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
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.
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 !
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!
Thanks so much Jennifer!!
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.
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 !
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.