I want to thank you for your outpouring of support and kindness in response to my post that I would be keeping parts of my story to myself because of a fear that by being so honest about where I am in my medication journey, I was leading others to make irresponsible and dangerous choices.
All of your comments on here, as well as the personal emails and posts on my Facebook page really touched my heart. Special thanks to the Bipolar First blog for her touching tribute, to my very wise mentor Mike Leach who took an hour away from his important job of caretaking for his wife to help me process my hurt and what I should do next, and to my psychiatrist who added a very important perspective, as well.
As a highly sensitive person, I take everything to heart, so of course my feelings get hurt when I read negative comments. However, the much bigger issue here was not my feelings. It was about my responsibility as a mental health blogger to lead people to better health as best as I can. When I get messages that my posts are doing the very opposite of my mission, that is what causes me to question if by being so transparent with my mental health journey, if I’m being irresponsible. I have talked to other mental health bloggers and authors who keep their medication status to themselves, as well as some of their opinions about psychiatry, for fear of having people chuck the meds and doing reckless things, possibly ending their lives. I can appreciate why they do that and respect that decision.
I sometimes forget that people who read me are in extremely vulnerable places; I forget the potential damage and impact one article can make if you read it at the wrong time.
For example, I remember two hours before my consultation at Johns Hopkins when a family member handed me the March issue of Oprah Magazine and told me to read the article “Valley of the Dulls: Taking Antidepressants.” A fierce critic of western medicine, my fellow family member insisted I read it before “all those doctors pump me full of meds.” When I leafed through the pages on the way to the consultation, I began to shake. The author’s words confirmed every fear I had about trusting psychiatrists and taking antidepressants. I was so close to asking my husband to turn the car around. Because of the impact of that one article, I almost gave up and interrupted a treatment plan that led to health.
An equally painful moment happened in January of 2014, when my husband confronted me and told me that my psychiatric strategy—trying drug after drug–was obviously not working because after five years I was still very depressed, fighting death thoughts. He implored me to watch a YouTube video of Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD about how the root cause of depression could lie in the gut and why psychiatry fails to help so many people. Again, I started to shake. We got into a terrible fight where I told him that I didn’t need any more anti-medication people in my life. And with the same crack in his voice as when he begged me to go to Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Clinic for a consultation—when he found me in fetal position in our bedroom closet–he pleaded me to open my mind, if only a sliver, to begin to see other possibilities for treatment that would allow for a better life for us.
That was the beginning of my new health adventure.
I have said this many times. I believe my psychiatrist saved my life in March of 2006. I am glad I chucked the O Magazine article and all of that author’s advice and headed to the consultation.
However, my husband saved my life in 2014. His confrontation is the reason why I have been without death thoughts for a year now, something I thought would never ever be possible. And I suppose I want very much to give you that gift. If I can in any way lessen your suffering by sharing what I know, I want to do that.
So you can understand my conundrum.
It’s about timing, whether or not something is useful or destructive.
And I can’t control timing.
The truth is that right now I’m at a very exciting but uncharted place with my mental health journey. I am questioning things about my illness that I have believed for 25 years, like the entire Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and am shifting my entire health vision. Recently I walked through a corn maze with my daughter. It’s like that. As I experiment with different paths to health, I often look up and there is nothing but corn. Therefore I want to be careful about not leading anyone to a dead end along the way. I don’t want to contribute in any way to your pain.
Having read all of your gracious comments, it seems as if 99 percent of you want the truth, so I’m going to continue to tell my story. However, two things need to happen for that to be possible.
On my part, I need to be sure to clarify the difference between my illness and the kind of illness that many of my critics suffer from. While I have suffered from very severe and suicidal depressions, I have not had the kind of illness where I have been psychotic or dangerously manic. My psychiatrist recently made that important distinction when I expressed my desire to taper off some of my meds. Fortunately, she feels that I do not have the kind of illness that is very unlikely to remain in remission without an indefinite use of a mood stabilizer. If I did, she wouldn’t have been so sanguine about the possibility of my being off medication entirely. There are certainly types of illnesses that do require medication for a lifetime. And I also believe that some people don’t have the resources that I do to experiment with all the alternative options that give me the opportunity to wean off meds. As someone pointed out to me recently, if you have $100 a month to spend on food, eliminating the staples of bread and pasta is extremely difficult. Not everyone can afford fresh kale and pineapple smoothies or a class of Bikram yoga.
Therefore, I am going to try to insert more disclaimers along the way and try to be more careful in my language. I thank my critics for calling that to my attention because it is a very important distinction.
The second thing that needs to happen is that you, readers, need to understand that this is only one story. It is my story, not yours. All of us are different. When I talked to my mentor Mike, he told me to visualize all of us in a group therapy session or support group. Each person went around and told his or her story. There were no judgments, just listening. What worked for Sue last week may have failed terribly for Ellen three months ago, and what worked for Fred yesterday may have proven helpful for Frank, as well. We are exchanging ideas, learning from each other. We do this a lot on ProjectBeyondBlue.com and Group Beyond Blue. I’d like to do more of that here.
So my story is just that—my story.
I offer it to you to take what you like and leave the rest.
If it causes you pain in any way, like that O Magazine article did me, then please chuck it. I’m very sorry it wasn’t helpful for you.
I’m going to try to not take things so personally, but I also ask that you respond with kindness whenever possible.
Thanks again for your heartfelt notes.