Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Psychiatrists and AA Directors

This may come across as controversial or narrow-minded, but I have a strong opinion on something that I have absolutely no control over. Let me explain…

Take for instance an AA director. This person is required to have experienced a past problem with alcohol. He/she must know the hardships and the consequences that go along with being an alcoholic. They also must share the same experiences of breaking the habit of drinking. They have to be sober, yet have the history in order to fully grasp what the other former and current alcoholics are going through. The director of the AA meeting should be able to relate to each person and how hard it was to stop or limit their intake of alcohol. Stories and personal information are shared in order to establish that trust factor. They’re in it together.

What about the concept of the psychiatrists and psychologists? Of course they spent years in school studying about the human psyche, but how can they relate to people who have panic attacks, depression, bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia? How can they understand what it feels like to experience an anxiety attack without warning? How can they share stories upon how they felt when they were struck down with agoraphobia or heard voices in their head?

(I’m not putting psychiatrists or psychologists down in any way, I’m just thinking a little too much today.)

Sometimes when I’m sitting in my psychiatrist’s office, I often wonder if he’s really listening. I know many people say, “Well if he isn’t helping you, then you should see another therapist.” True. But every time I seek out a new counselor, they all do the same thing practically. Most of them all pill pushers and strongly believe that a pill will make it all better. For me, taking medication gives me awful side effects. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works best for me. It may not work best for some people, but through CBT and meditation, this is what suits me. Other people swear by a medication to make their symptoms go away. That’s okay. But it’s not for everyone in my opinion.

Here’s what does work for me though… Talking to my best friend and sharing personal stories that may upset me. I know she understands because she has gone through similar circumstances and she can relate to all of it. Some believe that talking to someone from an outsider’s point of view is the best way. Everyone should determine what works best for them. Anxiety disorder, depression, bi-polar disorder and other psychological problems should be taken seriously. They can manifest itself into another disorder. I remember when I first started getting panic attacks I literally thought that I was dying. It’s a scary feeling. The anxiety attacks manifested itself into agoraphobia, where I couldn’t walk into a grocery store full of people. I was afraid that I would get an anxiety attack in front of everyone and pass out. The embarrassment of that thought alone triggered agoraphobia, and then it trickled over into going to big department stores and malls. It was debilitating.

Without treatment (because I was too strong-minded for that), I started getting worse. I then began to be afraid of being home alone. It frightened me. What if I choke on something and no one knows? What if I die here and no one finds out that I’ve been dead for hours? What if I have a panic attack and it turns into a heart attack? Who will know? All these irrational thoughts plagued me. So now, I’m not only afraid of going into grocery stores, malls or even venturing out of my house, but now I have the horror of being afraid to be in my house alone! I can’t get away from “fear”. I started developing phobias that were so ridiculous. I stayed away from certain foods, believing they would make me sick or give me anxiety. Strange smells and strong scented perfumes made me gag and then an anxiety attack would come on. I finally realized that I needed help. I couldn’t live my life in fear anymore.

Little by little, I started driving out to get gas for my car and then come back home. I kept saying to myself, “If I get scared, I can always turn around.” Then the gas station led to going to the nearby stores. I started getting even braver- facing my fears. I started going on interviews. I didn’t plan to accept any of the jobs, but it was a start to interact with people and get out there. It wasn’t so scary after all. I prayed and prayed that I would get better somehow. I didn’t want to be this timid and scared person anymore.

At one interview, I remember standing in the lobby waiting for the boss’s secretary to come and get me. It was a job I have been dreaming about since I was fourteen years old. I couldn’t believe they had an opening, but I had to do it or I would just hate myself. They hired me on the spot. I took it. I couldn’t believe I said “yes”. The words, “Yes, I accept” came right out of my mouth. After that, I’ve learned all my irrational fears had kept me from doing so much.

Working for this company, I found myself accepting lunch offers, going out with the girls and even going to happy hour. I was beginning to feel like myself again. No one had a clue that I had a problem with anxiety disorder. I was ‘one of them’ in their eyes. Knowing that, I started to believe it. It’s amazing how powerful the mind really is. If you believe it, you can achieve it. There is nothing that’s impossible…and I say that with the help of God.

So my question is, how can a psychiatrist or psychologist relate to people who have mental disorders if they never experienced this before? If you say education and the right schooling, then let me ask you this… If a person who never touched a drop of alcohol goes to school for alcohol abuse, should they be allowed to be directors of AA?