If You’re Recommending Therapy to People, There Are a Few Things You Should Know…

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Okay, another deeply personal essay that I will delete in a week or so.

Trigger warnings-mental health and suicide.

This is partly prompted by a conversation I recently had on Twitter. I knew exactly the way this conversation was going to go the second I piped up. Someone was tweeting about how great therapy is and why you shouldn’t hesitate to go to therapy.

If therapy works for you, that’s awesome. I’m really glad. Happiness is hard to come by. If talking to a therapist helps you feel better, by all means, do it. I’m not hating.

But therapy comes with some enormous risks and when people point out those risks, they are shamed or their experiences are minimized.

I piped up on twitter, explaining how therapy further added to my trauma when I was forced to go by my abusers as a child. I was dismissed when I told doctors what was happening to me at home, I was medicated to the point of psychosis (I am not exaggerating) and then medicated to the point of absolute lethargy in an effort to correct the first issue. I was 14.

Furthermore, I was given every diagnosis in the book. Bipolar was the one that I found most harmful. Not because there is anything wrong with being bipolar, but because my family weaponized this against me. I was in a home where violence was the norm. When I started defending myself (ie: getting into fist fights with my mom-hey, I had to notice I wasn’t smaller than her anymore at some point) my bipolar diagnosis was used against me each time the police had to be called. They were called for various reasons: noise complaints, and me running away, and once when I was 15 I became hysterical and just laid on the floor of the bathroom screaming for hours-like full on screaming-I wish I could explain that in a way that make sense to others-all I can say is there was so much anger in my body, like a physical thing pulsating in me, if I didn’t lay there and scream I was going to destroy everything around me-something else I did a lot. Sometimes I wonder if I would have gotten the help I actually needed if my depression presented in a normal feminine way. I had anger issues. I don’t think psychiatry knows what to do with females with intense anger issues. I didn’t cry and retreat. I picked fights, broke shit, and yelled.

I’ve kept all this to myself for so long out of a feeling of just absolute shame. I talk way more about my awful childhood than I do my rocky teen years, because I expect everybody to do what all the people in authority did back then when I spilled my guts: go, she’s bipolar, she’s not credible, she’s the problem.

I’m not the problem though. Once I came off all that terrible medication and cut my family out of my life, my mental health improved drastically. From ages 14-21 I was hospitalized in a revolving door cycle. I literally do not know how many times I was hospitalized. I’d have to guess about a dozen. I self-harmed. I had disordered eating. I was incredibly aggressive. I cried all the time. I engaged in very risky behavior. 19-year-old me literally fucked a homeless guy in a graveyard. I didn’t even feel anything when I did it. I just…did it. I don’t know why. I didn’t like it. His breath was horrible. He was weird. I had no clue why I was doing it then. I have no clue now. My life was a mess of wild behavior, fights, freakouts, and hysteria.

Then I made the decision to come off all those meds that made me feel so wired all the time. Well…wired and exhausted. It’s a sensation like nothing else I’ve ever felt since. I had sleep paralysis all the time. My hands had a constant tremor in them. I slept with my eyeballs open. The side effects are really no joke. My cystic acne was out of control (although that might also be because I ate nothing but cinnamon roll flavored Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and iced coffe-Idk how I didn’t die).

Once I was off the meds and no longer in contact with my mom (as well as other toxic family members who affected me to a lesser extent), I was so much better. No more “mania.” My sleeping became regular. It was far easier to regulate my emotions. On those pills and with my mom constantly telling me how terrible I am, what a mistake I am, my thoughts would move so quickly it was like I couldn’t catch them. My emotions swung wildly from one extreme to the other.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

After the pills and toxic family were gone, I was fine. I went through a short period of binge drinking after coming off the pills, so I’d probably call that an extinction burst. I would get blasted and cry about how my mom didn’t love me and it wasn’t my fault and oh-woe-is-me-what-did-do-to-deserve-this-life! But then, I was okay. I became a regular person who cried only over movies and books. No more fits of rage.

I’d never been able to hold a job before. Within two years of parting ways with my family I was rising through the ranks at Home Depot, a company I eventually became a manager for. I worked 50-60 hours a week happily. I was able to go out into the world every day without melting down.

Psychiatry did not help me. It further traumatized me. In a world where I already felt so powerless, where I lived with a parent who told me constantly how much she hated me, psychiatry took even more power away from me.

I was medicated against my will.

Every behavior of mine was judged harshly.

A label was put on everything.

And worst of all, they did not help me. Mid-way through high school, the abuse in my house got to such a point that extended family got involved and I ended up going to live with them. This was after years of authorities getting involved in one way or another. Sometimes my mom’s parenting would be questioned. It always came back to me though. I was the bad, rotten kid.

I mean, my mom kept me home from school once in 4th grade because I had welts healing all over my arms. I know other people have experienced worse, but many things happened in my house that shouldn’t have. When I got to adolescence, I started fighting back and psychiatry punished me for this. Therapists and doctors kept asking me why I couldn’t regulate my emotions and behave myself. Little hard to do when you are living under constant threat.

Fourteen-year-old me said, “I destroyed the house because I was mad. I’m sick of being hit. I’m sick of not being able to just live without people putting their hands on me. I’m pissed! I’m pissed off that she thinks she can hit me!”

Fifteen-year-old me said, “I didn’t attack her. I hit her back. She’s hit me about a thousand times. I hit her once and the police are talking to me.”

Seventeen-year-old me choked down a tube of charcoal paste in the emergency room and said, “I’m just tired of being alive. I don’t think I’m brave enough to kill myself, but I don’t know what else to do. I’m so tired. I hate thinking. I hate being inside my brain. I hate being here.”

Nobody helped me. Nobody even appeared to sympathize with me. Every doctor, therapist, nurse seemed irritated with me. They raised their eyebrows. They lectured.

They put me on pills and admitted me for in-patient treatment when I was in crisis mode. Then sent me back home to a parent that was convinced I was haunted, who told me an evil entity had attached itself to me, who told me she hated me, who complained and took it out on me that of her three kids’ dads-mine was the one who didn’t pay any child support.

I’m really not sure why, when I bring up my negative experiences with psychiatry, I’m shamed with statements like, “You get out of therapy what you put into it.”

I’m not really sure why I’m told, “You just had a bad therapist.”

I don’t know why you feel it would be helpful to say, “You might have a different experience as an adult.”

It would be impossible to tell you about every negative interaction I had during in-patient treatment.

Being put in handcuffs to be transferred from one hospital to another is something that sticks with me. Not that I cared very much at the time. That was after my hospitalization for “catatonic depression.” I wasn’t brave enough to commit suicide, but I was also really tired. I got in bed and didn’t get up for weeks, not even to go to the bathroom. Which seems gross to me now, but I just didn’t care back then. I didn’t care about anything. It was like the whole world slowed down. I wasn’t even hungry or thirsty. My thoughts were very slow and strange.

I just wish one doctor would have admitted that there wasn’t anything wrong with my brain. There was a problem with my circumstances. I even said that to one and her response was, “Well trauma changes your brain chemistry.” And still, nobody ever tried to help me get out of that situation.

I was so absolutely desperate in the months leading up to the final blowout that caused me to live with extended family, that I started sleeping over at my bus driver’s house.

Yes. That is exactly as sketchy as it sounds.

What is the point in telling me that I might have a better experience with therapy as an adult? What is the point in telling me to give a system that traumatized me and failed me for years another try?

Why would I go back to something that hurt me?

I’m better without psychiatry, better than I’ve ever been. Why would I ever go back to something that failed me so terribly?

And why do you feel okay dismissing my lived experience?

As I said, I’m happy for you if therapy works for you. I’m happy for you if medication works for you. It didn’t work for me. They had me on a concoction of depakote, prozac, and several mood stabilizers and anxiety drugs that I don’t remember the names of. The only sensation I can compare it to is drinking four espressos in a row, but then you’re also really tired because you missed two nights of sleep. Wired and exhausted. ALL THE TIME. For years.

Psychiatry is a system of power. You give up your power when you seek psychiatric help, so there’s always a risk of abuse.

There’s also the fact that the drug companies literally write the fucking textbooks for medical schools.

I wish I was making that up.

Psychiatry is a deeply flawed system. It hurts people.

Whether you mean to or not, when you encourage therapy, you encourage people who are already vulnerable to give up their power and potentially endure further trauma.

That’s why it bothers me so greatly that people who share negative stories of psychiatry are diminished or shamed.

I usually don’t talk too much about this part of my past. It’s out of shame. And out of a ridiculous fear that I might face real-world repercussions for having struggled with mental health. Maybe that’s crazy, but I opened up to one manager when I was 20 and she threatened to fire me-this was after I told her I’d attempted suicide and that was the reason I hadn’t had a job in months. I believe her response was something like, “You can’t be working here if you have all that going on. You do that again and I can’t have you here.”

I decided to write a little about my own experience, partly in response to that Twitter interaction, but that was really my final push. On one of the forums I lurk on, there’s a user who is very adamantly anti-psychiatry. He’s the only other person I’ve ever seen talk about psychiatry as a negative. So I guess I had a “Oh, I’m not the only one who feels this way” moment.

It made me think maybe I should be more vocal about my negative experience with the mental health field. And then that Twitter interaction, one I’ve had many times before (usually irl) was my final push.

So there it is, I’ve laid it all out.

The mental health field is deeply flawed. Drugs are pushed like candy. When kids are the patients, the parents are the customers, meaning children in abusive homes may be medicated and diagnosed to please the parents.

Labels and drugs are pushed over human empathy.

It’s okay if therapy works for you. Please don’t push it as a one-size-fits-all solution.

The mental health field helps some people, sure. But it hurts others.

6 Comments

  1. Wow. Another horror story, bravely shared. Thank you.

    I expect you will get a flood of comments confirming your negative impression of therapy. My horror stories don’t come close to yours, but here is mine.

    A loved one had severe anxiety and depression (as an adult) that manifested as anger. I found out that when faced with stuff like this, people tend to think of therapy as magic. They assume that it will “fix” you, and quickly. If you go for six months with no results, they assume you’ve done nothing. Also, the stigma problem you mentioned is real. It costs money to find a therapist who can actually help you (this is as an adult, now). But to get insurance to pay for it (if they do at all), you have get a diagnosis. But a diagnosis can potentially follow you and bar you from certain jobs. So it’s a catch-20. And people in the grip of severe depression and anxiety aren’t usually the best at making decisions, let alone negotiating this complex thicket. But they are urged to “just get therapy” by friends and family who just want the problem to be over.

    Descending further into the circles of hell. Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?, works with abusive husbands and boyfriends who have been ordered to get help. He says that the hardest guys to reach are the ones that have had any kind of psychotherapy, because they’ve been given this arsenal of terms and evasions and excuses. And they have also been trained to think of everything as being about them. If they have a therapist, the therapist is quite likely to side with them and to accept their inaccurate reports about the victim’s behavior and even their amateur mental health “diagnosis” of their victim.

    Bancroft recommends that wives in abusive situations not go to marriage counselors, because marriage counseling is designed for problems that are mutual. If the victim goes in good faith, she is as you said giving up power and making herself vulnerable before the counselor. What typically happens is that the abuser then manipulates the counseling process in order to gain even more control in the relationship. In other words, exactly the dynamic that you describe above.

    To sum up, I’m really really sorry that all this nonsense happened to you and I definitely share your skepticism about the effectiveness of therapy. It’s definitely not a magic bullet. Often, compassionate observers want to help and we want there to be an expert wielding a magic wand, but there is no magic wand.

    Sorry about the long comment.

    Like

    1. Don’t apologize for your long comment. I really enjoyed reading it 🙂

      You bring up so many good points. The beurocracy of it all leads to people being over-diagnosed. I realized I forgot to mention in this post that I was able to obtain my medical records when I was 23. None of my family issues were mentioned. Every doctor wrote about me like I was a violent loose screw and never mentioned that I was defending myself from a violent parent. I assume that was to cover their own asses. It really hurt to read though. It really hurt to know that when I was a kid, adults would knowingly lie like that.

      You bring up such a good point about therapy not being a quick fix. People also act like it’s the only fix. There are so many other ways to heal trauma. For me, that’s writing. Writing gives me a sense if purpose and it’s so much more empowering than leaning on other people to heal you.

      And the issues you raise about domestic violence situations just gave me chills. It’s terrifying how institutions meant to help people can hurt so badly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for reading it. Something about putting all this stuff out in the ether feels great. Like I didn’t talk about this stuff for so long and always felt like I couldn’t. It’s a really great feeling to finally put this stuff out there and feel heard. Thank you for your kind words and validation ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sometimes the best therapy is just getting away from the abuse, which is hard to do when you’re a child. I know. Neither parent abused me; it was another relative. I never told them, just tried my best to avoid that relative. I acted out my pain with risky behavior, ended up pregnant. At 16, I married my child’s father and got away from that relative. That’s when my healing began—without therapy, without drugs.
    Your story is so much worse than mine. I wish you peace and happiness…you deserve it.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s