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 while I take medications myself, 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 very often organically chemical, 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 fucking 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 was about seven at this time and was often in the nurse’s office complaining of real headaches, stomachaches, and other aches and pains. 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.
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 saw things sometimes that I couldn’t explain. Heard things. Thought things that other people thought were strange. My father was on board with some of the things I said, but I realize now, my father is probably sick, too.
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 current diagnosis is 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.
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.
The depression is finally lifting to a tolerable degree. I believe being more honest with myself and others about my health, values, and belief system has helped tremendously. Being authentic has always been very important to me, and when I am less than completely genuine about my identity, my energies become fragmented and chaotic. I start doubting myself, and I denounce my positive traits, most of which come with their own duality of darknesses: I have wisdom because of what I have experienced, and I am loving towards people because of what I have needed to experience and didn’t. I set high standards for myself and demand better of myself because of past sins and mistakes. I create extraordinary things from extraordinary pain. One cannot exist without the other. Yin to yang, I am made of major dualities and opposing intensities, much like my own life and what I have lived through.
But all my plants are dying.
I have not watered them in so long. I have a rose plant and a glass bowl of succulents. They were both beautiful in their prime, and the rose plant even blossomed again this autumn, providing us with two wonderfully scented yellow flowers. I was always very good about watering them. I am a nurturer. It’s in my nature to take care of living entities, whether they be human, feline, or photosynthetic in nature. I have forgotten to give my furbaby Oskar his medicine routinely, as he has a respiratory infection right now. I’ve been giving him enough medicine for it to be clearing up, but I could have helped him heal much faster had I kept up the routine. This depressive episode turned me into someone I’m not.
I guess that’s the modus operandi of mental illness: They try to kill you from the inside out.
Unlike personality disorders, other mental illnesses are less embedded in one’s behavior, character, and system of living. Personality disorders often are developed in response to trauma or something occurring in utero, (e.g. serotonin syndrome), with the addition of witnessing violence at a young age, (which one might call trauma also), etc. But it’s also true that standard mental illnesses affect your behavior, as well. Depression causes fatigue, loss of interest, social withdrawal, negativity, suicidality, all sorts of things that make one a different person than they were. Alternatively, mania causes a spike in energy, impulsivity, hyperfocusing, inflated confidence, and sometimes even dangerous delusions that lead to the person’s suicide.
All my plants are dying, my cat is still sick, all of my art supplies are scattered everywhere and have been untouched for months. I haven’t been making jewelry or papercrafting. I haven’t been shooting at all. I painted two paintings since I can’t even remember when. I have always been severely depressed, and I’ve been chronically suicidal for most of my life. I live with the heaviness and sadness every day of my life. I have learned to cope with it to some degree, but sometimes it gets so heavy, it is suffocating.
I’m going to water my plants and hope they forgive me and hope that Oskar’s next doses will help him kick the infection. I hope the plants overcome the odds and Oskar heals soon. Life is resilient. I’ve learned that. If it can fight, it will fight, whether it wins or loses. Oskar will be fine soon; I know that. He’s almost completely well. But here’s to hoping the plants have a chance. I hope within the next few posts, I can tell you
“My plants are alive again.”
It is late, and snow is falling. It is very light, and it won’t stick anyway, but neighbors have bought their emergency milk and bread regardless. It’s not like the north where we were buried in snowfall, and I still had to walk to school. I remember the real cold, the brisk and bitter wind, the icicles hanging from the sad-looking houses. I miss winter. I miss the fall there. But I do not miss that town.
I’ve written about many people in my life, and some I’ve written about many times. I’ve written lives over, dreams over, nightmares over. I’ve rewritten songs to beats I could not keep and have cried over a thousand one too many melodies. Too many lyrics. Too many words. Too many thoughts. Millions. Millennia, all swimming in me, as if this moment will never matter, but it still hurts.
There are shadows I grasp at. There are apparitions too heavy to hold. I am a bearer of many observations, and I see things other people have not, cannot, and will never see. I hear radio interference, hissing voices bullying the airwaves. I pick up on pain you never knew you had.
I never rest. Dreams are fragments to me of undercover lives; these lives lived, under covers, atop bedspreads, wear worlds only slightly off from the world in which I am writing this now. The realities are difficult to separate sometimes, twisting in me like bedsheets enduring a sleeping nightmare or a white-knuckled waking one. I […]
I am not liked nor loved by many people. Networking, making friends, even socializing at all, is very difficult for me to do. It has caused me grave upset and unrest, because for most of my life — if not all of it, because it is something I am just learning how to let go of — I have craved requited love and sacrifice from others. I am not a people person. I love people very much, although I do not like them. I by and large do not like interacting with them, because it is exhausting for me. I love to learn about them, share ideas, and I love moments of authentic communication, but it is seldom that I enjoy everyday interaction.
Especially in groups.
Fifteen years of therapy, eleven hospitalizations, in and out of partial programs, so many different services and different therapies (DBT, CBT, talk, etc.) Hell, I’ve even undergone ECT, (electroconvulsive therapy), and have had MRI, CT scans, EEGs, test after test, been on medication after medication, dose after dose, and I am sitting here on my couch, full of weeping lethargy but sleeplessness; a restless, nauseated anxiety and hunger for cessation and quiet. I feel so sad and so broken. Beyond tired, beyond depressed, beyond reparation. I know myself well. Years of [self-]interrogation, years of being poked and prodded by doctors, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, counselors, and my own reflection have given me near crystalline photographs of my subconscious. I am betting I know myself more than most people know themselves. I am betting I understand myself more than most people understand themselves. And I am sure as hell that at this point, if I can be saved, only I can do it; and that, that is torture.