In my last post, I described how I periodically found myself at the psychiatrist’s office, where I was promptly given a diagnosis and some prescription pills. I also described how I didn’t take the pills like I was supposed to (because I was a suicidal twelve year old) and how I sometimes even used the prescription pills to try to end my life. Those diagnoses were really meaningful to me at the time. I was already getting messages from my parents, from bullies at school, from all over, that there was something very wrong with me. Then a doctor actually gave it a name, first depression, then bi-polar manic depression. I should also say that I have a sister with serious mental illnesses who was forcibly hospitalized several times growing up. So I absolutely believed I was mentally ill, I was unwell, I had those illnesses. I believed I was just messed up.
Looking back, I find it interesting that the doctors prescribing me pills and throwing around labels didn’t ask me about my home life, didn’t investigate my situation, didn’t probe the kinds of relationships I was having with my parents or friends. So of course, their answers to fixing me resulted in pills instead of rescuing me from a bad home life. These doctors and psychiatrists had me believing I was crazy when I was really just living with crazy people. Moving away from my parents, living on my own and taking care of myself (and actually being taken care of for the first time) made an incredible difference to me, my mindset, my confidence, and my happiness. It wasn’t easy, but I got over it. Now I know that I do not have a biological cause for symptoms. I am not bi-polar. I do not have depression or manic depression. Did I ever or were my responses perfectly normal given the abuse and neglect I went through?
This actually reflects a debate within psychology that is ongoing. Are mental illnesses defined by symptoms or by a medical or biological cause for those symptoms? As a twelve year old hearing “bi-polar manic depression,” I had no idea I could ever recover. I thought it was permanent, incurable, only manageable. That label hung from my neck like an albatross. I was so afraid of being hospitalized like my sister, of losing total control over my mind. I know that mental illnesses are real. After all, if we look just at symptoms, I did have those symptoms. But before throwing around artificial solutions, we should try helping a person live a better life. If someone had done that for me, they might have helped save me from real suffering, as well as the suffering my depression caused me.
The commercials for Abilify drive me crazy. If the first anti-depressant doesn’t work, try a twofer. I find myself wondering how many doctors advise these patients to exercise, journal, go to therapy, or get a new job before whipping out their pad of paper and scribbling their problems away. Given my experience, I bet it’s not many. Of course, some people need medicine to combat their symptoms and the causes, but I believe healthy minds and bodies come from having a healthy life. Do lots of things to make yourself feel better. If it doesn’t work, do some more. Don’t give up.