Welcome to Honestly Speaking this is Dawn. A couple episodes ago, my ho-host Hector and I were talking about labels. Specifically we were talking about the recent trend we’ve noticed especially in young people to refer to themselves as Narcissists. Hector pointed out that narcissism or Narcissistic personality disorder is actually a psychiatric diagnosis. I caught myself vehemently cautioning about what labels we choose to define ourselves. If you have listened to any of our previous broadcasts you’ve likely heard me refer to myself as a control freak. Just about the entire foundation of what I teach is the idea that we absolutely must take the time to look deep in our hearts and understand who we are if we are to make informed decisions about what is best for us and also communicate those needs to others. Today I’m going to share with you a very personal story as detailed in my book that illustrates a bit of how I came to feel so strongly about control and labels.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”
― Bob Marley
Before I continue with my next personal disclosure, it’s important for me to admonish up front that what I’m about to say should not be misconstrued as a suggestion for anyone to go against their doctor’s advice. I do what is best for me based on my knowledge of myself and with the additional input and support of those I trust most.
We love labels. We refer to people as motivated, lazy, successful, worthless, masculine, and feminine. Intentionally or not we judge everyone and everything, putting all we encounter into neat little pre-determined boxes. When we’re unhappy with who we are, we throw around words that are hurtful both to ourselves and those around us. We think it helps us make sense of things and gives us control. In fact, what it does is set up a culture of blame, pain, confusion and self –medication.
For a very long time and maybe even to this day the label I was most sensitive to was crazy. As stated, my need to identify with my professional self is so strong it comes before anything else in my hierarchy of non-essential needs. If I don’t have a clear sense of purpose and view myself as successful in the professional world, I am not the best version of me. Therefore, when I first got out of the Marine Corps and found myself without that sense of purpose I subsequently fell into a deep, very physical depression. I described it once as the feeling of being in a box where the air was stale, unmoving and stifling. Having only the VA for medical care and no longer having my physician grandfather around for advice, I soon found myself prescribed very strong anti-depressants not suited for me.
First experiencing the most profound non-physical pain I could imagine followed by the equally dramatic rebounding effect of the meds meant to solve it led to my first suicide attempt. Upon being admitted to a half-way house, this straight A college student was treated like some leprous villain. When I objected to the confiscation of my wedding ring I was told: “You should have thought of that before.” After being released, I was put on different but equally destructive medications and then ended up in a wild week-long sleepless mania, something I’d never experienced in my life.
When the VA diagnosed me as bi-polar, it started me down a path that resulted in nearly two decades of shoving any number of different psych meds down my throat. All of a sudden I was not Dawn the Marine or Dawn the athlete or any of the other positive attributes with which I’d previously identified. I owned my diagnosis stating not that “I HAVE bi-polar disorder,” but instead “I AM bi-polar.” And anyone who’s ever been tagged correctly or otherwise with a mental disorder label knows it isn’t something taken lightly. Those meds were what started me down the path to the weight gain that reached nearly 300 pounds before I finally got it under control. More importantly, the mental framework pressed upon me continues to plague me to this day despite the fact that the only time in the world I’ve ever gone through the motions of attempting to end my life were while taking their drugs.
I tell this story because a large part of this book is built around the concepts of awareness, self-examination, epiphanies, ownership of our decisions and therefore the outcome of our lives. I lost 16 years of my life to taking those medications. I had some minor successes during that time, but for the most part, I simply lost all of my 30’s and a big part of my 40’s to the constant battle of racing from one extreme altered mental state to another. Finally, I dug deep inside and came to the realization that it didn’t matter whether my diagnosis was correct or not. If I was going to survive, I had to get off those medications. To be honest, though, and directly relative to the content of this book, the biggest catalyst might have been my reaction to what I saw as doctors looking down at me, placating and mollifying my feelings. Even during my worst times, I had such a deeply seated belief in my intelligence and intrinsic value that the best thing anyone ever did for me was intimate I was in some way inferior. It drives me like nothing else ever has.
With regard to removing my dependence on psych meds I knew I had a great support system in friends and family since they had been through so much of the misery alongside me both with and without the drugs, I trusted they knew me well enough to give an accurate report on which state was better.
To this day they’ll tell you I’m not always the easiest person to contend with, but without a doubt, I’m a healthier person for the lack of anything that unnaturally alters my state of mind. And if you take mental illness off the table all my challenges are very easily identifiable and manageable through simply taking care of myself first. I still have a bad habit of getting caught up in work or other stresses and ignoring basic needs like food, sleep and exercise. And I can still be vulnerable to allowing my desire to be respected temporarily influence my decisions and behavior. But through my understanding of myself, I always come back around to do what is right for me and thereby right the ship.
On March 5th, 2012 the website Scientific American published a blog post by John Horgan entitled Are Psychiatric Medications Making Us Sicker?
What follows is a passage from that post:
As recently as the 1950s, Whitaker contends, the four major mental disorders–depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia–often manifested as episodic and “self-limiting”; that is, most people simply got better over time. Severe, chronic mental illness was viewed as relatively rare. But over the past few decades the proportion of Americans diagnosed with mental illness has skyrocketed. Since 1987, the percentage of the population receiving federal disability payments for mental illness has tripled; among children under the age of 18, the percentage has grown by a factor of 35.
This epidemic has coincided, paradoxically, with a surge in prescriptions for psychiatric drugs. Between 1985 and 2008, U.S. sales of antidepressants and antipsychotics multiplied almost fifty-fold, to $24.2 billion. Prescriptions for bipolar disorder and anxiety have also swelled. One in eight Americans, including children and even toddlers, is now taking a psychotropic medication. Whitaker acknowledges that antidepressants and other psychiatric medications often provide short-term relief, which explains why so many physicians and patients believe so fervently in the drugs’ benefits. But over time, Whitaker argues, drugs make many patients sicker than they would have been if they had never been medicated.
My point in sharing my story and Horgan’s post is that while it is entirely natural to attempt to define ourselves and labels provide seemingly easy ways of communicating who we are to others, some words may be simple adjectives to change at will. But others are potential permanent marker very difficult to remove and with long reaching affects we may be unable to foresee.
Thank you for listening and for allowing me to share my thoughts.