Today I had to see a doctor to refill my antidepressant medication. My regular psychiatrist—who originally wrote the prescription—was on leave, and since the medicine that I use as-needed to treat my occasional insomnia and panic attacks is a controlled substance in the state of Florida, I have to see a doctor every time I need a refill, which is usually about once every two to three months.
I was slightly concerned when the nurse called to reschedule my time, since the new doctor “wanted to make sure he had enough time,” but when I asked how long he intended for the visit to take—I had an appointment with my personal trainer later that evening, so I wanted to make sure the two didn’t overlap—I was assured that it should be no longer than half an hour.
What should have been a brief check-up turned into a nearly hour and a half of me reliving my life’s worst traumas and answering questions like “What does it feel like when you experience a panic attack?” A question which triggered a panic attack while I recalled the dread, nausea, and shortness of breath. “Do you have any history of trauma? Any traumatic events specifically?” “When did your mental health begin to deteriorate?” “Do you still practice self-care when you’re feeling sad, such as taking showers, eating normally, being around people?” I gently corrected him multiple times when he used “feeling sad” to describe depression.
“Just so we’re clear,” I said, carefully, after correcting him for the third time, “When I’m feeling depressed, I’m never ‘sad.’ When I’m sad, at least I’m feeling something. When I’m depressed, I don’t feel anything at all. I’m numb.” He nodded, typed on my chart, and continued asking questions while referring to depression as “being sad.”
Reliving the memories of the worst parts of my life began to make me feel dazed, distracted, from trying to keep myself from crying. Trying to stick to what an old therapist called the “intellectual version of events,” meaning the version I tell people so they know the facts of what happened, but devoid of emotion so I don’t start blubbering every time someone starts talking about family. “Does anyone in your family have a history of drug and alcohol abuse? Mental health issues? Suicide?”
“My great uncle on my mother’s side killed himself, and, and…my father…” the words stuck in my throat like little pills I’d taken dry. How to briefly summarize that my father was born with a heart defect that required him to take blood thinners, and after my brother refused to see him because he realized that our father was a pedophile and a narcissist, that he then stopped taking the blood thinners and had a self-induced stroke, leaving him on life support while doctors pressured me, the sole inheritor of his estate, the daughter who had not spoken to him in seven years, to choose whether or not to pull the plug? That, after my grandmother made the decision for us, I had to clean out his apartment, navigating around his landlord and roommate, who looked at me and my mother like we were gold-diggers in his trash heap of an estate? That the woman he was dating when he died still believes my family had something to do with his death, that we organized it or poisoned him because we unfairly vilified him? How do I tell him about my father, the rapist, without remembering how I worshipped my father as a child, and how his abandonment left a chasm from which I am, 20 years later, still healing? The word pills refused to form.
“Your father killed himself,” my doctor said, not looking up as he filled out his charts. I nodded, felt the pills dissolve. “Yes,” I said, “He did.”
“Have you tried any other antidepressant medication?” “History of drug or alcohol use?” “Have you ever considered looking into sleep hygiene, or therapies designed to treat trauma, like EMDR?”
I noticed that the appointment was turning from a regular refill request into an inquisition. His questions devolved from the ones you’d expect from a regular check-up to those of someone taking prescriptions into their own hands: clearly this patient has only seen crappy doctors up until this point, otherwise why would she be on a controlled substance like Lorazepam?
“You know, things like marijuana or benzos may help you fall asleep, but they may actually degrade the quality of sleep you experience. You seem like an intelligent person, someone who understands research, here is a study done in France that shows that benzodiazepines lead to dementia in later years…” He appealed to my intellect while making me feel like an idiot about the way I treated my body—truly a master stroke of douchey genius.
I began to feel like I needed to defend myself and the way I handled my own mental health. “I exercise four times a week” “I meditate every night” “I practice progressive relaxation” “I’ve been in therapy for years.”
He began holding up various hard copies of studies for me to read and local mental health clinics I could look into, lecturing me on the dangers of what he called “Those Medications.”
It had been 75 minutes. I had not expected to need this much mental energy and stamina for this appointment. It was supposed to be a simple refill—just a check-up, in and out. I felt my mental state, as he would have put it, “deteriorating,” and tried to wrap it up as diplomatically as I could—too aggressive, and he would see me as a junkie, if he didn’t already.
“I really appreciate your putting the effort into researching this for me,” I said, gently interrupting him when he showed no signs of stopping, “I will definitely look into these resources—especially the anxiety behavioral clinic, thank you for that—but I do have another appointment shortly after this, so I’d like to know if you are going to be able to write a refill for my prescription today? I have spoken with both my regular doctor and my therapist, who agree that this is an appropriate medication for me under these circumstances.”
“No,” he said, “I don’t prescribe Those Medications under any circumstances—you’re certainly welcome to see another doctor, get a second opinion, but I never prescribe Those Medications. Now, there are some other medications you might want to try, have you heard of Buspiro or Hydroxyzine?”
I believe he only wrapped up the conversation shortly after because I had mentioned my other appointment—he had shown little interest in or respect for me as a person—as a patient—until I mentioned that I had somewhere else to be. I was furious, ashamed, left feeling like a junkie trying to get her fix, instead of what I am, a woman who has survived years of trauma and spent decades searching for any non-medicinal way to heal myself and treat my trauma-induced mental illnesses. I’m someone who’s come a hell of a long way on my own willpower and hard work, but who cannot function like a normal individual without my medicine. I’ve tried, multiple times, and only in the past few years have I begun to shed the shame that Conservative Christian upbringing has always associated with mental health medication. Today, I felt that shame again, the scab pulled, the tiny hole of doubt and disgust re-opened. I’m not sure how long it will take to re-cover.