The New York Times and all that…

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It has been indeed an honor to have my story fea­tured on the front pages of the New York Times. It is rare that peo­ple with a men­tal health diag­no­sis, fea­tured on the front of any news­pa­per, are seen as recov­er­ing, com­pe­tent and active cit­i­zens in soci­ety. Add the many neg­a­tive stereo­types asso­ci­ated with being African-American in the United States and indeed the front page story might look dras­ti­cally different.

What is most impor­tant for me in shar­ing my story of recov­ery pub­licly has in some ways been fil­tered through the lens of how men­tal health treat­ment and paths to recov­ery are gen­er­ally con­cep­tu­al­ized. In our society’s world­view, the path to recov­ery includes med­ica­tion. The ter­mi­nol­ogy used is “adher­ence to med­ica­tion” and recov­ery can­not hap­pen with­out it. How­ever, we are now find­ing that there are many things that con­tribute to one’s recov­ery inclu­sive or exclu­sive of medication.

When Bene­dict Carey approached me to be involved in the series of pro­files (Lives Restored, Liv­ing with Men­tal Ill­ness), I was imme­di­ately attracted to his approach; high­light­ing the many resources, skills, tech­niques, sup­ports and cop­ing mech­a­nisms each indi­vid­ual dis­cov­ers and uses to lead mean­ing­ful and full lives despite hav­ing a diag­no­sis of ‘severe men­tal ill­ness’. The series focuses on every­thing that works for a per­son in their recov­ery by shin­ing the light on the many, many things that rarely receive atten­tion and dimin­ish­ing the focus on the role of med­ica­tion. In my pro­file for the series, the word med­ica­tion is used only 4 times in a word count for the entire story of 2, 771.

I am a per­son who val­ues what works for each indi­vid­ual in their recov­ery, from med­ica­tions, to yoga, to walk­ing. We are all dif­fer­ent! I am not anti-medication, I am not pro-medication. What I am is pro-education and choice. I believe each per­son should have as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble so they can make the deci­sions with their treat­ment team, fam­i­lies, and other sup­port­ers that will help them real­ize the mean­ing­ful lives of their dreams.

I find it very inter­est­ing that some of the sum­maries of the New York Times arti­cle, state that my recov­ery was due to “adher­ence to med­ica­tion”. This is not what the arti­cle said nor is it the pri­mary focus of the piece. I started to won­der if peo­ple were miss­ing the point – that recov­ery hap­pens for me (and I have heard for oth­ers as well) due to a mul­ti­tude of fac­tors. The New York Times fea­ture clearly states that work has indeed been my treat­ment of choice. Also, fam­ily sup­port, a great dog, a won­der­ful psy­chi­a­trist with whom I have a strong ther­a­peu­tic rela­tion­ship, and other tech­niques, inclu­sive of med­ica­tions on occa­sion, are all the things that con­tribute to my recov­ery and are the high­light of this profile.

Jour­nal­ist Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epi­demic, asked me if I would share with him more detailed infor­ma­tion about the use of med­ica­tion in my life. He too was unsure of the role med­ica­tion played in my recov­ery. Because of its min­i­mal focus on med­ica­tion, the arti­cle may have unin­ten­tion­ally ampli­fied the issue. What is impor­tant in my story is this: By work­ing in con­junc­tion with my doc­tor, and using all the tools avail­able, I have found the com­bi­na­tion of inter­ven­tions that allow me to lead the best pos­si­ble life and be engaged in the world in a way that I could never have done in the past. Each per­son is dif­fer­ent. My jour­ney is not a pre­scrip­tion, but a very per­sonal story of recovery.

You can read what Robert Whitaker has to say here.

– Keris Jän Myrick

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Sent to Delaware State Hospital (now – DPC) at Christmas 1969 upon burning my Report to Draft Board for re-classification ! My close family told me i was well enough upon admission – but in those days Psychiatric hospitals were hell-holes with lobotomies & electric shock treatments & government & military researchers committing un-admitted & secretive atrocities against those so interned ! So it should be no surprise that i who had only a few months prior traveled with a United Nations student group for an entire summer throughout South & South-East Asia was diagnosed as Schizophrenic and driven mad !

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  2. Keris, thank you for sharing a bit of your recovery journey, which is s wonderfully encouraging. Thank you also for making it clear that recovery is an individual journey that may and probably should look a little different for each person. You emphasis on education and individual choice is a welcome voice. I am looking forward to your future blogs!

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  3. I am glad that you have found practices that work for you. I have been confounded by the “medication is the solution” paradigm for many years. I feel guilty when my depression does not respond to the medication my psychiatrist prescribes. For me, medication does not seem to work. I genuinely like my psychiatrist and believe he wants to help me. I am currently worried about some of the effects reported from long term use of ssris. I find myself in a quandry. I am scared to try any new medications. I have been on combinations of psychiatric meds for 20 years. I feel reticent about discussing my concerns with my doctor and the other patients in my therapy group. Some of them report good results and I do not want to detract from their recovery. I am glad that some people find relief in the meds, but I don’t feel like I am able to discuss my authentic struggles there. I live in the middle of nowhere and resources are limited. I guess I just wanted to say that your story gives me hope and your multifaceted treatment protocol has given me some new ideas. Thank you.

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    • Dear Anonymous …

      i was sent to a mental institution in 1969 and for whatever reason or for why it happened i became quite mentally-ill ! And once this process began – it was only through the extraordinary persistence & care of a relatively young Indian Psychiatrist that i six years later found myself well enough to leave that hospital ! Discovering the right combination of medications in addition to the compassionate care from this Hindu doctor made much of the difference !So good Fortune to you in your Recovery Journey !

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    • Thank you for sharing. I hope that you can find a way to share your authentic feelings to your doctor in a way that allows for exploration of what works best for you. As for group members and their response to your journey – each person is responsible for his/her actions. I do understand and have experienced the same fear of the consequences of sharing. In these situations, I use a “questioning” technique to test the waters, get comfortable introducing a topic and take baby steps of sharing to increase my comfortability. I just throw out a question related to the topic usually proceeded by a statement :”I’m just wondering…..”; “what do you all think ….” and then I share my answer to the question after a few others have replied. Or I may just talk with a few people prior to or after a group about the topic directly or with the questioning technique.
      I’m glad you felt safe to share your thoughts/experiences here. Thanks again.

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