Sunday, July 29, 2007

How I deal with mental breakdowns

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.


Monica Cassani said...

thank you Jayme,
I think I'm getting there.

Jayme said...

I believe in you, Gianna. Keep doing what you're doing. You are incredibly strong.

Anonymous said...

Jayme, I never quite heard the symptoms explained in this way. You've done a wonderful job putting our experiences into words. Great job! ~ Denise

Tom said...

For many years, I have dealt with the side effects of psychiatric drugs. I have been obese twice. At the present time, I have problems staying awake no matter how much sleep I have had, have bad muscle tone, and no drive whatsoever. I have turned into an apathetic and sexless person......

Now my girlfriend has suffered renal failure and has acquired diabetes at the hands of a pharmaceutical company and has sued, but the damage has already been done and the attorney is getting most of the money. We both resent the psychiatrist who writes out the scripts with the purple colored pen with the word "Zyprexa" stamped upon it! Seroquel is another mind/body destroyer, along with "benzos" and other poisons.

This rant could just go on and on, but I would like to say in closing that this post is an eye-opener and very refreshing. It is the lifestyle that big pharma doesen't want us to embrace, one of true health and self-determiniation.

Jayme said...

Wow, Tom, it's great to see you again. It's been a while, and I have missed you! I'm sorry to hear about your experiences with psych drugs. I wrote this post for you and all the people in your shoes. As you know there are many. Too many.

Anonymous said...

great post, Jayme!

Anonymous said...

I totally and completely relate. I loved what you wrote.

MYM said...

Excellent post, thank you for sharing something so personal and so relevant for many.

Mark p.s.2 said...

"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."

and the drugs have been proven not to work long term. Long term drugging results in perminate brain damage and other tissue damage, like kidney and pancreas.
and the drugs are forced.
and the imprisonment and fear

great post

Anonymous said...

Thought provoking post!
I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, OCD, and Borderline Personality Disorder.

I'm glad I have discovered your blog.

Jayme said...

Hi Jackal, I hope you don't have a laundry list of medications to go along with your diagnoses. I'm glad you stopped by my blog, and I hope to see you again!

Sickmind Fraud said...

Excellent post

Very insightful

Please keep up the good work


Anonymous said...

Although I'm successfully medicated and have a wonderful therapist who has helped me work miracles in my recovery, this post is one of the most thought-provoking I've ever encountered.

It's not that you're doing nothing at all, you're managing your illness in your own way. How empowering. I'll be talking to my therapist about ways I can begin to do this myself.

Thank you for an outstanding post.

Anonymous said...

Nice comments. Read Thomas Moore's book, Dark Nights of the Soul, for a similar view of embracing the beauty of the Dark Night. Moore's view is the beauty and uniqueness of all of us who have been blessed to experience depressions and how we have a depth beyond many people in the world.

Jayme said...

Anon - I love the way you put this. You really get it.

Jayme said...

bellevie - That is what self-directed recovery is all about. I know you will find what works for you. I wish you the best.

Anonymous said...

Another aspect of the side effects of the drugs on men: loss of libido (for women and men) and diminished or disabled capability of ejaculation for men. So once you sign up for a lifetime of some antidepressants you also lose a very basic life function. I am 70 years old but, even so, I still have always enjoyed the beauty of sex and am very reluctant to give it up. It is gone now but I would like to go back and see if it is recoverable before I leave this world.

Unknown said...

Jayme, EXCELLENT! I like the bravery that comes across in your post.

I'm reminded of a lyric by Henry Rollins: "What do you do when you just can't take it anymore? You deal with it. That's what you do."

There is a certain power that comes with the kind of "bring it on" attitude you write about. At a certain point in my recovery, I just had to say, "Enough. No more running. No more fear. No more meds." After the symptoms subside, and one realizes life really does go on, this power remains.

Perhaps this is the meaning behind the suffering - to realize, in a very practical sense, true resilience. You've been infected with this resilience. I thank God that I have been as well, and pray that it's contagious. From what I can tell, it seems to be...

Jayme said...

It has been the single most empowering thing I've ever done for myself. And I had never considered myself resilient before, in fact, quite the opposite. I can sense the sheer resilience in you as well. Thank you for your comments!

awa said...

If your symptoms went away when you stopped taking your medications, then that's excellent for you. Don't assume it is that way for everyone.

I haven't been on meds for a few years because I am in a rural area and there just aren't any doctors around; that and the fact I am poor and can't afford going 100 miles to a doctor, and pay him a fortune as well. And I'm too depressed to get myself to appointments 100 miles away anyway. Several things adding up to make me not have a doctor.

I do feel better overall since stopping the drugs, I have more days that are better. But it's been years now (about three I think), and I still am very depressed very much of the time. I can't do much of anything. Even when the good days come, the bad days are right behind, making it impossible to have any life at all.

I have literally zero friends, I have literally two family members, who both live far from me, who will call maybe once every month or two. I can't keep a job, I can't even get myself out there looking for one.

If there were a pill I could take to make Depression go away so I could have a life again, I would gladly GLADLY take it every day for the rest of my life.

I would also gladly take treatment from a GOOD psychiatrist, and/or counselor. I've had a hard time finding one who actually listens to me and seems to have a clue what he's doing.

I definitely have a lot of issues that might be helped through competent counselling. I'm not sure how many are a result of Depression and therefore might go away if the Depression were lifted, vs. how many are independent of the Depression, maybe contributing to it? I would be very happy to give it a try.

Those damn commercials on tv saying Depression is treatable keep me thinking that if only I could find a decent doctor to care for me, I could have a life. There's no way to know if that's true unless it happened.

I don't understand how you can say there's no mental illness. When you have groups of people, who have never met each other, who come from all kinds of cultures, throughout time and all around the world, and they all have very similar groups of symptoms . . . that proves that there's something there. Just because it's not a tumor you can physically remove and take a picture of, doesn't mean it's not real. It's a real disease process, a real illness.

It's an unhealthy state because it disrupts and destroys lives, even causes death in some cases.

Hope is the main reason I haven't killed myself, so don't tell me that hope cures people. I have hope, it's stupid at this point, but it won't go away. Hope may be a necessary part of a cure, but it's not a cure in itself. Hope ends up causing me more grief, because it's nothing more than a tease for a life I will never have.

When I first got depressed, I tried support groups. I discovered that many people had much milder depressive episodes than I have. Maybe they had them once for a month back in '72, then again in '85. They thought they knew everything about having Depression, when in fact they know almost nothing. I'm not minimizing their experience, but it's not everyone's experience. They absolutely could not relate to what I was going through.

I've had the "just go for a walk" speech too. Like that's going to cure me. For the record, I've been for walks. When I feel better, I go walking nearly every day. I walk because I'm feeling better, NOT feeling better because I'm walking. Yes, walking makes me feel better physically- stronger, more flexible, more stamina, etc. It does nothing for my Depression.

If stopping your meds and having hope has cured you, I'm very happy for you. If it cures others, I'm very happy for them too. I wouldn't wish this illness on anyone.

Just don't assume your method is going to work for everyone; and that the only reason some of us are still depressed is because we're taking a pill or we're not hopeful enough.

Jayme said...

awa, I am not assumming anything, and I would never advise someone to stop doing something like take meds for life if they are an informed and consenting consumer. I am all about choice, and I am sorry to hear that in rural areas, the choices are non-existent. I understand wanting the depression lifted and getting a life. I understand depression all too well, and I am incredibly lucky to be alive right now.

I don't believe mental illness is a true biological disease. I don't believe addiction is a disease either. Both are in a category all their own, yet they are treated as if they were diseases just like any other. Much damage is done with that assumption. People are forced against their will to adhere to dangerous treatments. If there were no force or, more commonly, coercion involved, I wouldn't bother with this activism.

I am not making any assumptions. The mental health system is, and people are dying because of it.

Hope did not cure me. Hope helped me to cure myself. My methods are my experience, and sharing them with others is what this blog is about. It may not help you in the least, but if it helps one person like it did me, it is worth sharing.

My hope for you is that you find the help and support you need, however that looks for you. Everyone deserves that much.

awa said...

I guess I don't know what you mean about people being forced to adhere to any treatments. I think in the entire health care industry, there is a serious lack of informed decision making on the part of the patients. The doctors tell you what to do, and you figure they know what they're talking about, and you're scared, and you just want to get well, so you do it. They even make you sign papers saying your options have been explained to you, when it's bullshit- they're just covering their own asses.

I've had a hard time finding decent psych care, and I don't mind telling you that going to a bad psychiatrist or psychologist makes me much more depressed than I was before- because I went there with the hope I'd get some help. It's a big deal for me just to get to an appointment, and to pay for the visit, especially a first visit. When I get there, I want to find people who are going to help.

I absolutely refuse to go back to the local state run mental health clinic: they fuck with your head bad there, and don't pay any attention at all to what may actually help the patient. They threaten you and lie to you. It's really bad. (I am talking specifically about the one in my area, obviously.)

Addictions and mental illness are definitely diseases, or illnesses. Sounds to me like maybe you're stuck on terminology there. They are unhealthy states of being, AND they are definable and experienced by many many people throughout the world and throughout time, in all cultures. It's not that one person is exhibiting this, many many people are, and have. They are a natural part of life in the same way that any illness is a natural part of life. They are not healthy states of living.

Maybe they are in a category of their own, because you can't point to it like you can other illnesses. I wouldn't argue that. The fact you can't see them makes them so much harder to understand and successfully treat. But it doesn't make them any less real, or any less dangerous.

I guess I just want everyone to understand that what works for you, may not work for everyone else; thinking that it will has an implied assumption that if only a depressed person would do what you did, they'd be cured. The next implied assumption being that they're still depressed because they're not trying hard enough or don't really want to be cured (because obviously, if they'd just do what you did, they'd be okay now).

I totally agree that if your blog helps anyone, even if it only helps you, it's well worth the effort. :)

jims said...


Thank you for your comment and your website. I have found your methods work for my mood swings. However, the distracting methods, like exercise also help me.
Thanks again,
Jim S

Mr B The Tech Teacher said...

Excellent and thought provoking post, thank you!
I have a personal theory on depression that is similar, in that I don't believe I can start to heal from an attack until I've hit bottom. Once I'm there I can push off from the floor and climb my way back up.
Unfortunately the bottom seems to be getting further away each time, and I'm worried next time I'll fall until I lose touch with the world completely.
I'd love to try your method of coping but I don't think I am strong enough to embrace the feeling so wholly. My depression stems from some things I'm just not ready to deal with yet and I'd be too scared of disturbing the dust.
Still, I can see how it would work for some, and it's a fascinating and brilliantly explained technique. Thanks again!

sbwrites said...

Dear Jayme,
I've come to this post from Gianna's blog, Beyond Meds. It's a truly great post. I agree that ignoring symptoms doesn't work. I also agree that many symptoms I never experienced before taking medication were medication-induced.

Unfortunately, once I stopped taking the medication, some of the symptoms have remained (although to a much lesser degree, and I continually work on lessing their impact further).

For me, it's not so much embracing the symptoms as not being frightened of them. But perhaps this is just a matter of semantics. In the past, when I felt a depression on the horizon, I was so terrified it would hit that the stress I was feeling truly exacerbated the episode.

Now, I do the wellness activities I have developed to stave it off, but if it still hits, I deal with the depression and no longer have to deal with the fear (which I have eliminated).

Anyway, I applaud you on your coping mechanisms, and your attitude--which is so positive and life-affirming.


kim said...


A mutual friend sent me a link to a post at her blog where she re-posted this entry of yours. She sent this to me after a traumatic event I experienced last night and she thought your post might help. I just want to say, it did. Your thoughts/words here are extremely powerful and beautiful.

I can't believe I've never run across your website as I've been blogging/writing for over three years. And it seems we have many mutual blog friends. I look forward to reading all of your posts-it will take me a while to catch up-but it's something I feel I need to do.

Anyway, I am sending love your way and want to thank you so very much for what you've written here.

Jayme said...

Hi Kim,

Of all the posts I've written, this one has the most meaning. I'm glad you found it. I read your traumatic incident, and I am so sorry for what you are going through. My parents also insisted on a mask from me and everyone around. And they got it. Not anymore! We are adults now and can choose to be whoever we choose to be. I'm proud of you for leaving their house in the end. It was a pattern that needed to be broken blatantly in their faces. Bravo to you!!!

Thank you for visiting my blog! I hope you enjoy the posts. I am enjoying your blog too!

Aleks said...

I 'cured' my anxiety, OCD, depression and panic attacks the way you have just described. I called it Acceptance and I repeated it over and over to myself.. I accept myself, I accept those 'crazy' thoughts.. I discovered that there can be no imbalance, no illness and no disease in your body if you love yourself unconditionally, the body cannot sustain imbalance if it vibrates with the energy of love and acceptance. I used to think it was a New Age mumbo jumbo until one day it just happened.. I use it on everything. Period pain, back pain, guilt, shame, trauma, anything.. It doesn't mean it works every time immediately, sometimes it takes time to sink in.. It takes a while to re-route those neural pathways that are so used to going one direction. Resistance to change is always there. Focus and persistence are so important. I let myself experience whatever thoughts and feelings arise without judging them, making myself guilty over them or beating myself about them. I'm so happy you've discovered the power of being yourself without judgement too.. :-) What really helped was 'Emotional Clearing' by John Ruskan, 'MindBody Prescription' by John Sarno and 'Emotional Health' by Bob Johnson. But only as a confirmation, for me the process had started before I read any of those books. Love to you x

Anonymous said...

What you describe sounds very much like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Here's my question--how did you/do you deal with episodes (for lack of a better word at the moment) and holding a job? Seems to me that experiencing such strong emotions and allowing yourself to do so would totally interfere w/one's job, i.e. income security.

Anonymous said...

hi everybody

Just saying hello while I read through the posts

hopefully this is just what im looking for looks like i have a lot to read.

Anonymous said...

Greets dude!

It is my first time here. I just wanted to say hi!

jims said...

I wrote a comment some time ago about how I deal with mood swings without medication. Today, I want to add that a year or more has passed, and I'm still doing OK without medication. All my doctors said that I would be on heavy meds all my life. That was over 34 years ago, so there are people with bipolar who do not take meds. Last fall, I died with a heart attack. Depression is one side effect of bypass surgery. But, I was able to manage my depression without antidepresants although I was offered them repeatly by many doctors. I reasoned that if someone got as sick as I did, sick enough to die, then I should be sad. I let myself be sad for a while and gain a different perspective on life. I continue to face life and strive for my dreams. Maybe, I feel worried or anxious at times, but I have my dignity because I stand on my own two feet today. Many think I'm stupid for not using drugs, but one day at a time I want to face my fears instead of covering them up.

Anonymous said...

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I don’t suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Wuxingqi said...

HI Jayme,

I totally agree with your suggestion on staying with the emotions, no matter how unpleasant, and embracing it. I've been through anti-depressants, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication, but my days of anxiety remains after I broke up with my ex 18 months ago. So my questions are 1) what if you have to work during the day or do something but would rather stay in bed the whole day? 2) Have you read Thomas Moore's "Dark Nights of the Soul"? He also wrote "Care of the Soul" and what I like about his books are that they ask you to honor your depression and all the other "unpleasant" feelings one encounters as one goes through a traumatic experience such as divorce, death, etc.

Wuxingqi said...

HI Jayme,

I totally agree with your suggestion on staying with the emotions, no matter how unpleasant, and embracing it. I've been through anti-depressants, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication, but my days of anxiety remains after I broke up with my ex 18 months ago. So my questions are 1) what if you have to work during the day or do something but would rather stay in bed the whole day? 2) Have you read Thomas Moore's "Dark Nights of the Soul"? He also wrote "Care of the Soul" and what I like about his books are that they ask you to honor your depression and all the other "unpleasant" feelings one encounters as one goes through a traumatic experience such as divorce, death, etc.

Jayme said...

I do what I have to do to live and maintain my life during those dark days. I feel all my feelings while doing so. When I am not working, I am in bed most of the time. I never want to leave, but I do anyway, like a robot in body but not in feeling. Embracing your feelings doesn't mean doing whatever you feel (or don't feel) like doing. It mean to feel whatever you are feeling without pushing them away or passing judgment.

I have not read Thomas Moore, but his books have been on my book list for years. I will read his books one day!