What is Wrong with this Woman? Recovery, Chronic Fatigue and Depression (Part IV)

Somewhere along the line around 2011 I had diagnosed myself as being depressed and set out to get a talk therapist, which turned out not to be as easy as it sounds.  What I didn’t understand was that the abuse I had suffered at the hands of the psychiatric system had resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder:  the treatment for being crazy had made me even crazier.

You remember the 26 years, 50 hospitalizations, three years spend on inpatient psychiatry, and a dozen suicide attempts?  Ladies and gentlemen, listen up:  what happens on inpatient psychiatry is not only cruel and unusual punishment, it is ugly, vicious, irrational, mean and painful.  For a quarter of a century, I got this random reinforcement that I was a bad person and would be treated badly.

You do not know what goes on behind the locked doors of inpatient psychiatry.  Generally, it is not major physical abuse; it is, however, the most degrading, demeaning, dehumanizing, spiritually murderous environment you can imagine.  It is about power:  one group has it and the other group is denied it—solely because they are diagnosed with mental illness.  It is not about compassionate care for sick people; it is about power and the abuse thereof.  When men engage in aberrant behavior, they are sent to jail; when women engage in aberrant behavior, they are sent to inpatient psychiatry:  both environments are prisons but one is without due process of law.  The civil rights of patients are violated every day on inpatient psychiatry, and there is no redress of wrongs.

In 1971, 24 male students were research subjects at Stanford University.  They were divided into two groups, half designated as prisoners and half as guards, for a project that was supposed to last two weeks.  The “guards” became so abusive and the “prisoners” so abjectly crazy that the project had to be stopped after six days.  Later, Abu Ghraib prison would be compared to the Stanford Prison Experiment [http://www.prisonexp.org/].  It is about what happens when one group is given power over another.

Behind the locked doors of inpatient psychiatry, the staff are given absolute power and the patients are denied all power.  There are personal strip searches and daily room searches.  Everything is locked up—including the toothpaste—and all the “prisoners” always have to beg for things.  The “guards” are people in their twenties who only have liberal arts degrees.  Very young people are given virtually unchallengeable power over mature adults who are temporarily sick.  And I was the product of this randomly reinforced torture.

So, in 2011, I couldn’t get a therapist.  First of all, no individual therapist accepts Medicare primary and Medicaid secondary—you have to go to a clinic.  Clinics mean a wait-list of a couple months.  And the admitting process is so bad that I can’t talk about it—16-page forms and interviews with three strangers to whom you are supposed to open your heart even though you know you will never see them again.

Finally I ended up at Psychological HealthCare with Katherine Lewis, Ph.D.  The application only was about eight pages long, and I had refused to fill out most of it.  She said, “Okay” and put the application out of sight.  Then she asked if it was all right for her to take notes.  I said “Sure.”  Then Kate asked me a question about myself and I told her it was none of her business.  Well, heck, it seemed like a reasonable response to me.  Only later would I look at it from Kate’s point of view and realize my response to the therapist was a little weird.

Kate, having long experience and having seen too much of what passes for psychological care, understood that the psychiatric system had me totally freaked out.  She proceeded with extraordinary patience and caution, and gradually won my trust.  When all her education and training failed her, Kate resorted to common sense and a beautiful little bit of maternalism.

As time wore on, we finally figured out why I was depressed:  I was hyperglycemic.  High blood sugar causes depression.  It also causes irritability, impulsiveness and a bunch of other stuff.  Never mind the tiredness, foot pain and numbness in the hands.  Uncontrolled diabetes mellitus causes major emotional unwellness.

Well, who knew?  Neither the psychiatric physicians nor the medical physicians had a clue.  They were all giving me a hard time for my bad attitude and miserable behavior.  Why?  I had been a nice person during the years after I had stopped taking pharmaceuticals, but now I was a miserable bitch, flying off the handle at the least little thing.

Because my glucose had been over 350 for a couple of years.  So the perception of powerlessness is not the only reason why people get depressed.  People also get depressed if their brain is simmering in Simple Syrup.  So I took insulin and, after six months, became suicidal.  We stopped the insulin for a while and then restarted it at a lower dose.  I only lasted six weeks.  I went back to the physician who, by the way, said he had learned more about the immune system from trying to treat me than he’d ever learned in medical school.  Sitting in his waiting room, my glucose level was 584.  The physician told me there was nothing to be done; eventually the diabetes would kill me.  Then he left me to take the bus home alone.  No attempt was made to bring in my friend who held my health care proxy and power of attorney.  No discussion was initiated on what to expect or how to plan for the end.  Boom—you’re dead.  Now, go away.

Don’t you just love physicians?

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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3 Responses to What is Wrong with this Woman? Recovery, Chronic Fatigue and Depression (Part IV)

  1. Sally P says:

    Anne, get over it. For God’s sake, I too was (and still am) in the mental health system. I spent a decade going in and out of in-patient psych units. From my perspective, they did what they needed to keep me safe from myself. I am eternally grateful for the help I was given by my psychiatrist and all the in-patient staff. You are just pissed off at the world and nothing anyone ever does or will do will be to your liking. It’s very sad that you cannot look for positive things and instead choose to focus on the negatives in your dealings with everyone around you and then blast people on a public blog. Your physical issues are certainly a challenge but you need to stop hating everyone you come into contact with. I started getting better emotionally once I realized it was up to myself to CHOOSE to go onward and upward. You will be in my prayers that you too can look for something, anything, positive to focus on.

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