Tag Archives: mental-health

Resisting Meds

As I briefly mentioned in my Initial Impressions post, while I am on meds now, I avoided (or actively resisted) them for a long time. Many, many years. I decided that I do, indeed, want to go into more detail as to why I did so.

Bad experiences

I have had issues my whole life (obviously, what with undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder). I’ve seen mental health professionals as early as elementary school, and at various times throughout my life. And I have had some *very* bad experiences. In middle school some doctors who didn’t know me well decided that I had ADHD and stuck me on meds, without telling me what they were or what they were supposed to be doing. Surprise, surprise, they didn’t work. (also, I hear a number of stories from people on the spectrum in their late 20’s and early 30’s who were misdiagnosed with ADHD. what’s up with that?)

A few years later I was put on Zoloft. I would get 15 minute med checks occasionally where the doctor would check my pulse, ask me how I was, and at least occasionally raise my dose. I never really knew what I was supposed to be doing, but the zoloft never helped. Not one little bit. Additionally, in retrospect, I suspect I was on MUCH too high of a dose.

So I wound up with an aversion to meds.

I also managed to get an aversion to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. On top of the two previous stories, I once knew someone who was in school to be a mental health professional (of some sort, I don’t remember what exactly) who enjoyed using what she was learning to deliberately tweak and hurt me. She had nothing but contempt for me and my rather obvious psychiatric issues, and wanted to have fun with her schooling before she had to be nice to her patients. Kind of horrifying, to think that people who need help might have a doctor who feels contempt for mental illness.

I have also heard altogether too many stories of women on SSRIs who found themselves dealing both with frustrating sexual side effects to their medications, and with psychiatrists who did not care or made it clear that they believed that women didn’t really need orgasms or a sex life.

Anyway, all that added up to a huge aversion to both psychiatrists and the meds they prescribe.

Control

Tangential to the above issue is one of control. I am fairly insistent that I be in control of what happens to my body, and I respond very poorly if other people try to tell me what to do with myself. This means a couple different things. One is that I am doing much better now that I am an adult and am in charge of my own medical matters. As a child, with the decisions often being not in my hands, or not even being allowed to be part of the process at all, that was quite horrible. Also, I have learned that it is important to find doctors that respect my no’s. If I say no to something, some mental health professionals will respond by trying to change my mind or otherwise convince me that I should agree to whatever they are proposing. This is not at all acceptable. Any doctor I have needs to be willing to work within any boundaries I set, and if I say that I am not ok with a thing, then try other methods. I find that I am much more willing to try things that I am not entirely comfortable with when I know, beyond a doubt, that I can stop at any time and be supported by my doctor.

Identity

There was also a matter of identity. By which I mean, depression and anxiety has been with me for pretty much as long as I can remember. I have definitely lived with them for much, much longer than any period of time I was without them. To be honest, while the idea of being without them was appealing, it was also scary. Who would I be? Would I still recognize myself? Much of my identity had been attached to these constant feelings – and really, it would be surprising if it hadn’t. Those feels impacted pretty much everything.

Mind altering drugs

As if all that wasn’t enough, there is also the fact that I’m just a little leery of throwing chemicals at my brain and hoping something works. We can’t test brains to see what chemical is off, or perform any biological test to see what exactly needs to change. All we can do is take an educated guess based on what you tell your doctor, what we know about what different meds do, try one, and hope for the best. It’s considered normal to have to go through multiple different meds before finding one that works, and spending a few months on each one. That’s just the process!

Ultimately, I’m still a little suspicious of doctors and drugs. I spent a lot of time re-working the way I saw myself, to move the depression and anxiety into things that were attached to me, rather than things that were me. Yet I still find myself needing to re-think how I view myself, and I suspect that I will continue to do so. I still think psychiatric medications are bigger deals than most mental health people treat them. I think that it is only reasonable to find other ways to deal, if possible, and only use meds if other methods aren’t working. In my case, I needed meds. But there was a whole process to go through before I could reach that conclusion, and it’s probably one that will still tweak me now and again.

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Self Harm

I’ve talked about self harm once before. It wasn’t very personal and was mostly about my issues with how many people (often people who have never experienced it) conceptualize it. This time, I’m going to get personal. Also – trigger warning. Please be gentle with yourself when you read.

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When to tell

A topic I seem to see a lot of on various autism communities comes from parents wondering when they should tell their child that they are on the autism spectrum. Frequently I see parents expressing fear that if their child finds out, they will use their diagnosis as an excuse for bad behavior or for not trying.

Now I am not a parent. Since it’s generally considered uncool for non-parents to give parenting advice, I am not going to do that. Instead, I want to talk about this topic in speculative terms, of how knowing the word/label may have impacted me when I was young, if I lived in some fantasy universe where Aspergers was adequately known in the US in the 80’s.
This is actually kind of tricky. As I’ve mentioned, I was aware that I was different as early as kindergarten. I may have been young, but children are often more aware of things than adults seem to give them credit for. I was not aware of why, or what to do about it, or how to cope with it, but I knew that differences were there. Learning that I was an aspie probably would have had two basic and distinct effects on me.

On the one hand, it would explain my difference. Technically, adults probably would not need to use the actual word to find ways to explain what’s going on in age-appropriate ways, but it would probably help. I find it useful to have words and labels on things. It might have aided in my understanding of myself, with significantly less feeling that I was flailing around in the dark that I lived with for so long.

On the other hand, being different was distressing to me. I wanted, so badly, to be like everyone else. Learning that I was on the autism spectrum would mean an early death to hopes that I could eventually be normal. While in the long run I learned to accept, and even cherish, my differences, at the time it was terrible. I imagine it would have been depressing to learn that I was stuck being different.

Which means, I think, a lot of how telling me would have gone (again, in this mythical universe) would depend on how the adults around me treated it all. If my differences were treated entirely as deficiencies and problems, my reaction probably would have leaned heavily towards distress. Not only was I different, not only did I feel bad about being different, but I REALLY WAS bad because I was different! I imagine it also would raise the risk of my using the label as an excuse. I mean, here I am, all full of differences that are actually deficiencies, surely that means I am less than everyone else.

But then, maybe the adults in my life would have made a point to say that my differences were just that, differences. Maybe they would have pointed out that there are good things that come with it too, and that it means that while I will struggle with some things, I also have particular abilities. That while I was different, I was not in any way less than the people around me. I have no doubt I still would have struggled with it all, but I imagine it would ultimately have made things easier for me in terms of understanding and accepting myself.

Overall, I am in favor of informing children when they are old enough to notice that they are different. And, obviously, I am in favor of not treating it simply as a disorder or problem, but as something that comes with both problems and benefits. It is impossible to predict how any individual will react to that sort of news, but I like to think that parents have some influence on how their children will ultimately process information. If you are convinced that different does not equal less, it’s probably more likely that your child will accept the same thing.

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We are not like this

Today I was going to post something light-hearted and silly, but that no longer seems appropriate. As I’m sure you know, on Friday there was a terrible mass shooting at an elementary school in Newton, CT. My heart aches for the victims, for their families, for everyone who was at the school at the time. For everyone who was is or now scared. It’s heart breaking, and the aching and sadness I feel is both overwhelming and hard to express.

As I read the updating news reports, I found myself wondering how long it would take before someone speculated that he had some form of autism, as it seems to be the thing people do now.

Sadly, it did not take very long at all. A snippet from a fox news article:

Ryan Lanza, 24, brother of  gunman Adam Lanza, 20, tells authorities that his younger brother is autistic, or has Asperger syndrome and a “personality disorder.”  Neighbors described the younger man to ABC as “odd” and displaying characteristics associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

And if you’re inclined to dismiss it because it’s coming from fox, I have bad news for you. This particular snippet is being repeated, more or less verbatim, all over the internet, from many different news outlets. I honestly have no idea what the original source was.

Personally, I don’t know if he was autistic or not. I don’t know if he was on the spectrum, or if he had a personality disorder or OCD or anything. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. Thing is, though, it does not actually matter if he did or didn’t. It’s irrelevant. The shooter committed a terrible crime, hurting many people. I do not know why he did it, but to blame it on autism is to tar an entire group of largely innocent people.

I have found a number of quotations by people demonizing everyone on the spectrum, or everyone with mental illness. I thought about quoting them here, but honestly, it’s too upsetting for me. Suffice to say there are far too many people claiming that there is a link between autism and violent behavior, and that no one on the spectrum, or with any kind of mental illness, should be allowed access to firearms, that everyone with mental illness should simply be locked away and other such things.

One I will quote came from a supposed expert talking about autism:

Amador, in discussing the possible role of mental illness in this tragedy, pivoted to Lanza’s alleged autism. “With his autism, his roommate Alex Israel mentioned that he chose not to… he preferred to stay alone,” Amador began, referencing an earlier segment with a longtime classmate of Lanza’s. “Well, actually, a symptom of Asperger’s, and this is one report coming out which may or may not be true, is something’s missing in the brain, the capacity for empathy, for social connection, which leaves the person suffering from this condition prone to serious depression and anxiety.”

Here I am, aching for everyone who was hurt by this criminal, and yet here we have people claiming that I cannot experience empathy. I can, and do, experience empathy. I may not experience it the way everyone else does, and I definitely do not express it in the commonly accepted ways, but that does not mean that I lack it entirely. That “something is missing in [my] brain.” To say so is an insult, is wrong, and is entirely inappropriate in the wake of such a tragedy.

A diary of a mom wrote an eloquent post on empathy and autism on Friday morning, and on Friday afternoon wrote another post about what happens when people demonize those on the autism spectrum:

My post this morning about how dangerous it is to allow society to dehumanize our children? To allow the misperception that because they don’t necessarily express empathy in the way that we expect to see it then it must not exist to stand unchallenged?
Here it is, my friends.
This is the result.
Our children — our beautiful, delicious, and yes, challenged children — are something to be afraid of.

The real point I want to make, though, and I really hope I have not taken too long to make it, is that any supposed link between autism and/or mental illness and violence is simply false. It’s terrible misinformation, damaging to everyone (not just us autistic people, I really mean everyone), and it hurts me personally to see it.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) released a statement on the subject, here is just a snippet:

Autistic Americans and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are vastly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.

To back up ASAN, I found a blog post with some stats on crime and mental illness, which again I am not going to quote here as I find them distressing. Still, it is worth a look if you’re interested.

I also found a scholarly study on the topic, which found:

based on the low number of violent patients with Apserger syndrome estimated on the basis of the above studies and the relatively common occurrence of violence in the general population, we do not believe that any true association exists between the two conditions.

Also in the study, the rates of violent behavior they found ranged from only 2.27-5.58% for individuals with Asperger Syndrome. Importantly, the rates for the general population range from 6-7%. Which means if anything, we aspies are LESS likely to be violent than the general population, not more. Yet people continue to perpetuate the idea that people should be scared of us. That we are violent and dangerous and should not be let out in polite society.

Finally, even if we broaden this beyond autism into illnesses that are, in fact, linked to violence, it’s still wrong. Maia Szalavitz put it really well in her article here:

And yet most mentally ill people — even those with conditions that have been linked to violence, such as addictions and schizophrenia — are no threat to anyone other than themselves.

the majority of people with schizophrenia (about 1% of the population) never commit acts of violence.

Schizophrenia doubles your odds of becoming violent, but being a man multiplies your risk by a factor of nine. Yet we don’t stigmatize or reject men for this risk factor; similarly, we shouldn’t treat the mentally ill that way.

No, we really shouldn’t treat the mentally ill that way. Yet all too often, we do.

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Suicide

trigger warningTrigger warning for obvious reasons. The rest of this is behind the cut. Please read with care.
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Filed under issue, that's not helping