As most of you already know, I refuse to take any medications for mental illness, even though every doctor I've seen has stated that I need to be on medications for the rest of my life. That is why I no longer see doctors. So what do I do in a crisis situation? How do I deal with the symptoms? This question was asked the other day, and I realized that I needed to write a blog post about it. My answer is highly unconventional, yet I feel it's long overdue.
Before I answer, let me describe the symptoms I experience. I hate the word "symptoms" by the way because they are simply human experiences, yet for this post I'll use the term because it is the psychiatric term used in diagnosing specific, unwonted human experiences.
Depression. When I get depressed, I can't get out of bed. I have no motivation to do anything. All I can do is cry and think about dying. Life has no meaning whatsoever. I find no joy in any activity, and even lying in bed is painful. There is no escape. Nothing helps. I can't tolerate any social situation, and I don't answer the phone or the door. It's a miracle I am still alive today because suicide is the most comforting thought I carry. It allows me a sense of power amidst all the powerlessness that depression brings.
Anxiety. When I am feeling anxious, life becomes overwhelming. I cannot handle noise or movement. It makes me want to scream and lash out and stop the chaos in any way possible. I feel jumpy and desperate and totally out of control. When I get this way, I can truly identify with the person who goes on a shooting spree. That is hard to admit, but it is so true. Again, that fantasy allows me a sense of power amidst the powerlessness that anxiety brings.
Dissociation. Dissociation, for me, is very similar to being in a state of shock. Everything around me becomes surreal. It's like I've been thrust into another reality where nothing is like it was before. Think of a time when you first heard the news of a loved one's unexpected death. That is similar to what dissociation is like for me, except there was no death. Also, my memory gets really bad, and time becomes warped and distorted.
Those are my three primary experiences and symptoms that have been diagnosed by psychiatrists since 1982. The actual diagnoses vary, depending on the psychiatrist, and some of them include Major Depression, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and the list goes on. I've also been diagnosed with illnesses that have nothing to do with the symptoms I described. You see, once I got into the system, I developed other behaviors simply from the side effects from the medications I was given or from trying to survive in a psychiatric hospital or day program. These added behaviors were diagnosed with things like Chronic Undifferentiated Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizo Affective Disorder, and the list goes on.
These are the reasons I do not believe in the existence of mental illness. The system simply can't get it right, most likely due to the fact that there are no scientific tests for any mental illness. Psychiatrists -- and NAMI -- will tell you that brain scans show differences in the brain chemistry of people with these illnesses, but hey, they failed to stop the medications before scanning the brains. Those scans are of chemically-altered brains! Other explanations are possible, too, like childhood trauma, which is the most prevelant occurance in people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. But this whole brain-chemistry topic is for another post. It gets pretty involved.
So what do I do when those symptoms occur that I described above?
I embrace them. I honor them for what they are and I feel them for all they are worth. If I am depressed, I feel the depression as if I were being paid to describe to someone what depression is like. I describe it as I am feeling it. I don't try to distract myself from it the way everyone advises me to do. I hear things like "Take a walk, call a friend, go out with friends, exercise, do anything except feel the depression, you are only dwelling on it and it will make things worse, and for godssake don't isolate!" I used to feel so guilty for not being able to follow their advice. Not anymore! I will dwell on my depression. I will isolate. I will remove myself from all of society and I will treat myself to whatever my heart desires. That usually means isolating and wallowing in depression and crying my heart out for no reason. There is movement in crying! There is healing. I cry as deeply as my body will allow, and the exhaustion that follows is the most healing experience of all. And "healing" does not mean that the depression is over. It may be around for a while, and that is okay. It is not something that needs to be healed. Depression is simply another human experience, and by god, I am going to experience it!
So what happens when you stop trying to cure depression? The only thing constant is change, and that includes depression. It is always temporary, and you can count on it.
Allowing depression to run its natural course ultimately allowed me to become a more compassionate and empathetic human being than I ever was before. These traits are priceless and eternal. No SSRI could ever accomplish that. Not even close.
Intolerance for noise and movement peaked when I lived in the downtown high rise. The chaos was constant, and my cockatiel Jake added to the chaos every day. I was nearly at the point of hurting that precious little bird, and that's when I realized I absolutely had to find a way to cope with my anxiety. So I began paying attention to the chaos, soaking it in, refusing to try and make it go away, no longer believing that I would find peace if it all stopped. I said "Bring it on!" and I meant it. I observed myself experiencing the chaos and knew that I was safe in the midst of it. It is an amazing, transformational process of surrender, which has far greater value than anything Xanax can offer.
This method also worked with Dissociation. The diagnosis used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. If I have other personalities inside of me, why not get to know them and embrace them and learn from them? They are there for a reason, and they are me! I could write a whole post on this subject alone (and maybe I will), but trying to fight off any aspect of myself, whether it is depression, anxiety, or multiple personalities, is only denying myself yet another human experience. I refuse to do that anymore. I have a right to experience being human because I am human!
So, what really happens when I embrace all these symptoms rather than fix (mask) them through psychiatric "treatments"? Hmmmm.... well, I very rarely have any of these symptoms anymore, and when I do, they don't last nearly as long. To be honest, I can't remember details of their recurrences anymore because they don't stand out like they used to. They are no longer "bad" or "horrible" in my mind or my experience, so why make a note of them? It's like having a rainy day. Who cares? It just happens. Anyway, my goal was never to make the symptoms go away. It just happened.
Probably the greatest benefit of using this method is the lack of fear and guilt I now have toward any of these symptoms creeping into my life.
I truly believe I am on to something here.
I also use this method for other things that are uncomfortable, like quitting smoking. I didn't use any distractions like gum or exercise whenever I would have a craving, which was constant in the beginning. I felt the craving, even invited it. And of course the cravings subsided. I have no desire to smoke anymore, but if the desire creeps in, I take the time to feel it and embrace it. Feelings can't kill you, but smoking can.
One more thing...
What about the individual who experiences these symptoms yet is unable to embrace them without becoming a danger to herself or others?
This is the primary use, in my opinion, for medication -- on a temporary basis. Just to get through the crisis. The greatest atrocity of the mental health system is dooming a human being to taking powerful, mind-altering drugs for the rest of her life.
This is what keeps me up at night. This is what fuels my passion as an advocate.