Psych Drugs: Same Old Story, Still a Problem

To summarize the above picture: the media needs to stop romanticising coming off psych drugs as “becoming your true self”. Psych drugs help people become who they are supposed to be (although they are not for everyone). Psych drugs are not “artificial happiness”, they give you a brain that can be happy.  

I have blogged about psych drugs before. I am probably repeating myself. Now that the conversation of psych drugs has come up in my life again I would like to talk about it again (also, by conversation I mean my psychiatrist brings it up and I smile and say, “Oh, we’ll see…I don’t want them.”).

I feel sad when I see conversations or pictures like the one above. I’m not mad that people are sharing the positives that psych drugs have had on their life. Those of us who struggle with our emotions, thoughts and behaviours need as many tools as we can get to support us in living the lives we want and deserve to have. I feel sad because my experience with psych drugs as being a prescription for suicide is often ignored and shamed.

When I have mentioned my experience I am told by some that I am lying, that my experience with psych drug induced suicidality is too rare or I am told that it’s people like me that keep others from helping themselves. When I then tell these people that I am not on psych drugs currently this is then seen as “proof” that I do not actually struggle.

I do also have the amazing opportunity of hearing from others who have similar experiences. I always appreciate hearing from these individuals and I hope they take comfort in knowing that others can begin to understand their experience.

My psychiatrist does acknowledge my experience which I appreciate. She is concerned that if I reached a point in my pregnancy of after birth that psych drugs were needed that I would have to be closely monitored. I did find out something interesting during my appointment with her last week about my most recent experience with Effexor. I told her that I did find 37.5 mg of Effexor to be fairly effective and that I increased it to the dose that threw me over the edge in response to trying to cope effectively with the emotional abuse in my previous relationship. I told her I would consider taking it again but that when I first started taking 37.5 mg  I spent the first 5 days extremely high and unable to sleep, eat and relax my muscles. I told her it was similar to an ecstasy high. She swore loudly, apologized, and explained that I had experienced a huge serotonin surge which is how individuals can get serotonin syndrome. This can be fatal and obviously something I would want to avoid!

My message is always the same. Listen to your body, advocate for what you need or have a trusted person support you and be open to the experience of others!

Trauma and The Hunger Games: How it really is.

I want to talk about trauma. The conversation about trauma is becoming more popular in mainstream media. People are slowly accepting that it is not just veterans of a war that experience trauma but individuals who have experienced abuse, rape, natural disasters, illness, and oppression. Overall, I believe we are having the wrong conversation about trauma. As with much of our discussion of poor mental wellness, we spend a lot of time focusing on how trauma destroys the lives of those who experienced the trauma. There is no denying this is true. My experience with trauma caused by emotionally abusive relationships/friendships sometimes brings me to my knees with pain. I see how my fear of the trauma reoccurring my life leaves me in a constant state of fear which manifests as anger and thoughts that I am unsafe and the people I love are out to hurt me. What we seem to talk so little about it how despite the pain that leaves us on the floor we manage to stand back up and that despite the fear we continue with our relationships. People who have experienced trauma are some of the most resilient people I know. My own resilience often amazes me.

Image: Katniss crouched on the ground, looking off into the distance, wearing a black coat and quiver of arrows on her back.

I first realized that society had a skewed view of trauma when I read through Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (the third book in The Hunger Games Trilogy) for a second time. To briefly summarize, The Hunger Games Trilogy is about an older teen named Katniss who lives in a dystopian version of the USA (called Panem) where the homes of its citizens are divided into 13 Districts and the main city called the Capitol. The Capitol is extremely wealthy and the Districts become increasingly poor and oppressed as you count from 1-13. To keep control over the Districts the President of Panem declared that every year, each District will give 1 young girl and 1 young boy as Tribute to The Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death, with the Victor (the last person left alive) is rewarded with a life of wealth. Katniss goes through The Hunger Games not once but twice and then goes on to lead the rebellion against the Capitol. Throughout the trilogy, Katniss experiences overwhelming oppression, violence, and loss. The trilogy ends with Katniss explaining to her youngest child that she still suffers from the memories of the Games and the rebellion but that she keeps going regardless of that pain. The first time I read Mockingjay, I remember being so disappointed that Katniss didn’t come out unscathed. I couldn’t understand why the main character of a book wasn’t living happily ever after. A few years later, when I read the book again, I finally understood. The author was showing real trauma. Collins didn’t want to give us a happily ever after because that is not how life works. Trauma can stay with you, show it’s face in your everyday life, and it does not have to completely consume you. No matter what Katniss went through, she dealt with the dreams and the memories. She married, raised her children and carried on with her life. In the final movie, she explains to her infant that she survives by remembering all of the good things that happen in the world. This is what many trauma survivors do, find ways to keep going.

We need to talk about the Katniss’ of the world. We need to talk about how we survive.

Mad Pride Toronto 2016: “What Madness has taught me”

I am very pleased to have connected with Mad Pride Toronto and for the first time, I am contributing to Mad Pride Toronto in the way that I know best, through blogging.

Please check out my first post on Mad Pride Toronto where I share what Madness has taught me and how it has changed my life!

http://www.torontomadpride.com/2016/04/what-madness-has-taught-me-kristen-bellows/

The day I learned about Madness was the day I stopped being sick. It was the day I began to heal from my past wounds caused by psychiatry, society and myself. It was the day I found myself. It was the day I found my value and strength. – Kristen, What Madness has taught me, written for Mad Pride Toronto

I am a fighter

Every once in awhile, a song comes along that reminds me that I kick ass. I’m not saying this to sound snobby but seriously, I look back over everything I have gone through and I have made it out. It doesn’t matter what has happened to me, who has happened to me, what I have done to myself. I kept going, always living, always pushing through and knowing deep down that all the bullshit would stop.

Check out the song that reminded me of this today.

“I will fall and rise above
And in your hate I find love
‘Cause I’m a survivor
Yeah, I am a fighter”

Are we unreliable sources?

I am currently reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (I will not spoil the book I swear, I am just mentioning a known character trait that you would learn about quickly. If you don’t even want to know that then stop reading!). One of the main characters, Rachel, has an alcohol addiction and because of this, when a certain event happens, she is viewed as “unreliable” and her potential contributions to solving the problem are dismissed or minimized. Other characters even use the word “unreliable” to her face when they explain why she will not be taken seriously. Rachel also knows it’s because of her drinking.

This reminded me of my grade 12 Writer’s Craft class where we spent one class learning about unreliable narrators. An unreliable narrator is a narrator who’s credibility is compromised. While an unreliable narrator is not necessarily a specific type of person my class came up with stereotypical examples of people who could be unreliable. I remember various classmates saying that someone with a mental illness, an intellectual/cognitive/developmental disability, and an addict would be unreliable narrators and we should not trust their views of events. If my memory recalls correctly my teacher gave the example of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time where it is suspected that the main character, Christopher, has autism and is unreliable due to his issues around social interaction and processing.

I know I have been viewed as unreliable due to my high emotional states and I have even viewed myself as unreliable but only because this is what I have been told I am. Are we really though? Are those of us who struggle with emotional and mental issues actually unreliable? Does our ideas of normality play a role in our reliability? Is anyone really reliable all the time?

I personally believe that reliability has more to with knowing the facts about something rather than our mental state. While I recognize that our mental state can influence our ability to process the facts, it is not just our mental state alone that should determine our reliability. When I have the facts, I am reliabile. If anything I may be more reliable because I pursue the facts, knowing I am highly emotional, and frequently try to reality check. Those whose mental state is not in question may not pursue the facts because they assume they do not have barriers to accessing them.

We also need to all admit that everyone has a different reality. So many factors go into how we interpret events and make meaning of facts. We may be bias, be influenced by our culture, political stance, education background etc. Maybe it’s more about an alternative perspective than it is about reliability?

We can all be reliable and unreliable. We are human. To dismiss someone because of their mental state is wrong. Sometimes we may even see and understand more because we are not taken seriously.

Women, Anger and Mental Health

Intersectionality is one of the most important things I learned about in my social work education. Intersectionality is a concept that says that oppressions are interconnected, they intersect, and cannot be viewed separately. For example, a trans woman of colour. This person needs to be seen as a whole and that each oppression (and even each privilege) create their entire experience. To focus on them as just a trans woman and believing that they experience oppression solely because they are a trans woman ignores the added BS this woman experiences because they are also a person of colour. Trans women of colour have very different experiences than white trans women since white/light skin is seen as a privilege.

I wanted to share the above tweet because it speaks to me and my intersectionality as a woman with a mental health diagnosis. Women are frequently shamed for showing “masculine” emotions such as anger. Anger has been a huge part of my life. It has provided me with power that I didn’t have as a teenager when my emotions were turned inward and I never expressed myself. I have experienced men (mostly white men) that become very insulted when I became angry with them, expressed that I disagree with them or firmly told them what I did and did not want. My confidence goes from “sexy” to “bitchy”.

This is not to say that angry women have mental health issues because that is not true. I do believe it is true that sexism, the belief that women should be one way and men another, probably contributes to many angry women believing they have a problem and being labeled with a mental health diagnosis (by a professional and/or by society). There is still a movement though to build women’s confidence in themselves, to be more body positive, see themselves as capable and equal and yet when women display this confidence in anything other than a quiet, submissive smile people become outraged.

My solution has been continuing to be who I am no matter what and finding people who respect who I am. All of me. It was a process to get to this point and I can see how each year I become closer to being completely ok with all the parts of me.

P.S. I know I have been absent for awhile. I can tell you all why in a few weeks!