On Getting Mental Health Treatment at the VA & Your Psych Saying “It’s Time to Kick Your Bipolar in the Ass”


I really can’t complain about my psychiatrist. She’s really soft spoken but understanding, accommodating, knows her stuff, is thorough, listens to my sometimes disjointed explanations of my symptoms (this is where my mood chart helps, BIG TIME), and lets me barrage her with whatever questions pop up.

In fact, if I were to have any complaint at all, it wouldn’t really be with her. It would be with the VA hospital. I’m grateful that the Dept of Veteran Affairs has a major hospital in Philly I can go to for treatment. I just hate that it has the all too familiar “hurry up and wait” operational model like the military. It’s the epitome of bureaucracy. Their mental health clinic is fairly decent, but because they are understaffed (like much of the VA as a whole), each psych’s patient load is pretty heavy and they are always double booked. If you call and leave a message, it usually takes 2-4 days for your psych to get back to you, and their voicemails are always full.

When you come in for an appointment, the wait time can be torture, sometimes taking 2-3 hours. You arrive for your appointment, sit in the lobby with Vets from Vietnam to Iraq, listen to them argue and swap war & treatment stories, and strain your neck to see if your psych is the one walking through the double doors. Fatigued and bored, you practically leap to your feet when your name is called…if it’s your psych, you practically skip off to their office. If it’s the receptionist handing you the sheet that lists all your meds, you flop back down on your seat in disappointment. Lots of sighs and complaints punctuate the atmosphere.

While you’re waiting for your psych to come rescue you from the chaos of the waiting room, two things ALWAYS happen.

  • A fight breaks out…usually between two Vets in their 70’s. I’ve even seen two Vets in wheelchairs go at it. That one was both sad and hilarious to watch
  • A Vet with severe war trauma sits in a corner of the waiting room, quietly mumbling to himself…which doesn’t seem out of the ordinary at all until he starts hallucinating. Suddenly he’s carried off by memories of combat and everyone in the waiting room is either a comrade or an enemy. This usually throws the everyone in the waiting room into a frenzy of confusion, unease, and fear. Sometimes other Vets are triggered and this adds to the erupting chaos. “Code Red, Level 3 on Floor 7” blares over the loud speaker, security shows up, and doctors come rushing out from behind the double doors to help calm the melee.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m either in the hallway or the bathroom hiding when either of those two things happen, keeping an eye out for my psych.

When she does finally come to get me, escaping to her office is a welcome reprieve. She usually only gets to see me for 10-15 minutes because she has so many appointments to keep, but she does her best to take her time with me, asking about the kids, how I’m doing in school, how I’m dealing with things. Sometimes this pushes our time together to 30 minutes instead of 10, but she always reassures me it’s ok-she’d rather take the time to make sure I have everything I need than rush me out.

That is why, like I said, I can’t really complain about her. She rocks. She treats me like a person and not an object or a file number. I can tell she really cares about my well being and wants to see me get better. This is what keeps me from complaining about her taking 2-4 days to call me back when I’m struggling.

That’s why when I called and left a message on her voicemail yesterday and she called me back 10 minutes later, I was in shock.

“Hi, A’Driane. I just got your message and wanted to take some time to call you back before I see my next patient. I’ve been wondering how you’ve been doing since we talked on Friday. How are you feeling?”

As I started blurting out the answer, telling her that I’ve gone from just being depressed to being both hypomanic and depressed, having ruminating, racing thoughts, and have seen my OCD symptoms starting to dominate my behavior, she listened quietly. When I was done, she was silent for about a minute before she spoke.

“You know, A’Driane, while I think the Lamictal has been helping you some,  I don’t think it’s enough anymore. After we spoke on Friday, I took a good look at your chart and my notes…and…I think it’s time we get more aggressive in your treatment. The rapid cycling you’ve been experiencing is more difficult to treat, more complicated than I anticipated. I…I have to admit I’m going to need some help developing a more aggressive approach. We just got a team of manic depressive specialists on staff, and I think it would be a good idea to go ahead and set you up with a consult to see them. I’m also thinking some CBT will help you develop some better coping strategies, so I’m going to have you set up with one of our therapists, okay? I know it takes alot for you to get here, and you have the boys, but I think if you can get to these appointments they can help us start to really get this under control for you. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s time to kick your Bipolar in the ass. Let’s throw everything we can at this. I want to get you healthy. What do you think?”

Well first of all I’m shocked you just said “ass”. Kinda awesome. Sounds good to me. I’m feeling pretty desperate so I’m game for anything at this point. I just want need relief. BAD.

“And that’s what I’m going to try to get for you. So I’ll set these consults up for you, and in the meantime, let’s double your Lamictal dose now, and go up another 50mg in about 2 weeks. I’m also going to prescribe you an anti psychotic to help with the OCD and the thoughts you’re having. Let’s also try taking some Xanax to help calm you down until we get these meds to you. I’m ordering them now, you should have them before the week is out. Do you have enough to last you until then?”

Yes.

“Good. One more thing-promise me you’ll go to the ER if suicidal thoughts kick in-promise?”

Promise.

“Ok. How did the end of the semester go? How are the boys?”

And that, people is why I love her.

So…I guess it’s time to start fighting harder and kick some ass.

I’m ready.
Advertisements

5 thoughts on “On Getting Mental Health Treatment at the VA & Your Psych Saying “It’s Time to Kick Your Bipolar in the Ass”

    • I know it is. It feels nearly impossible. I couldn’t do it last week or two weeks ago when I was feeling suicidal. I honestly wasn’t feeling like I had anything left to give until I talked to her yesterday…that started to give me some strength to start fighting.

      I know trying to find what works has been hell for you. I’d give anything to have you find relief. I’m here for you-keep talking to me. I’ll help carry you through this until you get some strength again. It will come. Don’t give up. I didn’t think it was coming but it did, and I know it will for you. Love you Pam. Keep holding on. Just do what you can to hold on. You’re worth the fight. You’re worth fighting for.

  1. If it’s any consolation…my appointments with my psych are 15 minutes long. Unless I book it for the end of the day and then I get longer appointments. You and I both lucked out on good doctors my friend. It’s so refreshing to know that there is someone other than yourself fighting for you. You better chalk me up as one of those people who are fighting along side you and I’ll kick YOUR ass if you don’t reach out to me. I mean it. I’ll board a plane and kick you in the ass.
    Love you. Now go get em.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s