Anatomy of a Brain Re-Born

I have a new obsession.  Thank you, Robert Whitaker, for making me paranoid and sending me back into a new depressive cycle.  Just kidding.  I thank you, for being confident and brave enough to go against an accepted society standard (notice I didn’t say “go against science”) and encourage people to reconsider our societal paradigm of mental health treatment.

For those who don’t know your book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, it chronicles the history of mental health treatment and outcomes in the United States for over 60 years.  The evidence presented demonstrates that the pharmaceutical revolution used for psychiatry since the 1950s has consistently contributed to poor outcomes, or, in extreme cases, complete disability for those suffering from bouts of mental disorders.  The research presented showcases more traditional treatments including group therapy and therapeutic homes that demonstrate that even those with serious mental breakdowns or schizophrenic episodes have recovered throughout history. The most damning link (and most reminiscent of Freakanomics) chronicles the re-birth of psychiatry using the medical model in the 1980s.  This period is highlighted by and permeated with the funding and partnership with pharmaceutical companies who seek to exploit consumerism in the treatment of mental health.

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for reminding me that capitalism and continuous growth are not healthy bedfellows for the human body or mind.  Thank you for reminding me that someone else’s corruption should not end with my addiction and spiral into true insanity.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but throughout the weeks I’ve read your book, I now wonder if the psychiatry profession and pharmaceutical companies aren’t in love with mass murder in this country.  In case you haven’t noticed, effects of these shootings include 1) criticizing the gun lobby like its the only agent with a stake in the game (although it certainly deserves its share of criticism) 2) hearing many well-intentioned people, including AP columnists, talk about the need to get people with mental health disorders “on medications.”  Somewhere in the mid-west, a chic hotel is booked full of pharma lobbyists drunkenly cackling with their sweet success.

Hell, even Paul Ryan, in response to the mass shootings in San Bernadino, has proposed legislation that would force compliance with medications and other physician-prescribed treatments.  Is he in bed with big pharma or just brainwashed like the rest of us?  The only thing that possibly terrifies me more than Trump handing out identification cards to Muslims is the thought that someone like – well, me – could be forced to comply with a regimen that has proven harmful to generations of people.  I’ve wondered plenty of times if I’m crazy, and have sought treatment in the past, but now I’m scared to do so again, for fear that I wouldn’t have any choice or right of refusal.  I’ve been prescribed drugs before for anxiety, but now that I’m starting to question this, I’m finding that I’m a bit of a maverick.  What might start as a desire to quell anxiety and self-actualize could end up with me drugged and a shrunken hollow shell of myself.  (Don’t blame me for the melodrama, it’s a sign – or is it a symptom? – of high anxiety.  And by the way, my questioning of my own use of pharmaceuticals should not be interpreted to mean that I judge anyone else for his or her decision with regard to the same.  But seriously, read the book first.)

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for reminding me that I have a choice.

My husband is deployed now, and will be gone for half of the next twelve months, too.  Should I tell people how hard it is for me to handle the household alone?  Tell them how lonely I get after 8 pm?  Should I tell my doctor how, when I hear my husband’s voice and see his face – the time I should be the happiest during his time away – I break down and cry?  Should I tell people that I’ve yelled at my husband just to take out my anger at the Army, at my food processor, at the crappy internet service at his international post, or at my current medical problems (which, by the way, are still regular and occupy 90% of my thoughts while awake?)?  Do these problems warrant medication?  Or do we need a different national response to national “security” so that our soldiers aren’t deployed year after year after year, contributing to the military divorce rate?  After all, what is divorce but a trip both people take to a land of high anxiety and stress that the pharmaceutical companies may well love to profit from? Perhaps we need more thought around the role of our military in general, medical research around mental health (and the biological causes of mental illness, since those remain elusive), research around whether or not returning soldiers treated for PTSD and anxiety do better with or without medications, research around whether or not pharmaceutical medications cause homicidal tendencies,  and while I’m at it, research of how religious radicalization occurs, and, dare I say it, any research around what causes gun violence in general?

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for putting me and my most precious relationship back into the realm of “normal” and reminding me that I am / we are more than whatever DSM category the psychiatrists are inventing these days.

Since reading Anatomy of an Epidemic, my mantra has become, “I am not a person with anxiety” or “I am more than anxious” or “my feelings are normal.”  I put these phrases on repeat as I walk through my neighborhood.  I don’t dare tell anyone what I’m thinking. I’ve already heard three other ladies this week tell me they “take a little something” to help them, which is their prerogative, but doesn’t make me feel any better about my newfound decision to go against the grain.  As any personal with sad or anxious thoughts can tell you that it only makes matters worse to have people react to your problems with the paternalistic reaction that maybe you only think the way you do since your brain is a little off.

Thank you, Robert, for listening to me.  For believing me.