Why telehealth isn’t the best choice for me

An artist's photo illustration depicting a mental illness. (Image: Triff, via Shutterstock)

As I have shared throughout my career I, like many people, have a mental health condition.  I have anxiety and bi-polar depression.  I am also in recovery for alcoholism.

I regularly see a psychiatrist, therapist and I take medication.  For me, going into the office and looking my doctor in the eye and telling them exactly what is going on inside my head and how it is affecting the rest of me has been a series of moments of truth.

I will also mention that because I am an actor where my face and ability to control its movements to express emotion I am highly sensitive to the fact that the very medications that keep me stabilized mentally could cause drug induced movement disorders, like Tardive Dyskinesia, that for me could be career ending.

In reality, for over a year my weekly check-ins over telehealth with my doctors was my only real interaction with the outside world.

While most patients depend on their caregivers to notice these abnormal movements I am on the other side of the spectrum always fearing that the slightest odd movement could be the start of a career ending tick.

The COVID pandemic impacted us all in many negative ways.  For me, my natural inclination as an alcoholic with bi-polar is to isolate.  COVID not only encouraged but mandated isolation in a way I was way too comfortable with.

In reality, for over a year my weekly check-ins over telehealth with my doctors was my only real interaction with the outside world.

But I will let you in on a little secret.  As an actor when I get before a camera I perform.  I want to project my best self.  I want to be the brightest star that I can be.  Another secret?  After more than 20 years as an alcoholic I can fool just about anyone on a 30 minute phone call.  When no one can see your hands shaking, that you have not showered or smell the processed alcohol on your breathe it is actually pretty easy to keep your voice steady and act like you are just fine.

I say this “as an actor,” but I know I am not alone and it is not only actors who act their way through telehealth appointments.  Unfortunately during COVID when virtually all of my appointments were over a phone and sometimes a zoom my mental health suffered immensely and I relapsed more than I would like to admit.

I am not alone.  As we emerged from COVID I decided I needed to commit to an inpatient program for this very reason.  I needed to be seen, in-person, on a regular basis by mental health professionals to get back on track with my sobriety and mental health.  I was lucky to have that available and the time to commit to my mental health.

As we emerge from the pandemic, which necessitated the use of telehealth as a primary way to deliver mental health care, I hope that we do not lose sight of how this form of care impacts people like me with bi-polar and substance use disorders who need to be seen in person.

It can be a hassle to drive to an appointment especially when specialists aren’t as readily available as they should be but there is no substitute for those moments of truth for people like me.

Editor’s Note: Tyler Christopher is an actor (General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, The Lying Game). He  has suffered from mental illness and substance abuse. He submitted this piece partly to take note of Tardive Dyskinesia (TD). Tardive Dyskinesia Week was this month, May 1-7.

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