The Undrugging of Annie (Part IX)


            All the doctors who knew what they were doing in the treatment of nephrogenic diabetes insipidus (both of them) continually iterated “Drink to your thirst.”  As long as you drink enough to stay fully hydrated, you don’t need to worry.  You don’t need to take drugs.  My liquid diet became decaffeinated, sugar-free, low-fat drinks:  water, flavored seltzer water, herbal tea, decaf iced tea and skim milk.

            Without drugs, my brain began to clear up and I could finally understand my computer.  Six months after getting my laptop, I discovered it had a media unit and I could play CDs!  I played country and western—Kenny Rogers having explained to me that it is “the white man’s blues.”  The chorus of the Dixie Chicks song, “Earl’s got to die!” was not about male bashing or violence:  it was about liberation. 

I was now liberating myself from medical doctors but the addiction was strong.  I lived in a society that believed in physicians and pharmaceuticals.  Doctors saved lives.  Salvation comes through doctors prescribing drugs.  I went to a neurologist to find out why my muscles were so unresponsive.  He ordered $4000 worth of tests, and then told me it was in my head.

            But not all doctors are physicians:  chiropractors are doctors who heal with their hands instead of damaging with drugs.  On a September morning when I was in bed, aching from the pain in my arthritic back, I got a mailing from Steve Wechsler, the chiropractor whom I’d left behind several years earlier.  I went to see him, leaned my head on his shoulder, and wept about what the doctors had done to me.  He started working on my back.

            Steve did not do standard chiropractic manipulations like cracking my neck.  He remembered the lesson he’d previously learned about how sensitive I was and he began with a gentler, more conservative kind of pressure.  Months later he told me that he was afraid to touch me, afraid of what might happen.  Steve emphatically drove it into my head that if I was in trouble, I was to call him.  I went to him weekly and sometimes his adjustments would result in screaming emotional pain.  Steve would come to my apartment and adjust me again.  I raged against the doctors and he listened quietly, letting me scream it out.

            Without the drugs in my system, chiropractic treatment began to be effective.  After adjustment, I would drift out of his office feeling “blissed out,” that is, in a state of tranquility that was twenty times better than what the best tranquilizer could accomplish—and it was natural!  It was not the result of medically altering my chemistry; it was the result of reestablishing health in my spinal column and letting my brain and spinal cord do what they’d been designed to do.  Steve’s office—a converted Victorian house with overgrown gardens—became the green space of my spirit.

I had been suffering from chest pain and numbness in my fingers and was fearful of a major cardiac problem.  Steve laughed and told he’d had three patients in one day with the same complaint.  It was a minor, easily fixed problem in the cervical spine.  (Then he told me about a patient who came to him when he was young in the practice.  She told him she had cervical cancer.  Despite all his examinations he could find no sign of it.  He was examining her neck.)  With Steve’s adjustments, I became able to turn my neck from side to side, whereas the arthritis previously had locked my head in a face-forward position.

The Vioxx I had taken for the arthritis pain caused urinary incontinence at night.  Apparently, the pain in my kidneys was what was waking me up to go to the bathroom.  Without the pain, I wet the bed.

In the mornings, I now got out of the hospital bed and reached for my toes.  The arthritis in my lower back hurt a lot and I just thought it would feel good to stretch it out, so I dropped my head and let my hands dangle toward the floor.  They barely reached my knees.  Gently, I began to bounce.  It was three months before I was supple enough to touch the floor.

            As I began to feel better, I would sit downstairs in my wheelchair and listen to my neighbors, then write their stories in a piece called “Here at Happy Valley.”  Happy Valley was my euphemistic name for the 23-story high-rise residence in the Valley section of Syracuse.  It was operated by an agency that monopolized eldercare in Central New York.  I lived there with about one hundred and fifty old people whose average age was 75.  At 54, I was the youngest person in a building full of dying people.  All the world and the rest of my life wouldn’t give me enough time to cry for all I’d lost to drugging.

            The insomnia for which I’d been taking the Ativan was probably the side effect of some other medication.  Without any medication, I would fall asleep within three minutes of going to bed—then I would wake in a few hours because of the kidney damage, and I would awake angry.  I began an intensive study of anger.

            Anger is a natural, spontaneous emotion.  Why did God create us with the capacity to feel anger?  What good purpose does it serve?  Clearly, it makes people want to leave you alone.  When is that a good thing?  When people are endangering you—then you want them to leave you alone.  (To be continued)

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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