If you’ve been following my multi-part reflection on the “Hearing Voices That Are Distressing” exercise in which I participated as part of my Mental Health class for OT school, then you know that this section I am writing about has already been preceded by two other stations: the problem solving station with the “supervisor” and the reading comprehension station with the “psychologist.” After working with the psychologist, we were sent to the “waiting room” in anticipation of our meeting with the “psychiatrist.”
This constituted our third station:
My third station involved my mental status examination with the psychiatrist. I sat in the waiting room, trying to find interesting reading material in the magazines and newspapers available to me. The voices were persistent, and I couldn’t really block them out enough to be able to concentrate on any of the interesting reading materials I had found. Dealing with the voices in silence was taxing. I couldn’t get away from them. Although it felt like a half an hour, I was relieved that I only had to wait a few minutes before the psychiatrist came and retrieved me as her first patient in my group.
I stepped into the psychiatrist’s corner and sat down facing her. It was hard for me to hear her voice, as well as my own, due to the earbuds and voices in my ears. When I talked to her, however, I was able to tune out the voices and concentrate more than when I had been doing silent activities such as reading and problem solving. I found solace in the external noise and I discovered that, if I focused on the pronunciation of my words when I was talking, I could tune out the voices even more successfully. The psychiatrist looked at her clipboard and coldly asked me my name and social security number. I thought I clearly communicated them to her, but she made me repeat them to her, clearly annoyed that I had made myself difficult to understand. She asked me why I was there, and I suddenly realized that I didn’t have a good explanation. The professors had told us not to “role play” or pretend that we were a psychiatric patient, but to just be ourselves. I had no idea how to respond to the psychiatrist’s question, so I said, “I don’t know…I’m tired?” “You’re tired?” she retorted back to me. “You’re here because you’re tired?” I knew it was a bad answer. I looked at her, searching for an answer that would just get me to the next question. Fumbling for words, I finally blurted, “Because of the professors.” I immediately realized how crazy that sounded. “The professors?” she responded. “Who are the professors?” I knew I would not be able to explain myself because she already had it in her mind that I was incapable of producing an acceptable answer.
Clearly unsatisfied with my answer about why I was there, the psychiatrist decided to move on with her examination of my mental state. The creepy whispers continued in my ears. I continued to find refuge in the audible conversation with the not-so-nice psychiatrist, though I had to concentrate extra hard to make sure that I was answering her questions the way I wanted to and not becoming overly distracted by the voices. She asked me who the last four presidents of the United States were. I made my way slowly through the list, just to make sure that I answered them correctly so she didn’t think I was stupid or out of touch with reality. Then she asked me who the current Vice President of the United States is. I know who that is – it’s Joe Biden. But in that moment, his name was on the tip of my tongue and it took me probably ten seconds of serious memory-searching to come up with the words to communicate the picture of the Vice President that I had in my head. I couldn’t tell if she was pleased or not that I had finally answered the question correctly. I was relieved when she asked me to subtract by 7’s from 100, though I went so slowly for fear of making a mistake that she shushed me before I made it down to zero. She then asked me to explain to her what I thought the following abstract phrase meant: A rolling stone gathers no moss. Usually, I’m really good at coming up with explanations for things on the spot. I tried to reason through the adage, but I couldn’t think clearly. I felt really dumb. The voices continued. She presented me with another expression to explain to her: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Even though I felt I explained this one well, it didn’t seem to matter to the psychiatrist. She just glared at me and made me feel like no answer I could offer her would be good enough for her.
I was completely flustered when she finally dismissed me to my community activity.