I’ve had a bad year, mentally. So, when my GP suggested I see a psychiatrist as well as my regular psychologist, I agreed. Psychiatry, even under a mental health plan is extremely expensive, so when I found out this psychiatrist was bulk billing, I thought I hit the Holy Grail.
I was wrong.
My first appointment, I was sure I had the incorrect address. The entryway was dark, full of old, overstuffed furniture. I started towards the stairs, hit the third one and a piercing alarm started blaring. I bolted back down the stairs, hovering uncertainly in the entryway. A head poked out from a door at the top of the stairs.
“Who are you here to see?”
“Come on up! The waiting room is to the left.”
Past the alarm on the third stair again. Awesome. The first thing the psychiatrist said to me (right before telling me I was overweight, just after me bringing up my eating disorder history, because this absurdity had layers)?
“We just need to find you a good husband.”
That was when I was sure this had to be some ridiculous elaborate joke, sure I was being filmed. I could not fathom being treated the way I was if this wasn’t a joke.
In an area adjacent to one of the queerest suburbs I have ever known, I had to come out, yet again, to a health professional presuming I was straight. Presuming that was the default. I’m quite open about my sexuality. It helps I live in an area where queer is the norm. But in the context of coming out to some professionals, I clam up. I’m that scared young adult in a 34-year old’s body all over again. I imagine them looking at me differently, treating me differently.
The anxiety that builds up when they start asking about past and current relationships. The fear when discussing friendships. I start sweating, my voice shakes and my heart feels like it’s going to come out of my chest. I’m always left exhausted, even if I’m brave enough to speak up and declare myself. Sometimes the emotional toll it takes doesn’t feel worth it.
So, I let this psychiatrist go on about me needing a husband (taking three patient phone calls in the meantime) and didn’t speak up, my face getting progressively more pained as I waited for the session to end.
When I left the building, it was into a state of unreality. I’m still not entirely sure how I got home. I kept thinking, “If I were less stable, this would have set me off. If I were less stable, this would have triggered not only a binge eating episode, but a self-harm one too.”
It was my first and last appointment with that psychiatrist. I still haven’t found one. It’s exceptionally hard to find a mental health professional that is affordable. If you’re on benefits and not working, it feels impossible. The good ones, the ones that are recommended to you via whisper networks, that you ask your GP for a referral to, have extraordinarily long wait lists, as do the free and bulk-billed ones. Finding the right mental health professional is kind of like dating – the first appointment is spent trying to see if you click. You might need a couple more before you make an exact decision.
The thing is, a first appointment is so much more expensive than a first date. And you may not have the money to make up your mind. Now, let’s factor in, if the mental health professional doesn’t advertise that they’re LGBTIQ+ friendly, you then have to go through the coming out process. Again.
No wonder I’ve avoided seeing mental health professionals since coming out.
This is not to say that all professionals are like my absurd experience. I have a psychologist I see that is amazing. I’ve been seeing them for four years now and while coming out to them was initially incredibly scary, I did it and it ended up being a positive experience. Now, when we discuss problems I have, they have the full picture and can counsel knowing my background.
Which is the most important part. A mental health professional is supposed to be there to help you navigate those treacherous life waters. They’re supposed to give you the tools needed, so you can swim by yourself. They can’t do that if they don’t have complete honesty from you. But I can’t give complete honesty if I don’t know it’s safe to do so.