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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

so-called imbalances & so-called cures

In 2013, I began to suspect that mental illness was more than a simple matter of “chemical imbalance.” I didn’t say much about this suspicion, because I had very little–apart from personal experience–to substantiate it.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading Robert Whitaker’s 2010 Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. Above and beyond confirming my suspicions with abundant (non pharma-funded) research studies, he tore apart the whole idea of mental illness as resulting from “chemical imbalance.”

Whitaker’s research suggested that “science” here was designed to fit very profitable pills from the beginning. Furthermore, and most alarmingly, he discovered strong correlations between medication and worse long-term outcomes. It was as if, he hypothesized in the book’s early pages, the medication itself was responsible for today’s mental health epidemic, with outcomes far worse than those reflected in a century’s worth of mental history data and for far, far more people.

There’s no way to summarize nearly 400 pages of meticulous documentation here. I won’t even bother, though I will encourage you to read the book if you’re curious what science actually supports.

What I do want share is a startling segment from the 2015 research afterward. It’s one thing to have a critic suggesting standard wisdom is far from wise; it’s another to have a member of the critiqued group confirming the same.

In a section titled “The Death of the Chemical Imbalance Story,” Whitaker includes an excerpt from an article written by the editor-in-chief emeritus of Psychiatric Times: Read more…

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The End: We Will Carry You with Us

When I visited home to tell my mom I was pregnant in early 2009, she mentioned some troubling health problems.

In July 2009, my siblings and I learned our mom was dying.

Click here for The During, part 4,
or here for the why of these posts.

July 23, 2009

What had me going at 20% usual speed after I hung up the phone with Rache was reflections on loss. I feel like I lost my mom several years ago, so I didn’t think it was possible to feel greater sorrow on that front. But hearing that physical death may also be imminent, it’s clear there are degrees of loss. Intellectually, I understand that there’s very little hope my mom as she existed while I grew up could be regained. Apparently, though, my heart has been holding onto hope that there might be some movement that direction. With physical death, what once was and what is now are all wrapped up neatly and concluded, with no chance of semi-happy endings.

This excerpt was from a letter I sent my dear friend Mackenzie soon after hearing Mom very likely had cancer.

July 23, 2009

Now, It can’t Rain All the Time. It’s a good evening for melancholy in music. That was so even before I began exchanging text messages with Rache. Now I’m contemplating those messages and the state of mom’s health, which till yesterday I had assumed was fine, physically. Read more…

The During, part 4: Fragments and Shadows

It’s so hard for me to read these particular entries, knowing as I do now how little time I then had left with even fragments and shadows of my mom.

Click here for The During, part 3,
or here for the why of these posts.

November 2, 2006

Yesterday I was stressing. I was stressing about my mom, whose 49th birthday corresponded with my 28th. I was distressed by news her locks had been drilled out and her house emptied. The distress continued straight through the evening, when Rache and I walked through Mom’s bare house, walked the neighborhood in search of her, and talked through some of our worries and guilt. That eased some of the burden on my heart, though I confess my sadness continues and likely will till there is some kind of resolution to this sorry situation.

Newly 28, with none od the sadness showing

Newly 28, with none of the sadness showing

November 3, 2006

Is it okay to fill out a missing person report when the person who’s missing maybe just doesn’t want to be found by you? Read more…

The During, part 3: Treatment beyond Our Consent

Over and over and over again while my siblings and I struggled to get help for our mom, we were chastised for letting her go unhelped. It was the damndest thing.

People usually offered the admonishment gently, but one neighbor put it more bluntly when I ran into her at a garage sale. “It’s a shame you kids aren’t doing more for your mom!” she told me, scowling.

“You have no idea what we are or aren’t doing for her,” I replied curtly before walking away. My youngest sister, recalling this exchange a few days ago, said she was surprised I didn’t punch this neighbor in the face. I was, too.

She had no idea. But then again, it wasn’t so long before that I, too, had been clueless.

Click here for The During, part 2,
or here for the why of this all.

March 19, 2004

Last night was a night of missing.

I missed my mom most of all. I wanted to call her just to talk, to hear her voice, the one that used to make me laugh and feel all the things the world could be: wounded and beautiful, kind and angry, soft and harsh all at once. This was a voice that taught me wisdom, to really look at the world and try seeing it for what it is. I wished so much I could pick up the phone and call, but… even if I did, she probably wouldn’t answer. If she did answer, the voice would not have been the same that could have such soothing power when I was sick or hurting in younger days. Instead it’s a frantic, manic voice, bringing words that bear no relation to anything I’ve just said. She doesn’t listen, doesn’t know how, just speaks of conspiracies against her. I also told her how I felt, told her I can’t communicate with her till she seeks treatment, and I guess I have to be firm even on those nights where I want nothing more than my big, strong mommy to hold me and make the world be okay. Read more…

The During, part 2: I Miss My Mom

My mom once told me that she’d been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She said she disagreed and would say no more: not who’d diagnosed it, not when, not how. It was information I was utterly unable to act upon, apart from to refer to her illness as schizophrenia.

I later discovered she’d shared different diagnoses with my younger sister. I couldn’t call her illness schizophrenia with much confidence, and took to referencing her “mental illness” more generally.

I still sometimes say she had schizophrenia, but the truth is, I don’t know. As it’s hard to get water from a rock, it was also hard getting clarity from Mom.

Click here for The During, part 1,
or here for the why of these posts.

August 6, 2003

It’s after noon already & I’m the only one who’s left the house today – & then only to take out the trash. Nick actually just woke up, which means the day is set to really begin, the fun parts that involve finding Mom & talking with her about commitment. My heart feels like it is literally breaking with the weight of my mom’s terror & the knowledge we cannot know right now whether she will ever be sane again. Right now all we have is hope, & I don’t know how well founded it is. I pray it is. I pray for the best for Mom & know, no matter what, we will figure out how to deal with whatever comes, always with the love & help of awesome friends. I will learn to overcome this fear, the kind that hits hardest at night but is always present in some gnawing form.

(Breathe. Just breathe.)

August 6, 2003

Oh, no.

Scant hours after talking to Lane County Mental Health and filling out the pre-commitment paperwork which will at least lead them to establish basic contact with my mom, my mom managed to find our house. So much for a safe haven. She worked the main street name from someone, then proceeded to go up and down the streets in search of Nick’s truck. She found it and now here she is, talking about how her neighbors have tapped her lines and handing off her safe deposit box keys in case one of them “takes her out” for “talking too much.” She’s resting comfortably on Rache’s couch and I just want her to leave right now, because I don’t know what to do with her, this woman who was once my mom. I am so scared by this whole situation, but all I can do is keep on plodding through – others have done it before, and we’ll do it together now…

Oh, and now she’s asking – subtly – if she can stay with us. Oh, God, what are we supposed to do? This is so tense.

I wish she could just accept the medication she’s been prescribed over the years and try to find some peace, make it so we could be around her without fear… but that’s seldom the path the mentally ill take. I so want to say something, but if we do, we’re stuck here with her, no telling what she might do.

August 8, 2003

Yesterday was a tough day. Rache, Nick and I were probably more nervous than we’ve ever been in our entire lives. We’ve all dealt with pre-test nerves, with performance nerves, with all the kinds of nervous moments you encounter in the course of life, but this was something new. What are you supposed to say to someone in this situation, especially your mom? “Yeah, we really don’t think you’re quite right…” She was running around the house trying to find things to hand us, sure her neighbors were going to take her out at any moment, before we got her to sit on the porch. Nick said we needed to talk, but then fell silent. Read more…

The During, part 1: This Demon with My Mother’s Face

I understood mental illness was rooted in biology when I awakened June 23, 2003, but I didn’t know how to identify it in my own life. I didn’t know I’d spend the next few months learning not only how to identify it but how little power I held against it, my heart overflowing with sadness, frustration, rage and fear.

The me of now wishes I’d been less angry then. “It’s not like Mom was trying to hurt you!” I want to shout at my younger self. “It’s an illness, not a choice!” Of course, shouting at past-me doesn’t do any good. I needed to experience then to earn whatever understanding I have now.

My education commenced June 23, 2003.

Click here for The Before.

June 23, 2003

I never talk about this, except in jest, but I can’t joke about it right now.

I had to say a much-needed yet still painful goodbye to one living parent, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to do it again. I’m shaking like I did after I said it to my father… anticipating maybe having to say it to my mother, who’s so much more broken. Who’s much less likely to pick herself up and brush herself off, since she’s not a pathological liar who refuses responsibility for anything.

My mom was never quite right. My father was horribly abusive, the kind of man who greets his wife by spilling scalding water on her if he comes home to a burnt casserole. We spent so many hours hiding under the table as we listened to our father beating our mother, and her trying to protect us. I guess I always just want to explain how she came to be this way, to say that I love her even though I’m frustrated by her, constantly, to say I know it’s never easy… there’s always a reason.

Then, when Rachel was molested by a man with a wealthy mother, she started to think people were following her. We didn’t ever talk about it, but it was only the day of the trial that we realized she was right – there had been people following us. A couple of men who followed us into different markets that morning showed up with files of photographs, and we knew Mom had been right.

But it didn’t end there. Somehow, that changed things, and people kept following her, even when there was no reason they would be. Read more…

The Before: Our evil neighbors

I’ve previously written about my mom’s mental illness as if it were a footnote, when it was actually a definitive part of my youth.

This post includes my journal entries from the beginning: when Mom’s “colorful” acts struck my untrained self as peripheral oddities, not potential markers of mental illness. What was mental illness, anyway?

These entries reach into the early summer of 2003, when my mom fell apart and my entries got much, much longer.

See here for more on the what, why and how of this series of posts.

The story began before I was fourteen, but I was fourteen when I began making note of it in March of 1993.

March 6, 1993

I am truly fed up with mother. I do love her, never doubt that, but I am so sick of her saying things like, “Oh, Tom…” Tom this, Tom that, “When will I find the man for me?” Darn Joe for being married. I have more important things to talk about and do than shallow stuff like that.

Mom did more than talk incessantly about Tom, a member of her church at the time. She frequently drove by his home and office, and tried bumping into him elsewhere. 

She once persuaded me to confront him about the drug habit she’d decided he had. I did so to stop her pestering me, and kept my promise to swear she wasn’t behind it. 
Read more…

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