My dear Father-in-Law had been in the hospital for complications related to his deteriorating heart condition and imminent kidney failure.  We were slowly losing him.

I was waiting with my Mother-in-Law for him to be released.

I checked my messages and saw one from a very good friend, something about Dr. J leaving. “What?! My psychiatrist?!” I texted my friend to see what was going on. She asked if I’d read my email.

I nervously poked at the buttons on my phone, trying to get to my mail. I heard my MIL and FIL talking in the back ground but all I could do was panic.

After fumbling with my phone, I got into my email and found the email from Dr. J. The email essentially said that my favorite doctor was closing her practice and she really didn’t have anyone specific to recommend. Adding that it would be a good idea to keep Kansas City and St. Louis in mind when looking for doctors.

Holy Shit! I couldn’t believe this was happening. “What are we going to do?” I texted my friend. For both of us Dr. J had been a long time doctor (10 plus years in each case).

She was instrumental in getting both of us disability. My lawyer flat-out said as much.

She had seen us both through multiple crises.

She is a kind, funny person.

And I’m losing her.

Her loss is hard enough to take but we are plunged into an environment that, unfortunately, has a very low number of good psychiatrists. And my medical situation is funky, complicated by diabetes and the fact that I have a complex mental history.

Did I mention I’ve been de-stabilizing for the last several months?

And my doctor, who my husband and I cried with, was leaving.

When I met with my doctor  after the email bomb, I cried. I was a little embarrassed, but it was just me going through what I was going through. My doctor said she would miss me too.

Then we got down to the business of preparing me to find a new doctor. At my psychiatrist’s request, I had written up a page about why I’m taking my current medication combination. We looked it over together and agreed that it would be a good source of information for my future doctor.

Here’s what you can do if you need a new psychiatrist:

1 Google psychiatrist “your city” and write down anyone that looks plausible.

    1. Try to narrow down the selections by googling each of their names to find more detailed information. Such as do they take your insurance. On well-maintained websites, there might be biographies of the doctor(s). Cross out the doctors that aren’t a good match. Be aware, it can take a few months to get into a good doctor. You’ll probably need a referral from your current psychiatrist.
    2. Write down a mental health history. What is your diagnose(s)? When were you diagnosed? How many hospitalizations have you had? Have you had ECT? What medications have you taken? Which ones worked and which did not? 
    3. Make appointments with the doctors that look like a good match.
    4. Go to your new doctor appointment(s) and, in addition to your mental health history, bring a list of your current medications and dosages.
    5. Be prepared to fill out a lot of paperwork.
    6. Bring and take lots of notes while you are with the doctor.
    7. Rinse and repeat with a few other doctors before you make your final decision about who you would like to see. See https://www.mentallyinteresting/choosing-a-psychiatrist

It can be a mentally draining process so be sure to practice good self care. If you’re not sure what good self-care is, read

If you see a therapist, you might want to add an extra visit. They can give you tools to get you through this uncertain time.

This is a time to really pay attention to what you’re telling yourself. Combat negative self talk with positive affirmations and mantras. Remember to practice gratitude; write down at least 10 things you are grateful for every few days.

Reach out to your support system and be sure to get out of the house. Being outside has a way of lifting my spirits.  Its helpful to the people in your support system if you will tell them what the best thing for them to do or say when you are depressed, or angry, or manic.

At a recent new patient meeting with a psychiatrist he asked a lot of questions. He wanted to know (among other things):

  1. what my experience of depression was
  2. what medications had I tried and when I first started taking medication
  3. my mental health history (diagnoses, etc.) and describe how my diagnoses manifest themselves (ie: what symptoms have I had)
  4. how did I experience hypomania
  5. have you had suicidal thoughts and/or tried to commit suicide
  6.  had I been hospitalized and what was the outcome
  7. what kind of support system to you have

I know. Its a lot of shit to remember, write down and re-familiarize yourself with. But you can do it. I know its stressful and frustrating, but you will make it through.  Lots of deep breathing and take breaks.

To prepare the medications part of lists you should take to your first visit, ask your psychiatrist if you can either see your chart or if she has a list of the medications you’ve tried. You can also google “mood stabilizers” (or whatever class of medication you’re taking)to get a list that you can choose from. If you don’t know what your diagnoses are, ask your psychiatrist.

At a minimum, you should take the following information to a new doctor:

  1. list of current medications and dosages
  2. diagnoses given by other doctors
  3. an outline of your mental health history
  4. list of medications you have tried
  5. your previous doctor’s name and address so your new doctor can request your records
  6. if you track your moods, bring that with you as well

This experience has shown me how strong and resilient I am, but also how fragile I am. When I found out Dr. J. was leaving a felt like I had been shattered into a million pieces and that I would never be able to put myself back together. I still cry every day, but that’s ok.

So if you find yourself without a doctor, I got your back.

I went to a “new” psychiatrist this week and it was an oddly familiar experience. I’ve seen so many doctors over the years, it was hard to believe I was starting all over yet again. I had all the paperwork I listed above which made the appointment go smoothly. He was no Dr. J. Not even close. But he was listening and asking the right questions.

I am still going to see Dr. J. a couple more times before she leaves and the end of November and I see the new doctor again in a month.

Oh, one positive  is that I only had to pay $25 to see the new doctor compared to$250 to see Dr. J. (The new doctor is in my insurance network).

So, if you find yourself needing a doctor, try not to stress. Follow the steps above and, above all, take care of yourself.

Have you ever had to switch doctors? What was it like? Did you find a new doctor right away or did it take time?

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