Thursday, December 9, 2010

Programmed to self-destruct. Thursday, December 9, 2010.

“My head was full of wild ambitious urges to hurt myself. I tasted the ambrosia of maddened impulse. I wanted my interior pain out in my body somehow. I wanted this vague pain to be specific. That’s how I explain it.” –Charles Baxter

I was invited to a Facebook group today. It turned out to be a pro-ana group, and the girls there were looking for “buddies” – people who would join them in the quest of starving themselves to death. I declined.

I checked out this young girl’s FB profile. She’s a very pretty girl. But most of her photos are graphic, triggering shots of self-harm, drugs, and starvation.

Since we’ve never communicated, I don’t know what to say to her. But I read her profile description, and I fear it speaks for many girls – girls who have suffered abuse (usually of the sexual sort), and who continue the pain by abusing themselves. Saddest of all, it seems these young people have made a decision – they prefer sickness to health, pain to comfort, death to life. Here are her words:

I'd rather stay home and get high then go to school. I'd rather get paid for fucking someone then go to an actual job. I'd rather be skinny and pretty then a fat pig. I'd rather have my little episodes then have to deal with real life. I'd rather live my life through a haze of pills then with nothing.

I'd rather be in the hospital then at home. I'd rather inhale the toxins from a cigarette than go and try and calm down another way. I'd rather cut myself with the ice cold metal of a razor blade then cry myself to sleep. I'd rather go out and get a police record then be the good little girl who never does wrong.

I'd rather drink myself into a coma then reminisce about my past. I'd rather be fake and happy then let you know I'm dying inside.

What does all this crap mean? Let me lay it out for you straight. I skip school, I do a ton of drugs, I'm a prostitute, I'm anorexic/bulimic, I have a ton of mental illnesses, I pop pills, I've been in a hospital 4 times, I smoke, I cut and burn, I get in trouble with the police and school alot, and I drink. All in all, I'd rather be anyone else but who I really am. I'm truly a child from hell.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Here she comes a-tapping. Wednesday, December 8, 2010.

“(The) combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the ‘short-circuit’ – the emotional block – from your body's bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance.” –Dr. Joseph Mercola

Did you know there really are “snake oil salesmen” – people who literally sell snake oil? The oil comes from the Chinese Water Snake and is supposed to help with joint pain. Snake oil probably works better than a sharp stick in the eye. (But wait, that stick in the eye could be a distraction, so maybe it would be effective.)

In America, though, “snake oil” is a derogatory term for medical treatments that aren’t really treatments. Most people see copper bracelets sold as cures for arthritis pain as a kind of snake oil; a few people swear by them. Some people believe that all mind-altering pharmaceuticals are snake oil; I disagree.

I first heard about EFT, the Emotional Freedom Technique, from an open-minded Christian counselor who was helping me deal with stress. Two years ago, when my anxiety began to become truly disabling rather than simply a nuisance, I was desperate to find non-drug help and I ordered an EFT manual online.

EFT sounds a little silly. In EFT therapy, the client taps on acupuncture points, supposedly manipulating energy fields, while focusing on fears or traumas and thereby releasing them. As a journalist, I don’t buy into anything without checking it out first. Some of the studies on EFT have shown that it works; others have shown that it does not. When there is success, researchers attribute it to a variety of factors: either the placebo effect is happening, or the client is being helped by talking about their fears, or there really are energy fields that – when tapped – promote emotional healing. The bottom line is, no one knows for sure.

I recently started seeing a new psychologist, one recommended to me by my P-Doc. I never believed that my healing could come from pills alone, and as much as I liked my former therapist, I came to the realization that I needed someone who could help me go deeper.

Enter Dr. M., a bearded, Birkenstock-wearing Buddhist who believes in conventional medicine AND alternative treatments. A medical doctor, he’s covered under my insurance plan. And his office smells like lavender.

One of his treatment methods is EFT. And while I tried it on myself, unsuccessfully, right after my suicide attempt, I am willing to give anything a try right now. I don’t know whether or not I believe in EFT, but I do know that my treatment today opened my emotional floodgates. I tapped and cried. I tapped and cried harder.

So Dr. M. gave me a homework assignment – to do EFT on myself once a day, every day, until I see him again in two weeks. We shall see. We shall see.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

You bet I’m pissed. Tuesday, December 7, 2010.

“The ‘mental illness’ brigade always talks about how much suffering ‘mental illness’ causes, and that everybody who doesn't buy into their ‘mental illness’ denies their suffering. Well, maybe their suffering really isn't that bad. Or they might bring up the courage to face their trauma, instead of hiding behind their ‘mental illness.’” – Facebook status of an anti-psych

Let’s get three things out of the way:

First, I’m no fan of Big Pharma. I’m disgusted by their profit margin; I believe they should not be allowed to advertise; I’m concerned about drug safety; and I feel vulnerable because I depend on corporate health insurance to afford my medication.

Second, I don’t believe in throwing drugs at everyone who complains of being depressed or anxious. Most of the time, feelings of sadness and fear are normal reactions to the trials of life, and they’ll pass when the situation improves.

Third, as someone who has experienced Haldol Hell I know what it feels like to trust a doctor only to be prescribed a harmful drug.

But I know something else. Somewhere along the line, something in my mind and body went haywire. My mind would get stuck in a loop of thoughts I could not control, and my body pumped out so much adrenaline that I couldn’t eat or sleep for weeks. This has happened to me a few times over the past 30 years – sometimes when I was under stress, and sometimes not – once culminating in a suicide attempt.

And I know that medication has helped lessen the severity of my symptoms.

The anti-psych movement (not all of them are Scientologists, BTW) believes there is no such thing as “mental illness,” simply people who think and behave outside the norm. They feel that diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar stigmatize and dehumanize people. They believe psychiatric medications are worthless at best, and deadly at worst.

They’re free to their opinions, but I start feeling defensive when I read posts calling people who take meds ignorant “sheeple” who simply “believe the ads they see on TV” and “want to be compliant ‘patients’ to please their doctors.” I get angry when I read that autistic behaviors should be blamed on faulty parenting, and that people who are delusional are simply acting out their individuality, regardless of their safety.

Most of all, I feel dismissed and stigmatized by the very people who claim that society is dismissing and stigmatizing me by labeling me as bipolar. To me, personally, understanding that I have a disorder that is biologically based and can be treated makes me feel less ashamed and gives me hope. It gives me a feeling of solidarity with others who have bipolar disorder as well as the many people who are recovering from mental illness with therapy, medication or both.

I tried, for many years and on several occasions, to control my symptoms without meds. I got a BA in psychology. I delved into my past in talk therapy, and I’ve used CBT, EMDR, EFT, Magnesium, Vitamin D, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and prayer. There is nothing wrong with any of these therapies, and in fact I am trying several of them again.

But the severity of my depression and anxiety was such that I did not begin to recover until I was on the right meds. And I ask the anti-psych people: Does that make me some kind of failure…? Because when I see words like “sheeple” and “ignorant” and “compliant,” I sure feel like one. No one who believes in the “biological theory” is calling me names like that. No one else is putting “mental illness” in quotation marks, or dismissing my suffering as “not that bad,” or saying I “lack courage.” But I didn’t choose this.

So long, and thanks for the stigma.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What I can do. Monday, December 6, 2010.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” ~William James

There’s so many things I can’t do. There are a few things that I can.

Yesterday my friend came to me. She was sick, she said, and she needed help. Tearfully, shaking, she asked me to accompany her to the ER.

Ella has dealt with paralyzing depression, anxiety, and sometimes psychosis for years. Unable to work, she depends on Disability, which offers minimal health insurance. Before she got Disability, she lived for a time in her car.

An intelligent woman, my friend recognizes she’s functioning at a low level; this knowledge makes her feel frustrated and ashamed. Raised in a home where she was taught to be subservient, lacking in any occupational skills, and having survived severe abuse, Ella barely talks above a whisper and breaks into tears every few minutes. She is filled with grief, regrets, and unresolved anger.

A few years ago Ella became suicidal and delusional. Her family and I felt she was a danger to herself, and we cooperated to get her placed in an inpatient facility for one week to get her past the immediate crisis. I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t angry at the time, but, she says to me now, “I know your heart is in the right place.”

In the months following her inpatient stay, Ella did very well. But like so many people in our society, she was teetering alongside cracks. And eventually, she fell into one. The community center where she was supposed to be receiving counseling did not provide her with a particular therapist; instead, they rotated, so she saw a different person each time.

Ella has led a difficult life, suffering multiple traumas over many years. She is a person in need of intensive, ongoing support. Instead, she found herself trying to explain her complex situation to one therapist and then to another (on the infrequent occasions she was actually able to get an appointment). No one had the big picture of her life. Who could make any progress in a situation like that?

After just a few sessions, she quit going. She didn’t like talking about her problems anyway. Ella took her pills sometimes, and got a couple of refills from a GP. But no psychiatrist was assigned to oversee her care. Her medication was as useless to her as her “therapy.”

At the moment, Ella is not suicidal, thank God. She’s not hallucinating, and she is not delusional. Last night, after nine hours in the ER, the doctor released her with a cheerful reminder take her medication and call a social service agency. She already has the number.

Ella has no voice. There’s so many things I can’t do. I can’t take away the traumas from Ella’s past. I can’t give her the occupational training she needs to find a job that might raise her self-esteem. I can’t make sure she takes her meds properly. I can’t change the social services system to give her continuity of care.

What I can do is hold her hand as she cries. So that’s what I did.