Diagnoses over the years included
· Adjustment Disorder
· Major Depression
· Borderline Personality Disorder
· Bipolar Disorder I with Rapid Cycling
· Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
I suffered years of physical and emotional abuse by my mother that began when I was an infant and did not stop until my mother finally left home in September of 1988, when I was 16 years old and about to begin my junior year of high school. During the previous two years, my mother had engaged in an affair with her boss as well as a 17-year-old, developmentally disabled boy, and she treated me like a friend and shared those things with me. My father was not aware of her actions, and I was also left in charge of my two younger siblings on a regular basis. It was confusing and overwhelming, leading me to the point of extreme despair and anxiety, the depths of which, are indescribable with words. I was terrified and guilt-ridden, and my anger at my mother was growing. My mother had decided that Fall of 1988 that she no longer wanted to be married. At that time, my father chose to keep our home and all three of us girls instead of moving out and leaving us with our mother, because we let him know that we wanted to live with him.
To make this new living arrangement happen, I had to agree to be responsible for the care of my sisters while my father was working his two jobs, about 70 hours a week. I wanted to do it. I was relieved that my mother was no longer living with us, but it was a lot of responsibility. Around Christmastime that same year, 1988, shortly after leaving home, my mother tried to hang herself and wanted to return to live with us. The decision about whether she was allowed to come back was left up to me. She came home briefly and then left home again suddenly one evening with no explanation.
Over the next 8 months or so after my mother left, leading up to my 17th birthday, my emotional and psychological state rapidly and severely declined. I was not aware of why I felt the way that I did. I believed there was no reason for my despair, despite the fact that my mother had walked out on our family, and I was left with the responsibility of being a motherless teen in charge of my younger, motherless siblings while Dad worked long hours. Of equal importance was the fact that I had also just been freed from a relationship with my mother in which she’d been overly-controlling and constantly abusive for as long as I could remember. It may seem counter-intuitive to think that could pose a problem, but it did. I had no idea how to think, feel, or act without her direction. I started having frequent suicidal thoughts and would sometimes take overdoses of over-the-counter pills and cut myself in hopes of getting someone to notice how much I was suffering, but I lived through those small overdoses without anyone knowing, and people simply expressed anger at me about the cutting. By the end of my junior year of high school in 1989, when I turned 17, things were so bad for me that I hardly ever slept. I don’t even know how I functioned at all, and I missed a lot of school.
One night in June 1989, three days after my 17th birthday, I swallowed a whole bottle of 100 Advil, but nothing more than severe stomach upset happened. I couldn’t go to school the next morning, and my father came home from working the night shift and found the empty bottle and was furious with me. I did not get any medical care, but he did set up an appointment with a therapist for later that day. That was my first contact with the mental health system, June 7th, 1989. Out of that contact with the clinical social worker, who became my therapist over the next several years, came the diagnoses of Adjustment Disorder and Major Depression. Somehow, although I told my therapist everything I have written here, according to my therapist, I was maladjusted to the situation. Go figure. By September 1989, I started my senior year of high school and completely crashed. I was not sleeping, and I was constantly suicidal. School became emotionally intolerable, and I could no longer function well enough to go to school. I was taught at home with a tutor provided by the school district instead of attending classes.
My therapist sent me to a psychiatrist for medication, and within 30 minutes, I walked out his door with samples of Prozac. Prozac made me more agitated, sleepless and suicidal than ever. The psychiatrist prescribed chloral hydrate at that time, and by January 1990, at age 17, I made my first serious suicide attempt and was involuntarily hospitalized for several days. It was at this time in the hospital that I received the Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis from a psychiatrist who’d only spoken to me briefly four times. Apparently, once diagnosed with BPD, one is no longer assumed to be having understandable reactions to horrible situations or to be having negative reactions to drugs.
I was discharged on no medications, because the psychiatrist at the hospital felt I was “personality disordered” and untreatable with antidepressants. I stayed in therapy and out of the hospital for the next four years, but in May of 1992, after my first year of college, I was again sent by my therapist to the very same outpatient psychiatrist to whom she’d referred me in September 1989 for medication. This time, the same psychiatrist handed me Zoloft samples and a prescription. Within three days, I was flying high. This led to the Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, and then the polypharmacy began and didn’t stop for many years, while my health became worse and worse. I made many suicide attempts. I had difficulty getting to my college classes and would often miss out on semesters in progress, because I would be hospitalized, and yet I still maintained a 4.0 when I was in school and was even admitted the honor society. The semesters lost due to hospitalizations resulted in a massive pile-up of student loan debts that now amount to over $74,000.
Eventually, by about 1999, I gave up trying to finish my undergraduate degree. I was in and out of hospitals about every three months and on many medications at very high doses. I’d gained an enormous amount of weight and had become diabetic by age 24 due to the prescribing of Risperdal and Depakote as part of my everchanging multi-drug cocktail. I’d become a professional psychiatric patient and received a small SSI payment. My life was nothing but drugs and hospitals. In May of 2000, my father passed away at the age of 47. I had no life experience. I did not know how to take care of myself, but over the next couple of years, I had to start learning. I sold the house and moved to my own apartment, but the next 2-3 years were still a cycle of medications, programs, therapists and hospitals.
By Fall 2002, I was close to being sent for long-term commitment to the local state psychiatric hospital. I don’t know how I managed to avoid that, except for the grace of a couple of staff at the hospital who saw something in me and took the extra time to help me pull myself together and avoid long-term commitment. In 2003, I began an Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment program at the community mental health center where I was being treated, and I began to set some goals and learn some living skills. The most useful things I learned came from other “peers”, and it was the first time in many years that I had social support and friends outside the hospital. Even though I was still very drugged and frequently hospitalized, something was changing. At the end of 2003, I was extremely violently assaulted by a nurse and security staff in the emergency department of a general hospital, and the assault left me with permanent injuries.
In Fall 2004, during the last hospitalization (out of nearly 30), I had the sudden realization that I was not going to live much longer if I did not get out of that system. After I was discharged, I’d been assigned a new therapist, and I developed a good working relationship with her. After several months, she was going to be leaving to work in private practice only and asked me to come along if I were able to get insurance other than Medicaid. I did qualify for Medicare and was able to buy am HMO supplemental plan. I left the public mental health system in July 2004 and started seeing my therapist and a psychiatrist privately. The costs were too much on my fixed disability income, and I could not afford the co-pays for the therapy and doctors and medications. I no longer had Medicaid coverage, because of the Medicare changes. I could not pay for the drugs. I decided I was either going to die or live through it. I was not aware of the potential dangers of stopping psychiatric drugs abruptly. I had no prior experience with anyone who’d come off them, but I fully expected to go crazy and die without them. I had no choice. I started a cold-turkey withdrawal in October 2005. I knew nothing about safely getting off psych drugs. I didn’t even have internet access. I just went for it. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, because I knew what they would do to me. The first two weeks, I don’t even remember, but one day, I woke up and realized that I’d been stuffed into a sack for 15 years.
Something was different. I was different. It excited and terrified me. I waited before telling my therapist or anyone else. I waited until they could all see how well I was doing and how much more stable I’d become. I still believed I had a psychiatric brain illness and could fall apart at any time, so I was always monitoring myself for “symptoms”. Nothing bad happened. I told my therapist, and she was supportive. She said, “Let’s see how it goes.”
What happened was increasing wellness, and by May of 2006, I started volunteer work. By August of 2007, after 8 years away from college, I was preparing to return to finish my B.S. in Psychology. I was close to being done. I started with a new therapist in December 2007 and was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was very clear by then that the Bipolar diagnosis was the result of the medications, but since I did not know that Bipolar Disorder was not a scientifically-based category, I suffered a lot of harm before being able to move on.
I added a second major in Fine Art and asked for disability accommodations in January 2008, and for the first time ever, the college was aware that I had a psychiatric diagnosis. They’d known nothing during all the previous years before that I sat in class like a drugged zombie or missed classes and needed to make up work, but now they had a label on the books. This eventually led to civil rights violations, disability discrimination and retaliation by the art department chairperson when I reported repeated unethical behavior on the part of a faculty member. The PTSD diagnosis and the knowledge that I was not on medications was used to discredit me and to harass and defame me. This, too, is something that would be much more unlikely if professionals and the public knew that psychiatric diagnosis is not scientific and should not automatically lead to the use of psychotropic drugs. I left the college for my own safety and am now in the long process of bringing a federal civil rights lawsuit against them. I was four credits short of my degree. I have the $74,000 plus in loan debt that I can never repay, and there’s no more funding available to finish that degree. This is really only the tip of the iceberg as far as the harm done to me by diagnosis and the subsequent treatment.
In summary, it is clear to me that the prescribing of the various psychotropic drugs was done as a result of the diagnoses given to me, and a vast number and array of harm resulted from that. My having a psychiatric diagnosis also led directly to the discrediting, defamation, and civil rights violations that were done on the basis of my having a psychiatric diagnosis. If it were widely known that psychiatric diagnoses are not scientifically grounded, if my therapists and/or the people at my college and/or I had known that at any time, or if the public and professionals knew about the harm that can result from psychiatric diagnosis, I would not have suffered so much harm.