What’s the in-between? It’s the sludgy road from outreach to treatment. The seemingly never-ending battle to convince professionals that you’re sick enough (but not too sick) for treatment. Every day, patients in first-world countries are waiting for treatment for months at a time, and that’s where I am now.
At the end of July, I had my last day of work following my three-weeks’ notice of resignation. The job wasn’t the best for me in many ways, but my main concern was how quickly my mental health seemed to be deteriorating. Even though I was still functioning well, waking up on time, missing little work, and seeming in control of my emotions, I was worried. I’ve seen my relapses come out of nowhere before and I was determined put my foot to the metal to make sure I could cushion my crash as much as possible.
Thankfully, I got out of that job before the worst of it. My original intention was to find a less stressful and more supportive full-time job that would take less of my energy and more of it could go to recovery. After about a week, this goal turned into finding part-time work, and after another week or two, I conceded that not working was likely to be my best option. This is when I felt my progress come to a screeching halt.
By the end of August, I had decided that I would be taking time off work indefinitely. I wasn’t sure when I would go back to work or school, and I wanted to put energy into getting better and not into stressing about where I ‘should’ be. I spent a week researching treatment options in my area and ways that I could focus on me. I decided that a full day program for mood disorders patients would be my best bet and I decided to apply for disability benefits to cover me until I went back to school or work. I made an appointment with my doctor and brought a pile of five programs I wanted her to refer me to and I asked her to try and find a psychiatrist accepting new patients. I explained what I was going through and she seemed sympathetic.
Weeks went by and I hadn’t been called by the intake at any of the programs I was trying to get into. Finally, at the end of September, I was called by a rapid-access psychiatry program. I was hopeful at this point and I started making follow-up calls with the other programs I had been referred to; I also called my doctor’s office to confirm that my referrals had been sent. Spoiler alert — two had been left out (I guess 66% counts as satisfactory?).
The first program I got into was the rapid-access psychiatry, followed quickly by a day program at a local hospital’s outpatient mental health unit. Both did more to discourage me than to encourage me. The psychiatrist confirmed what I already knew and asked me the same questions asked by every other mental health professional I’ve seen. He sent a recommendation to my family doctor on a treatment plan, including the new diagnosis and treatment for Binge Eating Disorder. The biggest thing I took away from our meeting was that finding the right medication truly is a guessing game, there’s very little strategy that’s even possible.
The intake appointment for the hospital was equally (if not more) demotivating. The nurse I met with tried to push me into an in-depth and detailed discussion of my symptoms and feelings immediately. Keep in mind that I was very high-anxiety at this point and I only knew her name and literally nothing else about her. When I pushed back, she explained that “these are the kinds of questions we will ask in the program.” She didn’t seem to understand that once I was in the program, I would know more about her (like her role, qualifications, and motivations) and would know her for longer than five minutes. Nonetheless, I started the program the following week and left a week into the four-week program for reasons that I won’t get into.
Over the next couple weeks, one program told me that they couldn’t accept me because I didn’t have a long-term psychiatrist (?!), and another told me I had to go on their 3-month waitlist for a psychiatrist before they would consider putting me on the 4-8 month waitlist for the program itself. My family doctor refused to accept the rapid-access psychiatrist’s recommendation for treatment and complained about the number of referrals I had asked her for.
I went from thinking that I was the only one fighting for my recovery to feeling like I had to actively fight against ‘the system’ and that the people that were supposed to be helping me. What kind of system is that? You’re dealing with people who have lost their strength, their motivation, and they’re expected to put in all the work themselves? It shouldn’t be that way.
Unfortunately, it is. My therapist told me today that “the system is broken,” and she’s right. This is not a system with the goal of recovery, it’s a system that aims to reduce its own liability. Are you a danger to yourself or others? We’ve got a place for you (involuntary hold) until we’re confident you’re not an imminent danger. Anything less or anything else? Here’s a 6-10 month waiting list that may help, until then, good luck.
This post won’t end with an inspirational message or some great advice. I have nothing. The last week I’ve felt incredibly hopeless. I know that hopelessness is a symptom of depression, but I believe that this hopelessness is warranted. What else am I supposed to feel? This post is full of questions and snarky comments because I have nothing else but them. I’m broken and I need help to repair. I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to do but it doesn’t matter because the system is broken too. I’m not ‘sick enough’ to get the help I need, so I’m left to get sicker until I meet that criteria.
When I wrote about my night in the hospital, I said something that I feel more and more every single day:
When someone reaches out for help, it can take all the strength they have left. If it is your job to be the person they reach out to, you had better do your damnedest to be there and be their strength until they get it back.
I can’t fix the system now, but one day I will. Leaving the sick to themselves would not be acceptable if it were any other illness, so why is it acceptable for mental illness?
PS – I know that this post is very similar to last week’s, but it’s all that I have the motivation to write right now. The next post should be different. (Hopefully.)