What is recovery? Taking responsibility is a start…

I’m having fun with the “Random Post” widget over there on the top of the right side bar. I click on it a few times now and then and find all sorts of stuff I’d forgotten about. It takes from the almost 2000 posts I’ve made now in the last 3 plus years. Here is one from April 2007. I was still early on in this journey and still on drugs but my sentiments remain largely similar.

Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons wrote a very thought provoking post on “recovery” today. Please go to his site and read it–I take excerpts out here, but they don’t cover all that he talks about and it is only fair that you see where I got my ideas to respond from. Also, I don’t trust myself to completely accurately relate his argument here as I have problems with analysis and argument due to cognitive impairment. I want to be fair to him–so please read his post.

His post is particularly thought provoking for me as I see things a bit differently than he does, but I think nonetheless that he has very carefully thought out a lot of things and makes a lot of good points. The thing that is tricky for me is that I can put myself into his line of thinking very easily. I can agree with most everything–it’s just at the same time I feel like there is more. There is more to the picture.

One of the things he starts out with is:

The biggest thing you’ve go to do is accept your diagnosis (and this comes from someone who has issues with some of the diagnoses and diagnosticians), or you are going to be wrestling with yourself for a long time. It’s not worth doing. You know damn well that something is up with you, so what do you intend to do about it?

Well I “accepted” my diagnosis for years. I, too, like Philip, always had issues with diagnosis and diagnosticians but I did, for the most part, accept my diagnosis and took my meds like a good little girl. What went wrong for me is that my psychiatrist loaded me up on drugs. And as Philip points out, this is not appropriate in his opinion nor mine at this point. His observations over the years, as are mine, is that people on more than one or two drugs do not do well. And so, I did not do well either–I was on up to seven drugs at once and working through all that time. I worked with the “mentally ill” as a social worker and I was on more drugs then they were–these “seriously mentally ill” folk. In any case, the drugs kicked my ass and I finally stopped working about four years ago. I blame the drugs–not my “disease.”

So do I still accept my diagnosis. No. And I’ll tell you why. The diagnosis bipolar disorder is a catch-all phrase for a variety of symptom clusters. And it’s a large variety of symptom clusters. Philip says if I don’t accept my diagnosis I will be struggling with myself for a long time. Well I can tell you I struggle with myself less now than I did for the years that I accepted my diagnosis. Since I’ve taken control of my life and chosen to treat my “illness” as I choose to I’ve become self-empowered. As much as I’ve become self-empowered, I struggle less. Do I “know damn well that something is up with me?” Sure I do. Am I completely free of struggle? Absolutely not. Do I believe I will “recover?” Yes, but I don’t know what that recovery will look like. The drugs have stripped me and poisoned me and weakened me. Will I ever be completely whole again? I just don’t know. What I do know is that as I come off my meds I feel more and more complete. I have some of my cognition back, I have hope, and I have some sense of greater purpose again. I believe I can once again contribute. Even when I was working I didn’t feel I was truly contributing, I felt hopeless and worn out and feeble on the drugs. I feel none of that now–at least not for long periods of times. I still slip into feeling of hopelessness from time to time–I think it’s just an old habit at this point.

Philip goes on to say some stuff that I think is absolutely right on for anyone who has mental health issues and especially for those people who have been weakened by drugs and poor nutrition. This is essential advice:

Two basic operating principles: No suicide. No giving up. Once you get those operating principles into your life, it gives you the ability get down to the most important matter of all, which is environment. You must have as much control of your total human environment as you can possibly manage. In the workplace. In school. At home. With friends. Out on the town. Anyone with bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia who’s had it for more than 15 minutes and is somewhat reflective on their state knows that there are certain things and situations that don’t work out well for them. Or which flat out screw them up. Like working too many hours. Or multi-tasking far too much on the computer. Or playing games with meds and dosages. Or whiffing a gram of cocaine. And so on.

One reservation–I guess I have to question what “playing games with meds and dosages” means. My doctor sure as heck had me playing games to the tune of completely coming unraveled as a result of playing just too much. Doctors play may be more dangerous than patients play. At least patients are responding to how they feel on the drugs. I now have a doctor who cooperates with me. That is all I need. I’m not playing at coming off of drugs. I’m doing it slowly and systematically and if I followed my doctors advise I would be psychotic by now. His recommendations were to come off hundreds of times more quickly than I am (hundreds of times is no exaggeration.) Who’s playing here–me or him? I’ve studied long and hard to find safe ways of coming off drugs. He is clueless. I need him though and he is a kind man who is choosing to trust me. I’m very grateful for him.

Ultimately where Philip and I differ is that I don’t believe we have to stay sick. I don’t believe that all “mental illness” is biological. Well, Philip, too says that we have to take responsibility:

You’ve got to adopt a no-excuses mindset. This means you’ve got to stop blaming the illness alone when things get dicey. You’ve got to dispense with the learned helplessness that the mental health system in this and other countries impose on patients. It’s fine to talk about depression as being bad and you need to try all the available treatments and so on, but there comes a point at which that whole approach takes far too much responsibility away from the patient for how they are progressing long-term (I am not talking short-term crisis situations here) and leaves the patient with little control of their own situation. This works out nicely for doctors and pharma companies, of course.

It is this responsibility that can ultimately heal us. I choose to believe that I do not have an inherently defective brain. I know that diet and nutrition is healing me. I have spoken either directly or indirectly to hundreds of people who have chosen to take their recovery into their own hands, using natural methods and thus have healed themselves. We suffer from nutritional deficits. I am damaged now, from the drugs, so I don’t know to what extent I will heal, but I know I feel better now then I have in 15 years. I trust that I will continue to feel better. I’ve been in touch with people who have been on drugs twice the amount of time I’ve been on them and they have withdrawn and recovered. People in the mainstream, and also not so mainstream, like Philip, refuse to look at anecdotal evidence which suggests that maybe the whole “mental illness” picture in modern medicine is just wrong. (to be fair to Philip I know he does question modern psychiatry to some extent–I don’t want to speak for him) But anecdotal evidence is not science, these people say. Unfortunately, there is no money to study the effects of diet and nutrition because there is no Big Pharma to back up diet and nutrition. The only reason there is no “science” is because there is no money. If anyone gives a shit they can find hundreds of anecdotal stories and once they start adding up you can’t just ignore them. I’ve gone as far as to trust them. It may take a leap of faith, but so does accepting you have a defective brain. And accepting you have a defective brain is disempowering. Believing you can heal yourself through natural means is empowering and not delusional as many would have you believe. I refer you back to Soteria House. That is one example of a study. Unfortunately I can’t direct you to a study on diet and nutrition. Sorry, but no one dished out the money for that study.

Philip again touches on a major truth with this comment:

My own feeling is that you’ve got to approach bipolar disorder as a personality disorder–or even as an environmental disorder–as opposed to a strictly biologically-based illness. You get to work on all the behavioral problems and cues and triggers then. I know that’s a heretical thought, but so be it. I happen to find it empowering. I’ll lay my money on individual humans and their wills any day.

As I take control of my life, I do have to look at my behaviors and negative thinking and bad habits. All things I can have power over through choice and will. I applaud Philip here! He’s right on. And it is empowering and in the end I don’t think how we approach our predicament is so terribly different. We are both attempting to take responsibility with different theories backing us up.

Thank you Philip for a brilliant post and a reason for me to write a post back. Excuse me if I in any way misrepresented you and please offer any clarification in the comments if I have.

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About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters