Monthly Archives: February 2013

Living with psych medications

Medication is often a crucial part of stabilizing a mentally ill person’s world. But somehow, around three-quarters of people prescribed psych medications will give up on them. Studies show that the causes are diverse, ranging from not realising how important the medications are, to not having access to them. What studies don’t often show is the lived experience of psych medication.

I’m a young white woman, with good access to the medications I need and a good support network. I’m the ideal candidate for medication compliance. But it’s complicated.

The psychological factors that affect me are twofold. First, there is the outside pressure to not be on long-term meds. “Are you sure you need those?” “Have you tried natural remedies?” “What about meditation/relaxation/going for a walk?” “You know those drugs are dangerous, right?” are all phrases I hear a lot, from the most well-meaning people. It gets very hard to stand up and say “I have explored many options, and this is what is best for me” – and even harder when I’m not sure it’s really is. The second factor that I struggle with is my horror of being an addict. I’ve watched people spiral down into the depths of addiction, and it’s not pretty. I know that this is different, that it’s no more addiction than a diabetic’s need for insulin is an addiction, but the idea that I’ll be dependent on medication for the rest of my life is more than a little uncomfortable.

Bigger than the psychological reasons I struggle are the physical reasons. In the simplest terms possible, my body does not tolerate medications well. If there’s a nasty side effect that exists, I’m more likely than most to suffer it. That means, in the last six months while I’ve been playing medication roulette, I’ve started sleeping 12-15 hour stretches, and if I’m forced awake I’ll be a zombie for hours. It means that I’m constantly nauseous, and need industrial-strength medications to keep that in check. It means that I’ve been constantly painfully hungry, wanting to eat obscene amounts of food. It means that my vision is blurred, that my hands shake all the time. It means I’m an emotional wreck – I react far too strongly to emotional stimuli, resulting in inappropriate responses to very small things. It means splitting headaches that never let up. It means feeling as though my feet are sinking into the ground, or that I’m floating an inch above it. It means side effect hell.

It’s been hard on me. I feel like my body has gone through the wringer. That up there was only a sampler of what I’ve been going through – the full list gets too depressing to write. I feel battered.

The hardest bit is that the current medication set is helping. I don’t sit on the couch all day reading, unable to do anything else. I can get up, I can get things done, I have some motivation. So when I complain about the side effects, I feel guilty. Guilty that I’m not just appreciative for the good the meds are doing.

The blunt truth is that I can’t cope with what they’re doing to my body. I would rather not function than keep going like this. I would rather passively feel like I want to die, and not have the energy or the motivation to act on it, than actively feel like I can’t live like this any more, and have enough strength and willpower to do something about it.

This is the world of psych meds for this one patient. I need them, or I can’t function. I can’t keep taking them, because it’s putting me through too much hell. I’m trapped in a catch-22.

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“Tough” but not “brutal”

The news this week is littered with the Irish Taoiseach’s apology for the state role in the operations of the Magdalene Laundries, which he described as a “national shame”. In a nutshell, the Magdalene Laundries (named for Mary Magdalene, the reformed prostitute of the bible) were originally set up in the 1700s to give former prostitutes a place to work. In their early years they may have functioned as intended, but by the early 1920s their function was far less pleasant.

Around ten thousand women were sent to the laundries between 1922 and 1996, over 2,000 of them by the state. The reasons for their time as unpaid labour in the laundries were varied – being an unmarried mother, or a child born out of wedlock, or mentally or physically disabled, or the victim of abuse, or a myriad others. The Taoiseach initially referred to the survivors as ‘fallen women’ in the weeks prior to his formal apology. It speaks volumes about the attitude of their society to these women.

So, a landmark apology, delayed but given formally to women who suffered. But it was the Catholic church involved, and the Catholic media cannot let it slide, lest they be accused of ignoring current events involving the Church. This is  the comment of a well-known British Catholic writer and broadcaster. And it is enough to make the blood boil.

“The Magdalene laundries were used as reformatories where girls were sent without due process. But they were not brutal: anti-Catholics have lied about them” 

“The laundries were tough places, undoubtedly. But there was no sexual abuse and no physical punishment”, the subtitle reads. The title is inauspicious; the subtitle, cruel and deliberately obtuse.

The article goes on to concede that verbal and psychological abuse were prevalent in the Laundries, but claims that there was no widespread physical or sexual abuse. He may even be right on that count. But that is not the point.

By claiming that the lack of physical and sexual abuse made the Laundries “tough” but not “brutal places” is disingenuous. It suggests that survivors of psychological and verbal abuse are lesser than those who survived physical and sexual abuse. This is minimising the experience of a huge slice of the population of abuse survivors, and it’s unacceptable. The experience of these women is no less abuse because they weren’t beaten or raped. It’s still abuse, and the perpetrators are still abusers. To suggest that it’s just ‘tough’, not ‘brutal’ is sickening.

The writer then tries to claim that we shouldn’t be looking into the abuse that occurred in these places (after all, it wasn’t ‘real’ abuse!) but whether they should have existed in the first place. This attempt to deflect attention from the wrongs that the church has yet again perpetrated against those entrusted to its care is transparent, and ridiculous. Of course the damn things shouldn’t have existed! But they did, and the religious orders that ran them were abusers. Plain and simple. You can’t (and shouldn’t try) obfuscate that point.

Disempowering ten thousand women because they weren’t beaten is sick. It’s wrong. And the Church, yet again, needs to stand up and try to make right the wrongs they committed, as the Irish Government is attempting to do. They won’t, of course. They never do.

Foundations in Rape Culture

If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. -Deuteronomy 22:23-4

Blaming a victim for the crime committed against them is disgusting – especially when that crime is a violation of their body. But the bible clearly says that every woman who has not been heard to scream and fight her rapist is at fault.

This is part of the foundations of Christianity – that a rape victim is guilty. And it continues right down into the present, with church leaders blaming adolescent boys for seducing priests. And it’s sick. To be violated is bad enough. To be told you are responsible for what happened to you is soul-destroying.

Rape victims deserve better. Every one of us. It’s far too common, and it’s brushed off with all sorts of excuses. “Oh, he was drunk”. “Well, I can’t just take your word for it”. “He’s a nice guy, he’d never do such a thing”. “Are you sure it’s not a misunderstanding?”. For shame, world. For shame. We can be better than this.

Stand up for the victims. Don’t shame them. They’ve been through enough.

Bible in schools

Teaching religion in state schools. It needs to stop. I object to it not only because I’m an atheist, but because I believe in equality. Privileging your beliefs over the beliefs of every other group is promoting intolerance.
Insisting that religion in schools is the only way some kids will learn morals is disingenuous. Morality =/= religion. They are different beasts – and morality can and does exist without religion (and vice versa).
State schools are secular spaces for all children, regardless of their background, because they are required by law to be there. Religion needs to be sent back to religious spaces, where people have the choice to leave.

On judging a book by its cover

Judging people on what they wear. It’s not ok. He in the torn jeans and worn-out shoes could be so busy raising a pair of kids and looking after a seriously ill partner. Her in the oversized clothes that just don’t suit could be relying on whatever clothes she can scrounge because new clothes would take food from her kids’ mouths.
So far so good? Now, what about her in the micro-mini and midriff top? Judging her on her looks is just as shallow as the first two, but it goes further. By whispering “she’s indecent” you buy in to the objectification of her body. You buy in to a culture that values what you wear, not who you are. The same culture that deems breastfeeding as offensive.
Human bodies are not inherently indecent. But by muttering about indecency, we make parts of the body ‘dirty’. We encourage the feelings of insecurity that many women (and men, but we hear from them less often) have about the skin we’re in. It’s not ok.
And don’t cry ‘think of the children!’. No child is born with body issues. We cultivate them when we insist that bodies are yucky and need covering up. Only then do they see flesh as indecent. If you can’t handle your child about the bodies s/he sees, it’s your parenting that has a problem, not another person’s attire.

Things That Make Me Angry

I don’t like homophobia. Sexism riles me right up, racism too. Slut-shaming and rape-denial are not acceptable in my world. Any hate slung at the mentally ill sets me afire. And I refuse to be silent. If you make a comment that fits in any of those categories and I see it, I will make comment. “Don’t like it don’t read it” is not good enough. Your words have power, and I will stand up for those you try and disempower.