PPP, DDD and Me


I went to the Empathic Therapy Conference because it included workshops about drugs and drug damage.  (All I understand of empathic therapy is that it’s what you do when you accept people as people, not as diagnosable units of sickness, and when you reject the medical model and drugs.)

What I found was a Psychiatry-Free Zone.  Doctors did not rule.  Everybody was allowed to have good ideas.  People thought I was a therapist.  The damage done by drugs was known and validated.  I was not alone.  I was among a couple hundred other people who knew how viciously damaging were the consequences of physicians prescribing pharmaceuticals (a/k/a doctors doing drugs—PPP or DDD).

Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and patients were gathered in unity.  We reject the established systems of diagnosis and treatment; there is a better way, and we’re working on it.

And I came home and wept—not tears of joy, but painful tears that leaked through at odd moments.  They were there, just below the surface, all the time.  Something was wrong.  I tried all the old familiar explanations—fatigue, stress, drug damage—but those “diagnoses” didn’t lead to any treatment that provided relief.

I had a desperate need to establish contact with the therapist from Grand Rapids, not understanding why but knowing it was terribly important.  I hadn’t recognized the link:  on the Saturday of the conference, after my meltdown, I jokingly asked if I could sit with him at the next workshop to be under his protection.  He said, “Sure.”  How little either of us understood what I needed to be protected from.

In the following weeks, I had multiple episodes of middle-of-the-night insomnia.  Nothing new.  I’d been there before and had skills for dealing with it.  Except that now the mid-night wake ups were being accompanied by raging anger, pain, and self-deprecation.  And morning wake-ups were the same.

I talked to the Grand Rapids therapist and he nailed it:  the conference had turned my world upside down.  Awakened things . . .

By this week, I was wildly suicidal and of course I dared not let anyone know that.  In this city, any intimation that you are suicidal will get you a knock on the door and two police officers who will handcuff you and transport you to lock-up, i.e., the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, which is the NYS Office of Mental Health’s anteroom to Hell.  No, actually, it’s not the anteroom; it is Hell.

For weeks I had been waving polite flags of desperation but nobody was responding at the level I needed.  By Wednesday it no longer was about being polite and waiting for people to respond.  I was in a desperate fight to save my life—screw the niceties.  I sent clear messages to four therapeutic types.  The Grand therapist responded first and set an appointment for the next day.  That was one thing I needed:  hope that help was on the way.

Of the other three calls, one was not returned, another was returned with a good chat and maybe the possibility of help someday.  The third was the recovering psychiatrist.  We talked late at night when I was in bed and afraid to go to sleep.  If I woke up screaming in unbearable pain one more time then it was likely that I would kill myself.  You don’t know pain, babe, until it’s three in the morning and there is absolutely no one to turn to.

In the old days, I could call the Mental Patients Liberation Alliance support line.  I was one of the volunteers on the line.  People who’d been there were helping other people who were there.  We were real.  The focus was supposed to be on the caller in need, but the call-taker was free to use any part of her life experience that would help the caller.  We were in it together.  The line no longer exists because the government eliminated the funding.  They diverted the money to “professionals.”  http://annecwoodlen.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/wallenda-on-the-wire/  https://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/%e2%80%9ci-have-some-pills%e2%80%9dpart-ii/

Now, the only mid-night choice is the Contact line, which is staffed by trained amateurs.  They go to months of instruction where they learn not to expose themselves.  They also learn “appropriate” responses, ritual replies and formula comebacks.  Then they change their names, conceal the office location, and are all ready to go to work.  The problem is not that they treat troubled callers like idiots on an assembly line; the problem is that they have turned themselves into robots.  Caring people, trained by professionals, have become uncaring automatons.  What they care about most is protecting their vulnerability, not helping people who are in pain.  And if you talk honestly to them then you will get the cops, handcuffs and lockup.  I am an intelligent, sensitive, mature adult in pain and I reject the option of being treated like a stupid, immoral, violent criminal.

So there’s no place to turn in the middle of the night, and the recovering psychiatrist and I talk about what’s filling me with such pain when I awake.  We have a long, good talk culminating in an agreement to try to cure the sleep problem with hypnotherapy.  He decides to come see me the next morning.  He thinks I need help pretty quickly.  He’s got that right.  Then I drink a cup of chamomile tea, read a novel, do breathing exercises and try a little self-hypnosis.  Consequently I sleep eight hours, if you don’t count waking up every two hours to go to the bathroom because of the kidney damage caused by the psychiatrist who prescribed lithium and didn’t monitor it.

While I am sleeping, the recovering psychiatrist has checked the latest research on sleep and comes prepared the next morning.  We talk about sleep cycles, hormones (cortisol, melatonin, serotonin), self-soothing and eliminating stimuli, most of which I already know and practice, but it’s always nice to know the doctor knows as much as you do—which is rare for me—and to have somebody pull all the pieces together.  Then he wants to know specifically about the nightmares that wake me up.  (Stay tuned for the unexpected)

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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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