If you believe the public education campaigns, the only problem facing people with “mental illness” is the “stigma” which stops them from seeking help.
The answer, apparently, is to get as many people as possible to believe the brain disease theory. Treatment “works”, we are told.
People Believe in Their Psych Meds
The people that are held up as examples, a shining light for everyone labeled with “mental illness,” all support this model. They proclaim that they “got sick,” found the right medications and psychotherapy, and are now in “recovery.” And the system – the various mental illness organizations – holds them up as “Faces of Mental Health.”
Any problems with the medications, or an authoritarian system that forced them into “treatment,” are conveniently missing from this narrative of psych meds and disease.
Sometimes, you hear someone saying, “I was scared for a long time,” or “I was confused,” but then they finish by saying. “But now I’ve found the right meds and feel just fine. And I’ve found really supportive workers”, etc. etc.
This has almost become a script. The people vaguely describe how they went through a really hard time when they didn’t believe they were sick, and then says how they’re much better now because of the drugs they were forced to take.
Force no longer seems to matter. It is a complete non-issue. The bottom line is always, “But I’m better now. I’ve accepted my psych meds and disease.”
I’ve heard this numerous times. And then when I ask these people what ambitions they have, they kind of look at me blankly. Or they just sit there through our discussion, no real spark in their eyes. They may say, “Oh, my family keeps me really busy”, or they may volunteer at a mental health related organization, or go to a leisure group of some kind.
Sometimes people even mention the side effects of their medications. Though often even then they attribute these to their “disease”. For example, they may attribute apathy and emotional flatness to “schizophrenia” when antipsychotic drugs cause these problems.
Even physical problems such as diabetes and heart disease are widely attributed to lifestyle factors among the “mentally ill,” despite the clear knowledge that second generation antipsychotic drugs cause metabolic syndrome and early death.
I had a friend who died in his 40’s due to a massive heart attack. At the funeral, they said he had the heart of an 80-year old man. I believe it was caused by the decades of drugs he was on. No one else even hinted at the possibility that psych meds treatment were at fault.
Ninety-nine percent of the people I’ve met who self-identify as “mental health consumers” seem to have accepted the brain disease model. They won’t speak up about harm, because they are in a coercive system that has made them docile and compliant. They are so medicated that they can’t think straight. They can’t find their own voices. They don’t own their own lives.
To speak for those who can’t speak, I want to share my bad experiences with psych meds and the disease model.
And then I want to share how I’ve been earning freedom by accepting the reality of suffering, of oppression within an authoritarian mental health system.
Psych Meds and Disease Thinking Lobotomized Me
The meds felt like torture when I was imprisoned, and forcibly drugged, in the hospital, even though I was a danger to no one. They sucked me down into unconsciousness, gave me akathisia and extreme dysphoria, insomnia, and various other issues. I felt lobotomized.
I’ve also felt physically sluggish, and demotivated from the neuroleptic (a.k.a. “antipsychotic”). It’s killed my joy. For the longest time, I had periods where I couldn’t get into anything. No interests. No hobbies. Just a feeling of being trapped inside.
I’ve had to reduce my meds just to be capable of functioning at work, and giving a damn in relationships. Just in order to have a hunger for life, instead of a constant inner emptiness.
I Gained Far Too Much Weight
The life expectancy of people on psych meds is measurably below the general population. One reason is the obesity psych meds cause, and all the life-shortening medical issues connected with it. I don’t want to die young, or end up diabetic. I am frightened because heart disease and diabetes run in my family.
As it is, even though I don’t eat badly, I am now an unhealthy weight, and that destroys my self-esteem. I never used to have weight problems like this before psych meds.
I weigh over 190 lbs, but am only five-feet-six. For a woman my size who isn’t athletic, 155 would be the high end of the healthy range. I’m not fighting to be a Size 8. At 130 pounds, I was too skinny. I spent most of my life being an average-sized woman. Now, my waist is something like 37-38?, which is very unhealthy.
I can’t adjust to being 40 pounds overweight, no longer fitting into many clothes they sell at “normal” stores. Last summer I had to order an XXL jacket. That was humiliating.
I Didn’t Face My Problems
By the time I’d been on drugs long enough, and endured enough trauma in the hospital, I was thoroughly convinced I had defective biology, would never have a life, and had to rely on finding the “right meds,” which never were found.
This meant that even when I tried to “help” myself, “help” meant finding some substance to fix me. The search for the biological fix came to consume my attention.
I lost my ability to think critically about society and the possible larger causes of my distress. I lost the ability to see myself as an emotional being with a spirit that was broken.
And so I made no progress.
When I reached a point of desperation from being so numbed and slowed, I would stop the drugs abruptly, triggering withdrawal symptoms and rehospitalization. Then I was imprisoned, put back on drugs, and the cycle of meds and disease repeated itself.
To the world, this was validation that I was indeed “sick” and needed “my meds” for life.
It was an on or off thing. On and miserable. Off and crazy.
Fighting For A Life
In order to end the cycle, I had to make a life while impaired.
In the early years, I would be thrown in the hospital for three weeks, leave, and get off drugs. Since 2006 I’ve been on drugs more or less steadily. I’ve been forced to be on them. And so my body has adjusted, meaning that I need to wean off the medications. No more cold turkey for me.
And so, in order to dig myself out, I had to accept that I was feeling awful. I had to accept that I hated the way the drugs made me feel.
I had to get a job when I could hardly think. I had to hold down a job when I felt lobotomized. I had to do it to get the chance to reduce my drugs.
I’m forced into a relationship with the system, and its medication, while I work on my emotional problems, demonstrate that I can behave well, live my life, and earn my freedom.
I’ve had to negotiate from within an abusive relationship with the mental health system that I didn’t choose to enter.
And now I’ve been out of the hospital for 18 months, the longest in years. I’ve held down this job for over a year. I have friendships. I’m writing again. I’m learning and growing. And in the past year, I have come off one drug completely, reduced another by 50 percent, and reduced the neuroleptic by about 20 percent. Enough to take the edge off.
From an intolerable state, my life has become bearable, because I harnessed my own inner resources, as impossible as that seemed at first.
Accepting My Suffering Was Essential
When you accept that you are suffering, it doesn’t mean that you abdicate hope for the future. It means that you recognize that, for now, your suffering is unavoidable, and must be borne with dignity.
One of the worst aspects of being on psych meds was that I often felt that I wasn’t mentally “there,” that I couldn’t even contemplate my own suffering. Through the drugged fog, I could hardly muster the words to describe my tremendous torment.
Yet within me was a will to live. Primitive, unable to put into words, but a core vitality. On some level, I was looking out for myself as best I could under those circumstances. As the expression goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
Where is our anger?
I wonder if those people I met at so-called “mental health” organizations were really as satisfied as they seemed with their psych meds. There was a peculiar absence of anger. No one would engage in any critical discussions. Yes, they would complain about how a drug might make them feel, but they would also be quick to point out that they needed meds because of their “disease”.
I want to know what happened in the “confused” times that they vaguely alluded to. Were those the times when they fought back?
Was distress, outrage, their fight-or-flight response, all concentrated in those periods that they later called “sick?” Were they abdicating ownership of their own dissent?
Was it only present in memories, of being forced into the back of police cars, of being held down and injected with drugs, of being locked in rooms all night? Was it something that fled as soon as the doctors and nurses told them over and over again that they had broken brains?
Where is the honest discussion of psych meds?