When to go to a specialist? On mental health with Weronika Wasiak
Weronika Wasiak has been running the account on Instagram since March @chad_owa. On it, she discusses bipolar disorder, promotes the idea of self-compassion and disenchants myths related to mental health. In the interview, she talked about what to expect when you visit a psychiatrist or psychologist and proved that lockdown can be a positive thing
Hi, Veronica. Thanks for making time for me and our readers. Let me start with a slightly provocative question: have you thought about canceling our conversation?
Hi, Dorota. Thank you so much for the invitation. As far as cancelling, I haven’t really thought about it. Only 15 minutes ago I was thinking about postponing it because I had a crying attack. But it’s better now!
You use both a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Under what circumstances did you make your first appointment?
As for the psychologist, I made my first appointment to learn more about independence and self-reliance. I needed to learn how to make my own decisions. A psychiatrist, on the other hand, came into my life when I stopped enjoying everything. Even from something that was once my most desired pastime.
Did your expectations correspond with reality? Or did you sometimes leave the office feeling disappointed or misunderstood?
I have always been lucky with psychologist. I met with patience and understanding. I can safely say that each of my therapies was different, but all were successful. The bigger issue came in terms of psychiatry and drug treatment. Given my own experience, I think it’s easier to run into someone who will treat us as just another person who needs any kind of prescription and “goodbye”.
Let’s take this opportunity to clarify, because probably not everyone is aware – what are the basic differences between a psychiatrist and a psychologist/psychotherapist?
I don’t want to pretend to be an expert here. I treat my Instagram as a place with private stories, not scientific guidelines or definitions. I do know, however, that a psychologist is a person who has studied psychology and does not necessarily have to work with people. A psychotherapist, on the other hand, is a person who may have graduated from any college, but needed to complete an expensive school of therapy
To my knowledge, it is better for our therapist to be both a psychologist and a psychotherapist, and to undergo regular supervision. As for the psychiatrist, this is a person who has graduated from medical school and is after specialization in the department of psychiatry. This is the only person who can incorporate drug treatment into therapy.
I won’t ask if your loved ones know about your illness – after all, you write about it on Instagram. However, what was it like in the beginning? Was it always easy for you to talk about visiting specialists, and further the diagnosis and living with the disease?
It definitely wasn’t easy for me. Now I don’t quite remember those times when it was difficult for me to talk about it, whereas the day I said it out loud is still stuck in my memory. I simply wove it into a conversation whose topic was mental health. I was curious about the reaction, but no one particularly reacted. Only later did something great happen – a couple of people, in attendance, came to ask me for advice! How to start, how to try to go to a specialist, and so on… Since then there is no shame in me anymore. So I do my best to remember that not everyone is so nice and comfortable with it. I rely on empathy, whether or not I can imagine what a person who is ashamed of talking about mental health out loud feels.
What did the diagnosis itself give you? A sense of relief and some sort of “identity,” or perhaps a label that stigmatizes?
Relief, relief and more relief. I finally stopped wondering if “maybe I’m not imagining things”. I heard that lying in bed all day and not trying to do anything, even nice things, is not the norm and I can do something about it if I feel unhappy about it. It gave me real motivation to fight. Which I still do to this day.
I think it’s this rationalizing of one’s problems or behavior – or even denying it – that is very pernicious and causes people to get to professionals much later than they should. Do you have any ways to stop thinking this way?
Once a psychologist told me that our mind doesn’t understand the word “no”. When we don’t want to do something and we focus on thoughts of “I don’t want to feel this way” or “I don’t want to think I’m making this up,” all our mind really hears is “I want to feel this way” or “I want to think I’m making this up.” With a pinch of salt of course, however, we actually leave no room in our mind for what we actually want. My way is to say to myself, a little forcefully, “I know how I feel, I feel bad and I need help”. I find it easier to ask for it then.
There’s also the other side of the coin – the people around us can send us messages like “you’re making things up” or “you’re actually looking for attention.” You have stressed several times in your posts that you don’t write for attention or to “stroke your head”. Is this kind of back-up explanation due to the fact that you’ve already faced such accusations?
This is an interesting question that made me think hard about it. I didn’t even know it was possible to glean something like this from my posts. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard directly that I was making things up. It was probably other pins like “you just need to take care of yourself and it will get better”, “start some habits, it won’t be so bad to live” or “you can’t rely so much on medications, they don’t change much”
I admit that it is difficult to fight with such words, but I think I have crossed a certain limit and I follow my own paths. As for the attentiveness… I think it stems from the fact that I mostly surround myself with people who are quieter and more withdrawn than me. Sometimes I think that maybe I’m actually atentic since I behave differently than them.
In your opinion, what are the financial issues of mental health care? Is it available to everyone or is it still a privilege?
I think it is my HUGE privilege. I can’t imagine where I would be if I couldn’t financially afford private therapy or psychiatric appointments. I dream somewhere in the back of my mind of contributing in any way I can to making sure everyone has equal access to psychological help.
Several lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic are behind us. Not being able to go out to a restaurant with friends, arrange for coffee or a movie at the cinema. Did this time affect your mental form?
It did. And in a positive way. I know it sounds silly, but thanks to the lockdown I relaxed a lot. I slowed down, I stopped rushing so much. I started to appreciate the beauty of small things, like walking my sister’s dog or cooking more and more new dishes. But most of all, it helped me to work from home, lessen my contact with people and focus on myself. Don’t get me wrong, I like people, but for some reason social interactions quickly wear me out. Whereas with lockdown, I was able to slow down in that area as well.
Some people don’t want to go to a specialist because they think they can “figure it out” on their own. Do you think it would be possible to manage your disorder on your own?
I think it is possible. I am not an expert. However, I think it is normal for someone to simply not want to seek help from a psychologist/psychotherapist. There are plenty of books on the subject or groups of people who help each other. The most important thing in this subject is self-denial and the will to change. In my opinion, it’s only the decision of the person who is struggling with various problems and wants to fix them.
Of course, it is different for serious, life-threatening problems and the like. I have no scientific knowledge, but in my opinion, there is no other option than a psychiatrist in such a situation.
And keeping an account on Instagram? Can it realistically aid therapy?
I think this solution is not for everyone, but for me, starting this account is a milestone in terms of personal development. Practically every day I am grateful to myself that I started this adventure. My psychologist is proud of it too, and I actually feel like it makes it easier for me.
Let’s end this conversation with something warm and cheery like a hedgehog from your wrist. Do you have an uplifting phrase for people in crisis? Or maybe a favorite meme that always entertains the same way?
An uplifting phrase from me is “never the less.” A quote from my friend Ola’s mom that always helps me when I think to myself, “I can’t do it now. Remember, the biggest cliché helps the most. IT WILL BE GOOD! And here’s a meme from me, greetings as a blonde who bleached her own hair 2 weeks ago.
I couldn’t have imagined a better ending to the conversation! I think I can speak for both of us: we wish everyone health, acceptance, and a better understanding of their own emotions. And to you, Veronica, thank you again for a great conversation!
Also thank you very much, all the best!