I had an appointment with my psychiatrist the other day. It started like most of them do — I fill out a little survey in the waiting room, she comes and gets me and we chat about how I’m feeling as she looks over my answers and asks any questions she has about them.
This time though, she kind of pauses halfway through the survey and says, “Kim, I don’t get it.” Don’t get what? I wonder to myself, but she continues: “I’ve been doing postpartum mental health for 12 years and I still feel like I missed something with you. I should have recognised how badly you must have been feeling earlier.”
I reply with the only thing that comes to mind. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?” she asks, half-laughing. “If anything I’m the one who should be sorry.”
And maybe she’s right, but I’m also pretty sure that part of the reason why she had trouble realising I needed help was that it took me a while to even admit it to myself, let alone open up enough to share how much I was struggling.
Which is both unfortunate and a little weird, honestly. Not that it’s weird to be uncomfortable asking for help, that’s pretty normal and in fact basically the thesis of this piece. It’s weird because the person being uncomfortable asking for help in this instance is me. Me, the girl who posts things on Facebook about her brain issues. Me, the girl who has willingly attended psych appointments more of her life than not. Me, the friend who has convinced at least a handful of you to try therapy yourselves.
And yet I managed to sit in the office of the psychiatrist I’d already been seeing for two years and tell her with a straight face that I was feeling pretty good and excited about the whole newborn thing while actually I was slowly crumbling on the inside and barely sleeping despite the baby slumbering away. I don’t even think I was lying at the time. I just wanted so badly to be well that I managed to convince myself that I was, despite all evidence to the contrary. Me! Heck to her 12 years of experience, I’ve dealt with my crazy brain for 30.
So I understand her confusion at missing my distress. I would be confused too… at least I would be if this exact same thing hadn’t happened before. If this was the first time I had waited too long to say something, the first time I’d convinced myself everything was okay long past the point where it was not. But it’s not the first time. Not even the second or third time either.
Why do I wait so long then? Why don’t I just say something sooner? It’s not exactly an easy question to answer, because the reason(s) aren’t always the same every time, and they’re not always the same for every person. Nevertheless, I think a lot of us are putting off getting help for similar reasons, and I have a few things to say about that.
“I don’t deserve help.”
Maybe it’s because you’re too messed up for anyone to be able to ever “fix” you or maybe it’s because you’re not really messed up enough to warrant help in the first place. I understand. I’ve been on both sides of this coin. In fact part of this whole recent episode of me not saying something soon enough was definitely that I assumed “real” postpartum disorders would be much more serious. That sufferers would be, well, suffering much more. But that’s silly. And it’s rarely how we decide who gets helps anyway. Sure, in the case of an overwhelming amount of emergent physical injuries, patients may need to be triaged.