I have always lived life feeling outcasted. In fact, it was such a problem that my mother specifically bought a book for me entitled Leo the Lop, in which a lop rabbit whose siblings have upright ears, sets out on a quest to define what “normal” really is. Throughout the course of the book, the charming illustrations depict Leo’s journey of self-discovery which ultimately ends with the absolutely dissatisfying conclusion that “normal is whatever you are.”
I liked rabbits, I understood Leo’s wishes, and I was five, so I enjoyed the book, but upon closing it and going into kindergarten the next day, I was viciously reminded that regardless of what Leo thought normal was, my classmates did not share the same conclusion.
I have never been normal, no matter what I have been.
I recognized at that time as I still do that the whole argument for “normalcy” is supposedly subjective, and that was the point of the book. There is no straight, wholly accurate definition for what “normal” really is, and as Morticia Addams so eloquently puts it, “What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”
So, there being no true definition for “normal” in terms of human behavior and character what must “abnormal” mean in psychology, which is, by very definition, the study of human behavior and character? because it does exist. It does exist, and I do find it funny, considering that according to NAMI, 1 in 5 American adults experiences mental illness during a given year. And let’s not play dumb. We know that’s what psychology means by “abnormal.” Forget that by mere observation, anyone aware enough can tell you healthy lifestyles — both physically and emotionally — are difficult to achieve and maintain even with the right circumstances, let alone being in positions in which you greatly lack resources or a support system. Forget that by mere observation, it is pretty obvious human beings are prone to unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and deteriorating health if not regularly maintained, regardless of whether or not they meet the criteria for a diagnosable illness. However, ask many professionals in the psychiatric industry, and they surreptitiously will tell you two conflicting things. First, out of their mouths will come, 1.) “There is no such thing as ‘normal,'” and then, throughout the course of treatment, you will start hearing the real message, which is, 2.) “But you are part of an abnormal statistic.”
“Diagnosing” the DSM
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll probably know already that I am highly critical of psychiatry. I support psychiatry to an extent and am a strong believer that many people cannot get by without it. However, I am an extremely strong advocate for patient advocacy, therapies, and self-assessment and awareness. It is not a secret or at least should not be a secret that doctors are able to accept “legal” bribes from pharmaceutical companies. This is a way of developing and testing drugs, but let’s also be clear that it is another way doctors make more money, and it is extremely controversial for what I feel are extremely obvious reasons.
It is not entirely the doctors, though. I feel many times, especially in psychiatry, prospective or even well-established patients will come in and expect not only a prescription but also expect a prescription to solve their problems. That being said, they will also expect a diagnosis. Antidepressants are often called “happy pills,” which is not only grossly misleading but also toxic. While depression is sometimes organically chemical and is definitely affected by chemicals, I feel depression is more often situational or circumstantial, due to things that are entirely fixable with the right resources and support that do not involve drugs. Those fixable things include diet, activity, interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, stress management, etc. I feel drug intervention can be necessary to break the cycle of depression which I’ve said before is often a Catch-22 even in circumstantial depression, but I feel psychiatrists overmedicate needlessly without offering much authentic help.
Overmedicate. And overdiagnose. Which leads back to the question, what have I been?
Childhood on Drugs: A [Super]Brief Psychiatric
When asked by any new psychiatrist, “What meds have you been on in the past?” I always have to laugh. Not just snicker but throw my head back and give a hearty, long-lasting, “you’ve gotta be kidding me, I hate this question” type of laugh. I usually follow with, “Do you want me start from my infancy or skip to when I was prescribed Ritalin for ADHD?”
It was the 1990s in the United States, and ADHD was the illness du jour. I was often restless and excitable and had difficulty focusing. Also, I was an insomniac. These symptoms were mistaken for the whole criteria of ADHD after I was taken to a psychiatrist who met me for 15 minutes and decided “what” I was. I have learned since that this was how I responded to change, disorder, and attachment as a child. My restlessness was part of a much bigger problem, involving compounded trauma.
I was about seven at this time and was often in the nurse’s office complaining of real headaches, stomachaches, and other aches and pains, as such with many children who have undergone or undergo trauma. I would stay in the office for quite a while, not wanting to go to class because of pain and discomfort that I realize now were manifestations of serious emotional distress and medically real, too, in the sense that I was already suffering symptoms of endometriosis.
I had other symptoms and contributing factors, as well, that the psychiatrist did not bother to explore. I was hypersensitive and felt chronically lonely, unheard, and felt the responsibility of everyone else’s happiness on my shoulders. I had terrible nightmares and feared men — not monsters — being under my bed.
I felt filthy and disconnected from my body and often felt I was being watched and often stayed up nights at a time, thinking that if I awoke I would be in a UFO and being dissected on a table. I let people throw rocks at me until I bruised because I thought that’s what it took to have friends. I suffered from chronic pain, particularly joint paint, and of course, I felt absolutely like a freak: in the classroom, in my town, in my country, in my home, everywhere. In fact, I started believing I wasn’t even human. But I was put on Ritalin, Concerta, Strattera, Adderal, because according to the psychiatrist, I was a seven year old psychiatric patient who had ADHD. My last diagnosis apart from PTSD was Schizoaffective Disorder which is in all fairness, similar, I suppose, to Bipolar disorder, which is difficult to differentiate from ADHD in children. Funny thing is, Adderal, among many other stimulants, is known to exacerbate and even create psychosis.
**It turns out I am not alone with hallucinations or paranoid thinking in terms of PTSD only, and I do not match the necessary criteria for Schizoaffective Disorder. I suppose another “du jour diagnosis” by doctors who do not listen carefully. I have been off antipsychotics since October and have had minimal auditory hallucinations that ended completely by February.**
I have had to deal with other what I consider are “diagnoses du jour” that have only been combated through advocating for myself. I have had maybe the help of one or two professionals throughout my journey who have taken the time to try to understand me. For a lifelong history in treatment, that is grievously sad.
In the psychiatric profession, there may be no normal, but I suppose there is a way to be normally abnormal, and I am not it, either, even though they want me to be.
They’re not all wrong though, because I do think some people are.
It’s all about that Taste Bud Principle, even though it’s also not
While there are many people in mental illness advocacy, I constantly see two messages that are both extremely pervasive and probably extremely confusing to people who do not understand other people, regardless of whether those people are diagnosed with or have a mental illness, the same mental illness, or do not have any mental illness at all. Those two statements are: 1.) Do not pity us. We are the same as everybody else. 2.) Treat us more sensitively, because we struggle differently than you do.