I make no bones about the fact that I go to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed as bipolar about fifteen years ago and I take medicine for it. At least I admit that I need help and I take it.
Many years ago I was getting free health insurance. I wasn’t employed and we had a sort of state run system. Essentially, you got what you paid for. It was better than nothing. I’d had several different doctors when I lived in Chattanooga, but when I moved to Nashville I didn’t have as many choices.
The only doctor that was listed for mental health did not speak English as his first language. It might not have even been his second language. While I’m OK with a doctor knowing multiple languages, I feel it important that if you are going to be a psych doctor, your first language needs to be the same as the patient you are supposed to be helping.
There aren’t any non-language tests for the psych doctors. It isn’t like they can listen to your brain with a stethoscope, or hook you up to a machine to see how you are doing. They have to talk to you and listen to you, and be able to understand what you say. They need to also be able to understand nuance and idioms. All of this is lost if they don’t share the language.
One day the doctor said that if I “felt special” I should take this certain pill. I think he meant if I felt like I had special powers, because it was an antipsychotic medicine. But with what he said, he basically wanted me to feel like crap most of the time.
He sure succeeded with that one. One of the medicines he had me on was Depakote. What a terrible drug. It took me four hours to get to sleep, and then I’d sleep for ten and twelve hours. When I was awake I couldn’t concentrate on anything. There was no way that I could return to the working world or even consider going back to school on that medicine. If I kept taking it, then I’d have become indigent and perhaps homeless.
When I told him about these problems, he said “That’s normal.”
That isn’t normal. It might be the normal for the medicine. But it isn’t normal for a functioning human. Perhaps his goal was to make me a zombie. He was making good headway on that one.
One day he set me up with a graduate student and he wanted to give me a test. For some reason I knew the questions for the test and how to answer it. I guess I’d already come across them somewhere. I felt it was so tedious and insulting. I didn’t want to do it. I refused to take it, but he wouldn’t continue on the exam (or give me my prescription) unless I did it. So really, I had no choice.
As a last-ditch effort to get out of this pointless waste of time I pointed out that I was properly oriented as to day and time – I was there for my appointment. He wasn’t buying it.
The questions that I remember include: spell “world” backwards. Count backwards from 100 by sevens. Recite the president’s names in order, as far back as I can remember.
He also gave three words – perhaps they are pen, doorknob, and spoon. I had to repeat them back to him. But then about ten minutes later, after other questions, he asked me to say them again.
None of this had anything to do with if I could cope with reality. None of it had anything to do with how I was managing on a day to day basis.
I stopped going to this doctor after this. Because this was a state-run scheme, I didn’t have another option at the time. I slowly tapered off on my medicine and then just went on my own for a while. I did fine for a bit, but when I crashed, I crashed hard. I’d been self-medicating with pot and that seemed to do the trick for a while but then I decided to stop smoking that. It didn’t take long before things started to get really weird again and I needed help.
The mental health doctors I’d seen hadn’t taught me how to take care of myself. In fact, they had taught me how to be dependent on them. This is very common with medicine the way it is run these days.
In the meantime I found another doctor, and another kind of medicine. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I could sleep well, and I could think again. No crazy highs and lows.
But better, I had learned something about how to take care of myself. I’d learned that avoiding caffeine and sugar helped a lot. I learned that healthy eating and getting regular moderate exercise helped. I learned that making sure I get a decent night’s rest was essential. I learned that staying away from people and situations that agitated me was very calming.
No doctor told me this. They wanted to test me with irrelevant questions and give me pills that made me stupid. They didn’t care about me as a person or my future.
It is very hard to fight for yourself when your doctor is turning you into a zombie. Then again, when you are in your right mind it is hard enough to stand up for your rights against a doctor. There is the idea that they are the authority – they know best. They aren’t working with you to get healthy – they are dictating what pills to take. They are treating symptoms and not causes. They aren’t promoting health. They are treating diseases. They have it all backwards.
But when your mind is what is affected, it is even harder to stand up for yourself.
Doctors should ask these questions instead – What are you eating? What are your hobbies? What do you do for exercise? What do you do for a job? What do you read? What do you do when you hang out with friends?
All of these things can indicate if a person is off balance. Fix those and the person will stop having such wild mood swings. I propose that bipolar disorder is a reaction to being overstimulated in an unhealthy way. I propose that it isn’t a disease so much as a symptom of an imbalance in life. Fix the balance, and you fix the problem. Perhaps it is more common among highly sensitive individuals. Perhaps if doctors address the cause, they’ll find the cure.
In the meantime, we the patients have to take matters into our own hands and get going with taking care of ourselves.