Reversing My Diagnosis

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Because I could relate, I recognized the signs of emotional crisis in my brother long before anyone else did. Like so many people in my circle, and myself before I retired, he was having a hard time dealing with the nonsensical political atmosphere at his workplace and it was beginning to manifest in his personal life. In a world of technology and pressure to promote quantity over quality, his interpersonal skills as an interviewer were no longer utilized to be the effective recruiter he once was because he was told by his superiors to “hire anyone who is breathing,” and he didn’t feel right about that. His ability to sense a good-fit candidate and do what was right in his mind was being taken away from him; he was feeling the dehumanizing shift of the workforce. His was similar to the corporate mentality stories I heard repeatedly from my working friends, and that I told before I left higher education.

Add to that the chaos of Covid, which in my brother’s case meant the loss of his best friend with whom he had shared a brother-like relationship since high school. This happened shortly after losing his close brother-in-law to cancer. My brother’s emotional release was happening slowly. This is a common factor in our current culture, as we don’t often take the time to feel through the process that is required to care for our emotional selves. He was weeping while talking of his blessings, feeling gratitude, reading books about fear, talking about anger management courses at the same time as he was taking yoga classes to relax. He was living a sped-up life while trying to feel.

reversing diagnosis

Meanwhile, he shared with me that his primary doctor classified him as close to a “breakdown” and had warned his wife to be on the lookout for “signs that he would harm himself or others,” even though he had never expressed such sentiments. Physicians in the past asked their patients; this one was assuming. “You are exhibiting all of the signs of Bipolar Disorder,” his doctor told him. That label set off an alarm of paranoia in his mind. When his doctor recommended medication, my brother refused.

He will get loving care from me in the form of a nonjudgmental, attentive listener, but it’s a crapshoot whether he will get that elsewhere. My brother asked me to explain why, when he had quit smoking and drinking and had started exercising per his doctor’s orders, he still was having a meltdown. The answer I came up with was that my brother’s spirit needed tending to, and doctors weren’t taught how to treat that in med school.

Ironically it was that same brother who, when witnessing my own emotional crises five years ago, didn’t know how to reach or communicate with me, so he made his best choice to drive me to a hospital—leaving me in the hands of strangers who abandoned and drugged me in the name of institutionalization because that is our go-to solution here in America. That is what I also had experienced only once before, eighteen years prior, when I was assigned that same, now popular label, Bipolar Disorder. At that time, after a traumatic life experience, I had a “breakdown” at work which the psychiatric world described as a psychotic episode. My workplace counseling center did the best they could with me then, also adhering to that go-to solution.

During this second visit, my grown daughter was suspicious when doctors refused to let her see me, saying I was not myself. She wondered how strangers could make that assessment over someone who knew me intimately. After that experience, my intuitive self knew there was nothing “wrong” with me beyond feeling the pain of the emotionally devastating events that were happening in my life. After I was released from the hospital the second time, things were different in my reality. I was much wiser, and filled with curiosity rather than fear. Away from work for four weeks, I began to reflect on my situation. I didn’t feel “sick” beyond the illnesses caused by the antipsychotic medications. During the eighteen years leading up to my second “breakdown,” or what I would call a breakthrough, I had survived a divorce, been successful as a professional, written and published my first book and raised two teenagers alone while managing a household. I was fine until separate traumatic events in my personal and professional lives collided and pushed me back to that state of emotional crisis. Yet I emerged this time as a different person, and knew I had to exit the mainstream mental health system.

This occurred at the end of a quick appointment with my last psychiatrist when I tried to squeeze in a few positive words about the exciting new things going on in my life, including the completion of my latest book and a new job offer that restored my lost retirement benefits. He interrupted me and said, “At our next visit, ‘we’ will talk about increasing your medication. You seem to be a bit too happy.” Then he escorted me to the door.

I laughed maniacally out loud in the car all the way home, expressing the pent-up joy that I had suppressed for so long. There wasn’t a next visit to any psychiatrist.

In the weeks that followed, starting with reading about spiritual emergences, hearing voices networks and peer-assisted programs, I learned that there were dozens of alternatives to hospitalization and many other explanations for “mental illness.” My spiritual mentor put me on the right path by asking me to think and write about what was taking me out of alignment. Different from the awkward yet well-intentioned apologies from my family and friends, her guidance set the stage for my sustainable and self-directed mind, body and spirit realignment.

Eventually my explorations into mental wellness led me to Mad in America and other organizations and pioneers who are questioning and rethinking psychiatry. I continue to be enlightened by them. An intense curiosity and desire to help guided me to do my own research about the history of the U.S. mental health system and how it came to be so pharmacologically and politically driven. Because it took me years of digging through one personal or organizational story at a time to find these alternative views and supporters, I know that they continue to be buried way too far underground for the average person to benefit.

Although unplugging is a big part of my mental wellness plan, I have learned to intentionally connect digitally with like-minded people and organizations globally. I attend webinars to learn all I can about the ceaseless and dedicated work that is being done to find better solutions to the natural human condition of emotional and mental distress. There’s still a long way to go (many of my close family and friends still subscribe to that chemical imbalance theory). Yet I have noticed the shift in psychiatrists, groups, individuals and those of us who are labeled, leaving the system and finding better solutions. Like all new ideas, the “we are well, not disordered” concept will take some time to come to the forefront.

While there’s still a long way to go, especially here in the U.S., hope is surfacing. I see the need for others to hide their identity (either face or name) in webinars and support groups, wearing the perceived shame on their sleeves as I once did. Until that need to hide transforms into a desire to celebrate our human qualities, I believe the stigma will remain. As for my brother and all of the newly labeled, I hope they know about and choose more compassionate and humane options where they are able to get real help for their emotional distress. Before they end up in an institution.

In the five years since my second (and last) hospitalization, I am still studying emotional and mental health care and am creating my own ways of supplementing the mental health system with peer support, compassion and the better “What happened to you” philosophy instead of that DSM-defined “Here’s what is wrong with you” approach. I created and continue to follow my unique customized treatment plan which consists of nature immersion, writing and establishing human heart connections. Graduating from that trauma-inducing work environment, I’m now passionately working every day toward making life different for the labeled ones, working on a new book and transforming my home into a peer respite site, using the wisdom I have learned from my lived experience and the infinite stories of others.

In June I started a graduate program for integrative wellness at a holistic school, which will allow me to intertwine my skills, knowledge and love for my fellow humans in the area of mental and emotional health. It is my intention to create a future world where no human being will ever be classified as disordered, either by a doctor or from the pages of an antiquated reference book written by “experts.” Another mission is to change the dismal narrative and poor communication habits that have evolved through time and bureaucracy in our status quo mental health system. As a writer, I know that the power of careful word selection and communication delivered through the language of kindness can never be underestimated. Change the language, change the mindset, change the outcome.

Who would’ve thought that two unpleasant incarcerations eighteen years apart would alter my life and turn into an overall blessing that I am grateful for every day. I only hope it is in time to help my brother.

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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.

13 COMMENTS

  1. What a touching biographical piece.

    Sometimes I feel like a food refuser. The articles in MIA are predominantly the perspectives of the healed who have come to an epiphany about how wrong for them their diagnosis was and how wrong for them their bad treatment was. I too am against bad treatment. And once upon a time I was against diagnosis. I was in my early twenties and had been through the mill with depression, anxiety and suicidality. I adhered to the medical model view for years but did an abrupt turn of opinion when I instinctively felt it was not a positive way of regarding myself. I became determined to nail a mantra to my psyche. It said there was nothing wrong with me. I even promoted this good attitude to others. And anytime I met someone with a speck of medical model tragic self pity about their diagnosis I would spit tacks at them for their stupidly believing in all that DSM medical model hogwash. I pulled myself up from the bootstraps and repeated dreamily, in a Dorothy Wizard of Oz style, that there was nothing stopping me being okay, or going home, home to the place within where there is nothing wrong with me.

    But it did not last for me. Schizophrenia arrived.

    I am not how you put it…”we who are well, not disordered”. I am not that “we”. I am me and I am sick.

    I was thinking an hour ago that as toddlers we are taught to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and be empathetic in society’s idea of empathy. So we are taught to read faces for any clues of annoyance. But it gets worse. We are taught to be mindful, or mind-full, of “the other person’s mind”, to detect “their” unhappiness at us. So as adults, for many hours of the day we mentally listen to any “imagined” signs we might convince ourselves are real signs, that the other person hates us. How we monotor “them” is by sensing when they might begin to “go off” liking us.

    From this it becomes essential to secure their liking us and read signs that they do like us. But from there comes a tendency to equate their liking us with “being us”, or being just like we are, and liking all we like, and liking our exact same politics and philosophy and activism and visions and ideas and best jokes. If they mimic us and our choices then they do not hate us and we are safe.

    But it is as toddlers would view it. If the people in society like our dolls and action men and toy trucks and spinning tops then everything is well in the world, we think. If they like our blog or comment or book or tee shirt. All of this is going on as an imagination reality, a ponder about the “them” who either like us or hate us. The actual real person on the receiving end, who seems to like or hate us, may be impartial and even indifferent. But we dont know they are indifferent. All we know is that in order to stop them hating us we need to convince them not just to like us, but demonstrate that like by becoming who we are. And if they dont want to be us, if they just want to be who they are, we may assume their refusal to be us “is” a sign of them hating us. What then occurs is a pitched battle to bully them into being more like us, and if they protest at being bullied into being us, flag that up as proof of them being deliberately hateful, for not liking being us. The hateful get punished for being “all wrong”. They are not at this stage in the game deemed “all wrong” for having different politics or weird philosophy or crazy clothes, but are deemed “all wrong” for being deliberately hateful, hatefully not us. And this allows us to “hate them back”, exept there us no “back”, since they did not hate us to begin with, they were indifferent and just doing their own thing.

    So what starts out as a toddler learning to be empathetic by reading the minds of others twenty four seven, soon decends into hate at them hatefully not being like us. Empathy can lead to hate if not allowed to be natural inborn empathy. Societal taught faux enforced empathy is a ticket to no empathy. It is a ticket to having to be paranoid all day long in rumination after rumination about what the other, in the queue, or in the wedding party, or in the comments sections, is up to.

    Why am I saying this?

    I have read more articles from the “bin the diagnosis” segment than the other group. And let us not forget, I have been a loyalist of both groups. I can see where the binners are coming from and how much the stance of viewing the medical model as hogwash is healing and positive and wonderfully freeing. But I can also see where the other camp are coming from, in their view that they feel really ill and just having a positive attitude is not going to mend that godforsaken abysmal truth. For some yes. For some no.

    Why is it that there are such heated emotions around committing to one camp or the other. As in an “either/or” gesture of faithfulness? I think some of it goes back to this notion of insisting an individual ought to be like me or that means that individual obviously hates what I stand for, which really means they must just hate me. Which means they must be an enemy. In a toddler worldview.

    Yet it seems urgent that “both” camps reconcile their different likes just enough to be of one family.

    The best way to do so is to say to one’s inner toddler…

    “You are lovely as you are”.

    “You are not wrong for you”.

    “Your choice is the best choice for you”.

    “You do not know the inner mind of the other, who has different likes”.

    “You really do not have to know their mind”.

    “You do not have to be empathic to stop someome being loveless towards you”

    “Nor do you have to hate them for not being you”

    “Who they are is none of your business”.

    “Look after yourself”.

    “Love yourself”.

    “If your love of you is complete and entire you will not need the other to be you, or like all the things you like”.

    “If you love yourself this good then there wont be a problem since their uniqueness will be exciting”.

    • Hi, I agree. I don’t support the medical model but I don’t feel that just a positive attitude or meditation will correct any psychological problem however severe it is. We need to stop seeing some people as good and others as bad depending on their viewpoints and work for the benefit of all our fellow humans. No one is always right or always wrong.

  2. What an excellent and revealing account, Mary. I am glad you are out of the grips of those who would ‘diagnose’ you, rather than just listen to you. We need a completely new paradigm for the psychiatry. The problem, as I see it, is of philosophical ideologies. We have long forgotten other modes of perception: symbols, metaphor, spirit, mystery, dreams and sacredness–the spheres that are so essential to the human psyche. Today’s ‘scientist’ is an empiricist who sees only the material world and attempts to fit everything into a narrow picture he can understand.

  3. “He interrupted me and said, ‘At our next visit, ‘we’ will talk about increasing your medication. You seem to be a bit too happy.’ Then he escorted me to the door.

    “I laughed maniacally out loud in the car all the way home, expressing the pent-up joy that I had suppressed for so long. There wasn’t a next visit to any psychiatrist.”

    I will agree, escaping the psychological and psychiatric industries’ “bullshit” does make a person happy, but I’m not so certain there is such a thing as being “a bit too happy.” Why is being “too happy” a medical “disorder” to the psychiatrists?

    I do agree a drug withdrawal induced “super sensitivity manic psychosis” does make you dance a lot, bike a lot, garden a lot, rehab your home a lot, volunteer a lot; it can make you the only employee to NOT be fired from your kitchen bath design firm, which was no longer a financially viable business, due to the banking industries’ destruction of the housing market, et al.

    But these are all productive endeavors, why are productive endeavors – that make people happy – considered “disorders,” by the psychiatrists and psychologists?

    Glad you escaped, Mary. I hope you can save your brother. I, too, would like to set up a Soteria House, or some other kind of alternative to the current “mental health system,” since I, too, like to help people.

    I’m a visual artist, but us visual artists do need to write our own stories, so our work is not misrepresented by the embarrassed, scientifically fraud based psychologists and psychiatrists, who want to “maintain the status quo.”

    But I do work best with a like minded partner. I hope to find a like minded partner in NE Ohio, not likely too far from you, but too far for us to be partners. And I might like to come see, and learn, from your “peer respite.” God bless.

    I signed up for the “Soteria House and Peer Respite Summit,” hope to meet you there.

  4. Nice to see that you escaped but I do believe we have to choose our language carefully and “mental health or wellness” is starting to annoy me.
    These are all words that play right into psych, so why use them?

    Also there was a time I bought the “trauma informed” and “what happened to you”, but as with everything, it keeps the power in the hands of the therapists, listeners, or psych.

    There are FEW people who can hold a conversation with another, and not jump to using language that draws a line between the “well and the unwell”.

    Perhaps it’s time athletes constantly use words that define the weaker person? If I go to an athlete and cry about my weak state, him asking me “what happened to you” is only going to make me feel worse.
    However, if we chatted without him pointing out how damaged I am, I might gain the confidence needed.

  5. Well, how about that? Bro’s boner for #FAKESCIENCE went away when HE got quacked. While your loyalty to him is admirable, I can’t resist pointing out how ridiculous his situation is and how often it happens. Kate Millet went through the same thing with her mom, who had developed dementia and was being tortured in senior housing. Because of Kate’s decision to care for her at home, she got to live out her final years in safety, liberty, and comfort. It would take a society more civilized than ours to categorize that hypocrisy as “sick”.

  6. I really appreciated your story and its honesty about both your brother’s and your experience. I do agree with sam plover about being cautious with using the terms, “well versus unwell.” It reminds of the term “able-bodied.” When I was forced by vocational rehabilitation into a sheltered workshop back in the 90s, they were always comparing our work against the “able-bodied” and that is how they would pay us, etc. Of course, who was considered “able-bodied” just a staff member. I just commented on an article about how we really need to free ourselves by dropping all labels. I think we need to especially stop labeling ourselves and we need to resist the labeling others and the labeling of us by others. Of course, I know, in particular labeling others is temptation we all fall into at times. And, the other labeling I note is also a temptation in that it makes it so easy to define ourselves. But, it is too easy and all the pieces of our lives seem to fall into place until they don’t. Perhaps, this labeling thing is one of those deadly sins in which we can be so easily tempted and perhaps it is time we work to end it the best we can. Thank you.

    • It depends on the drug. The best you can do is use the drug’s half-life (the time it takes for half the drug to be eliminated) to make an estimate of how long it’s been in the body. Every drug has its own half life, and if you don’t know the dosage, it may be impossible to tell anything about how long the drug has been in the body at all.

      Is there some reason you need to know this?

      • I think what you said about a drug’s half-life is very interesting. I think it could partly explain the lengthy and painful withdrawal that many go through from these psych drugs. I am beginning to cconsider that possibly much of the residue from the drugs I took over all those years may still be hiding somewhere in either my body and/or brain and that certain incidents or certain foodstuffs or other things that come in contact with my body and/or brain may activate these residues in some way. When this happens, it seems that I go through a temporary withdrawal type situation or like some sort of an allergic reaction. When I figure out what item is bothering me, I try to eliminate it from my life. One thing is certain is that those of us who have been harmed by these psych drugs need to lead as stress-free life as possible and consider much of what we put in our bodies and much of what we put on our bodies. We should also consider what we might think of as our “media diet”— what we read, see on tv, movies, the internet, etc. Of course, all this is an extremely individual thing and what is harming me may be beneficial to someone else even if we took the same psych drugs, etc. Therefore, I am not saying any one thing is good or bad. Only each person can determine that; but for each person who has been harmed by psych drugs is a never-ending growth journey of both grief and joy. Thank you.

        • There are many who believe that drug residues are stored in our fat cells, and can be released at later time by activities of normal living.

          But half lives have a lot to do with withdrawal symptoms. Short acting drugs like amphetamines act quickly, but also leave the system quickly. The withdrawals can be extreme but the half lives are short, so the recovery is quicker. Long-acting drugs, like “antidepressants” and “antipsychotics,” take a while to build up but have very, very long half-lives. So withdrawal can last a long time.

          This is not even taking into account the brain changes that happen with psychoactive drugs. It can take a much longer time for a brain to fully heal, long after the drugs have mostly left the system entirely.

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