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Strategies For Appointments

Advocating for yourself can seem completely counter-intuitive. Why should you have to work so hard to get what any other person gets? Why is getting the help you need so impossible? Why do no doctors or professionals seem to take your issues seriously? How do I even know what I need or what would help?

While there is no fix for someone not being a good steward of their profession or duties, there are some things you can do to get the best results out of your efforts to get help either with disability services, accommodations or with doctors and mental health professionals. Please keep in mind that these are my personal experiences with what is effective and useful.

Take Notes

If you’re starting to seek out help for an issue from doctors or therapists, there is nothing that is going to assist you more than taking notes on your symptoms, problems, routine or moods. The best approach to solving a problem is a systematic one. Get a daily agenda, a notebook, make a Twitter account or open an Excel spreadsheet and make it a habit to record the things you think are relevant. Data is absolutely indispensable in making the right decisions for you. The more information you have, the better you’ll be able to see patterns or problems and the more thorough a professional can be.

I am a bit of an extremist. The image associated with this entry is a part of my daily tracking spreadsheet, a spreadsheet I’ve been keeping for over four years now. It has helped me identify dissociative triggers, medication side effects, lost time, food intolerances, insomnia triggers — you name it, I’ve figured it out. I’ve put this spreadsheet in the cloud so I can share it with relevant parties and modify it as soon as I remember to do so from wherever I am.

Ask Questions

Think of your time spent with professionals as a relationship. It being a one way transmission of information is not particularly useful. It should not be merely transactional. Asking questions and collaborating to solve the problem is an expectation you should set on your very first interaction. It shows your provider that you are invested, interested and eager for a resolution and if you’re working with the right providers, they should respond in kind.

It can be intimidating or anxiety-including to speak out about your concerns. My best weapon against that is to literally call an audible. Preface your statement by saying ‘I’m not sure, but…’ or ‘It makes me nervous to say this’ or even ‘I’m curious…’. Being honest about my wonderings or weird idiosyncracies has never resulted in anything but more understanding. As an extreme example my anxiety problems cause me to get hyper-emotional and cry in almost any medical situation. Dentists, Optometrists and General Practitioners alike have seen me panic cry. And while it’s super weird, as soon as I explain all they ever want is to know if they can make me more comfortable.

There’s really no wrong question to ask about YOUR mind or body. Professionals are a resource of information and they like to be useful.

Set Goals

Solving a problem you are encountering when mentally ill, disabled, or just living life often takes a huge amount of energy and focus. It can become a quest, the sole thing on your horizon. And while solving the issue at hand can bring relief, I know a lot of people are left with an attitude of ‘what now?’ after they end up addressing their needs.

When working with providers, talk about what your issues are preventing you from doing. In an ideal world, what would you be doing? What would your energy be going to? Start an appointment with a new provider by stating what you’d like to be doing and why exactly that isn’t possible in your current situation. Not only will a good provider help you address what’s keeping you from doing what you want, but they will also often know of other resources for you to look in to for support.

As an example, SAID and many other disability programs and social service centers have advisors who can direct you to other services or resources in the community. Personally, my goal was to attend University. And while it took an incredible amount of paperwork and appointments and assessments, I told my Psychiatrist that that was what I wanted to be able to do. It set an expectation for our collaborative relationship, and because she could see it was something I was working toward, she was an advocate for me for not only University accommodations and my disability program requirements, but also other community supports she felt would help keep me on track with my overall goal of attending University and maintaining stable mental health.

Changing the basis of our interactions from ‘hello medication please ok bye’ to a collaborative relationship would have been harder to do without my wanting more than just medication that worked. You, as a person, deserve more than the bare minimum consideration from not only providers in your community, but yourself as well. I hope these strategies are useful in some way to someone.

If you have your own experiences or tips, feel free to chime in in the comments.

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