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Mental Hygiene

Negativity is like a virus. Even if you are vigilant about taking your meds, challenging irrational thoughts, praying, meditating, and practicing self-acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion, it just takes one negative comment–one careless psychological sneeze–and you’re contaminated.

I’ve had 3 people sneeze on me today. In an effort to avoid contaminating you with too much negativity, I’ll just tell you about the most egregious of the 3 incidents.

I had my follow up appointment with my psychiatrist today. Thank goodness I only have to go twice a year. It’s a 3 and 1/2 hour drive round trip for a 30 minute appointment, and there’s very little about that 30 minutes that is therapeutic. While my psychiatrist knows his drugs, he’s not a particularly good therapist, to put it mildly. Which is OK, I guess, because I have a therapist. But I have to talk about something.

Because I have chronic sleep issues due to my night-owlness, I confessed that I’ve been struggling with regulating my sleep cycle now that I’m not working. Every time I tell him what time I go to sleep and wake up, he makes this judgmental face that looks like he just sucked on a lemon. Then he proceeds to tell me what the research says about the importance of waking up at the same time every day, especially when you have a history of depression. How I need to get morning sunlight, I shouldn’t take naps, I need to be more disciplined, blah blah blah.

I am not good at constructive criticism, but I did manage to say that I’m trying. That I spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about sleep. So much so that it probably interferes with my sleep. He can read my blog if he wants proof.

But I wish I could say something more honest. Something like, you make me feel like crap when you make that stupid face and give me a lecture on sleep hygiene that I already know by heart because I am a clinical psychologist, in case you’ve forgotten. Every time I see you, you just give my inner critic ammunition to tell me how I’m failing at sleep hygiene and that I suck. You are supposed to be helping me with my mental health–not making it worse. Oh, and by the way, your waiting room smells like mold and you need to clean your freaking office and water your damn plants. It doesn’t reflect well on you that your plants are dying! 

But I don’t want to come across as being too negative.

Does anyone ever give their doctor honest feedback when they do something unhelpful? I try to imagine what my reaction would be if a client brought to my attention that my facial expression conveyed blatant disapproval of what a terrible job they’re doing of trying to get better. It would be a shock, no question. But I don’t want to convey disapproval and judgment, so I think I would want to know. I think I would try to be more aware of my facial expressions. But as I mentioned in a previous post, we are terrible predictors of how we will act in the future. So maybe I would just be pissed off.

Maybe I can think of this as an opportunity to practice constructive criticism. Maybe I’ll talk to my therapist about it and see if she thinks it’s worth it to say something. Not what I wrote above, of course. But something.

Or maybe I could just tell him that my latest blog post is dedicated to him so he should read it. That would be hilarious!

I’ll let you know what I do. In the meantime, I encourage all of you to do your part in preventing the spread of negativity. Please remember to cover your mouth before your criticize. (And not in that passive-aggressive way where you cover your mouth while you fake cough and mumble something critical under your breath, either. You know what I’m taking about.)

I think this doodle looks like germs.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

6 responses »

  1. Some people just don't have adequate filters, I suppose. I was just telling my husband earlier about someone in our community who keeps posting stuff on FB/social media. And it doesn't matter what the topic is. This guy always either just sounds sarcastic, or self-righteous, a complete know-it-all, that he simply seems like an asshole to me. But do I tell him?>…No. Well, simply because I don't care about him and I can tune him out.

    In your case however, I'm just wondering why you don't switch? I'm just curious. But I agree. Maybe this is life telling you to practice constructive criticism and see where it takes you. I have no advice as I'm probably the same as you…non-confrontational. Anyway, good luck!!


  2. Thanks Joy. I have thought about switching, but the problem is that I live in a small rural area where good psychiatrists are hard to find, and it's hard to get into see them. My psychiatrist is definitely good, and he gave me his cell phone and encourages me to call him directly whenever I have questions. I doubt other psychiatrists will be as generous. Plus, not to be stereotypical, but my experience is that they're all kind of narcissistic, whether they're good or not. So I could still ended up with someone who makes that lemon face and lectures me on things that I already know about.


  3. That picture really does look viral! I have had my share of experiences with therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists that have rubbed me the wrong way. I live in a city, so I do have options, but the waiting lists are so long, you kind of get stuck with whoever they give you. I've never told them I didn't like something they were doing. I should have, but I'm afraid of how they will react. I have started asking more questions though. When my current psychiatrist makes a face I don't like after something I say, I ask him why he made it. I don't tell him I don't like it, but at least I am pointing it out. Maybe something like that would work in your situation?


  4. How did they react when you asked them why they were making a face? Did they know? Ii know why he's making it but even if I brought it to his attention that would be something. The problem is, I think he does it in part to stay awake. Because when he's not making judgmental faces, he looks like he's trying not to fall asleep. I don't take that personally, but it's awkward and adds to the unpleasantness of our sessions.


  5. I always, always, always (and always) tell my psychiatrist when he says unhelpful things. I usually wait until later to ensure that that constructive element is solidly in place. (That's important.) And then I'll write a very carefully worded email, which I won't send immediately. But I will send it. However (and this is a BIG however), I think my psychiatrist is the best thing since sliced bread. In fact, I'd go so far as saying that he's a whole lot better than any sliced bread I've ever seen. (I started down the tasting-sliced-bread path, but that felt oh so wrong given the context.) And it's much easier — and probably much more helpful and … CONSTRUCTIVE — to criticize someone that you think the world of than someone that you don't love (even though he's good at prescribing meds). Okay, so this is probably not such a helpful contribution to the thread, but, in the interest of resisting the pressure of my inner critic, I'm posting it anyway. So there, inner critic!


  6. I thought it might be easier to tell him since I don't like him. But he seems like the kind of person who is not receptive to patient feedback.



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