Exposing myths of medication management in hopes of getting a second chance.
The year was 1975. I was in the midst of a psychological disturbance that even to this day has a way blitzing through my defensiveness and bamboozling my precocious mind with befuddlement. I look back and realize it had it's foundation in having a crush on a girl and not knowing what to do about it. The anxiety took on a life and death grip on a psyche that had all but been beaten into submission in earlier years. In November of 1975, my dreams entered my waking life and I was like a zombie looking for a brain to devour. I was looking for a girl named "Sue". She was the first woman I felt an unmanageable affection toward. She was the first woman I had ever kissed. I was a Sophomore in college and I felt really dumb about my perplexing perceptions. There was no one safe to talk to. I recall a conversation with my dad that offers insight into how this could happen. I was in third grade. I was having a very difficult time in being engaged and focused on my educational task. My Dad(I know now he meant well) said to me: "Is there any one more stupid than you." Those words still leave a sting and I am in my sixties. Dad has been dead almost fifteen years. He was the son of Swedish immigrants. His dad died when he was twelve and felt forced to marry my mom when she became pregnant with me. I was a very socially inept male not very sure what to do with feelings of affection to a female and at that time had no resource, support as to what to do with the enigma. I climbed up on a roof. It was a symbolic way of seeking and finding Sue, the girl I had my first date with, the girl I had my first kiss with, the girl who was not returning my phone calls. I felt so stupid. College faculty saw me on the roof and were convinced I was going to jump off and commit suicide. I was promptly sent to a hospital called Glenside, where I was managed for about a month. I called for my dad to help me out. He never came. They threw me into a seclusion room and I began a journey into obscurity that lasted for a couple of years and has impacted me for a near lifetime.
I was treated with all manner of drugs. I recall some of them. The one that stands out was Haldol. I was being introduced into the world of the medical model. I was cast into a world of looking for the right drug to fix it. Once the drug was found it was the job of the system to keep me on the drug(s) to keep out of the hospital and crazy thoughts that had brought me there in the first place. I was cast out of the country club psyche world of Glenside to New England Deaconess. I was still in a wandering dreamlike state looking for Sue (go figure). The young bucks (attendants) were talking about how my lack of masturbation or sexual confusion lead to my stupor. Then along comes Dr. Fleming, the genius doctor from Harvard medical school. In his opinion my problem was Manic-depression. All I needed was a few tablets of some salt called Lithium and Melaril and I would be back on my road to recovery. I was let loose soon after, cured. All I needed to do was take my medicine and I would be back in college in no time. I was back home just in time for Christmas. At least for people on the outside life was good and under control. Deep inside I was a volcano about ready to implode.
By New Year's I was obsessing about wanting to commit suicide. I was consumed in a prison of depression that would not end until April that same year. It was the obsession with feeling the need to commit suicide that was the problem. Mom tried to take matters into her own hands. She was a very devout Christian and she could not understand how her son (studying to be a minister could think of suicide. Her first tack was to say she would give up cigarettes if I could quit being so depressed. That had no effect, so she went on to tell me that she had kept a secret from me. I was born out of wedlock.(to my dad before she was married). It was the year of the big snow.(the blizzard of 1976. I was sent back to Deaconess. On a couple of occasions I was put by the electro shock therapy room. Who knows why? I can not help thinking they were considering it a solution to my suicidal ideation. I was sent home after being there for a couple weeks. I had no idea how to interpret what this meant. Was I headed to hell in just a matter of time. "I must of done something wrong" For days and week I was in a sleepless stupor. I was still on the miracle drug lithium. Most of my family had all but given up on me. They carted me to another nearby Christian college, positing that the college I had attended before my "nervous breakdown" caused the problem. By Easter my severe depression disappeared like the fog after a rainy day. Fleming was more convinced than ever that my issue was manic depression. I was told: "all you need to do is work during the summer and I will write a note so that you can attend college in the fall."
I worked hard that summer. I made sure I took my medicine as I anticipated going back to school until my anxieties got the best of me shortly before school started. I felt a need to talk to talk with the girl I obsessed about a few years ago. I remembered trauma that got me in the hospital and feared it could happen again.
Mom was having a difficult pregnancy with my youngest sibling. She asked my dad to take me to the crisis center. We entered the office of a male counsellor who was a sub for my regular counselor. He told my dad I was mildly depressed. He suggested a time away in what he called respite. He called around " there was no place available". He asked if my Dad if there was someone in the family that I could spend time with.Dad said no. I was put in Taunton State Hospital. I would learn thirty years later I was warehouses. I was diagnosed as schizophrenic because of my longings for a woman who seemed to want nothing to do with me. For a time I was on all manner of medicine. "Thorazine" was by far the worst. I still recall the hysteria putting me in a seclusion room when it was deemed I was out of control, multiple bodies on top of me as a nurse was poised to stick me with a shot of the stuff. I cried out for the Harvard genius. He was no where to be found. I was told often that I would never get out. At times I believed it. Then finally I was let loose in the name of mental health reform. I was there eight months, long enough to know physical, psychological and sexual abuse. I wondered if I could get my life back. I was put back on my bipolar meds. Who knows why? l was versed in the same questions that asked if I took the medicine, was I suicidal, did I hear voices....Even if I imagined a creative/sarcastic response I knew better than to say yes.
I was put in a three/quarter way house and did not see me for several months, which was ok, since they rarely had contact with me in the hospital. What is most disturbing is no one asked my opinion about medicines or took time to get to know my inner anxieties. The message was all too clear. "Take your meds and you will be kept out of the hospital." It seemed insane to me. It was just as insane as my grandfather saying I was demon possessed and in need of prayer while I was in the State Hospital. I resented not being a part of the therapeutic process other than to be told take your meds and answer "the questions" or else be at risk of going back to the hospital.
Over time I would graduate college with Cum Laude in the same college where my trauma began, against my parents wishes. They were sure the college caused the problem. I would begin a new chapter as I prepared to go to seminary in Kansas city, a day's ride away from where I grew up. There I would begin a new chapter in understanding the role of medicine in treatment
I was prone to bad dreams in Kansas City, fears that I was sick and I could relapse when I least expected. I had grown up in a family where taking medicine of any kind was a sign of sickness. I honestly did not know if the meds were helping or not, but was afraid to share this insecurity with any psychiatrist. Then along came Mark Weisberg. He decided with my own reserved views that I did NOT need medicine. After all it made me feel sick. He found a group of psychiatrists that supported this possibility. For the first time since the madness of my mental illness began in 1975/1976 I was asked what I felt about the possibility of not taking meds. I shared my fears about what might happen if I did not take the medicine. After all it was the only world I knew. I accepted the challenge with the understanding I could be put back on the medicine if I deemed it be necessary. I would also be assured I would have the support of other therapist as I entered a whole new way of understanding recovery a long way from home. All of a sudden I entered the new perception that I could be well apart from dependence on meds that made me feel eternally sick and a reminder a trip back to the hospital was not far away. Maybe there was hope and in my own understanding spiritually a process called healing.
I spent about ten years without a single psychological med, a therapist never far away as I graduated seminary, was married, pastored churches and served as chaplain. Two and one half of those years were spent in psychiatric hospitals, two of those years training as a supervisor of pastors at a State hospital. I did not pass a seed committee examination, a prerequisite to continuing supervisory training. I wept profusely, felt humiliated sure that in some way I failed God and myself. My training at Osawatomie State hospital was over.
At about the same time my oldest son was having problems with out of control anger. It was a trying time for my wife and I, especially when the psychiatrist diagnosed him as bipolar. I was convinced it was all my fault. He was put on meds and at age of 6-7 was refusing to take meds. I was beside myself. I was unemployed for a time after finishing training at Osawatomie and began a process of trying to redeem something out of my growing sense of being broken beyond repair. Very reluctantly, I let Michael's psychiatrist become my own. The only difference was the very first time since I entered the psychiatric system I was given a choice. I was given an assessment by a clinical psychologist at my own in distance. I was told how medicines were used to help treat adult ADHD. I was given medicines to try out and the choice was always up to me. I noticed marked improvement in my quality of focus and chose a form of Dexedrine to make my life more manageable. I decided to get back on Lithium. After all how could I expect to take the medicine if I did not.
Soon after this I was back to work at a church in the inner city. It was a time of feeling good about myself. It seemed like everything I did at this church was an answer to prayer and a credit to good psychiatric care. All seemed well. Then as our church was being converted to a community of childcare licensed by the state the beauty of church was undermined. The childcare part of the church was administered by my wife. After all the energy spent on licensing, the church people were exhausted. There was no money to pay me as pastor and they grew tired of. Ruby Ave community services and the church drifted about.