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.