The first psychiatrist (“shrink”) I ever saw helped me through a rough time by prescribing me an anti-depressant. I figured I’d be on it short term until I was in a better place. That shrink took my health insurance. I didn’t realize how lucky I was.
Little did I know that once I relocated and needed to find a new doctor, I’d have a better chance of finding a unicorn with a prescription pad than a decent shrink who’d accept my insurance.
I found a new therapist to talk to who took my insurance pretty easily. But you need a medical doctor to prescribe drugs. Most shrinks don’t accept health insurance. They can make more money if they don’t. This sucks for you if you can’t afford it. Unless you have money to burn, you’d better hope you have your head on straight.
I started dialing the “participating” psychiatrists on the list my insurer provided. That list dried up quickly, as I left phone messages on answering machines all around town. Many simply didn’t return my calls. When I was actually able to speak to a living and breathing doctor, my hope dissipated quickly as I heard for the umpteenth time “I’m not accepting [INSERT COMMON INSURANCE] anymore.” I’d check my messages expectantly and hear again, “Sorry, I’m not taking on new patients right now.” I couldn’t help but wonder if they would take me as a new patient if not for my pesky insurance that they claimed to take.
If I couldn’t get a shrink to prescribe the drugs, maybe I should just stop taking them. I thought about quitting them cold turkey, but the side effects would make me sick. Instead, I settled for a psychiatrist who wasn’t on my plan. This meant I paid for the visits out-of-pocket, receiving meager reimbursement from my insurer.
I tried to string as much time and as many refills between visits as I could. I wanted to get off the drugs entirely. But then my shrink would need to see me more often to monitor my progress. As I could barely afford the status quo, taking on even more visits wasn’t going to happen. I hated letting money make my medical decisions for me.
When I got a new job with different health insurance, I decided to shop around for a shrink I could afford. After making a few (ignored) calls to psychiatrists on my new plan, I contacted my work’s Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”). They referred me to Dr. J.
Dr. J lacked any couch-side manner. He talked at me and didn’t listen to my answers. Or he looked at me blankly like I wasn’t making any sense. I tried to reason that we were just getting to know each other. Like a new not-so-promising relationship that you try to remain hopeful about because you’re feeling lonely and desperate to be with anyone. After all, I needed him more than he needed me.
Then I called Dr. J to make an appointment because I was running out of my drugs. He didn’t call me back. I waited a couple of days and called again. I counted the pills in my bottle, thinking of the headaches, dizziness and nausea, among other things I’d suffer if I missed a single dose. He was my doctor. I’d told him personal stuff. How could he just ignore me?
After Dr. J blew off multiple messages for nearly two weeks, I called my EAP and complained. Dr. J miraculously resurfaced, leaving me a message that he’d heard from my EAP. He claimed he’d been “confused” and thought I didn’t want to see him anymore. If I wanted to come back to him, he was game. I mentally replayed my phone messages to him over and over. I was quite clear that I wanted and needed to come in. I knew Dr. J was only calling me because he’d heard from the EAP. He wasn’t really interested.
My EAP next referred me to Dr. M, who was wide-eyed and as disheveled as if he’d just woken up. Jittery and nervous, he talked to me while staring at the wall to the right of my head or down at his desk. He stumbled over his questions and shot alarmed looks at me if I revealed any emotion in my voice or anything too personal. I almost wanted to pat him on the hand and reassure him, “You’re doing a great job.” And “Don’t worry about me, I’m doing great. I won’t be having any mental problems on your watch.”
I walked out of his office with a prescription and a very bad feeling. But I didn’t want to go back to shrink-hunting. He’ll be fine, I told myself. What’s there to talk about really? I have a therapist for that.
When I went back to him the second time, I sat in his office for a long time while he unsuccessfully tried to locate my medical file. The third time? I again had to fill him in, as the second file had disappeared into whatever black hole the first one had been sucked into.
My legalized drug dealer, Dr. M, couldn’t even remember what he was peddling. I’d just have to remind him.
But Dr. M apparently learned to return phone calls from the same school Dr. J did. While waiting for a call back that didn’t come, I grew suspicious. Dr. M seemed really off to me. My research revealed that a few years prior, Dr. M had his medical license suspended for two years for failing to maintain accurate patient records and being negligent in prescribing drugs. He was accused of fraud too.
I’d had enough. I threw up my hands and made an appointment with a shrink — Dr. A — that my therapist recommended. Dr. A isn’t on my medical plan, but at least she returns my calls. Working with her over time, I’m finally almost off the drugs. I can live without them and I don’t want to deal with shrinks anymore. Instead of my shrink making me crazy, trying to figure out how to pay for her more frequent and expensive sessions has been making me nuts instead. But at least I have my therapist to talk to about it.