Anxiety part 2: So now what?

So, now that I have made my personal confession re: anxiety… now what?

What I want to do now is share with you some of my frustrations with…. you guess it… with how our society and our health care system deals with mental illness. First off, I count myself very lucky that my anxiety is not something I consider a serious mental illness. I am sure that it is for some people that have it, as everyone’s experience is different and there are varying degrees of it. But I am lucky in that I can get out of bed everyday, take care of my beautiful daughter, work at a job I love and spend time with the people that matter the most to me: husband, my daughter, family, friends. My life, despite my bitching sometimes, is wonderful. So please don’t take this post as oh woe’s me.

But. I do find the lack of support from the health care system very very frustrating. And if I were one of the many many people who is suffering from a mental illness that does severely impact their quality of life, their health, their family, their livelihood.. I would be livid. (Did you know that one in four people will experience some mental health issue at some point in their lives? And I suspect that number is grossly underestimated.)

Here are some of my issues:

Mental health care is not like going to see your doctor. It is separate and much of it is not covered by health care in Canada.* (And I know it is worse in the States, but I know the Canadian system, not the system in the states.) One of the first things I talked with my doctor about when I decided I needed to do something about this was that I needed to look into what my extended health benefits cover. She had suggested that I contact my extended benefits provider to get a list of registered psychologists that they cover. When I called them they said they can’t provide me with a list, but I could call them back with my list of who I might go see and they could tell me which person was on it. I mean, I get it, it is all about privacy I assume. But making the patient do the work?

I am not against work. But I think we need to realize that mental illness is not like having a sore back. The symptoms of most mental illness make it less likely that I would have the motivation to actually do that work. So instead, my tendency is to drop it.

The same thing happened when I tried to get help for postpartum. I called a help line. They sent out a ‘team’ to evaluate me. I guess I convinced them that I needed support but not urgent support, because they suggested a group therapy type option. Here is the thing: Group therapy may be awesome. And it may have been a good suggestion. And maybe I should have taken them up on that. BUT.  Suggesting to someone in the midst of even mild postpartum who also deals with anxiety in group social settings to call up an organization and ask to go to a group therapy session? Um. Yeah that’s not going to happen. It should happen. I should have done it. But I didn’t. But again, symptoms of the illness make that counterproductive to put on the patients shoulders to arrange.

The other thing I have found interesting through this whole thing is that most of us downplay how much we are struggling. Let’s go back to the idea that I must have convinced the team that came to evaluate me for postpartum that I wasn’t all that urgently in need of help. I think that many people have a survival instinct that we shouldn’t show our cards, especially when it comes to weakness. And I think with mental health particularly, with the stigma attached, we have a hard time not downplaying. We have a hard time exposing ourselves as ‘weak’. So we don’t get the help we need. I do think this needs to be taken into account when working with people, particularly those with anxiety, depression and postpartum. I am sure it is, so some extent. But I did find this to be a barrier to getting help. (You are probably wondering now if I am downplaying right now, in this post. I am trying not to. I am trying to be as open as I can.)

Lastly, I find it deeply troubling to what extend mental health is seen as something so different from physical health. Why is it outside the system in many ways? Why isn’t it just like going to see your doctor? It is my belief that when it comes to anything in our ‘social safety net’ in Canada, we pay for these issues no matter what. If we don’t value, prioritize and make accessible mental health we pay for it in employment insurance, lack of work place productivity, long term disability, policing costs in the case of the co-morbidity of mental health and homelessness. We pay for it. In countless other ways. It is just about choosing to pay to prevent and treat the problem or paying for it via the effects of not doing so.

Again. I am lucky. Very very lucky. And I can’t say I didn’t have most of these opinions before my anxiety got worse. But having anxiety and trying to figure out the system has made my feelings grow stronger. And I think we need to talk about it as a country.

So by this point you may be wondering, okay- so where are you at right now? As I drone on about my philosophical ramblings about society and the political system and our inherent nature. A bunch of you commented on my last post and really showed concern for me, which I so appreciated. Thank you.

Here is where I am at. My doctor put me on medication which is typically prescribed for either depression or anxiety. At first I was very much against the idea of medication. I believe we are over-medicated as a society and that we don’t focus enough on prevention and less pharmaceutical treatment methods.

But. I needed something, a bridge, to get me through until I could set up and start to see results from therapy. I needed something to get this under control, because I was feeling on edge 95% of the time and it was starting to really impact everything. My attacks were long and I was on the edge of an attack all day, every day. Anything was triggering.  So I went on this medication. It was HORRIBLE for the first couple days, and didn’t really kick in for a couple weeks; something my doctor told me to expect. But now, it is a lot better. I am A LOT better. I feel like old self again.

The bad news is that I still haven’t set up the therapy aspect of the plan. I had asked people I know to recommend someone, but couldn’t find the contact information for who they recommended. I should ask if they could help me, but I haven’t. I asked my doctor a couple weeks ago to recommend someone, she hasn’t gotten back to me. I need to phone her. I will get it sorted though and then it will get better. The idea is to wean off the prescription in a couple months after I start therapy.

Again, I am lucky. I have the support. I have a wonderful family. Amazing friends. I am lucky and I will be fine. It is all the people that don’t have what I have that I worry about.

(*I should clarify. There is still many mental health care professionals within the public health care system. I know many. But, from a patients perspective, it is much more confusing to navigate the system then dealing with a physical aliment. Although, now that I write that I have heard many stories about the difficulties of navigating the system with many chronic physical illnesses too. Regardless, I do think most people could agree that mental health is not as integrated and supported as it should be.)

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6 responses to “Anxiety part 2: So now what?

  1. Cheryl November 10, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    It says so much about you to be more worried about others than yourself!

    I know how hard it is to ask for help and I am so glad you’ve done that and chosen to share the process so openly. While I’ve only ever had minor anxiety attacks, my mother and sister have battled severe panic attacks for years. I only wish they could talk about it the way that you can. It would have been easier to know what they needed and how I could help.

    Keep talking and keep the rest of us talking; that’s about the only way to make any changes in how we see mental health as individuals and how we address it as a society.

  2. slackerinc November 11, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I’m glad you’re addressing this important topic. My father struggled with anxiety attacks and depression (which probably was a result of the anxiety attacks). He felt the kind of shame you are describing and so went to check himself into a psychiatric hospital over a thousand miles from where we lived. The admitting physician did not believe he was in dire enough need to be admitted as an in-patient (he did seem “fine” on the surface, but IMO anyone who shows up and says they are in serious enough distress to need in-patient care should have their wishes honoured automatically) and recommended he make an appointment as an out-patient, with the caveat that there were no openings for six weeks. My dad went out into the woods the next day and took his own life.

  3. Perpetua November 14, 2010 at 6:33 am

    First, to Alan, I’m so sorry. You’d think that if someone showed up on your doorstep after driving a third of the country, you’d take him seriously. That’s awful. I wonder how much of it has to do with how men’s anxiety has been treated over the years (the “man up!” problem, which assumes men who have mental issues are “unmanly” and should just suck it up and get over it.)

    To K: I’m so glad you’ve gotten help and are feeling better. It’s funny, I never would have guessed from your blog that you were going through panic attacks. I guess that goes to show how we learn to cover this stuff up, even if we’re comfortable talking about it.

    In the U.S. it works a little differently in terms of who prescribes what. So, I was actually able to get treatment for my panic attacks from my GP, but this is both a positive and a negative. I was able to essentially get same-day treatment, which is great, but I’m not as closely monitored as I would be by a mental health professional. And, the way that physicians here basically hand out drugs like candy is obviously a downside. I’m lucky because I’m on a mild, low dose anti-anxiety/depression drug, and for the most part it has been that bridge (I love that!) I needed to get out of my bad place.

    Anyway, any time you want to talk anxiety, I’m here. I know what a clusterf*ck panic attacks can be.

  4. Jeff November 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    We run through similar mental health hoops here in the states. I have anxiety disorder that has subsided a great deal with medication and therapy. When my wife’s employer changed insurance plans my doctors were suddenly not covered. Because of this I now have to pay out of pocket for each doctor visit (psychiatrist and psychologist). It gets expensive but I don’t want to change docs since these are the people who helped me manage my anxiety when it was completely debilitating.

    I definitely recommend seeking therapy with your meds. Unless you learn self-management techniques then you will always be reliant on the the meds.

    Best of Luck,

    Jeff
    http://anxietystories.net

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