I'm a 39-year-old woman who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and then Bipolar I Disorder when I was 23 years old, from May – October 1996, and the harm I suffered as a result continued until 2008, when it began to lessen because of my own actions.
In 1996, I was a college student recovering from an abusive relationship and, to forget and recover from it, I took a trip. During the trip, I partied and exhausted my body. For several weeks prior to my initial diagnosis, I had been under extreme stress due to occurrences that would have been extremely stressful to most people. This stress caused my inability to sleep for several days. The mental and physical stress, along with a lack of sleep, took their toll on my body.
Over the course of the next few days, in the beginning of June 1996, as I continued to be unable to sleep, I experienced a “non-ordinary state of consciousness” that some people call a spiritual experience. It was powerful, insightful, beautiful, and somewhat scary. Within a week, after this event in June 1996, I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and drugged with neuroleptic drugs against my will because of having been given that diagnosis.
When I returned to the U.S. in August 1996, I resumed graduate school at Harvard, but as a result of having been given and continuing to take very toxic drugs (antipsychotics) for my supposed Schizophrenia, I was experiencing various symptoms, including seizures, disorientation, inability to sit still, skin rash, tremor, irregular heartbeat, loss of interest in everything, insomnia, loss of energy, feelings of guilt, low self-confidence, weight gain, depression, confusion, poor concentration, etc. from June – October 1996. In October 1996, because of these symptoms, which I did not know were drug-caused, I sought help from a psychiatrist in Cambridge, MA. He diagnosed me with Bipolar I Disorder and said he was putting me on Lithium, because that was what would help with Bipolar I Disorder. He said that I matched the five top criteria of the “Bipolar I Disorder (BP1)” description from the APA Statistical manual. I have since come to understand that assigning the DSM diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder allows for an enormous amount of subjectivity in any given therapist deciding whether any given patient meets those criteria. The Lithium permanently impaired my thyroid function. I stopped it and was given anti-depressants by another psychiatrist, because I refused to take Lithium when I realized that it was causing me terrible side effects, including confusion and poor concentration, which, among other things, made it impossible for me to concentrate on my graduate studies. It was so severe that I could not remember the contents of a single page immediately after I read it. I was very depressed, though, most probably from the shock of the diagnoses and, definitely from all the drugs I was on. I was told by two doctors, in Cambridge, MA, that I would require medications (toxic drugs) for the rest of my life because I was severely mentally ill with Bipolar I Disorder.
After about two years, in 1998, having had multiple seizures due to the side effects of these toxic drugs, I was diagnosed with “epilepsy” at UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute (UCLA NPI) and had my driver’s license taken away. I was given more drugs at UCLA NPI, where they said I needed mood stabilizers (neuroleptics) for my psychiatric disorder of “BP1” (Bipolar I Disorder) and because they said this condition would be with me for life. In addition to the neuroleptics, they said I needed to take “antiepileptic”, medication for the avoidance of seizures. Thus, according to the medical doctors at UCLA, I now had a “psychiatric disorder” and a “neurological disorder”, and, according to these highly educated famous doctors, these were diagnoses I would have for the “rest of my life” because there was “no cure.” These words would not have been spoken had the unscientific nature of the DSM-IV been made clear by its editors and had they specified in their manual that their labels should not be applied when there are obvious reasons for the behavior or feelings that trouble the patient but should by no stretch of the imagination be considered mental illnesses.
After several voluntary hospitalizations due to the side effects of the drugs, including but not limited to being suicidal, having multiple seizures, disorientation, depression, confusion, poor concentration, etc., being a ‘lab-rat’ for several medications, and agonizing self-doubt from 1996-2008, in April of 2008 I went off medications completely, by myself. It was the best decision of my life! Today, 2012, I live a medication-free life. I do not believe in any of my diagnoses. I strongly believe that the pathologizing doctors do causes us extreme irreversible harm. My experiences feel like I went through a true Holocaust. Unfortunately, some people believe doctors 100%, even more than their own judgment or intuition, and this is most likely because of the impression that the DSM and the drug treatments that so often follow being diagnosed with a “mental disorder” — which is assumed to be due to a brain problem or chemical imbalance — represent some scientific truth and proven effectiveness when, in fact, there is no scientific evidence at all that can verify any mental “disorder” as a physical condition. I was wrong to put my faith in doctors and ignore my instincts. The harm from being diagnosed disrupted more than 15 years of my life, cost my family and me hundreds of thousands of dollars, cost me relationships and jobs due to my inability to work because of the debilitating drugs and their negative effects. I came near death many times and the emotional distress and pain cannot ever be compensated by monetary damages. It destroyed my livelihood and the most productive years of my life.
Currently, I own my own business and have multiple consulting jobs, including helping the some of doctors at UCLA, the institution that diagnosed me over 15 years ago. I help them because I feel they need as much help as possible, as do people who are still being diagnosed with DSM “disorders” by them daily. I lead a healthy lifestyle based on rest, nutrition, exercise and meditation. One thing I had to learn during this process was to love myself and stop doubting my intuition, my spirituality, my creativity, and my sensitivity. I started to respect myself, my uniqueness, and my beautiful gifts.
I was diagnosed with allegedly psychiatric illnesses without other causes of my difficulties being considered, and the DSM listings for the labels given to me do not warn against applying those labels if the person is having the kinds of problems that should by no stretch of the imagination be considered mental illnesses rather than understandable reactions to identifiable problems. I was quickly slapped with labels for categories that are not scientifically based and thus can easily be applied to ordinary problems in living, other than the kinds of unexplained feelings and behavior that are thought, if classified as mental illnesses, to be signs of defective brains or chemical imbalances. Had I not fought it, I might still today believe these diagnoses to be accurate and alarming about myself. And I might still be taking some sort of unnecessary and very risky drug.
Some of the most compelling evidence that I did not have a mental illness is that now, doing nothing that would be recommended for someone who is mentally ill, I am functioning so well in so many arenas of my life.
As a result of receiving these diagnoses, I suffered many kinds of harm that I would not have suffered had DSM diagnoses not carried the weight of supposedly being scientifically-grounded, serious mental illnesses.
Economic losses incurred
-The cost to my family and me came to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
-I lost jobs because the debilitating drugs and their negative effects made me unable to work.
-Being diagnosed destroyed my livelihood and the most productive years of my life.
Noneconomic losses incurred
-More than 15 years of my life were disrupted.
-I was put on drugs that are prescribed for serious mental illnesses, and these drugs had serious negative effects, including but not limited to having multiple seizures, disorientation, inability to sit still, skin rash, tremor, irregular heartbeat, loss of interest in everything, insomnia, loss of energy, feelings of guilt, low self-confidence, weight gain, depression, confusion, poor concentration, etc. I came near death many times. The emotional distress and pain cannot ever be compensated by monetary damages.
-Due to the drug effects, I lost many friendships.
-I was dehumanized and endangered, being a ‘lab-rat’ for several medications.
-I suffered devastating self-doubt because of being told I was seriously mentally disordered. Thus, I did not want to live and was suicidal.
-I lived in fear, because it is widely-accepted that people with the kinds of labels that were given to me do not get better. I felt extreme guilt and lost my self-esteem, making it impossible for me to survive in a world where self-confidence is needed to excel.
-The diagnoses remain on my chart and thus will continue to follow me.