I am the one who knows what I experience. I am the one who can gather a sense of how it feels and what is going on, I am the one who is best placed to understand it. Anyone else, whatever kind of professional they are, can only offer theories and interpretations. That’s all they are, theories and interpretations, however much these professionals believe they are universally applicable. I have the power to accept them or not, to decide whether they are helpful to me or not.
Once I realised that last night, all the twistedness I’d been caught up in untwisted and fell away. I felt like myself again.
These assertions that there must be psychological issues behind difficulties of mood and thought and perception, that I somehow need help to discover and address them, that I am in some way a damaged and defective person who needs to change make me feel crazy. Far crazier than my own unique craziness makes me feel. Because if I accept that there are emotional triggers to my episodes that I am simply not aware of, then I become powerless, powerless to understand myself, powerless to define myself, powerless to make my own decisions about how best to cope and to live my life. I have to then believe someone else’s version of who I am, my own experience of who I am and what is happening is invalidated, and I become dependent on someone else, some outside authority, to explain my life to me.
Recently I seem to repeatedly come across the idea that anyone who accepts they have a mental illness, that there is something awry with their brain, and takes medication for it, has been conned and indoctrinated by the psychiatric system, inculcated into a career as a chronic mental patient, that they have given up their autonomy and any chance they have of a meaningful life, and that they need to be compassionately educated by those who are more enlightened than they are. I reject this trope.
I am aware that many of the people who have this belief system – and that’s all it is, a belief system – would think I am somehow in denial. They might even pity me. They would point out the dangers of the medication I take. I am well aware that medication has dangers and long-term consequences, but I also know, from my own experience, from how it feels – which is all I can really rely on in the end, not what other people tell me – what a difference it makes to my life and my ability to do the things that I want to do. It is my choice, and I am free to make it.
In this I am, of course, swimming against the tide. More and more people are emphasizing the the role of environment and trauma and abuse. Psychosis is a result of difficult emotions. Mania is a flight into excitability away from psychological problems etc. Some people even say always. Some people say there is no such thing as mental illness at all.
I don’t believe this is true. I am a psychologically healthy individual, an intelligent, reflective, self-aware adult. I am emotionally balanced. My thinking patterns and underlying schema do not need to be adjusted. I do not need to find myself or grow spiritually, thank you very much. But my brain sometimes goes a little screwy. That is all. My moods have a clear cyclical and seasonal element. The rest I think is connected to the fact that my brain is very active and innately, extremely creative, and my perceptions are acute. Sometimes that gets out of hand.
That doesn’t mean I don’t see enormous problems in the practice of psychiatry, or have concerns about the profliferation of prescriptions, or the current diagnostic system. It doesn’t mean I don’t accept or understand that there are many complex and interwoven factors that can contribute to the kind of problems I have, that some of these may be more influential than others in any particular case and that it is important to address all of them. It is not an either/or – you don’t have to either swallow psychiatry whole or reject it outright. It is quite possible to discriminate between what is helpful to people and what is clearly not, what is a useful way of looking at things and what isn’t. I would actually like to instigate a revolution in psychiatry, in the way disorders are described and defined, in the type of care offered, and most especially in the attitudes so many professionals take towards those who experience illness.
So that is that, and I know now what I need and want to do. I want to try taking haloperidol for at least a short time so that my symptoms do not become overwhelming and out of control, and I need to follow my self-management plan. Having realised that I feel powerful again, I feel like myself again, despite being currently beset by a certain mixed-up chaos in my mood and a number of odd perceptions and the sense that there are messages embedded everywhere calling me to my true destiny as the saviour of earth.