Sharing my Experience – Refusing the Victim Paradigm in Mental Health

These days, I have been contemplating my life own experience, from age 10 to my present age of 51, of being in and out of balance mentally and emotionally.  I have a complicated relationship with my own mental health.  A soundbite version of my “story” could be –

Woman struggles with chronic depression for 30 years.  She is misdiagnosed as Bi-polar II.  Gets worse on Medication. Radically changes her lifestyle to a health style. Cures herself.  She discovers in retrospect that her health challenges were tied to extreme hormonal imbalance.

There is a mental health crisis in this nation –

– because so many people need assistance concerning mental/emotional health problems and they are not receiving any guidance or care addressing their suffering.The mainstream wisdom says in order to solve this crisis there needs to be an increase in funding of the traditional methods of care made accessible to people of all incomes.  But I would say, before we start throwing money toward hiring more psychiatrists, and setting up more clinics offering traditional mental health care, perhaps we should consider other options of care.  We need a health care system that addresses how to maintain a WHOLE health system, where the body, mind, heart is maintained at optimum levels.

Ironically, it is my lack of access to low-cost mental health clinics that led me to my ultimate freedom from mood disorder symptoms.  Why?  Because if I had been diagnosed as a teenager, I most likely would have received a diagnosis and subsequent treatment for Depression then later Bipolar II, and that would be the end of my story. It is generally believed that Bipolar Disorder is INCURABLE.  And the mainstream approach to treating it is to be continually prescribed different “cocktails” of medications.

What is a “cocktail”?
It is an unspecified quantity and assortment of a s**t-load of drugs to be taken daily for an indeterminate amount of time

Here is what  the author Marya Hornbacher who was first diagnosed as Bi-polar 2 and then later as Bi-polar 1 – wrote in memoir Madness: A Bipolar Life .  In this scene she is in her mid 20’s, and has been institutionalized for a manic breakdown, her psychiatrist informs her of the future a Bipolar individual can expect.

Dr. Lentz tells me that once I’ve had a major manic break, I’m likely to have one again, and the more I have, the more I will have.  He tells me the bipolar has already progressed quite a ways.  No, it’s not going to go away. No there’s no cure.  Yes, you’ll always have to take the meds.  Yes, always. Yes.

Now I am crying.  What will happen to me? I ask.

He raises his eyebrows and shrugs.  That depends, he says. It’s up to you.  You can treat the illness and you can arrest the progression, and your outcome will be better. It’s possible, though, unlikely, that  you’ll never have another complete break.  You’ll have fewer of them, though, if you are vigilant with your medication, and if you start living in a much healthier manner than you are right now…. You’ve got to stop trying to do everything, you’ve got to learn how to rest. You’ve got to get some balance in your life.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me effing chills.  Marya is 6 years younger than me, and about five years later I too, was diagnosed with Bipolar 2.  The difference is that I partnered in this diagnosis with my psychiatrist.  I had been suffering for years with extreme depression interspersed with hypomanic periods which allowed me to accomplish whatever I let slide during my blue periods.  I didn’t associate them with my menstrual cycles, which they were hormonally tied to because I wasn’t asking the right questions.   And my lack of health insurance, had me missing years of gynecological check-ups in a row.

But in my own way I was taking ownership of my mood disorder via self-help books – learning everything I could about managing my depression via psychological methods, spiritual practices, as well as diet and exercise.  I was always skeptical about getting on medication, so I only considered it as a last resort.  My skepticism grew out of the knowledge that I knew my body was essentially very healthy, so why did I want to put toxic substances in it forever, that could potentially harm my body, for a condition that wasn’t permanent.  I knew I had regular periods of calm/normal moods and periods of high-functioning hypo-mania.  It seemed illogical for me, therefore to follow a permanent prescription for a condition that wasn’t permanent.  I think this is why, many people with mood-disorders drink and take illicit drugs.  They are self-medicating as needed, rather than signing up for a life-sentence prescription.

I, on the other hand, knew intuitively that illegal drugs and drinking were not solutions to my problem, and could make things worse.  Oddly, Marya, and other authors who have written similar mental health memoirs are typically alcoholics or drug addicts at some point in their life.  For me, I knew that my mind could be wild and unpredictable, so I really valued control of my consciousness.  And the last thing that I savored was adding substances to my system which guaranteed that I would lose control.  It just seemed reckless and stupid, and also scary.  On the infrequent times I “indulged” it was always only to the point that I knew I could still maintain some reasonable control over my body, mind, and particularly emotions. I was hyper-sensitive how any substance affecting my mental and emotional performance. Even caffeine, I recognize can give me a “high” that seems almost medicinal in strength, so I approach coffee like an “upper” taken as needed, more than as a daily regimen.

So, at age 35, having managed my mood disorder for 25 years, I was reaching a critical mass of despair which would have sent even “normal” folks over the edge:

  • Living in Post 9-11 Manhattan
  • Recently fired from a job – first time in life
  • On the verge of bankruptcy
  • Single and still suffering from the failure of a marriage – 1-year anniversary of divorce
  • Lacking a plan for my future
  • Family, thousands of miles away

During this period, I came across Lynn Redfield Jamieson’s An Unquiet Mind.  Like Marya, she too had a drinking problem, but her story and her mood disorder symptoms were so resonant with my experience that I set up an appointment with a psychiatrist.  And in discussing my case history, and the fact that my father had similar mood disorders, undiagnosed as well, that my psychiatrist was convinced that yes, Bi-Polar 2 was a reasonable diagnosis.  From that point on – for about 4 months, I took Lamictal.  But I didn’t really notice any improvement or change until I started speeding up into a psychotic drug-induced break.  I say drug-induced because I had never in my life experienced the lack of control of my mind, as I did during that period.  It felt entirely unnatural and alien.  During my depression – I felt despairing, but my brain still worked.  I knew how to do things. I just didn’t want to do them.  During my high-energy (hypo-mania) periods, I was super competent.  Sometimes I felt edgy and nervous, but I was fully capable of accomplishing things.  This drug-induced break was my brain truly malfunctioning in a way that was entirely unique.  The closest experience I could match it to was the way it might feel if I drank too much or took an illegal substance that entirely disabled my ability to reason or plan, or to think something through.  My brain felt broken.

I remember the afternoon this happened, I felt this inner rumbling of panic.  I had my journal in my hand, and my mind was racing, and I started to write down –

I am going crazy. I am going crazy.

And as I wrote this sentence repeatedly in my journal, I saw my lettering become more dramatic and erratic, transforming from my well-considered curlicue feminine script into this sweeping spiky and jagged scribble-scrabble raging across the page.  I knew the only thing I could do was call my mother.  She was at work in California, and her grown daughter was telling her –

Ma, I need help I am going crazy.
No, dear, you will be fine.
No, Ma, I won’t.  I can see myself losing it.  And this is something that has NEVER happened before!
What’s wrong?  What can I do?
I don’t know what you can do.  I don’t know what I can do.  I don’t know if I can do ANYTHING to stop it. I just need you to know I am losing it.  I am losing it, and I am so scared.  I just needed to hear your voice.

My mother knew that I had my depressions, but she also knew that I was essentially a responsible person.  This was the first time in all of my 35 years of life that I had made a call where I stated I was going crazy.  It was so out of my character, that she flew from California to New York within hours of that call.  And she nursed me back to sanity in the following weeks.

When I shared this story with my cousin Lewis who, has since passed, he told me it sounded like I had a stroke.  He had suffered a stroke a year prior, at 49.  I had never considered that.  And it is possible that the combination of my hormonal imbalance with the Lamictal could have short-circuited my brain in such a way that I suffered something equivalent to a stroke.  But without this hormonal imbalance/Lamictal combo my stroke condition was a TOTAL anomaly, for I was in excellent health.  I was eating healthy, exercising for an average of 12 hours a week, and leading a calm lifestyle.

I literally lost the weeks following my psychotic break. And to this day, I am not sure whether it was 2 weeks or 6 weeks I lost.  It was as if my brain snapped, and I was left like a helpless rag doll, not quite sure how to function in life.  Time became meaningless, stretching outward ambiguously into space. The part of my brain that told me what to do and when to do it – the planner, was malfunctioning.  I remember getting up in the morning, and asking my mother which order I should get dressed.  Was it the socks, first?  Could she find something for me to wear?

I didn’t know how to get dressed.  I didn’t know what I supposed to do with the day.

I had stopped taking the medication, cold-turkey, without even knowing what the side-effects of withdrawal might be.  And I told my mother, that at some point, we needed to visit with the Doctor and tell him what had happened. This appointment occurred toward the end of my convalescence when I was fairly confident that I could argue that this medication was harmful to me.  My psychiatrist’s response was to give me a prescription “cocktail” of Xanax, and lithium and a sleeping pill.  He advised that I take the Xanax first and I did, there in the office. Within a half hour after the visit, I was acting like a wild woman – one second I was weeping, the other I was raging, another I was running down the street in my bare feet, then returning to my mother in a panic weeping that I didn’t know what was wrong with me and that it was the drug that was making me so crazy.

After that crazy spell, I told her, NEVER AGAIN, would I take another prescription drug for my mental health

Because I would rather deal with the devil I knew – my depression, than the devil I didn’t, the random and terrifying experiential side effects of prescription medication.

Personally, I don’t know how millions of men and women literally give up their psyche to the management and control of strangers, who literally have NO CLUE as to how these drugs will actually work or malfunction in their bodies.  Recently I came upon this article  – Hormonal Imbalance, not Bipolar disorder where Dr. Jory F. Goodman states that he has come across patient after patient, both women and men who had been misdiagnosed with Bipolar disorder. He found that these patients actually suffered from an extreme imbalance of hormones.  And that once he was able to help these patients balance their hormones, their symptoms DISAPPEARED.

Life sentence of Bipolar Disorder Presto-Chango GONE!

Another Doctor, Sarah Gottfried, writes extensively on the significance of balancing hormones, and how to do so in order to restore women’s bodies to optimum health in her wonderful book The Hormone Cure .

Now mind you, I read this material in retrospect, after I figured out how to create a balanced lifestyle that worked for me. And it was Lynn Redfield Jamieson’s book that headed me toward the direction of balance.  Balance became my life riddle.  I started to see myself as a system out of balance – that there was too much despair that was weighing my existence down.  And I made it my mission to create that balance, so that the energies of dark and light would settle into a more predictable and productive hum within me.  Had I known that it was my hormonal system that was out of wack, and that it would only take some simple supplement additions to my diet and starting a regular exercise regime to manage the bulk of the imbalance on a PERMANENT basis, I could have save myself 30 years of suffering.

Yet, I am still grateful!

I had the faith in the little voice inside me that believed that the solution to my suffering was NOT offering myself up as a medical victim sacrifice to a lifetime of Psychiatric care.  I wouldn’t have to suffer the willful ignorance of a profession that finds it easier to just hand out prescriptions than ACTUALLY find a cure to mood disorders that they have diagnosed with a mental disease that is a LIFE SENTENCE and INCURABLE.  Once someone is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, both of which have symptoms which can be explained by extreme hormonal imbalance – the medical practitioners who “care” for them are off the hook for EVER curing them.  The psychiatrists then become pill-dispensers, incurious about WHY these people are actually suffering.

There are millions of women and men out there, who will never know the true freedom of a future

  • that is free of their own fears of personal mental and mood dysfunction,
  • that is free of the medical side effects that poison their bodies and further disorient their consciousness.

They are simply branded as mentally ill, with no second chance at a life of normal.

And this is the Best that our traditional mental health care system has to offer us.

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5 thoughts on “Sharing my Experience – Refusing the Victim Paradigm in Mental Health

  1. Liza, thank you so much for this article and for your willingness to share your experience. I have spent years struggling with depression and have also chosen to deal with it on my own. Although my reaction to medication was not as severe as you describe, it was enough to make me decide that there had to be a better way. I have experienced some of the hypomania (super-productivity) that you describe also, but I’ve never sought any diagnosis because I knew I didn’t want the medication that would go with it. I had not paid attention to whether those corresponded with hormone cycles, though.

    Thanks again! This is a really great article!

    1. Thank-you sweetheart. You made my day!
      I was starting to think, that no one cares to hear a viewpoint that goes against the grain of medical authority.

      1. I’m so glad! I think there are still a lot of people who are hesitant to entertain viewpoints that go against the grain of medical authority, but I’m not one of them. I was just a bit behind on my blog reading … 🙂

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