Editor’s note: Corinna dictated this blog, with some difficulty, as she is undergoing a painful recovery from an accident and cannot read without pain. She will not, therefore, be responding to comments, though she will read what she can. There will be more blogs to come from her on thoughts about coercion, and her initiatives to provide alternatives.
Last night, as the antipsychotic floated into my bloodstream for the first time in about four years, I could feel the pains and worries of my various physical issues and life stressors and trauma. All that pain started being a lot less important. I thought; I could use a little bit of anesthetic for a while.
I’ve always thought psych drugs are like opiates for physical pain. We as a society, sometimes at least, think that opiates for physical pain should be used short-term. They don’t solve the problem, they are dangerous, they are addictive, but at least they can give you some distance from the problem in order for you to get some time and solve the root cause of the problem. And if we use psych meds like that they are great drugs. They are better sometimes than street drugs if they’re used like that; temporarily, and fully-informed.
People hassle me for being anti-medication, and I always tell them I am NOT anti-medication; I am pro-fully-informed choice. But people like things black-and-white. They see me as being against medications, and so I’m telling you why medications may have saved my life yesterday, or at least saved me a whole bunch more trouble.
This morning I am still out of energy and fighting off another meltdown. I need to go lay down. But I feel I’m holding it together slightly better. I’m trying to enjoy the last dregs of excess wired energy that’s like free coffee that I didn’t drink. You know; brain injury is really really hard. And for the first two years of brain injury recovery I did more or less OK, emotionally.
When the energy fell off the cliff, and I had to lay down – as is normal for brain injury – I just laid down, and for the most part didn’t get trapped in the pity parties. But now my working theory is that some of the vestibular or inner ear rehab has stirred up some of the limbic system issues.
I was starting to have suicidal thoughts come up a lot more often than I’m comfortable with. I was trapped in a loop where the less I was sleeping the harder it was getting to sleep. My usual hammers for breaking the sleep cycle – Trazodone used like once a week and sometimes Ativan, used like once a month – those hammers weren’t working.
But the Pdoc gave me some Xanax, which works better for me anyway. She tried to get me to take other stuff, but I told her those make me fat (for the propranolol) and agitated (for the benadryl). She argued long and hard but I talked her into the Xanax by agreeing to take a very low number of pills. I told her just write for 15 pills, it’ll last a long time. She wrote for just 10 pills, which lasts me for more than the whole month anyway. (I forgot to congratulate, her but it’s nice to see a doctor be conservative with benzos.)
You know, I still feel sick. I’m still kind of scared. but I got a whole lot of people to rally around me. Before my appointment I texted about 30 friends and told them I was scared but I knew I had to go back into the lion’s den, & I hope the Lions wouldn’t eat me. I got back some amazing short text answers. I called enough friends to find a support person for the appointments, including one good friend who was willing to break up her Rosh Hashana holiday. I got five different people who came in during my appointments to support me. It was a very scary process.
It is very hard for a psyche survivor to go back into the mental health system. I tried 3x to cancel my ride. I told her we should have done it next year. She said no, we need to do it now. And she was right that we needed to do it now.
Afterwards a lot of friends told me they were proud of how I handled it. I don’t know how I handled it except to simply go in. I guess they were proud that I asked for help when I needed help, and that I had figured out that I had needed help. The suicidal thoughts were coming more and more often and were kind of of starting to turn into plans. (Not that I told the doc that – I know better.) And the hallucinations were getting more and more and I was losing track of space and time, and forgetting to eat. And my sleep had gone from 6 to 5 to 4 hours a night.
And the meltdowns – the limbic system stuff – stirred up by the vestibular rehabilitation on my smashed inner ear; those meltdowns had gone from zero for 2 years to 1 – 2 – 3 a day. That’s where I got tired and just laid down in a ball and started crying and feeling hopeless. I knew that wasn’t me. That was some part of my brain that was broken and trying to heal. And it was not broken by a disease process, it was broken by falling 15 feet through the air at 25 miles an hour on to the side of my head. Just as with the rest of my brothers and sisters that may be temporarily broken, it is a life situation; like grief or trauma or an existential crisis, or not enough social support or too much bullying .
I guess I could have simply gotten a lot more sick. If no one had taught me how important it is to monitor my sleep I probably would have gotten more sick before I figured out there was a solution, although I was terrified of that solution.
I know that I am using drugs short-term, fully informed, as a temporary anesthetic – just to give me distance from the emotional pain so that I can solve the root cause of my problems. Which will be more vestibular rehab, a year more of vision therapy rehab and limbic system rehab.
The three things I noticed, that really stuck out at me after going through this experience are that I went from more or less ok to more or less really not at all okay, and only for 5 days. That’s a short window. And also there is knowing the triggers to watch for the red flags; the suicidal thoughts, the hallucinations, the lack of sleep, and the meltdowns. I knew all of that was not me, just not at all who I am, and I knew that they were all signs something was wrong. But how many people know that? Know the difference between themselves and these outside things that are basically reactions to trauma or life situations?
I think this right here is the cost of coercion. Once someone has experienced this whole mental health system as harmful, as further erasing the lines between internal and external forces, how do you ever go back?
I used to call the crisis line all the time, back in my days of being a mental patient, but then one time they hauled me off in cop car in handcuffs. I never called a crisis line again, and I made several more attempts after that. One act of coercion can cost someone the ability to voluntarily seek help for the rest of their lives.
It was intensely difficult for me to go back into services that I perceived as harmful in the past. I wonder how many people have had negative mental health care experiences and will never go back.. The trauma work and team-building and support-gathering I had to do to be able to go back was a lot of work.
Plus; I had friends on the inside. This is not case for many people. There are many people out there who will never go back. I thought I never would. I asked my friends to come with me so I did not view myself as a failure or a cop-out; just someone using painkillers.
You know; just like opiates can give someone distance from physical pain so they can do physical therapy to fix their back. But the drugs aren’t fixing a chemical imbalance, they aren’t treating a disease, they are just a pain killer. And sometimes you need a little bit of help from the pain. Life hurts sometimes. This two-and-a-half years of brain injury rehab has been very, very hard. So when the antipsychotic seeped into my system last night, I was glad.