When I was fourteen, I was diagnosed with depression and saw a psychologist for psychotherapy twice a week for about a year and a half. It was ineffective, so I got shipped off to boarding school. The bouts of depression continued.
When I was eighteen, I saw my first psychiatrist. He diagnosed me with recurrent depression and treated me with psychotherapy. I know this is unbelievable but it was around 1968 and psychiatrists did psychotherapy. They did not prescribe very many pills because there weren’t very many on the market. Psychiatrists did actual psychotherapy, not just ten minutes of chat before they wrote your prescription: fifty minutes on the couch. I did that for a couple years, then my mother found out about my lover and kicked me out of the house. I had to quit school and get a job.
The job I got was on the inpatient psychiatric unit at a teaching hospital. I was a Mental Health Therapy Aide, that is, M.H.T.A., pronounced Meh-heh-ta, and uttered as a term of derogation. I was not old enough to vote but I was old enough to have the keys to lock up people. (This should make you seriously question the wisdom of the psychiatric system.) My psychiatrist got me the job; he was the assistant director of the inpatient unit. (This should make you seriously question my psychiatrist’s sanity.) I worked there about six months, then tried to kill myself with an overdose of drugs. (This should make you seriously wonder about working in the psychiatric system.)
I was admitted to inpatient psychiatry in a community hospital. Shortly after I was released, I relapsed and was admitted to the hospital where I had worked. Gosh, that was fun. My depression was now categorized as major, severe and recurrent, and I was also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I would later come to understand that this diagnosis generally means that (a) the patient is smarter than the therapist, (b) the therapist can’t control the patient, and (c) the therapist and the patient are both female. It’s a name-calling game.
I got a new psychiatrist and maxed out my insurance. He decided he couldn’t afford to see me twice a week for the half-rate that Medicaid paid, so my parents paid him full-rate for one appointment a week and he saw me for free for one appointment a week. If this sounds logical to you then you are now qualified to be a psychiatrist. After the psychiatrist and I stopped seeing each other for therapy, we saw each other for lunch. He really liked me and we became friends until he lost his mind in an accident, but that’s another story.
Around 1971, I was admitted to an old state psychiatric facility—high ceilings, dark hallways, and Sister Uglies for nurses. I was so tied in emotional knots that I was virtually paralyzed. My attending physician was a family practice resident who was doing his rotation in psychiatry. He discharged me after just a few days, saying my only problem was laziness. When I returned to my room to pack my suitcase, I found the head nurse reading my diary aloud to an assembly of lesser staff members. Her justification was, “We’re trying to help you”—after the doctor had just said I didn’t need help.
In 1972, I fell in love with the most wonderful man on the earth or in the skies: an officer, a gentleman and a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute didn’t open and I learned a lot about grief, which includes denial, anger and depression. When I hit the depressive phase, a neurologist who had a side interest in grief counseling diagnosed me with “endogenous” depression and started me on antidepressants. It would have been kinder if he’d taken me up to 30,000 feet and kicked me out of an airplane without a parachute, but it was 1974 and we didn’t know any better. Most people still don’t.
The most devastating side effect of the antidepressants was that eighteen months after I started taking them, men stopped dating me. Three decades elapsed before I began to learn how pheromones attract us to one another, and the mutilation that pharmaceuticals do to these pheromones. Damaged without knowing it, I did not have a date for the next twenty-eight years. You might want to think about that really seriously before you pop your antidepressant tonight.
Around 1980, I became the star witness—according to the newspapers—in a trial against the county government department heads who were systematically shaking down Civil Service employees for contributions to the Republican Party. My psychiatric status was examined in a “sealed” hearing that I read about on the front page of the newspaper.
During the trial, I had the non-refusable opportunity to testify in front of the jury—as well as the reporters—about my repeated hospitalizations, which half the county read about in the morning paper. That was loads more fun, but what I learned was that it feels better to stand up and say, “Yeah, I was hospitalized for depression—so what?” than to whimper and hide and try to pretend nothing’s wrong. I suffer from depression, big whoop. You want to make something of it? You probably shouldn’t try—not with me. When it comes to depression, I have no shame. (To be continued)