Fighting the Industry
Trigger warning: Suicide, Depression, Abuse, Graphic depictions of violence.
Depression is scary. I bet most people out there know that, whether they actually have depression or merely know it exists.
Only some people know what’s scarier, though.
Throughout the years I’ve lived with depression, I’ve lived in fear. I don’t fear suicide or self harm. I never have, really. Those things don’t scare me, mostly because the thoughts are a part of me that I’ve simply become accustomed to, and it’s only once in a blue moon that they actually become more than background noise and turn into real threats.
But I am deathly terrified of the industry that tries to fix us broken, crazy people.
When I first began fighting depression, my opinion of mental health hospitals was rather fantastical. I had mental images of being locked away for years in a white sterile room, hooked up to drugs and isolated from the world. Because I perceived the mental health industry in this way, I refused to seek help. I fought alone, only ever seeking the guidance of an old friend who I knew wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, even in the name of helping. I didn’t dare let anyone else know of my predicament, because I thought that they would surely land me in one of those places of my nightmares.
Then, in the middle of the winter of my Freshman year of high school, everything became too hard to handle. I had very few, very weak friendships, but there was one girl I knew struggled with depression as well. Fighting back my fear, I asked her to go to the counselor with me. I had to tell someone that my mind was plagued with hatred for myself, with feelings of never being loved and being entirely worthless. I told that to the counselor. I told her I was suicidal.
It was at this point that the horrors of my fantasy land crumpled to the ground, and in their place, the terrors of the real world were erected.
My counselor started the ball rolling in one small way. My mother was called to the school to come and pick me up, to take me to the emergency room. My counselor relayed my story to her.
My counselor, feeling that my tale was not gripping enough, lied. The one solitary lie she told my mother crushed me. Where I had told her that I often spent all day in bed, not wanting to get up, just wanting to sleep a little longer, she told my mother that I claimed to want to go to sleep and never wake up. She turned the relation of my pain of living, my desire to escape to a part of my life that was still calm and happy, into an act of violently hating myself and actively wanting to die.
Let me explain why this cuts me so deeply. I have never wanted to die. Depression does not make me want to die- on the contrary, it makes me want to live. It makes me want to live, because depression makes me feel like I am already dead, a nonexistant mind trapped inside a living body. Given a choice between killing my body or regaining the life in my mind, I always pick the latter. There is not always a choice though. But to reduce it to having that living mind and wanting to throw it away with a dead body, in the way that my counselor did? That is a gross insult.
The emergency room was unspectacular. I was interviewed, and they came up to the stunning conclusion that I was depressed. They determined that I should go to an inpatient hospital for treatment. This was only mildly scary until it was time for me to take the ambulance to the mental hospital, time for me to tell my parents the things that I wanted them to bring from my room to the hospital with me. I asked them to grab my cell phone charger.
The nurse informed us that that would not be necessary. The extent of this was not clear at the time, but the reasoning was that aside from an hourly visit with your parents or a 20 minute phone call to an approved list of people, you were not allowed outside contact.
This was a death sentence. My life existed on outside contact. My dearest friends were- still are- online. But I was not allowed to talk to the people who lead me through this hell of living with depression were removed from me.
I began to panic. I wanted to call the whole thing off. As I got to the mental hospital, I was desperately wanting out. I didn’t get it. I watched as they took my current situation of feeling like a prisoner within my own body, and turned it into being a real prisoner within a real building. I watched them strip me of my humanity.
I slept with a stuffed animal every night. When depression rocked me thoroughly, I clung to it like an anchor. It was more than a comfort item, it was a symbol for my will to live. It was one thing that was constant, that was there every night, that depression couldn’t take away from me.
But the hospital could. I was informed that any personal belongings were forbidden at the hospital, as they cited some shaky reasoning of not wanting people stealing others’ belongings. I personally didn’t care if someone tried to steal that stuffed animal, if I had to carry it around and guard it with my life. It was one thing that made the hell of my life slightly brighter, and I wasn’t allowed it.
The world was already crashing down around me, and I hadn’t even been admitted.
I was not a good patient, nor prisoner. My first act upon being admitted was to demand they let me out. They refused. I scoured the document they gave me on my rights as a patient, looking for some way out, some way to carve out a life for myself in these rights I was supposedly given.
I quickly determined that the only way out was to recover. That wasn’t about to happen, so I began to lie. I put on my best face in front of doctors, my best I-am-a-well-rounded-human facade. I got them to release me two days early, after a five day stay.
But those five days were a horror I couldn’t have imagined. It was a prison, and everyone was doing everything they could to get out and stay out.
My memory is currently foggy on how those five days progressed, at least when it comes to time. When it comes to details though, I couldn’t do anything to make them go away.
We patients were trapped. We were less than human. We were terrible people for the crime of being mentally ill. We deserved to be treated with disgust and condescension.
When the six year old schizophrenic girl cried for her mother, cried for someone to stop the voices in her head, she was shouted down. This was my first night at the hospital. I lay in my freezing bed, listening to the anguished cries of a child who wanted nothing more than compassion. I listened to the shouting voices that were void of it, filled with nothing but annoyance.
As a rule, i don’t cry.
I cried in my bed that night, for that little girl and for myself, so alone, wishing I had my cell phone to send a desperate message to a friend who lived miles away, wishing I could read her response and know that I wasn’t alone. But I was.
I cried that night, and thinking about it again I’m crying now.
That wasn’t the last time I cried. The next day we had group therapy. If it’s a rule that I don’t cry, it is a law of the universe that I don’t cry in front of people.
I sobbed in front of that group. They asked why I was crying. I told them how much I missed the people that I loved. Not my family, but the people who lived around the globe who were there for me when nobody else was. One of my fellow patients, a young girl who had tried to kill herself on Christmas, left the room and returned with paper towels for me to dry my eyes. The therapist watched. She either didn’t know or didn’t care that this place for which she worked was torturing me.
It was torturing everyone. One day as I sat with my fellow patients, a girl came up to us and stuck out her tongue. There was blood on it. She told us she had been coughing it up, but she wasn’t going to tell the staff in case they kept her longer. I understood.
There was no way to escape this torture. There was no comfort to calm yourself in. My fellow patients and I became close fast over our pain.
We weren’t allowed to touch each other. We couldn’t give each other hugs. One day an older girl, just slightly younger than I am now, told me after a therapy session that there was nothing she wanted more than a hug. I offered her one. She refused. She said she didn’t want to be in trouble.
I did want to be in trouble. I’d call myself a natural leader, except I’m less of a leader and more an innate troublemaker. I had scoured that document of our rights. So many were clearly being ignored- like our right to outside contact. I rallied together my fellow patients. We brought our complaints to the staff, calmly, though we had every right to be outwardly livid. We were told that those rights only apply to adult patients. We cited the papers we were given that were clearly stated to be for teenagers and children. They couldn’t argue with us.
They threatened us with solitary confinement instead. I backed us off at that point.
That was the end of my stay. It turns out I might have made the slightest changes, because we were all told that we were allowed to tell the staff one thing we wanted changed, and it would be considered. I felt insulted, but I knew that later that day I would be free and I couldn’t risk my chances of getting out. I collected the facebooks and emails of the friends I had made, even though maintaining contact with the people you were tormented with was strictly forbidden.
After those five days it became a struggle to get on with life. I had to go to an intensive outpatient school, where we were again treated like criminals. The girls had to shake out their bras to prove they weren’t smuggling anything.
These treatment programs were supposed to fix me. They left me with mental scars. For months after my stay I had nightmares, reliving the events.
Even now I can’t think too hard about what happened then without my mind throwing me into a mental reenactment of what happened to me. If I’m not incredibly careful about my thoughts, I thrust myself back into that world and am consumed in the same feelings of terror I felt back then.
After intensive outpatient, I moved on to seeing a therapist who insisted on pushing pills at me. Pills terrified me like hospitals had. It took months, but I finally relented when again depression became too bad to handle.
I recall being so exhausted I passed out naked outside the shower. I recall sitting on the kitchen floor staring at my pill bottle on the counter, desperately wanting to take them and not knowing why. I eventually stopped taking those pills. I told my therapist that the pain of being on them was so bad that just being off them made depression seem like child’s play. He dropped me as a patient for it.
Fast forward to 2012. Depression resurfaces fully, though it never truly left, with a vengeance and a new twist. Now my world was not only darkened by a cloud of self hatred supplied by depression, but I was losing my perception of time and blinking out of reality for moments. Every now and then my thoughts would race and I would be overcome with energy. It was impossible for me to focus.
Unless, of course, I self harmed. I began cutting myself to bring myself out of the new highs and lows I was experiencing. When I felt numb and dead, the pain gave me something to feel. When I was flying high and out of it, the cuts brought me back down.
As treatment for mental illness, it was actually the most effective I’ve ever used. Of course, it was dangerous.
One night I was unsatisfied with how deep I was able to cut myself as I tried to bring myself down from the high I was stuck on. I took my utility knife from my metalsmithing bag, and slashed haphazardly at my leg.
Blood poured out instantaneously. I had cut much deeper than I had ever intended. I did not know what to do. I became aware of the reality of the situation so quickly, as I frantically typed out cries of desperation to my online friends. The wound was gaping open, though no longer bleeding. I knew i had to go to the hospital. I had to go tell my parents what happened and admit to my mental health issues. I had to go back to the emergency room.
I had a dilemma. Either I killed myself then, and never faced the horrors I had again, or I went and told my parents what happened. My friends insisted that I tell my parents. I did.
Late that night and into the next morning, I was back in a hospital bed, stitched up.
A man came by to speak to me.
He was from the same hospital I had been in when I was younger.
He insisted that I had to go back to his hospital. I may as well have spat acid at him. I absolutely refused. I told him that I had been there, that I knew the horrors they inflicted on people. I told him I was never going back. I told him I was going to find an independent psychiatrist and therapist, but I would never go back to his hospital.
Angrily, he started to leave the room, but not before he dropped his final bomb.
“I guess I’ll be seeing you back in here later then.”
A threat. A threat to say that if I did not submit to his whims I would forever be crazy and violent. The notion that for refusing to be tortured once again, I deserved to feel the pain of depression forever.
I went back home with my parents. We spent a very long time looking for psychiatrists and therapists. We eventually found one. It took trying many places and people out, finding many people who promised the same torment I had faced when I was younger, but I finally found one.
I finally had hope. There was somebody out there who might really, truly help me. I felt better before I even had my first appointment with her. I truly felt like things were on the upswing.
My new psychiatrist seemed fantastic. She never judged, only supported. She gave me a new diagnosis- bipolar disorder- and prescribed some medications to me, and I felt so much better. Everything was finally okay.
Then I finally missed a dose of Venlaxafine, one my antidepressants. I found out what the horrid withdrawal symptoms felt like. I did my research and found that this drug was notorious for being incredibly physiologically addictive. When you miss a dose or two, you begin feeling nauseous, dizzy, and out of it.
You also have these things called brain shocks. It’s as though the world around you is shuddering. Any movement of your head or eyes and the everything you see and hear shudders. Your eyes and your brain throb. The steady whoosh of the air conditioning, for instance, becomes percussive.
Brain shocks are one of the worst things I’ve ever felt. They aren’t painful. They’re something worse.
Of course, this was only a problem if I missed a dose. I still felt resentment growing for my psychiatrist, putting me on these pills without letting me know how notoriously addictive they were. If she had told me that they required such punctuality, I would have refused them in a heartbeat. I know myself, and I can’t take pills reliably. I also have trouble requesting refills reliably, but I can fault myself on that.
Then you have the issue, though, of my psychiatrist being utterly incapable of refilling those prescriptions in a timely manner. Allow me to illustrate the issue.
She cannot be contacted. In the past I have spent weeks trying to get through to her, calling multiple times a day, getting the answering machine, leaving messages and never hearing back. I had to drive to her office to get in contact with her, and the receptionist claimed she never got any messages. Because of that, I spent many days in a hell of brain shocks, because it was impossible for me to get the pills I needed.
Then we have this past week.
Around last Wednesday, I noticed my pill supply was running low. I didn’t get a chance to call before their work week ended that Thursday. I couldn’t get in touch with her until this Tuesday. I requested my prescriptions be called in to the pharmacy. I had already run out of pills. I was already back in the land of brain shocks.
She didn’t call in my prescription. Now, I don’t know if her receptionist never put the request along to her or if she dropped the ball herself, but regardless, when I came by the pharmacy to pick up my prescription, there was nothing for me.
I had had a fabulous day until that point.
When I got home I was in a fit of rage.
I collapsed on my bed. I threw things around my room. I acted viciously angry at my boyfriend, for no reason other than the fact that I just needed a fight. When he expressed worry that without that antidepressant I would slip back into suicidal ideation, I bitterly informed him that even if I didn’t have other antidepressants I was taking, the pain of being suicidal was nothing to that of these withdrawals- not only because of the physical pain, but because all that they represented in what doctors could subject me to in the name of helping me, that I was supposed to shut up and take because if I don’t, I’m a scary unmedicated crazy person.
At that point, I told myself I was done. I was done being tormented by the mental health industry. I was tired of being abused. I was tired of being put on pills that I would become severely addicted to with no warning, and then being made unable to access the drug I was now dependent on.
I was done taking those pills. I made up my mind. I let the brain shocks lull me to sleep.
I woke up at around midnight and sat around feeling like a zombie for some time. I was done taking the medication that I was effectively now forced to take. I was quitting it cold turkey, and I wasn’t about to ask my psychiatrist permission. She will get to learn that I’ve stopped taking them when I finally get in contact with her.
Quitting it was already proving to be hard. I became desperate quickly, realizing that I needed to find some way to cope with this pain while I was at school or work. A hunch and some research showed that motion sickness drugs could relieve the withdrawal symptoms, and so at two in the morning I set out to Walmart to buy some for myself.
I lay on my couch, hoping the pills would kick in and make me feel human again. I felt numb.
Within me though, I felt something growing. The tiniest sense of pride.
The mental health industry has hurt me. It has hurt me more than the horrible feelings of depression ever have. I was not going to allow it any more. Even though there’s so much stigma about mentally ill people who stop taking their pills, I was going to stop taking that one. I was going to do it righteously. It would be an act of defiance that was about more than one pill prescribed irresponsibly, one inept psychiatrist. It would be about all the times that someone has subjected me to evil in the name of fixing me. It would be about that man who insisted that I deserve to be in an ER if I don’t let his hospital abuse me. It would be about spiting my dad, who angrily told me that I needed to “nip this problem in the bud” before I was eighteen, or else I would be locked away forever in a mental facility- all said like it would all be my fault for having the gall to be broken.
It would be about that six year old girl who cried for love and got hate in return.
As I write this my mind is blurred and broken. The world feels fake, the sounds and sights flicker around me with brain shocks, and fear and loneliness shake me to my core as old memories resurface and old wounds reopen in my brain. My concentration is being tested and it only takes seconds to lose my train of thought. I feel depression seep back into my life- it never really left, and I don’t actually think the pills did any more for me than the feeling that I was doing something did- and I feel the pain of it, and I feel broken. With the sense that I am free from tyrannical treatment, came the pain that warranted it.
But that broken mind is mine. I am no longer letting the mental health industry tell me how they know best how to fix it. I am no longer letting them coerce me with threats. I am no longer believing the rhetoric that being treated and imprisoned is better than being in pain and free.
It hurts. My world feels dark and empty, my mind tries desperately to think and do work and it fails. Fear grips me as I wonder how I am going to go to work tomorrow. I want to crawl away from society and curl up in a ball and free myself from all obligations. I am thoroughly exhausted. It’s all I can do to force words out through this blog post. Even as I try to write, my brain insists that I don’t talk about this, not here. But I have to, because stories of how horrible it is to be treated as mentally ill need to be read.
Because that is how we fight. I have been a victim of so many atrocities in the name of fixing us mentally ill folk, and in response to them?
I will fight.
.Featured image courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt on Flickr