An Open Letter to My Former Psychiatrist: On Being Right

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Dear Dr. S***,

You were right. Five years ago this August I left your office with my husband, round belly bulging with my nearly full-term first child, cursing your name. It was our first appointment together and you basically told me I was going to fail. When I explained to you that I had been off meds and symptom-free from my bipolar disorder for almost a year and that I wanted to stay off medication to breastfeed my son, you nodded with a sympathetic smile on your face and simply said we needed to have a plan.

A plan for which hospital I’d go to when I became manic to the point of needing that level of care. That level of care that you were so sure I’d need.

You were right.

At that stage of my fight, Dr. S***, I was still in denial about the fact that I had been diagnosed with a mental illness. I thought maybe, just maybe, since I had nearly a full year of stability without meds, that maybe the past had been a mis-diagnosis. Maybe those eight psychiatrists I had seen over the years since my two hospitalizations for mania were all wrong. I mean, I hadn’t experienced any significant episodes of depression or mania since 2006 and most importantly, I felt solid and stable. Didn’t that count for anything?

Didn’t that make me normal again?

I was so excited to be a mom and every spare moment I had was spent preparing for this new little life who would soon enter the world. His crib was set up, clothes had been washed and put away, and diapers and wipes sat waiting on the changing table in his blue/green fish-themed nursery. One of the last things on my list was meeting with you, a psychiatrist who agreed to treat me without medication for the remainder of my pregnancy and beyond, according to my wishes.

Man, am I glad we met when we did. Because you were so right. And when the time came, four weeks after his birth, when the compounded lack of sleep and absence of meds in my bloodstream caught up to me, my husband had someone to call for help. He called you.

I made it through. It wasn’t easy, in fact, it was pretty awful being in a psych ward for a week of my new baby’s life. But I got well with your help, and with support from my husband and family.

I focused on getting stable and my full-time job as a stay-at-home-mom. I followed my treatment plan and took my meds religiously. Then it happened again. I thought I knew what was best for my next baby. I didn’t. Full-blown mania reared its ugly head, repeating the nightmare a year and a half later when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.

You were right again.

Those days are tough for me to look back on, the times I was in the hospital and the weeks of recovery afterwards. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything because they are a part of who I am now and they tell the story of how I’ve changed. Those slices of my life do not define me, but when added into everything else that makes me the person I am today, I am grateful for those experiences.

You are the expert when it comes to psychiatry, Dr. S***. Me, I’m just the patient. But when it comes to making life decisions, decisions about my future, I asked for your opinion but of course only I could make that call. You expressed the same sadness that so many in this world share over the injustice mentally ill people have when they expose their conditions. I was looking for justification that it would be okay if I wrote openly about what I had been through, but I didn’t get that. Once more, it was as if I were hearing “destined to fail” all over again.

Good thing I didn’t listen that time.

I’m writing now, Dr. S***. Remember when I told you I wanted to write a book? Well, I still do, but first I’ve started publishing myself online, to gain experience. I have a blog, and over the past two years my readership has grown tremendously, all organically, due to my dedication to sharing my story in order to help others.

I’ve met so many amazing people through blogging and social media. It blows my mind how I can write about what I’ve gone through and in return, I get emails from people saying, “Me too!” and “Thank you so much for being so brave.” My heart is blissfully content because I know I’ve uncovered my purpose in life and my words are having an impact on people, a positive impact. And every time I put my thoughts out there for the world to read, my voice grows a little stronger.

My new role in life is mental health consumer/advocate.

For years after I was handed my diagnosis I feared the backlash of people who knew me finding out about my mental illness. Conversations were uncomfortable, I cared too much about what other people thought of me. It didn’t take me very long to realize that living in fear is not really living. Taking off my armor and choosing to expose myself and my story was one of the best decisions I ever made about my mental health.

Revealing my vulnerability has freed me to follow my dreams.

And I have you to thank. Thank you for being right. Thank you for letting me fall. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for doubting me. Because I needed my chance to prove someone wrong and you were that person for me.

Respectfully yours,

Jennifer Marshall (your patient from 2008-2011)

 Experience_BML

 
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