April is the Cruelest Month


Saturday I went back to Peter Breggin’s Empathic Therapy Conference, but first I went for a long ride.  I did not intend to but, because I am disabled and in a wheelchair, and therefore poor, I have to use paratransit, i.e., Centro’s Call-a-Bus, which is not user-friendly.  My destination was fifteen minutes from my home but I had to spend an hour on the bus, riding out to suburbia and back, before I got dropped off.

Syracusewinters are long and hard.  We had fourteen feet of snow this year, but Saturday was the first incredibly beautiful day after the long darkness.  The temperature was 64 degrees, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and Central New Yorkers all came flocking outside in droves.

I saw single people and couples and family groups, and they were walking and playing.  They were jogging down the street, bicycling along theErie Canal, playing tennis at the park, and gathered on the school playing fields.  T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire . . .”

 And I remembered what it was like to be part of the world, to walk and run, to travel, to have family and friends, to hold hands with a lover, to be healthy.  And I desired—Dear God, I desired!—to live in this world again, but I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

 For twenty-six years I took antidepressants every day because the doctors told me I had a chemical imbalance in my brain.  As I took the drugs, I developed various illnesses.  Nobody ever told me there were related to the antidepressants.  Even after I suffered permanent and severe kidney damage, no doctor told me that it was caused by the lithium.

 After I stopped taking drugs and my mind cleared enough to do research, I learned that Ativan had resulted in unstable and severe obstructive sleep apnea.  Various antidepressants had caused left ventricular hypertrophy and right bundle branch block.  They had raised my glucose level by about seventy points.  The kidney damage had caused chronic renal failure which is borderline end-stage.  My immune system is so wrecked that they can’t even assess the damage.  Recently I learned that my cataracts were probably caused by the antidepressants.

The drugs I took damaged me so badly that I am in a wheelchair.  During the winter I can go to bed with a good book, which is what everybody inCentral New Yorkwishes they could do.  In the spring, they are all re-born to life in the world, and I have to sit and look at it from my wheelchair.  Can you possibly begin to imagine how much I would like to be able to run again?

Instead, every spring I have to start over to re-grieve all the physical losses I’ve suffered.  During the Vietnam War, the wife of a soldier missing in action said that she had to go through the cycle of grief—and then go through it all over again.  She could grieve the loss of her husband but she never knew if he was dead or alive; there never was closure.  Every spring I suffer anew all that I’ve lost because I followed physicians’ orders and took antidepressants.  As a result, I was in a good bit of pain when I got dropped off at Dr. Peter Breggin’s Empathic Therapy Conference.

I wheeled in to catch the last fifteen minutes of SSRI Antidepressants Adverse Effects:  Michael Shaw MD, Doug Smith MD, Charles Whitfield MD.  I do not know which physician was speaking when I entered, but he was talking about the DSM, that is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as “the bible” of psychiatry.  It is the work of the American Psychiatric Association and has been in use for sixty years.  Each edition—it’s in the fifth edition—carries more and more diagnoses. 

What’s happening is that the American psychiatric industry is progressively pathologizing you.  You think you’re a regular guy?  Go see a psychiatrist and he’ll find sickness in you.  (See, for example, “You, Too, Can Have a Psychiatric Disorder” http://annecwoodlen.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/you-too-can-have-a-psychiatric-disorder-diagnosis/ and the story of how Gary got diagnosed with schizophrenia https://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/laughter-in-mental-health-inpatient-units-answer-to-question/.)

So the doctor doing the standup shtick says, “You know how they decide on the criteria for the diagnosis of a mental illness?  They take a vote.  They do not resort to objective facts or statistics.”  They take a vote of the guys on the committee.

A while back, Centro bus company (of the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority) made a big deal—complete with six-foot-long banners, and billboards—about having been named the best mid-sized bus company in America.  No way are they the best, so I started making phone calls to check it out.  What I learned was that the association that gave the award was a membership association.  The award was not based on all mid-sized bus companies inAmerica; it was based on the one’s who were members, and what you had to do to become a member was pay the dues.

So I asked how bus companies got nominated for the award, and what the awarding committee did to investigate the validity of the nomination.  What the little lady at the association told me (I caught her totally off-guard; probably nobody had ever asked before) was that no investigation or verification is done.  “The men on the committee are pretty in touch with what’s going on; they just know.”  They just know.  And that’s how the committee decides what criteria go in the DMS:  they just know.

For decades, the DSM listed homosexuality as a sickness.  The committe members just know.  “And they call this ‘the bible,’” the presenting doctor said.

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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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