Thursday, October 3, 2013

Stigma Against Mental Illness? No Way!

I have read numerous articles over the years complaining that people who have been diagnosed with mental illness not only have to struggle with their illness but the universal stigma against the mentally ill.

I have wondered for a long time why people who have been diagnosed with mental illness don't stop complaining about the stigma, and why they don't put more energy into complaining about the diagnosis.

For instance. When I was diagnosed with manic-depression (they call it bipolar now) as a young woman in my 30s, I asked for some explanation of what, specifically, was my problem. I got such a hodge-podge of confusing-information that I rejected the manic depression diagnosis of me as medically unsound. The medical doctor could give me no medical explanation, or point to any physical evidence that proved I had a mental disorder.

The answer I got was "You feel helpless, you are in a lot of pain, you can't sleep, you feel depressed, you can't concentrate, and you have no zest for living."

"Yes," I said. But what is causing all of these problems?"

"Depression is causing your problems?

'You're telling me that depression causes depression.? That's like saying measles causes measles."

"Well," the psychiatrist continued, "Nobody really knows exactly what causes depression. It's some kind of chemical imbalance in the brain, associated with low serotonin levels and anti-depressants are the recommended cure for it."

"What do the anti-depressants do?" I asked.

"They make you feel better."


"Nobody really knows."

"Do the anti-depressants cure the chemical imbalance?

"That's not clear."

"Well," I said. "My father and brother have also been diagnosed with manic depression, and they are both on anti-depressants, and they are either depressed still, or they are manic. And not only that, they are each on different medications. And neither one is able to work anymore. They are both writers. I am a writer. How do I know how the anti-depressants will work on me?

"We'll try one. If that doesn't work, we'll try another. We just have to start you on some and see how they work for you."

"I don't think I want to take any."

The psychiatrist got very upset when I said that I didn't want to take his anti-depressants. He even raised his voice, looked sternly at me and said, "You can't come into my office and sit there like you are a student in class taking notes on what I say. That's not how it works, and this session is now over."

My husband tells me that I am much too confronting and argumentative, and he's embarrassed by my attitude toward doctors, and no wonder doctors don't like me. Maybe so. But here was somebody going to stick me with a mental illness diagnosis, and I didn't think he had a good reason to do so. I didn't think I got a good enough answer to what I thought was a reasonable question. What is physically wrong with me that needs to be fixed by drugs?

So I never took anti-depressants for my supposed bipolar mental disorder. And I accept no stigma. The whole thing is ridiculous. And that is the reason I went back to graduate school and became a board-certified cognitive behavioral therapist. I'm one of those people who went into the field to help myself.

And I must say that I found very little in the psychology or psychiatry I studied in graduate school to help me out of my bipolar condition. I certainly did suffer a lot of pain from depression and manic episodes for many years. And not until I studied neuroscience did I finally understand what was wrong with me.

What was wrong with me was that I had no idea how my brain worked. I had no idea what a neurotransmitter was. I didn't know how I got from one thought to another. I didn't know what powered the brain. I didn't know that if you understood the neurological process of pain perception, you could get yourself out of any depressive episode with a few mind exercises.

I didn't know that the brain always followed the direction of its most current dominant thought, and you could make any thought dominant by thinking it over and over, repetitively. I didn't know that depression only happened in the subcortex, and there was never any depression in the neocortex. I didn't know you could quickly separate the message that you were depressed from one part of the brain to the other.

So for all you fellow sufferers of depression. Accept no stigma. And learn something about how your brain works. Probably your psychiatrist can't help you there, but there are books available so that you can educate yourself. It's no harder to learn how your brain works than it is to study to get a license to drive your car. Would you let your car take you anywhere it wanted? No. You learn how it works, you memorize the rules of the road, and you make your car take you safely where YOU want to go.

As long as you don't know how your brain works, it takes you where IT wants to go, and you are never safe. Now there's real stigma for you.

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