A few weeks ago I asked my therapist, “What am I doing here?”
“Life review,” she replied.
I lost my life to antidepressants. I suppose that’s why I’m having episodes of depression. The trigger for depression is the perception of powerlessness and, for a fact, I am powerless to change the past. My life sucked, and I keep telling my stories to warn you not to go down the path I took. Get your heads out of the fucking pill bottles, folks. Psychiatric medication is worse than a dead end; it’s continuing hell.
This morning I woke up dreaming about Janet. She and I met in 1973 when I was looking for a roommate. I put an ad in the paper: “Too cold to camp out . . .” She thought that was pretty funny and we met, then we decided to get an apartment together, which separately freaked us both out—we didn’t even know each other but we were signing a lease to live together?
We were about twenty-four years old—a status that I now refer to as “being kids”—and kids do things like that. It worked out all right. Janet was tall and slender; I was short and plump. Her parents were Polish Catholics from Cleveland; mine were English Protestants from Pennsylvania. We were both really smart. She wanted to be a medical missionary in Africa so she joined a convent when she graduated from high school. That lasted about a year.
She said there were thirty-three girls in her class and, sooner or later, thirty-two of them quit. There were complicated reasons why Janet left the religious order but in the end it came down to this: when she needed a new tube of toothpaste she had to ask the novitiate supervisor for it and she just couldn’t do it. Janet thought there were some things she shouldn’t have to ask for.
I remembered that earlier this week. Because I took antidepressants, over a period of twenty-six years I endured about fifty psychiatric hospitalizations for a total of about three years—and I always had to ask for the toothpaste. I had to ask for everything. On inpatient psychiatry, everything is locked up: the laundry, the kitchen, your razor, your radio, the spiral-bound address book that contains your mother’s telephone number, the music room, the exit-in-case-of-fire, your suitcase, and the bathtub.
The keys to all these things are held by aides, who are usually young women who are neither as smart nor as experienced as you are. They also are not very nice. They have power but they do not have wisdom to go with it, consequently you spend a lot of time asking aides to unlock things for you—“My laundry’s done; can I get in the laundry room to get it out of the drier?”—and aides spend an equal amount of time refusing to do it—“I’m busy; you’ll have to wait.”
One day I went to the door of the employees’ lounge where my aide was sitting and talking. I asked her to get something for me; she didn’t want to get out of her chair, so she blew me off. I walked away and then, for an experiment, I went back and said to her, “Please, I beg you, will you get me [whatever].”
The aide replied, “That’s more like it; that’s what I want to hear.” These young women, these girls, who work as aides very simply want patients—who are older and have more life experience—to beg. I had to grovel to get a cup of coffee. Every other person of my age and competence was free to get a cup of coffee whenever and wherever they wanted. Because I was on inpatient psychiatry, I had to beg someone else to let me have a cup of coffee.
Dr. Peter Breggin, who’s entire professional life has been devoted to fighting the systemic abuse of people labeled “psychiatric patients,” told me that when he was an eighteen-year-old undergraduate at Harvard he ran a visitors program at the local state mental hospital and what he saw, most excruciatingly, was the degradation and humiliation that patients were subjected to by staff members.
Try to imagine my life; try to picture it: on a random basis over a period of a quarter of a century, I was repeatedly subjected to humiliation and abuse for anywhere from three days to six months. Then I would be discharged, go home, reestablish some appropriate level of functioning and it would happen all over again. The antidepressants were making me suicidal; nobody knew that. My suicidal feelings were blamed on my depression, not their pills. When I got too suicidal to maintain myself, I would go to inpatient psychiatry to save my life. And on inpatient psychiatry I would be forcefully taught that I was trash, not worthy of anything.
Nobody came to visit me behind the locked doors of inpatient psychiatry—not my parents or sisters or Janet or my pastor or the members of my church. Why is that? Why did you all abandon me? You went to visit the people who were hospitalized on medical or surgical units: why didn’t you visit me on the psychiatric unit?
Why didn’t you visit me?
Last year I acquired a new best friend. His name is Dick and he’s a psychotherapist. I have been so damaged by the psychiatric system that only a clinical therapist can be my best friend. Sometimes I cry at him, “Why am I this way? Why do people treat me this way? Why do I treat them this way? Why am I different from other people?”
And he says quietly, “Because you suffered decades of abuse and nobody else did.”
Actually, the difference between me and other “psychiatric patients” is that I stopped taking psych meds and recovered. Everybody else is still downing the drugs. I am one of the few who has recovered and stands as witness to the damage drugs do.
Antidepressants are the second most widely prescribed drug in the nation. When you take yours tonight, think of me. You’re on the same track.