healthcare, mental health, musings

Death of a head shrinker…

A few days ago, I read an article in The New York Times about new drugs that can help treat obesity and perhaps “end the stigma” of being overweight. I’m old enough to have seen a lot of so-called magic bullet obesity drugs on the market. I remember in the late 90s, there was Meridia, which used to be advertised on TV all the time. This ad showed pleasingly plump women in loud prints, breezily lumbering along with smiles on their faces… The ads promised that the drug would help fat people control their appetites and lose weight. Then it was voluntarily withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2010, because it was shown to increase risk of heart attacks and strokes.

I remember this ad so well…

In the 1990s, there was also the Fen-Phen combo of drugs, which was said to be very effective in helping people lose weight. Bill says his ex wife took that combination for awhile. Apparently, she was very upset when it was taken off the market. I remember that combination of Fenfluramine and Phentermine was removed because it supposedly caused heart valve problems as well as high blood pressure. Ex, indeed, reportedly had issues with her heart, other than the fact that it’s so small. She had to have surgery at some point.

And then there was the drug my former psychiatrist gave me. For some reason, my former shrink felt besides the antidepressants I definitely needed, I should also take Topamax to help me lose weight. Topamax is a drug that is used for stopping seizures, curing migraines, and treating bipolar disorder. My shrink didn’t give it to me for those purposes, though. He prescribed it because one of the side effects of Topamax is decreased appetite. He felt I was too fat, and Topamax would help me lose weight.

Granted, I wanted to lose weight… and I was tired of hearing him harp on my body when I went to see him for prescription refills. So I tried Topamax for awhile. I often got the third degree from pharmacists, since I was also taking Wellbutrin, which is said to cause seizures in some people (but not me). Pharmacists would become alarmed at the drug combination and question me, and I would have to tell them that I wasn’t taking Topamax because I have seizures. It was embarrassing.

The Topamax did kill my appetite, which Bill didn’t like, because I didn’t want to cook or eat dinner. It also made carbonated beverages taste terrible, which wasn’t a bad thing, since I was addicted to Diet Pepsi at the time. But even with health insurance, the drugs were expensive, especially since I was also taking name brand Wellbutrin (the generic version didn’t yet exist). I also didn’t lose a lot of weight, much to the psychiatrist’s dismay. He wondered if I had a slow thyroid.

I remember feeling really horrible about his comments. At the time I was seeing him, I had actually lost a lot of weight because I was waiting tables and didn’t have time to eat or sit down. The pounds came off pretty easily and most people thought I looked pretty good. However, I was constantly sick during that time, partly because I was fresh from the Peace Corps and kept getting skin infections and also because I was run down because I was always working. I developed a distinct disdain for that shrink because even though I suffered greatly from body image issues, eating disorder issues, anxiety and depression, this guy kept harassing me about my figure… even after I was happily married to Bill, who didn’t care that I wasn’t skinny.

I was reminded of this shrink the other day, as i read the article in The New York Times the “new” magic bullet drugs that could help people shed pounds and the scorn and harassment that comes from being overweight. I shared the article on Facebook and my former therapist, who is now a friend, commented that the article is interesting. I wrote that I thought his “friend”, the psychiatrist, should see it. My former therapist wrote, “Yes, but he’s dead.”

I hadn’t known the former head shrinker had died. I went looking for his obituary, and lo and behold, there it was. He actually died two years ago. I had no idea. Several people had left kind comments about his memory. If I’m honest, I could see how they came to their conclusions about him. On the surface, the former head shrinker was “nice” enough. I remember thinking he had kind of a gentle, steady air about him. But he also really pissed me off on a regular basis by calling me “kid” when I was a grown and married woman, making comments that were belittling, and giving me a hard time about not being thin when I already had terrible issues with self esteem. I got the impression that he had a personal bias. I also didn’t like it when he acted in a paternalistic way. He was very much an old school kind of doctor who treated me like a child. It wasn’t very helpful at a time when I was trying to launch.

Fortunately, I only went to see that doctor for medication. I saw my therapist, a younger, hipper, and more empathetic guy, for psychotherapy. I will give the head shrinker credit, too. He was a competent psychiatrist in that he found the right drug for me. Wellbutrin changed and maybe even saved my life. Within just a few days of taking it, I felt like a completely different person. After taking it for several years and then getting off the drug, I still haven’t gone back to the awful way I used to feel every day… the way that was normal for me, but made other people think I was legitimately crazy. People used to ask me if I was bipolar all the time. They don’t anymore, although I don’t spend much time around other people anymore.

In 2007, before we moved to Germany the first time, I requested my records from the shrinks. I needed them because the Army required all of my medical records so I could be evaluated for the EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program). This was supposedly a must before they would send us to Germany, but as it turned out, the National Guard (Bill’s official employer– he was a full time “federalized” Guardsman) didn’t give a fuck about my EFMP status the way the regular Army would have. I was forced to join the EFMP, but it turned out that I could have skipped the whole process and the National Guard wouldn’t have been the wiser. It would have been nice if I had known that, since the whole EFMP screening process was traumatic for me on many levels. I won’t get into that now, though. I think I reposted about my experience with the whole EFMP business. Thank God Bill is retired.

Unwisely enough, I read the notes my shrinks wrote about me. My cool therapist wrote positive, affirming notes. The dead head shrinker wrote things that upset me… like, for instance, I had a “garish” appearance. I was a bit taken aback by that. People have described me in a lot of ways, but never “garish”. That implies that I looked tacky, gaudy, or like a clown. And I didn’t see what my choices in makeup and clothing had to do with my mental well-being. Isn’t it better if someone with depression isn’t wearing black? He also made comments about my weight in his notes… and on more than one occasion, seemed a bit frustrated that his chemical cures weren’t slimming me down. I know very well that I’m not a thin person… but he made it sound like I was just disgustingly obese. When I was seeing him regularly, I wore a size 14 or 16… which is pretty average among American women, even if it’s not ideal in terms of most women’s most attractive body size.

It was a little strange reading about this man’s death. I mean, I know it had to happen… he was old enough, although he was several years younger than my father was when he died. I noticed the obituary didn’t mention a wife. I remember he was married when I saw him. I’d heard she was his third wife, and she had been about my age, while the shrink was old enough to be my dad. He’d had a young daughter back in the late 90s, which would mean she’s a young adult now. He also had four other children. I remember thinking that I hoped his youngest daughter didn’t have weight issues when she was growing up. I had a feeling he would ride her about them. And I guess, just based on his obituary, that his wife was no longer married to him when he passed a couple of years ago. He was a tall, somewhat handsome man, and he didn’t have a weight problem. But that didn’t stop him from having problems of his own.

I don’t like seeing doctors. I haven’t seen one since 2010, when Bill made me go because we thought my gallbladder might need to come out. It turned out it wasn’t bad enough to be yanked. One of the reasons I don’t like seeing doctors is because of that shrink… as well as the horrible OB-GYN who did my very first (of only two) gynecological exams. She physically and mentally hurt me so bad and shamed me so much that I became a bit phobic of medical people, even though I have a background in healthcare. Now I don’t go to doctors unless I’m about to die.

But maybe I shouldn’t blame these doctors for turning me off of their services so much… They’re only human, right? I’m sure they had my best interests in mind when they fat shamed me. The OB-GYN wrongly predicted I would get very fat in Armenia. I actually lost a lot of weight there. I did gain it back, but then I came home and waited tables and lost even more weight. And then I gained it back when I quit waiting tables… which was a good move for my overall health– especially my mental health– even if I didn’t have as pretty a package for people to look at. I’m glad to hear about the new drugs that might help people lose weight. I think it’s a good thing to think of obesity as a medical problem rather than a character flaw. However, this is not the first time I’ve heard about drugs that can help with weight loss… and so many of them turn out to be harmful.

Well… one more week to go before Bill is home. I continue to try to keep the faith. Last night, I was thinking about places I might like to visit when we’re finally able to travel again. Funnily enough, I’m planning based on whichever place is the least likely to give me a hard time rather than where I’d really like to spend time. One of the many luxuries of living in Germany is that there are plenty of places to see, and a lot of them are not so hard to drive to. Last night, I was thinking about visiting Krakow, Poland. It’s about a 9 hour drive from where we live. Maybe we can go there this year… after my second vaccine next month.

Also… I guess I’ve now arrived. Yesterday, I was made aware of someone having made a cloned account from my Facebook profile. It had one of my photos from last year, a cover photo using a picture I took in Rothenburg in 2018, and claimed I was a Mexican living in Nashville. I reported the profile, but Facebook naturally says they can’t do anything about it because it “doesn’t violate standards”. Meanwhile, they can give me bullshit warnings because they claim one of my comments was racist hate speech when it was really a criticism of a racist game being pitched on Facebook. They really need to get some real people evaluating these reports again. Facebook sucks, and is becoming more of a joke by the day. Anyway, I left several more complaints, along with a profane comment on the cloned profile. I doubt it will amount to anything. I changed my passwords, just in case.


4 thoughts on “Death of a head shrinker…

  1. I’m cyclothymic, so I can relate to some of the mental health issues you’ve faced.

    Some people feel that they must say kind things about the dead no matter how much of an asshole the deceased was while alive. After one of my high school teachers died about two years ago, four or five former students left messages at a memorial on the funeral home’s website. The messages were all about how “kind” the man was as a teacher. Three of those who left messages were in classes with me, and I know for a fact that they didn’t think he was kind when they were in high school. He was a first-rate jerk who went out of his way to make all students’ lives miserable for the maximum amount of time he could. He was fond of assigning a previously unannounced last-minute major research project two weeks before the end of the term or year. If the students had said something along the lines of “He never played favorites among students.” I would have agreed with them. As far as I could tell, he hated us all equally.

    • Well, in fairness to the shrink, I do think it’s possible that a lot of his patients did genuinely like him. I’m about to write something very politically incorrect, but since you are in the medical field, you may be able to relate…

      Bear in mind, he was practicing in Virginia, in an area of medicine that is often populated by people from other, somewhat exotic by American standards, countries. I have noticed a lot of psychiatrists are of the non-white, non-Christian variety. Keeping in mind that despite what many people want to think, Virginia is a southern state with many Republicans within it, I think it stands to reason that some people liked him just because he was a bearded white guy from the United States.

      In those people’s defense, I’ll write something even less politically correct. When it comes to psychiatry and talking to people about their problems, particularly if the problems are caused by something cultural, it may be legitimately more comforting to talk to someone who shares the same cultural and even racial background. I know it’s not very “woke” to write that, but my father was treated by a Muslim Pakistani psychiatrist when he had Lewy Body Dementia. The psychiatrist used to rag on my dad for wanting beer. Being a Muslim from Pakistan, he probably didn’t understand that a southern white male, who was also an alcoholic, would miss drinking beer. I do think sometimes, in medicine, it does make a difference when a practitioner has an understanding and respect for a patient’s culture. And my former shrink probably did, although he was from the Midwest, rather than the South.

      In any case… I will agree that on the surface, he did seem nice and kindly. However, I noticed that what he said and did didn’t always match up to that nice and kind air he had. Describing me as “garish” looking was kind of shitty, even though he probably never thought I’d read his notes. Putting me on an anti-seizure medication because he thought I should lose weight and the medicine had an appetite killing effect (and not because he had any clue about my physical health status) was shitty. Calling me “kid” when I was a 30 year old married woman was shitty. Telling me to go on a diet during the very first session, when I was very depressed, anxious, and scared and feeling horrible about myself, was tone deaf and hurtful… especially as I also described being sexually abused. And… shaking my hand after I warned him that they were wet because I had just washed them, then wiping them on his pants was also kind of shitty.

      Personally, I didn’t like him much, and I had my reasons for feeling that way. As for what others thought of him, I really don’t know…

      • I think you’re absolutely right about the need for psychiatrists / psychologists / therapists /counselors to be able to relate to their patients, and vice versa. It’s unfortunate if it’s purely an “appearance” thing, as in the person inherited physical characteristics of biological parents who hail from the Mideast but was actually raised in as white-bread a setting as I was, or if the person even came from a more exotic location but took the time and trouble to thoroughly understand the dominant culture of his/her new home and to rid himself or herself of formerly held prejudices. Regardless, it’s all too personal for a patient not to have the right to use a practitioner with whom he/she feels comfortable. Maybe it’s not quite fair to the doctor from wherever who isn’t getting the referrals he or she needs, but it’s about the patients and not the doctors. Patients in Pakistan would probably feel the same way about practitioners of northern European descent (if they ever actually saw one).

        I personally think the same is true of the intimate physical stuff as well. I’ll go to whatever cardiologist or pulmonary specialist I’m referred to if he or she is competent, but when someone is going to be sticking fingers in body cavities below my waist, it’s going to be someone who doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable just by walking into the room.

      • Absolutely… and you may remember my rant about that on my old blog. I once got a ration of shit from so called friends because I didn’t want to see a PA I was referred to who had a bunch of stuff posted online that made me uncomfortable.

        And your point about people from Pakistan potentially being uncomfortable with WASPy types is on point, too.

Comments are closed.