thinking, to sooth myself, to tolerate my distress, to communicate more effectively, etc.

From the fall of 2010 to this spring, 2012, I saw the young therapist on a (mostly) weekly basis. I had made a drastic improvement. As it turns out, she had diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder (BPD, or Emotional Dysregulation as it’s now called) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Looking back, I realize this is partly why the type of treatment she chose worked so well for me. She had outlined the core of my dysfunctions–my “symptoms” or patterns of thought and behavior that are also seen in others like me. It wasn’t just talk therapy; it was intense learning. It was life coaching. In fact, around this time last year, we’d discussed approaching an end to therapy as I would no longer need it, at least not as intensively.

Then I fell again.

Last year, as Christmas approached, I fell into another downward spiral. I was back in that dark mental room with the door shut. This year has been one of the roughest. I didn’t think I’d make it out of spring alive. To make matters worse, my young therapist left to another city in April and I was left without a lifeline.

The thing about mental disorders is that as much as some family members and/or friends may want to or try to help (if we’re lucky with supportive family and friends), they often don’t know how to help. Those around us don’t understand or know how to approach the problem, and sometimes, they end up making it worse. They can only do so much before they fall in too.

For someone with a severe mental condition/illness, a lot of support is necessary to begin “recovery”. We need more support than the average person, and the catch twenty-two is we often don’t get much of it, if any. This is especially the case for those with BPD because we can push others away and tend to destroy any support network we might have. After over a dozen calls, voice messages, an overdose, emails and waiting lists, I got myself back in therapy. It took nearly three months to find my way back into the university’s psychological services clinic. I still see a psychiatrist from the community clinic on the side, but I know how to advocate for myself better.

This time I was ready. I am ready. And I’m trying my best to get all the help I can find. Now that I’ve discovered my diagnosis, I have a new road map to my core problems. I know what to ask for now; I know what works and what doesn’t work; and most importantly, I know how to seek professional help. It took four years, but I can finally ask for it and not be engulfed by shame.

© PAZ and A Canvas Of The Minds 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to PAZ and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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29 thoughts on “Seeking Professional Help: A Personal Journey

  1. Congratulations on your first post. And it’s great too. Getting to the point of being ready is a long and often painful process but for me, I’m finding it makes all the difference. Good luck. 🙂

  2. It’s really good that the right therapist DID help – even though it must have been miserable when she moved cities. Still, as you say, at least you know now what to ask for and that you can find help.

    • Oh definitely! Finding the right kind of therapy/therapist made all the difference. It was miserable when she left. I felt like I’d relapsed what with all that when on if you remember. I wrote a lot of depressing posts then, most of which I deleted and never published. heh.
      Hugs

  3. What a brave post. I’m cheering you on from Montreal. Looking for help is hard. Finding help that’s a good fit is even harder. Setbacks, though inevitable, can be really derailing, but here you are, moving forward. You’ve come so far…congrats!

    • Thank you Sara! I’m a little, no a lot, embarrassed now that I look back at what I wrote. Oh well, it was worth it. Yes, finding the good fit is so hard. And it’s hard to get in with anyone with no insurance. I basically had to scout all the community places and thank heavens for universities. I’m going to the one I graduated from so I get a hella good discount. It sounds odd saying that. heh. It must be difficult for anyone though, insurance or no insurance, Canadadada or U.S. or whatever. heh

      I am moving. Here’s to hoping. Thanks so much for the support. Oooooh, and you inspired me to sketch! SEE! Only thing is I did it in ink and made a lot of mistakes. I should use pencil to outline next time. Then ink. Oh wells, I kinda like the crooked floor and my nemo arm was drawn like that on purpose 😉
      xoxoxxx

  4. Really appreciated having read your post. You are a very thorough writer with a lot on your mind to share and that would help others.

    As to MI and the processes of therapy, I couldn’t agree more … it does take awhile to assimilate into the sessions and to find the best in your T’s. I think trust is by degree and because you’ve done some T-switching you’ve possibly learned to trust yourself and being able too discern what works and doesn’t. You’ve got a really positive attitude all considering. I think starting services is very difficult. I’ve been away from that start point for so long that I wonder how anyone gets through it hehehe. BUT, I can’t say enough for the process when you find the right person at the right time when you are ready to pour your heart into “getting better.” Hoping you write frequently!

    Our best,
    Anns

    • Thank you! That means a lot.

      Yes, right person, right time, etc. I feel like I’ve been in and out of it enough now to where I feel more confident, more in control of what I’ll say, express, ask for, and so on. Trust is definitely a must if it’s going to work. That is a hard one.

      Hope it works out for you if you decide to get back in. Best to you too! Thanks for reading. 🙂

    • We are in therapy now and have been for the last 13 years. We had two VERY shaky years with terrible Ts who thought that the dissociation was meandering. We switched around a couple of P-Docs, but they were both the same in a small town. So glad to have gotten finally out of that situation. Previous to this we had a good P-doc for 7 years. There’s rarely a session we miss – though we were without a car Tuesday. Today is another day and we’ve got on our Twinkly shoes – Get to see him today 🙂 Hope you keep writing … we look forward to reading you 🙂

      Our best,
      Anns

  5. I’m sorry you’ve had to endure so much, but it now sounds like you know what you need and how to get it. Your post was great, and will surely help others. I certainly related to your mention of how family members, even when they want to help, often make things worse. It’s a learning process for all of us. I look forward to more of your posts!

    • Thank you! If sharing experiences like I have here helps others, then I feel honored. I feel like the risks of exposure are more worth while. 🙂

      It is a learning process. Life is. And yes, family can make matters worse at times, especially when you have… Well, I’ll leave it at that. It’s good to know someone who can relate.

      Kudos!

  6. Great post! A very interesting read indeed.

    I am wishing you well on your journey to recovery from a fellow BPD and Deprression sufferer.

    X

  7. In my post, I talked mostly about my social anxiety and how we have to be assertive about our needs. I don’t know how much this applies to you or most other people, but I think people are often not assertive enough when they know what they need because they may think that they should do what a professional tells them to or they are petrified about admitting things or both. I think learning how to be assertive about it is part of getting ready for help, too.

    It’s interesting to see your different perspective and compare it with mine. Like you said, even though there are differences, I can see some similarities, too.

    Oh, I know why I wanted to mention the social anxiety. I think for people with social anxiety or people who are reserved (like me), it’s hard to find support also because we don’t like to share things with people or our anxiety keeps people at a distance. The social anxiety keeps you from developing relationships that could develop into support networks.

    • Oh, I totally got your key point about being assertive about our needs in that post. Although that wasn’t my main point here, I tried to touch on it. I’ve learned to be more assertive and even now I’m not. I’ve been meaning to ask Brunet Young about why my Ex-Young Therapist never mentioned BPD to me but I keep getting too anxious to ask her. There’s definitely being petrified and feeling like they won’t listen to my suggestion because THEY’RE the professional. I especially get this feeling with psychiatrists, even when I know I’m most likely right.

      I see the social anxiety as I have some of it, not as much as you of course. I think what keeps me from building relationships more than the anxiety is trust issues. I don’t trust people. lol That’s a “borderlinish” thing to say.

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