This blog is not FDA approved
“Are you lactating?” I asked, but instantly wished I hadn’t.
“Yes, it’s the new meds, I was trying to hide it,” she replied, blushing.
I felt like an idiot for mentioning it, I should have kept my mouth shut and just pretended I didn’t notice, God knows she had enough to worry about already.
“Hey, that’s okay, it’s nothing at all, I was just wondering,” I smiled and tried to reassure her.
When I first met her and she told me that she had depression I really didn’t know what I was getting into. Watching a 16 year old change physically and emotionally every week as the doctors tinkered with her ever more complex cocktail of drugs was pretty devastating. Sometimes she was overly happy, other times she was numb and cold, other times it was like she wasn’t there. It was tragic to watch this happen to such an incredibly bright young person. She made multiple attempts on her life which terrified me, and although she couldn’t promise not to try again, she assured me that “Nothing you do will ever be my reason for trying.” It didn’t help to ease my worries.
She showed me where she cut herself like it was nothing, she told me how good it felt. She wasn’t trying to freak me out, she was just being honest. She told me that school was a drag, I told her that I did home schooling for a while. She asked my parents about home schooling, she seemed interested.
Then one day, after a nasty episode, she was committed. It wasn’t her first time. I visited her in the Psychiatric hospital and brought her some chocolates. She opened a drawer in her bedside table and shoved them in with all the other unopened sweets and gifts from concerned loved ones.
“Have you been eating?”
“Nope. And they’re angry with me because I locked myself in my room,”
The windows were barred and no sharp objects were allowed. Honestly the whole place scared the crap out of me. Pyjama clad patients aimlessly wandered the halls in a daze. Erratic shouting and garbled yelling could be heard echoing through the long grey corridors. In some of the rooms Electro-Convulsive Therapy was still being practiced. I felt like I’d walked back in time a hundred years. Turns out my gut feeling about the place was right. Only a few weeks later there was an expose on the TV about the conditions in Ireland’s Psychiatric institutions with hidden camera footage of doctors abusing patients physically and verbally.
She was released a few days later, but I couldn’t bring myself to get back in touch. I was on the verge of my own nervous breakdown at the time and so I ignored her calls until they stopped for good. I felt horrible.
Months passed and she got in touch again via social media. She told me that her parents allowed her to do the remaining years of high school at home. She was happy, she was off the drugs and out of the system. And although we didn’t stay in touch, I can tell you that she’s working, has lots of friends and still looks happy and healthy.
I’ve been depressed, I’ve suffered two nervous breakdowns, I’ve been bullied and at one stage developed panic attacks and OCD. In my teen years I considered taking my life, and have had plenty of days where I’ve hoped some accident would just end it. But I’ve never gone down the drugs route. I saw a psychotherapist a few years ago who helped me get some things in my life sorted out. I went to her because I’d read her books and I knew she was not the drug pusher type. I think drugs have their place, especially in extreme cases where they can be used over a short period of time to get someone to a responsive state. Then talking, healing and working on their needs can take over. But that doesn’t seem to be the prevailing model of use for anti-depressant drugs.
Another under cover TV report in Ireland showed just how easy it is to get a prescription of anti-depressants. All over the country reporters booked appointments with General Practitioners reporting that they were feeling “sad” and “a little bit down”. And boom, every one of them walked out with a prescription for lithium, anti-depressants or anti-psychotics. No formal medical testing (because such testing does not exist), just on the word of the patient.
But I digress. There’s plenty of debate on the political side of the psychiatry/big pharma issue. I want to keep this personal.
I’ve seen a lot of friends and family go on the meds, and I’ve seen some of them come off too quickly with tragic consequences. A friend of mine’s aunt jumped to her death from their fifth story balcony while her kids were in the next room. She had suddenly stopped taking her pills the night before. She wanted to get off the meds but the support wasn’t there so she just stopped. Withdrawal from these kinds of drugs is a long process and needs to be done over an extended period of time in order to allow the body to take over again for the drug. Unfortunately this kind of thing is not a rare occurrence. Every year homicides and suicides are reported with the common theme being a sudden withdrawal from anti-depressants or sudden increase in dosage. If you want to reduce or go off meds talk to you doctor, don’t do it alone!
I knew another girl when I was in my teens. She was in her 20′s and I thought she was incredible. She was beautiful and clever. She really shone, illuminating everything around her. The day we met was at one of my dad’s gigs, she was a friend of my dad’s. She sat next to me and the first thing she said was:
“Maurice Gibb told me to come here tonight,”
Maurice Gibb, one of the Bee Gees, had died just a few days previous.
“Wow, cool!” I replied. A lot of people at this point would probably be thinking “Whacko!” and looking for an excuse to get away. But I’d grown up around artists and musicians in Australia, Holland, France and Ireland. I’m not saying I’m anything special, but I’d heard people say some pretty out there stuff so talking to spirits was not that big a deal.
She had a beautiful, fragile singing voice and big bright eyes. But eventually her “eccentric behavior” became too much for her family who, along with medical professionals, managed to get her on lithium. Seeing her on the drug was pretty heart breaking. She was dull, unresponsive and severely bloated which affected her self-esteem to a great degree. The brightness in her eyes was gone.
The funny thing to me is the difference the surrounding culture makes, and I think this is the point I’m getting at. Surrounded by poets, artists and musicians this young lady appeared completely normal. However when she was placed among her traditional, conservative family she stuck out like a sore thumb. And vice versa, you put a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim in a punk band and they will look quite insane! Neither culture is better, just different.
How can we say there is something wrong with a person’s brain, when their level of sanity depends on the circumstance they are in? How can someone be sane one minute and insane the next? What happened to the young girl’s “lifelong, debilitating depression that can only be managed by drugs” when she left school, found similar, supportive people and no longer needed the drugs?
I don’t claim to have all, or indeed any of the answers. I’m merely someone looking in from the outside at the effects these drugs can have. But perhaps we should take the (as yet unproven) theory that depression is a lifelong, incurable brain disorder with a grain of salt. Let’s work on our traumas using techniques like Somatic Experiencing, try to improve the politics of our life, try remove ourselves from bullies and abusers, try to improve our work and relationships and seek open minded, non-judgmental talking therapy when necessary. I don’t doubt that there are those who’ve benefited from meds, and I definitely think there is room for them when necessary, they can be life saving when used properly. I don’t judge, “whatever gets you through the night” is my mantra. If it works for you that’s really great, I mean it. But perhaps we, as a society, should be taking a more holistic approach to our mental well being. Actually stop and listen to what the “crazy” people have to say, be receptive to their needs. Instead of always trying to fit the people into restrictive boxes, perhaps we should be working to make the boxes a little more comfortable for the people.
Anyone who considers themselves “sane” or “normal” please raise your hand and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.
Thanks for reading, all the best!
ps. No I’m not a Scientologist so don’t even go there girlfriend The views expressed are mine and mine only, I do not represent any outside interests.