In the world of social services they refer to them as your ADLs. Activities of daily living. ADLs encompass more than care of self and home but I’m referring to those two things here as they are the most common and visible dysfunction quite often. If you’ve been part of the mental health system you’ll know that mental health professionals quite often check in with you to see how well you’re functioning by asking about your ADLs. And people who’ve been highly psychiatrized quite often know the acronym. ADL. What the professionals don’t tell you and seem to not realize is that gross impairment in these things are quite often caused by the psychiatric pharmaceuticals that the folks in treatment are being prescribed.
I submitted my last article to Mad in America: If I Had Remained Med Compliant largely because I, for the first time, spoke openly about the fact that drugs impair people’s capacity for self-care in some really big ways. I wanted it to reach a larger audience. It’s a topic that is largely ignored, except by professionals who often judge harshly and don’t appreciate the cause of the problem. For those of us who’ve been impacted by it it seems to remain an experience shrouded in shame. I wanted folks to know it was okay to acknowledge and consider it one more thing that psychotropic drugs can take from us.
It’s taken me several years to process the shame invoked by that “side effect” of the drugs. I really loathe the words “side effect.” “Adverse reaction” is a bit better but still lacking. But I digress…
In the article If I Had Remained Med Compliant there were a few paragraphs about the self-care/hygiene issue. Since it was a long article I think it may have gotten a bit lost. The internet buzz in various venues mostly did not pick up on those paragraphs about self-care so I’m going to repost them below…so that they might be highlighted and so that others might come to understand that which I could not understand when I was medicated. My shameful slovenliness…it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t who I was. And if you’re experiencing it while medicated, it’s not your fault either. These drugs deaden so many things about our nature. Yes, it is our nature to care about our bodies and our environments. The drugs are stripping us of our care to do these simple human things and it became clear to me that they are also stripping a lot of us of our human nature in larger ways as well.
I don’t imagine this adverse effect has ever been mentioned by a psychiatrist prior to prescribing. Can you imagine being told that there is a significant chance that you will stop bathing, brushing your teeth, doing the laundry, etc with any regularity? Or that it will also become so difficult that you will often just skip something altogether if you think you might be able to get away with it. Informed consent, honestly, with these class of drugs is a hard thing to achieve given the myriad of dangerous to soul killing range of possible adverse reactions. It’s also largely impossible simply because the people prescribing them don’t even know the true extent of possible adverse reactions. These pharmaceuticals are broad spectrum brain scramblers…and therefore effects vary greatly from person to person.
I wouldn’t understand the simple joys of caring about my hygiene and my surroundings. Psych drugs, especially neuroleptics (antipsychotics) seem to create apathy in many people. An apathy that made no sense to me and clearly doesn’t make sense to others who experience it either, which makes it all the harder to bear and understand. The only reason I bothered tending to home and self at all was so that I might be socially acceptable. I didn’t do it for myself and it was very difficult to manage even doing it for the sake of others when I was so exhausted and apathetic from all the drugs. It was difficult to muster any energy for all the things I had to do to survive, really. Living was a drag. Plain and simple.
Now I love a clean house and I take meticulous care of my body. I enjoy chores when I’m healthy enough to do them as well. My house is not as clean as I’d like it, but it’s because I’m not well physically, not because I deeply don’t care in some sort of strange unclear guilt-ridden way. I was bedridden for so long it’s now a joy to be able to use my body for what it was intended. I love doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, gardening and doing the laundry along with pretty much anything that involves moving. I mindfully do everything I do as a moving meditation. Life is a meditation. I will never take such things for granted again. I hope some day to be able to do all these things regularly because I am healthy enough to do them again.
I want to say more about the hygiene and care of home and surroundings issue. I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time but I’ve not done it and I think it’s because I still have shame around how slovenly I became. I hid it from others fairly well most of the time, but I couldn’t hide it from myself. The fact is the drugs stripped me of some very basic elements of human care. When one doesn’t care about their immediate environment and their bodies, they really just don’t care about themselves. It’s a very painful place to be and yet when it’s caused by drugs it’s all muted and weird and not really who we are at all and so really all that is left is horrible shame because it’s really not congruent with who we are. I felt a searing shame about it all the time. And I’ve often seen the shame in the faces of the clients I worked with at that time. It’s clear that this happens to a lot of folks on these drugs. I visited clients in their homes quite frequently. They would often open their doors with the shame on their faces glaringly apparent. It was painful to see because I truly understood. But not enough to tell them it wasn’t their fault. It was not who they were. It was the drugs stripping them of who they were. At that time I didn’t understand that about myself and so I could not ease that burden for my clients either. (you can read the entire article at Mad in America)
Please do not attempt to discontinue psych drugs without first very carefully educating yourself on the risks involved so that you might minimize the chances of developing grave iatrogenic illness if you decide to withdraw: Psychiatric drug withdrawal and protracted withdrawal syndrome round-up
Not everyone is impacted by the same adverse effects associated with these drugs.