While most of the sting is gone, even now — almost sixty years on — I can’t get through a single day without thinking about shock treatment and the state hospital. I regularly have dreams or nightmares about being lost in a strange place and someone making me feel like dirt.
After 25 years of chronic emergency, 22 mental hospitalizations, a stint at a “community mental health center,” 13 years in a "board & care," repeated withdrawals from addictions to legal drugs, and a 12-year marriage, I plan to live every last breath out as a survivor, an advocate, and an artist.
Schizophrenia, to me, is nothing more than a word. All it really means is that you experience psychosis on a regular enough basis that it’s a factor in your life. And that you actually do, as the word “schizophrenia” indicates, have a mind that you share with some sort of outside presence.
I pray for a rich life, away from the fear of job insecurity, coercive medicine, and false labels. The question still remains as to how to handle societal fears about the ‘mentally ill’. My blessed family are like hypervigilance officers on the watch for the slightest behavioural aberration.
It gradually dawned on me that my back pain was another mask that depression wore. Instead of crying and feeling overwhelmed or giving up, my body was sending distress signals to help me realize that I was in a difficult spot. I began to realize some of the metaphorical aspects of the pain I experienced.
During a period of self-doubt, I chose to see a psychiatrist because I was engulfed in negative thoughts and couldn't find a direction in life. The slightest joys came only when I was high. Though my weed addiction was likely causing all of my symptoms, my psychiatrist’s response was to prescribe antipsychotics.
Sometimes I am crazy and sometimes I need help, but that help must not be forced upon me. I need to direct my own care; I need to be listened to. ACT is a method of social control that has more to do with saving money than assisting those in need. Money is saved by turning patients' homes into hospitals.
Like slavery took such a long time to be ‘officially’ forbidden, psychiatric hospitals will be with us for some time yet. Their masters, the doctors or administrators, no longer give beatings with their hands but with the far more treacherous chemicals that allow them to keep a good conscience and distribute what are beatings nevertheless.
Today I’ve recovered a semblance of my old life, and I, like millions of others, deserve answers. What have these drugs actually done to us? Everything I’ve learned thus far shows that antidepressants were poorly researched, and society, especially our military service members and veterans, were used as test subjects.
My world turned upside down when my daughter nearly died from a serious suicide attempt. After several years as her caretaker I began to wonder: What can we do to change the way our mental health services are organized so they won't turn a crisis into a way of life for already distressed and vulnerable people?
My blood work indicated a host of issues that had been lurking under the surface of my “psychiatric diagnoses” for years. I’d seen various mental health professionals and none had recommended these types of tests, or stopped to think about any underlying factors, aside from the well-known “serotonin myth.”
My stay at the hospital had no impact on the problem that led to my admission. But it did exacerbate other problems and change me in fundamental ways. I am a deformed product of that ‘cutting-edge facility’ and the ‘treatments’ I received there — social isolation, pills and shots, ice bath and ECT.
I’m alive. More than 30,000 veterans in the past decade alone are not. I was not warned of the risks of this drug. I was not told that once on it, I might never be able to get off it, or the nightmare that would ensue when I tried. I know millions of others were not told either.
The amount of anxiety I felt on these medications — and for a couple of years after — was unfathomable. I felt as though I was trapped in an air-tight vat, constantly gasping for breath. And my thoughts were guided by my state of constant worry and panic.
At my job with a NAMI affiliate, I heard daily from people who looked at family members with “mental illness” as non-people, non-human, the “other.” In the office, it was no different. If NAMI had a tagline, it would be “Please be normal like us.”
One needs no psychiatric or counseling degree to have the common sense of displaying some good manners in a profession that claims to be all about helping people. I’m glad I did not get further involved within a field that seems to be so hypocritical and moody.
After telling my psychotherapist about my medication-fueled suicidal ideation, he said, “You have two options. We can do this either voluntarily or involuntarily.” Aghast and shaken, but assuming everyone in the medical system had my best interests at heart, I reluctantly agreed to go to the hospital without any protest.
Once you walk through the door to the psychiatric system, all of the protections afforded criminal detainees go out the window. No due process, no speedy trial, no right to see or vet the evidence against you, and most importantly: NO RELEASE DATE!
Recovery is not a bridge we cross and never return to. Rather, it is more like crossing a stream we ford by side-stepping on different stones. Not all of the stones are as sturdy as some of the others. Yes, we slip at times, only to regain our footing and forge ahead.
Jean was never warned about Librium's potential to cause physical dependence or the subsequent withdrawal effects that can result from its long-term use, nor was she counseled on an exit plan. So when she decided to taper off the drug, her withdrawal symptoms were so severe that her life and health quickly spiraled out of control.
Lithium is a notoriously toxic substance, and if it isn’t managed carefully enough, can have some very nasty effects. I discovered this the hard way. It got to the point where I could barely eat or drink or walk around. Yet lithium never made a dent — not for a single moment — in what was going on in my head.
I had been an excellent combat medic — I had deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan totaling over 28 months of combat in Infantry and Cavalry units. Yet, after over six years on these psychiatric drugs, I felt reduced to a helpless being who would require assistance for the simplest of menial tasks.
I'd like to be peers with anyone struggling against persecution, anyone struggling toward the promise of dignity and respect for marginalized communities, for freaks and weirdos. To fit the diversity of our experiences, maybe our definitions need to be as flexible and individual as we are.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and not knowing which one to take, I stood straight, watching my life pass me by. But in therapy, I began to feel the knots of my life come alive inside me. The point is not just to talk, it is to feel your story inside, to hear your silences, and to realize who you are… and who you can be.
Darkness began to consume my life, both literally and metaphorically. My surroundings and even my own thoughts would become distorted into something terrifying. As the nights droned on, shadows in my dorm room would contort themselves into threatening figures. The whispers continued to grow, overcoming the thoughts in my head.