Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mental Health Professionals I’ve Known: Part One


from the film Snakepit

My first one was a nice psychiatrist I saw when I was 16, after having been physically attacked, leading to PTSS.  She was patient and easy to talk to, even though her naivety exasperated me sometimes, though in retrospect, it may have been a technique to help me arrive at my own answers.  Her office was in Marina del Rey.  There was a small pagoda-shaped building in front of the large office building where her practice was located, and I guessed the little pagoda used to be where a security guard or greeter spent his days, but it stood completely empty the 20 or so years I lived on the Westside.  The main problem with our sessions was that I only saw her once every two weeks, necessitating a lot of time catching her up on recent events instead of discussing my reaction to them.  She thought it would help to meet weekly, and so did I, but I was not the master of my own destiny at that age, so the twice-monthly meeting schedule continued.  One day she came out with it and recommended Prozac, the perceived seriousness of which threw my family in a tizzy.  As punishment for this suggestion, our appointments ended.  Now I had nobody to curb my self-mutilation sprees for.  My thighs were a mess of superficial paring-knife marks, a cat’s cradle pattern of what looked like cat scratches.  To this day, self-mutilation, as a compulsion, interests me.  Just the other night I dreamed that I carved “Tomorrow” into my chest very deeply, and the letters dripped blood, but it was just for fashion, and I walked around in the world and met for a family dinner and continued normal activities without the cuts raising any eyebrows.  At one point I worried “Is this going to suddenly hit people as something disgusting?  Should I pour hydrogen peroxide on this mess and wear a turtleneck until it heals?”  but I woke up before I had to decide anything.  I like to give sad, knowing “Hang in there, kiddo” smiles to teenagers I see with their little self-inflicted punishment scratches on their arms.

Anyway, my next psychological professional was a kind therapist from the counseling center at my college, when I was a freshman.  He emanated the mellow acceptance of an aging hippie.  I respected him enough to attend the anxiety-control workshops on campus that he recommended.  The workbook for these meetings cost $18, a major expenditure at the time.  I followed along with the exercises when I was at the meetings, but never completed the written follow-up exercises back at my room.  Some people feel better commiserating with others in the same boat as them, but for me, it has always been depressing to be in the room with other people that have problems like mine. 

After Christmas break, I stopped attending these workshops, and consequentially had to stop seeing this therapist, out of guilt for not following through better.  He’d lacked a tiny bit of effectiveness for my personal extreme temperament, anyway.  He believed in the healing power of St. John’s Wort capsules and Valerian Tinctures.  My sadness and madness and panic felt too big for natural remedies.  I wanted to beg him, “Please stuff me to the gills with the strongest drug ever until I drool and shuffle like a zombie and can’t remember my own name.  Please bang at my frontal lobe with a hammer.”

My next therapist, also from the college’s counseling center, was also a mellow old hippie, a woman this time, with short salt and pepper hair and great chandeliers of indiscriminately ethnic jewelry hanging from her ears, her neck, her wrists.  Like her predecessor, she believed in St John’s Wort and Valerian tincture as well.  The best thing about valerian tinctures, though, is the extra spaciness it causes when you add a drop or 2 on the little nest of weed smushed inside the bowl of a bong.  

This therapist sort of saved my life once, though.  My 2 best friends and I went off campus every night to track down our semi-friends, the cute boys who lived in town.  We always stayed out late and drank the amount of alcohol only teenagers can bounce back from.  I got nothing from these nights, except visibility in the town I wanted to become popular in, and an acidic stomach from my vegetarian staple of French fries.  Four days in a row, our attempts at bewitching these jaded boys were so near-successful we wanted the good times to last forever.  So these four days in a row, I got home at 7 am, slept til 11 am, and then went to class.  This made me feel crazy.  My therapist didn’t want to put me through the loss of power involved in a 72-hour psych hold but she was concerned about my well-being, so she arranged for the more maternal of my 2 best friends to come in to meet with her.  They went over a game plan for stabilizing me, and decided I’d sleep in my friend’s bed for a long time (this was the most calming thing I could imagine), and when I woke up, she’d feed me and take me for a walk.  Sometimes it’s actually good to be treated like a dog. 

from the film David and Lisa



To Be Continued.

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