#EndTheStigma

There’s another social media campaign to #EndTheStigma and you’d think I’d eventually learn not to engage, but I’m nothing if not stubborn, I guess.

Since someone always thinks I’m personally attacking the way they live their life, let me preface by saying that if you’ve had unqualified success with a medical treatment model, you can maybe just skip this and pretend I didn’t say anything. This isn’t aimed at you.
OK now that that’s out of the way: first, I have seen very little evidence that there is any stigma left around seeking drug therapy for mental health issues. Everything I’ve seen in the past few years is incredibly supportive of the idea that if you are suffering, you should totally go get help, take your pills, it’s a disease dontchaknow. Even within the recovery communities I’ve seen, people use clinical terms and discuss the drugs they still take. Even some of the most hardline antipsych activists I know will still use diagnostic language.
Here’s my gripe. There’s still stigma that doesn’t have a catchy social media campaign to end up. With all this encouragement to Go Get Help, there’s a pretty large number of people who will end up receiving medical treatment for a disease they do not have. Diagnostic criteria for mental health conditions is scarily fast and loose.
We have removed stigma from depression but not from sadness. From anxiety and panic but not worry and fear. And as a result, there’s not much help for people who have strong emotions and difficult circumstances.
When I was a teenager, I was sick for a year and came out of it very sad. I went to the doctor and was told I had clinical depression, and took Paxil, which has the side effect of murderous rage in some teens, and was told that rage was mania, which meant I had bipolar disorder, and the bipolar drugs I took killed my impulse control, which led to me getting into a horrible traumatic relationship, which led fear incursions, which netted me a prescription for benzos, which put me in a dreamlike state, which resembled waking dreams, which I was told were hallucinations, which got me a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and more drugs with such awful physical side effects that I wanted to die.
I was never mentally ill until I was put into treatment for an illness I did not have.
When I declared my intention to withdraw from my final drug cocktail, people felt the need to talk me out of it. There was this one woman who I barely knew, I’m still not sure who felt it was appropriate to tell her about my decisions regarding my care, but she confronted me, told me about her daughter’s history with hating the drugs she was forced to take, and told me I’d be dangerous without the drugs. That I should make sure to keep myself away from people, take the social control pills, or isolate yourself. Let me reiterate; I was not sick.
That thing that happened in my mind when I came off pain pills, it was really distressing. It was bad enough that I was hospitalized. I tried to refuse drug treatment and was ordered by the court to take antipsychotics for 90 days. I made it maybe three weeks before I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was sleeping fifteen hours a day and the waking nightmares of my visions had not lost any power. I stopped that drug and immediately began to get better. Mental health services stopped giving me appointments. There is no help for someone who refuses to accept a diagnosis and drug therapy.
January is a hard month for me emotionally. My last hospitalization was 9 years after my first, almost to the day. I have a lot of difficulty managing sadness and loneliness, and sometimes that overflows into something that’s uncomfortable to watch as well. It’s hard for me to feel safe getting close enough to people to talk about how I’m feeling. I still get afraid that the response will be something about getting professional help.
This wasn’t just one bad doctor. This was fourteen years of many doctors, therapists, social workers, hospital visits and crises. Nobody ever questioned whether I was actually sick.
This isn’t just me. There are many others who have been misdiagnosed and had years taken from us. I missed the part of my life where most people learn how to be an adult and relate to others in a healthy way. A lot of us, myself included, have brain damage from years of being on neuroleptics. And we can’t seek help without being plunged right back into that.
The stigma I want to end is the stigma that says we aren’t allowed to talk about this.
It says that medical decisions must never be questioned.
It says that because I feel things strongly, I am diseased.
It says that I should be ashamed of my emotions and take drugs to make them more comfortable for others.
It says that the way I am is unacceptable.
It says that talking about the way I was harmed is irresponsible and judgmental.
My birthday is coming up. It’s my spiritual birthday, marking the time I was reborn. This spring marks four years that I’ve been free of symptoms of a disease I was told would never leave me. The reason I keep writing about this is to say that there is hope, and to encourage everyone to end the stigma.
Mad pride y’all.

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People Aren’t One Size Fits All

Hi, I guess it’s time for one of my occasional rants about our broken mental health system! I am a person who had a third of my time on this beautiful planet ruined by doctors who didn’t know what they were doing, I’m still In Recovery, I’m pretty open about my story so feel free to ask questions, it won’t offend me. Every time I post something like this, I get a person commenting or messaging me to say how great their mental health services are, and if you feel like doing that, let me just respond now and say: that’s awesome for you, I’m happy you’ve received good solid help, you are in the minority and this kinda doesn’t concern you. No offense. I’m here for the ones who are getting damaged by the system. If psychiatry is working for you, keep on keepin’ on.
Ok.
Today (and for the last couple weeks) I’ve been gnawing on this very challenging question of what to do when someone you love is in an extreme state. This question has been raised because four people I dearly love have gone for a swim in the black sea over the past few months. I watched a couple of them get locked up in hospitals and put on literally handfuls of drugs (btw neuroleptics cause brain shrinkage/damage over time, if you take an antipsychotic drug you should look up what “tardive dyskinesia” is rn). I thought about my experiences in hospitals (and MH services in general) — how dismissive staff are, how it’s kind of just a holding tank while you get “stabilized” on drugs, the weird indignities you suffer while you’re trying to heal your mind, etc. There’s kind of a one-size-fits-all mindset to a good deal of mental health services.
But people aren’t all one size, and shit ain’t gonna fit everyone, and there are so many cases where the current approach (isolation, diagnosis of lifelong brain disease, drugs) is unhelpful or even harmful.
Like people who are dealing with trauma. People who are dealing with trauma that is exacerbated by someone locking them up, watching their every move, and having total power over them. People who experience psychosis or mania but respond badly to drug therapy. People who have been previously abused in psych facilities (happens all the time y’all). People who are so lonely they’re suicidal and afraid of further isolation. People who would be more validated by hearing someone say “of course you’re depressed, your life kinda blows right now” than “of course you’re depressed, you have a chronic brain disease.” People who are sad, not depressed. People who need a chance to just bug out every once in a while because reality doesn’t seem real when you have game show hosts running for president and creepy clowns popping up all over the place. People who want to be seen as people, not patients. People who are “noncompliant.” People who experience uncomfortable emotions but recognize them as emotions, not symptoms. People who are allergic to psychiatric drugs. People who are trying to recover from their diagnosed condition. People who embrace their madness to some degree. People who are poor or have crappy insurance.
These people do not have a place in the current system. Even talk therapy isn’t covered by most insurance, especially if you are not being medically treated. There are places where alternative modalities are being practiced, but they’re few and far between. So how do you help a loved one who falls into one or more of these categories when you see them suffering?
Open floor for discussion on two topics:
1. How can we civilians support alternative modes of treatment for people who are excluded from our current system in some way?
2. How can we as a culture work to destroy the silence and stigma surrounding the experience of uncomfortable/extreme emotional states (as opposed to pathologizing these states and accepting sufferers only after they have “sought treatment”)?

Life Support Groups

I keep thinking about support groups. A lot of them are designated for specific issues — trauma support, eating disorder recovery, AA etc. A lot of support groups are only offered through existing mental health services, which blocks access to anyone who is noncompliant or needs support in areas not covered by “mental health diagnosis you take pills for.”
I don’t know of any sort of “life is hard in general” support groups. And I see so many people who would be well-served by a space where they can connect with other people to form intimate bonds of honesty and empathy, who would love to have a community where they can find acceptance and help without identifying under a common label of “bipolar disorder” or “addiction” or “cancer survivor” or whatever. Those groups have their place, but I’m thinking of something more along the lines of a place where the thing we have in common is that we’re human and sometimes we feel alone.
The first thing I thought of was that some people get that need met through church. Still, I know a lot of people who have been harmed by churches, or who have felt unable to be completely authentic in a church for fear of being judged, or who just have no interest in religion.
I guess my question is, is there interest in a group like this? Just to have an ongoing space for community where you can get together with all kinds of people, have a cup of your favorite hot beverage, and have a chance to talk about what you’re celebrating or struggling with? Whether it’s “I’ve been lacking the processing power even to make a sandwich for lunch” or “I had a really horrible experience with a racist the other day” or “please tell me high school is this hard for everyone” or “my sister got married and I want to share an epiphany I had about commitment” — just anything that’s important to you, with the common ground being humanity, and with the hope that someone else will say “I can come over and help you freeze some meals you can thaw out” or “wow, I’d never considered racist behavior from that angle, thanks for teaching me” or “high school is absolutely the worst, here’s how I got through” — you get the idea.
If you had a chance to be in a group like this, what would you want it to look like? What do you need support for that there’s no group for? What issues do you struggle with that seem too petty or selfish to speak out loud? Open forum, I guess. I’m trying to figure out if this is something that could happen around here and if anyone would be willing to start the groundwork on it with me.

You Wouldn’t Say That If They Had Cancer

I’m getting targeted ads about mental health now (great, awesome) and the newest one echoes something I see a lot these days, which is “you wouldn’t talk that way to someone who has cancer” — or a broken leg, or mumps, or whatever physical problems.
Look: first, that argument is fallacious as hell, don’t even start comparing depression to cancer, that’s outright offensive. But okay, let’s talk about this…completely different topic. If my friend has a broken leg and they think they’re curing it by taking pain pills, yeah I’m gonna say something. If my friend has had several heart attacks and every time we spend time together they show up with horrible fried foods, yeah I’m gonna say something. If my friend has cancer and says “well, I know I should be doing something about this cancer, but it’s not my fault I have cancer and I shouldn’t have to be the one to repair the damage, so I’m just gonna wait for someone else to fix it” yeah I’m gonna say something. If my friend is bleeding profusely and they’re like “no no it’s okay, I’ve been diagnosed with a bleeding condition, this just happens and I have to just wait it out” yeah I’m gonna say something.
If my friend is using clinical, diagnostic terms for their legitimate emotions, if my friend is taking strong drugs instead of working through their trauma, if my friend is being told their sensitivity and empathy is a biologically based brain disease, yeah I’m gonna say something.

Psychiatry is Not Medicine

I need to get this off my chest, please bear with me for a moment.
Psychiatry is not medicine. The practice of diagnosing people with brain disorders, chemical imbalances, and genetic conditions based on lines drawn arbitrarily around self-reported emotional symptoms is not in any way scientific.
Prescribing brain-altering drugs that bear multiple black box warnings and the constant disclaimer that “it is not known how (drug) works…” based on unscientific diagnostic criteria is not in any way medicine.
Mandatory mental health screenings which use questionnaires developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and other drug companies are unethical and dangerous.
Some of these drugs lead to dependency. Most of them have side effects that can make a person unable to function. They are being prescribed to hyper children, to teenagers who are stressed out by the hellish experience of high school and puberty, to adults grieving over trauma and loss, to the elderly with dementia.
This is absolutely wrong, and until psychiatry begins to diagnose and prescribe in a scientific manner, I will continue to see the entire field as dangerously fraudulent. If you disagree with me, I understand — it’s very easy to get caught up in ad campaigns and promises of pills that will relieve emotional burdens.
However, if you believe that I’ve gotten stuck in some kind of “lunatic fringe” in any way, I invite you to stop reading this blog, as I don’t need you keeping tabs on my life. If you choose to look at my views on psychiatry and see it as science denial or anti-medical views, then we clearly do not have mutual trust.
Thanks buddies. Peace.

In Which I Get Really Pissed Off About Forced Treatment

It’s time to vent for a brief minute and then I’m gonna go grab notebook and vent in a more constructive way.
Let’s have a come-to-Jesus moment about psychiatric incarceration and forced treatment because damn, you’d think everyone gets that this shit is close to my heart, but somehow I’ve still got distant family members feeling the need to message me and tell me how gosh darn amazing Haldol is at preventing the brain damage inherent to having a manic episode for more than like, five minutes or whatever. Here I was thinking that my mental illness related brain damage was the result of ten years of doctors treating me like a guinea pig and dumping chemicals into me to treat those icky emotions nobody should have to feel. Silly me, I guess. Overhauling my neurochemistry is apparently the ideal alternative to experiencing a pretty natural mood state! Live and learn.
It’s hard for me to get directly angry at people in my life for believing this shit. We’ve got so much medical model bullshit pushed at us from all sides, and buying into that idea is really comforting. A pill that can fix my shitty life sounds pretty awesome. If you try to argue against that, people you care about will use the words “lunatic fringe” right to your fucking face. It’s easier just to go with the flow. It’s easier to just believe your psychiatric nurse friend who tells you that “there was a study” that showed that pills are the bestest and injections of neuroleptics won’t hurt if it’s only a couple times. I can’t really even stay pissed at my mom for signing the papers that got me locked up in 2013 and my sister locked up this week. I get that dealing with people who are wigging out is scary, especially when you have little kids in your house, and I get that our mental health system doesn’t have options for situations where you don’t want to go whole hog and have your daughter incarcerated in a place like that. It seems more productive to just stay pissed at the systemic shit. Besides, Mom’s as worried as I am, and I know she’s grieving over seeing another daughter go swimming in the Black Sea, and she didn’t expect so much resistance at attempting to be involved with care decisions (like “can i please take my daughter home now???”). Yeah — once someone’s involuntarily committed, it’s prison. They lose their rights and so do you.
So — can we please stop signing papers on each other?
Like OK, y’all know my shit here, y’all know what I went through with myself and with Mychal. There are alternatives. There are ways to help someone that do not involve putting them behind four locked doors and six different pills SIX DIFFERENT FUCKING PILLS. Well, I guess that’s wrong — it’s actually five pills because one medication is administered with a goddamn needle, or it’s nine pills if you’re counting the 4mg of Ativan they’ll give you every day, just for asking.
Ativan was the hardest drug for me to quit, btw. I was on Ativan for two years after I quit everything else. James kicked his cocktail successfully and only got suicidal when he tried to quit Ativan. He’s never been the same since quitting Ativan.
But I digress. You may be thinking something like “but what about when someone really truly Needs The Help” and i will laugh at you and remind you that the last time I took a swim, I’d gone three days and three nights without food or sleep, and that what I needed at that point was to rest and eat. But nope someone signed a court order and guess what? The shit I saw and felt on the psych ward fed the delusions. That and the fact that someone close to my mom came to me when I was in a vulnerable state and convinced me that I was demon possessed and needed an exorcism and set up an extended prayer session with a faith healer, who was a very kindly person, I can’t fault that guy, but damn, THAT shit ended up integrated into my belief system and three years later I still have trouble sleeping some nights because what if I really did sell my soul????????? What if she was right?
Let’s keep track of the points here —
1. Don’t fucking incarcerate people for mental health stuff because they lose all their rights, possibly for a long long time (possibly forever! Not a joke)
2. Don’t fucking dump a shitload of drugs into someone’s system. If a person is experiencing psychosis, it partly means they’ve got something incredibly serious that they need to work through. Sedation to the level of zombification totally halts that process. Congrats, you just set that person up for another swim in the future.
3. Don’t fucking tell a delusional person they’re demon possessed, oh my god, why do I have to type these words in 2016, why did this happen to me, I’m still grieving. I guess a more relevant concept is “don’t fucking fuck with someone’s mind while they’re delusional” because this shit happened to James too and it BROKE him. Ask him to tell you the story sometime. Or not, because he won’t tell you, because he’s still literally phobic about even talking about it out loud.
K. I guess my Big Point in this post is that we as a society have no idea how to deal with psychotic episodes. I’ve been typing this for longer than I intended so I’m gonna cut it short, when I’m less furious I’ll come back and post something about how to effectively talk to your ocean buddies.
I leave you with this very important message: stop fucking signing court orders to incarcerate your loved ones. Psychosis/delusion (much like teen horniness) is not a crime. Live and learn. Please actually learn this time, in case I ever take a dive again. I would like to come out of it less damaged in the future.