There was a moment. Just a slight aberration in the continuum of madness perpetrating itself as the world. It was only a moment, but it was there. It existed, and it should have been acknowledged.
I had been diagnosed for all of a few hours. I had not been admitted to any hospital, incarcerated in any jail, or wrangled into any psych ward. I was neither violent nor out of control. I was just chilling in my parents’ house, spewing my guts. After seeing a psychiatrist, on the grounds of me splattering my consciousness across Philadelphia in an attempt to become some sort of basketball Jesus, rapid cycling bipolar disorder was the official word.
It was raw, naked consciousness, just spewing to my family about the ins and outs of what was going on in my head. I was vulnerable, and I wonder to this day if I was taken advantage of in that moment. I was coherent, under control, and relatively stable. Yet I was distracted, possibly by coming down off of the greatest high that I had ever known; by trying to make sense of the concept that the greatest thought I had ever known was a lie.
This 5’9” white boy was not, in fact, going to become the world’s greatest basketball player. Surprising, I know. But there it was. It was the first time I had ever allowed myself to believe in a fantasy, a delusion, in my life. I had always maintained my equilibrium in every other instance of madness in my life. Madness did not suddenly strike me at the event leading to my diagnosis. It was just the first time I had believed.
And so I ceased to believe, once I realized I was thinking too fast to even speak the words that wanted to come out of my mouth. I ceased to believe, and I bled the madness out of my mind. I was shaken, I was distracted, but I had myself under control.
For my troubles, I was jacked up instantly with lithium, Zyprexa and Zoloft.
I was not even given a chance to relax, to process, to look at the world now unfolding before my eyes. I was at the base of the mountain I had just fallen off of, and I was not even allowed to look up at it to see how I had fallen.
When I saw the psychiatrist, I was struck by intense relief that I had an “illness,” that it had a name, a label. Now I had a reason for the madness. Something to point to, an explanation. It wasn’t my fault.
I was so distracted by the enticement of a cure that I swallowed the pills without pause or reflection, without any thought toward the eventual implications of a lifetime of ingesting chemicals. In that moment, I was coherent, but more importantly, compliant. I acquiesced to whatever the psychiatrist ordered. I was uncharacteristically vulnerable to authority figures, because my world was shaken and I was trying desperately to hang on to something. The doctor seemed like the only person who had a clue. He had a strong grasp on the situation. It was of no consequence whether that grasp was correct or not. He gave the impression of strength, so I gravitated towards it. Compliant. And instantly chemically bound to substances that I neither understood nor was prepared for, whether I liked it or not.
The trust placed in that doctor, having talked to him for all of about thirty minutes, was perhaps implanted by an unconscious need to justify my existence. In that moment, I would have chopped off my hand if he had told me I would be cured. Even more important than the cure, though, was the “disease.” I have since come to disavow the word, but at the time it was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. As if all the struggles in my life up to that point had been wrapped up in a shiny bow of justification.
But there was that moment.
Before the diagnosis, before the drugs, there was that blip of realization, like a car motor turning over with the turn of the key. Just a subtle click as the world skipped a beat to match the cadence of my heart.
Questions, I had so many questions, and theories and rebuttals and what ifs and hows and whens and… They were all waiting for the moment to pass, these newfound thoughts. I could not gather myself properly; I could not defend my right to an imbalanced mind. I could not stand up for my right to controlled imperfection. I had done it all those years, without the medications. This would have just been another level, another puzzle to solve. But I was romanced by the lure of a cure. Of an answer, only the question was never the right one anyway.
The moment has long since passed.
I spent the next decade in medicated hell, zombified, alternating alcoholism with stunted, stuttered creative failures. The motor was still turning, but the car had been propped up, its wheels no longer touching the ground. I could not comprehend getting off of the meds, as I obviously needed them. I mean, look at my life, right? This is what I was told, anyway. I was deeply embedded into chemical culture. I placed my trust in it and its role in the healing process. I believed.
These days, fifteen years since that fateful moment, I am fully functional in an adult sense. I work, I was recently married, etc, etc. The creative bit is coming along slowly, as I am not completely free of the chemical cloud, but I do believe I am making progress. I still take two out of the three original medications. Apparently Zoloft contributes to rapid cycling, a small detail overlooked by my first doctor. I now see a nice fellow twice a year to do upkeep and whatnot. He doesn’t like to hear the mention of it, but I do think about coming out from under the medicated rock from time to time.
Things are going great at the moment, so it’s hard to mess with success. But I have that itch, that nudge; the urge to go au naturel, to be that controlled imperfection. I don’t like to rely on my doctor for much, as I have devised my own methods of controlling myself. Just a bit of eastern philosophy mixed with logic and western scientific theory help me maintain a constant equilibrium. It was partially conceptualized before I was diagnosed. I wouldn’t mind putting it to the test against a full-blown naked mind.
What if, in that moment, nothing happened? What if I was given a second to collect myself enough to engage in the conversation surrounding my future? No one asked me what I would like to do. I was automatically deemed unfit for decision making, but that just wasn’t the case. I was stable. Calm, even. My thoughts were racing, but my behavior was completely, utterly under control. I was never given the chance to regain my equilibrium before I was drugged and bagged for the next decade.
I am now relatively successful, considering my lot in life. However, have I overcome the illness, or have I overcome the medications? It’s a separation of church and state that just doesn’t work. The two become intertwined to that point that we have no idea which we are fighting anymore.
There was a moment. There was a choice, a hesitation that never occurred. In the face of a controlled mind and body, yet discombobulated vision, that hesitation needs to happen. A moment should be allowed to be so.
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.
Thank you for this Steve. We need to tolerate the uncertainty of those moments and take them one step at a time, listen, talk, create respite and see where they may lead. There is no need to rush or bury them under loads of drugs. So sorry this happened to you 15 years ago.
Best Wishes as you continue on your journey. I have seen the protein powder, BCAA, which has been studied, help some with reducing a speeded up limbic system (whatever the cause). See the article below:
Mindfulness meditation has also helped several in my family as well. There is a book called Mindsight that first introduced me to the benefits of mindfulness for regulating our emotions when we’re going through intense times.
None of this is to minimize the meaning and value of those moments for us, only to offer a couple alternative supports to help come through the intensity…Best Wishes
The mindfulness does work for me (when I use it).
Another article that hits home for me. I have a loved one diagnosed with Bipolar, but only after she had been on a plethora of antidepressants that had horrible side affects. Only then, in the throws of withdrawal from those drugs (she discontinued them herself numerous times) was she then told she had bipolar, as if she had always had it.
Today, she is destroyed. Oh, she causes no problems, she’s docile, she sleeps 21 out of 24 hours a day, and she’s not causing problems for anyone else. Apparently in the minds of the doctors, that was the goal. She’s a drug induced mental vegetable, and to think it all began in midlife when she was just going through a down period, a little depressed, a little hormonal due to midlife changes. I try not to allow myself to remember what she used to be, what she could have been. It’s too painful.
There’s no hope left for her. She’s no longer there. The wonderful mother, sister, daughter, friend is no longer there. Oh how wonderful it would have been if those same 15-30 minutes had not happened for her when she consequently walked out with the initial prescription that would be the vehicle that would drive her to drug induced madness. I want her back. We all want her back. We will never have her back.
You might want to visit this site,http://survivingantidepressants.org/ for help in getting your relative off of the meds. Don’t let the title throw you off as they provide support in tapering other meds besides anti depressants.
Support is free and they aren’t beholden to any commercial interests.
Very sad what happened to your loved one but it is sadly quite common to mistake AD withdrawal issues as Bipolar. Criminal actually.
THANKS, Steve! Good writing, really good writing – clear, coherent, and an easy read. Um, considering how difficult and painful it can be, to “expose” yourself like that! You don’t state it explicitly, but I’m assuming you ditched the Zoloft, and kept the lithium & Zyprexa? You should do some research – lithium used to be used in *consumer**food/drink*products*, such as “7-UP”. Really. It’s an element, as you know, and you’re probably taking a lithium carbonate, or lithium hydrate compound. Ask you prescribing M.D. why they aren’t giving you *lithium**citrate*, which uses a citric-acid type base. They probably won’t have a clue. Also, when you get a chance, dig into the technical research on lithium. There’s not much. It’s mainly still used by inertia. It’s been used so long, that it’s still manufactured and sold “just because”. It’s not really a “drug” as we usually think of that word “drug” – other than it’s in pill form! Also, dig in to the Zyprexa. Check out the many class-action and individual Federal Lawsuits against the drug & it’s maker. (And the side effects!) You must have been a pretty good BBall player, to even have the dream of excellence, which means you were probably fairly fit & athletic. THAT may have contributed to the perceived, apparent, “rapid cycling”.
the label “bi-polar” used to be “manic depressive psychosis”. You certainly don’t sound “psychotic”, to me! In addition to the other sites linked above, I can also strongly suggest >beyondmeds.com<, and Dr. Kelly Brogan's site. Hope you find this info useful. Now I gotta go check out your blog! Thanks again, and welcome to MiA!
Thank you for this, Steve.
I am glad you got better and were able to become functional again.
I myself also once took both Zyprexa and Zoloft for psychotic experience/severe depression. These were 2 of at least 12 different psychiatric drugs I was on over several years!
I agree with you that “disorder” is an inappropriate word for bipolar experience. To me, rapid alterations in mood simply speak to attempts to cope with a difficult environment and/or stem from a lack of internalized support from parents and peers which would help to regulate one word. There is writers called Murray Jackson and Michael Teixeira who wrote about bipolar states in this way. I do not take the idea of “bipolar illness” seriously anymore; there is no such thing.
Based on psychoanalytic models, I understand bipolar conditions as representing an intermediate stage between “schizophrenic” and “borderline” states, at a period when the defense of splitting and a deficit of positive internalized soothing experience is still prominent: I have put a graphic explaining this in the article below.
I also do not believe that bipolar states represent “natural variation”, so much as the understandable response to trauma, deprivation, isolation, and stress – at least in many cases.
In any case, what is more important is that you are doing well and not overwhelmed by the idea that you have an incurable disease that makes you different. I hope you are starting to be able to help more people struggling with the same issues as you to get help, as I do myself.
Thank you for this insightful article Steve. And I’m sorry for what you have had to suffer. And yes, medication and mindfulness practices are important. But these should not be a substitute for revolutionary action.
The experience of emotional distress touches the lives of everyone at one time or another. And this is important, as it shows us where there is injustice.
Now we cannot always act on what our emotions tell us. Not very often at all actually. But we still must feel our feelings, and then from that we do take some action. Usually this means finding comrades and organizing and taking political action.
Alcohol, street drugs, tobacco, religion, motivationalism, self-improvement, recovery, psychotherapy, psychiatry, and psychiatric medication are all things designed to suppress dissenters, to allow people to abuse, and be sure that the victims will not revolt.
As I see it, it all comes down to The Family and child exploitation. This is the middle-class family which is held up as an idea. It is not always your family or my family, but more often than not it is. This is what throws people into things like religion, recovery, psychotherapy, and psychiatry.
So we the survivors must organize and find ways to fight back. Live and let live is no answer, it is just another denial system. We need to organize and act, or we will continue to be abused, as will the children of today.
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Great read, thank you. I admire your awareness of our naturally ongoing process of growth and evolution. The moments do keep circling around, we can shift within them as they do. Although I hear you when you say, “No one asked me what I would like to do. I was automatically deemed unfit for decision making, but that just wasn’t the case.” That’s very powerful. I believe this is at the core of how psychiatric treatment is sorely misguided and of negative value to our health and well-being.
Best wishes on your journey of discovery.
Brilliant read, why shouldn’t you be the world champion basketball player?
Watch out for the Rebounds: I had no mood problems until I took Lithium but when I stopped the drug I went “high”.
I ended up in hospital and I remained “high” in hospital and when I came out (for a number of years after).