Saving Your Sanity Yourself

I have been reading Jeannette Bartha’s blog, “Multiple Personalities Don’t Exist,” a cogent, well-informed, well-written collection of thoughts about multiple personality disorder, currently called dissociative identity disorder (DID).  (  It reminds me of a workshop on recovery that I attended a few years ago.

The workshop was produced by the Mental Patients Liberation Alliance in Central New York.  One of the participants asked George Ebert, the director, why it was called a recovery workshop.  George replied succinctly, “Because that’s what the NYS Office of Mental Health called it when they offered the grant money.”

The group then went on to discuss different aspects of recovery and concluded that the issue is not about recovering from mental illness:  it’s about recovering from the treatment for mental illness.  The pharmaceutical and psychotherapeutic treatments for mental illness are frequently dreadful and damaging, which raises the question, how do you know if you’re getting bad treatment?

If you’ve got a bad therapist making a bad diagnosis and treating you with a bad drug, how are you to know?  If you’ve gone to a therapist or other specialist for the treatment of emotional disorders, it is usually because you are in pain.  You want relief and the therapist assures you s/he can provide it.  You are initially comforted and get on board, just as you would if a car mechanic said, “Sure, lady, I can fix that,” even though you have no idea what’s wrong or whether he can fix it.

We all begin as children, and children always want some grown-up to say, “Don’t be afraid—I can fix it.”  We consult doctors, elect presidents and worship God because we want to believe that somebody older, smarter and wiser than we are does exist and can make our life better.

Forget it.  You, working under God’s direction, are the only person who can make your life better.  Trust yourself.  You have lived in your body twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for how many years?  Do you really think somebody outside your body knows it better than you do?  Certain people, with certain kinds of education, may know small parts better than you do, but they should be consulted as advisors, not followed as providers of Truth, Justice and Healing.

When it comes to drugs, educate yourself.  An educated patient is a healthy patient.  Ask your pharmacist for the insert provided by the drug manufacturer.  DO NOT SETTLE FOR THE HALF-SHEET THAT THE DRUGSTORE ENCLOSES WITH YOUR DRUG.  The manufacturer’s insert is the lengthy statement that the Federal Drug Administration requires the drug company to provide to them and your physician.  It tells you everything about the drug.  Read it before you start to take the drug; read it again a week later; read it again a month later.  It may explain a lot of weird things that are happening to you.  It could prevent you from dying of side effects your physician didn’t know about.  The Neurontin that was prescribed to stabilize my bipolar disorder was causing severe pain in my feet, similar to diabetic neuropathy.

What about diagnosis?  A fellow told me that every time he went to a new doctor, he would get a new diagnosis, and how could he get these diagnoses removed from his record?  I replied that if he wanted to stop getting diagnoses then he should stop going to doctors.  Doctors are not trained to diagnose health; they are trained to diagnose sickness.  They are paid to diagnose and treat sickness.  The reward feedback system is based on the doctor finding you sick.  If you don’t want a bad diagnosis then don’t go to the doctor.

You cannot get a bad diagnosis removed from your record.  In the legal system, you can get a conviction overturned, a judgment overruled, and the record expunged.  This is not the legal system; it is the medical system, and you cannot get your record cleared.  Any diagnosis you get from any doctor will follow you for the rest of your life.  And now physicians are being connected by special Internet applications so that any doctor can tap into every doctor’s statements about you, no matter how wrongheaded, uninformed or bungled they may be.  I am terrified by this Internet hook-up that is being marketed as an improvement to your health care.  It isn’t.  It is a violation of your privacy, confidentiality, and right to control what information is passed around about you.  It allows people to spread lies under the guise of medical care.

I have been diagnosed with endogenous depression, severe and recurrent depression, borderline personality disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, narcissism, bipolar disorder and bein’ a bitch.  Paranoid schizophrenia is my favorite—I was diagnosed with that during the month that I was unconscious and on life support.  Check back tomorrow for “Anna the Embed:  How I Got Diagnosed with Narcissism.”  That’s a story about how diagnoses are made and it is both sad and frightening.

When I worked on the Alliance’s telephone support line, people would tell me about their diagnoses.  You could hear them parroting what professionals had told them, which they felt compelled to report as truth.  I would cut through all that and say, “No, no—tell me what you think is wrong.”  Their answers would be common, down-home, revelations of a reality they understood and could work with.

Me, personally?  I think I have bipolar disorder, type two, and seasonal affective disorder—and nothing else.  Those diagnoses are a rational, comprehensive, summation of certain of my life experiences.  In other words, when I heard those diagnoses, they clicked.  I recognized myself instantly.  If you hear that click when a particular diagnosis is offered, take it and use it to figure out how to help yourself.

If you don’t hear that click, tell the diagnostician to fuck off.  It’s your sanity you’ll be saving.


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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