Don’t Drive Me Crazy: Doctors, Labels and Why Didn’t Anyone Give A Damn!

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.

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Lessons from The Handbook: Suicide and the art of paying attention

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When I was in 6th grade, I told my parents I tried to kill myself. They took me to a psychiatrist who promptly diagnosed me with depression and gave me Prozac. I took the Prozac for a day or two and then stopped. I was eleven. I was not very motivated to get my life together. I had just tried to kill myself after all. My mom didn’t make sure I took the pills. Didn’t ask about it. She didn’t seem to notice she never had to get a refill. You know, because I never told her I needed a refill. Later, maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months, but eventually I took several of the anti-depressants and several sleeping pills and tried to kill myself again. I took them over the kitchen sink, then walked back to my bedroom. It hit me right away; I was already high as I walked down the hallway.

My mom awakened me for supper. I trudged back out, sat through the dinner, made small talk. My parents chastised me for staying awake too late at night. Yes, mom. Of course. That’s exactly right.

About a year later, in seventh grade, I tried to kill myself again. My mom walked in on me in the bathroom. I was lying on the floor crying, a sleeping pill bottle open on the counter. My parents debated taking me to get my stomach pumped and asked how many pills I took. I knew I had taken over twenty. I hated swallowing pills, and I counted them in my hand before choking them down. She didn’t believe me and sat at the kitchen table counting all the pills left in the bottle.

“It’s a bottle of sixty. I counted 53 and I’ve been taking them so she couldn’t have taken many,” my mother said. That was, of course, the end of that.

My mom didn’t know how obsessed with suicide I was. She didn’t know that last year I carried a bottle of sleeping pills around with me every day at school. There had been two brand new bottles in the medicine cabinet, sixty count each. After pulling out all the cotton, there was so much room left in the bottle. I put all the pills together, carried 120 pills around in my pocket all at once.

There were so many things she never noticed.

They dragged me back to the psychiatrist. Another man with an accent I couldn’t understand. I was so embarrassed to let my mom translate for me. I felt like a racist. He diagnosed me with manic depression. He gave me Depakote and Wellbutrin. I was supposed to take them twice a day. I obeyed for a day. Two. Maybe a third. But no one was around watching me. Making sure I took my medicine. Again, no refills ordered, no one noticing there should be.

I guess she had her own problems, but twelve year olds are irresponsible and easily sidetracked, and I say this having been constantly complimented for maturity beyond my years. Parents have to take responsibility for their children’s wellbeing. Parents do not just care for their children, they have to care about their children, and that means paying attention.