Friday, January 20, 2006

The Psychiatrist

Spitting mad. Fuming mad. Rumpelstiltskin mad. Yes, I am one angry girl. I met yesterday with a psychiatrist at my HMO, hoping it might bolster my disability claim. I'm not saying this man was unattractive, but if I found myself alone on a desert island with him I would view him as food. Yes, cannibalistically mad. But we weren't alone on a desert island; we were in a situation out of an Edith Wharton novel, one in which deviations from social protocol were fraught with devastating consequences. Various interconnected bureaucracies which controlled my fate were to be moved by what he wrote down after we spoke. So I strove for absolute decorum. For deference. For compliance. Judge me if you like, but haven't you felt this way toward a boss at some time in your life?

There was irony in the means by which the psychiatrist was provoking my fury. In an obvious, ham-handed way, he was painting a picture of me as a timid person who was projecting my fears onto a benign environment, believing it to be filled with imagined chemical threats. As I was struggling to conceal my rage he was saying, with exaggerated sympathy, " you must experience the world as a very frightening place." I assume he is of the school positing that all patients who believe they have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities are operating under a delusion. I could have told him that I did have a terrible fear of letting slip snide remarks that would provoke him to retaliate against me in his chart notes, but I mumbled something vague that could be taken as an assent.

Before I go on, I should say I went into this appointment with quite specific goals for the psychiatrist's larger decisions, all of which were met. He gave me the diagnosis I wanted, saying I had a low-grade depression, which is true enough. He didn't try to prescribe medication, and, mercifully, he didn't schedule a return appointment. As an unexpected bonus, he let me know of a meditation class I might actually be interested in taking. So, I must have been doing something right, but I was aware that I was leaking hostility at various times.

"Do you have friends?" he asked out of the blue at one point.

"Yes, I have friends," I replied evenly. The tone of my voice said, "You inquire into people's social support a dozen times a day and this is the tactful phrasing you've perfected? Why not ask if I have any friends at all?"

After discussing the meditation class, he asked, "So, how do you feel about what I think?"

"I don't know what you think," I shot back brightly. Between the lines any astute observer would have heard, "Don't imagine I can't guess well enough what you think, you transparent fool."

He handed me a brochure listing the "behavioral medicine" classes offered by the HMO and asked if I'd seen it before. I said, "I can't tell. It looks so generic." I meant, but quickly wished to God I hadn't managed to communicate, "You are indistinguishable from every corporate clone I've ever met."

Yeah, I screwed up, but I wasn't the only one who lapsed a little from the social norm. As I was leaving I commented on a potted plant with leaves that looked like parsley, but that turned out to be something of which I'd never heard. I asked if it was also an edible plant. "We don't eat the aralia, because then it won't grow, " he said, as if issuing a warning instruction, but, strangely, in baby talk. Did he fear his shrinking violet of a patient was going to savagely destroy a living being right there in his office? Only in fantasy, sir (and not the pretty herb). Per the doctor's orders, we don't need to react just because we are aware of a noxious stimulus.


Lynn said...

Bet he didn't reckon you'd be analyzing him!! Yeah, send someone with MCS to a psychiatrist who has no understanding of the illness. Very smart system you're trying to forge. Keep yer head up.


Anonymous said...

Oh I love this description of the psychiatrist. So typical. I wish I'd known of this site before my second edition went to print. I would have listed it and asked to cite your funny comments. So sorry professionals behave this way. This is what they are taught to do. They haven't become "real" through any personal trauma to break them out of business as usual.
Pam Gibson