I’ve run into an early set back with my blog: I’m now unsure if going medication free is such a great idea. But I still want to write it!
One thought I had yesterday was how this exercise is a little bit like writing notes in Patient Journey, which are the records the NHS keep on the psychiatric patients. I know this first of all because of my job at the Maudsley Hospital in south London.
I used to really enjoy this aspect of my job. It’s all relative I guess; it was the aspect of being a Healthcare Assistant I most enjoyed, with working in the Emergency Suite being the least appealing. For my notes I had to record exactly what the patients told me. The consultant psychiatrist who oversaw the patients had given us all direct instructions to record “exactly what the patients say”. This had the unforeseen result of being extremely funny because the sense that someone that is acutely unwell, said in their own precise way, came out with was not every day. I’d love to give you an example, but this activity required note-taking, and I didn’t keep any of the notebooks I used to carry about.
Of equal interest to me were the patients stories as summed up by the psychiatrists. Most patients had quite an involved one. Patients that had ‘been through the system’. Upon discharge, one of these extensive reports would be required. Shrinks have all these elegant labels for the most extreme psychiatric states. Let me see if I can remember a few of them: flight of ideas, religious ideation, ideas of reference, tangential thinking. Phew, I do have a few brain cells remaining.
In another lifetime I would have liked to been a shrink. I’ve certainly got a lot of information about the field, for an artist. It began with two books I read in my late teens: Fat is a Feminist Issue and The Road Less Travelled. Both of these books are written by shrinks; if you use the term shrink in its widest sense. One of my shrinks, the Jungian Analyst Christopher Hauke, did use it in its widest sense calling Professor Andrew Samuels, who was my doctoral supervisor and a psychotherapist, a shrink. At the time I found this puzzling because Andrew is technically speaking not a shrink. He is a therapist. But Chris’s use of the term cut across cultural hierarchies that say someone with a medical training is better equipped to help people that a mental health professional. It probably helped that Professor Samuels was famous.
You can see with that paragraph that what began with a couple of non fiction books flowered. I went to art school and there I was introduced to psychoanalysis as practiced by the Cultural Theorist. But psychoanalysis was not news to me, even before I read Orbach’s famous title. I grew up, for some of the time, in a commune. One of the residents was another shrink called Marie Maguire. Marie has written books and, along with Orbach, helped set up The Women’s Therapy Centre in the 1970’s. So you see, I have been steeped in the mental health world my whole life.
You can add to this inventory my years as a member of AA. Obviously this doesn’t qualify me for anything. But it does mean that, having read a lot of the literature, and listened to the ‘shares’ of thousands of members, I have applied deep thinking to matters pertaining to alcoholism and its recovery. Probably, my interests in the remit of mental health gelled me to the ‘fellowship’, I just didn’t realise it at the time. Apart from my time at the hospital, which I undertook because I was seriously considering the profession of art therapy, most of my forays into the mind had seemed to be at the service of some other need: as a patient, artist, recovering alcoholic, researcher of artistic methodologies and being a child living in a commune.
These are my credentials for being a Mental Health Blogger — my new job description. Now, back to the business in hand: Living with Bipolar and no meds. Now I need to explore some contradictory thrusts living in my ‘breast’.
I am given cause, by writing this blog, to recall that I have, for most of my life — if you consider Bipolar a lifelong condition — lived medication free. The far smaller segment of my experience has been a Bipolar existence taking a mix of different substances. It is only in the past two years that I have been continually dosed up. First of all with the Lamotrigine mood stabiliser and then with the anti-depressant and anti-psychotic. But I have taken all of these substances before.
You can add to the list Diazepam and Zopiclone. These drug have been prescribed as ‘PRN’. I’m not sure what that stands for but it means: take as and when required. And I have taken them, quite liberally, in the past two years.
When I first became ill with Bipolar I was twenty-four. I was an undergraduate at Chelsea Art College experiencing significant grief after my much beloved grandmother died. There were a number of profound shocks in connect with my loss. Firstly, my Nan, who was rich, didn’t leave me a penny in her will. Actually that is not quite accurate because she left me two thousand pounds (according to my resentful mother this was the same amount she had left to Battersea Dogs Home). Compared to the hefty sum I had been anticipating two thousand pounds felt like a few pence.
The second shock was that my mother, who inherited a lot of money, disappeared to Africa without a trace. This action had two shocks folded up inside it. The first was that my mother could abandon me at an especially vulnerable time in my life and essentially abdicate all parental responsibility (not that she had ever been an advocate for parental duty). The second was that she was not the lofty artist unconcerned with material reality I had always taken her to be.
The cumulative effect of all these shocks, read: traumas, was that my whole identity and sense of feeling I could read life was ripped from beneath my feet. It was at this point I had what the doctors at Springfield mental hospital called a Manic Episode. I may go into this further at a later date. I may tell you what actually happened. I may tell you the story. But for now lets stick with that elegant psychiatric diagnosis and leave things with the two word description of Manic Episode. These are, after all, just introductory thoughts.
I should say in passing that there was a precursor to my episode that ensued at the age of seventeen. It’s the sort of thing I always outline when I begin new sessions with one of my many psychotherapists (I’ve seen ten). That would be, and I’ll use my own prognosis here, my Drug Induced Psychosis. It sent me running through the doors of my first doctor, or shrink, who was an archetypal Jungian living in Tooting Bec.
I say this shrink was archetypal only on account of the fact that he ‘amplified my material’ by comparing me to a myth concerning some female figure or other stuck in the Underworld. Despite the fact that this comparison terrified me, it remained a troupe in my self-mythologising for a great many years to come. We may get to that at a later date.
I started telling you about all this because I wanted to contextualise the medication issue from when it became a serious consideration: my first admission to psychiatric hospital aged twenty-four. The Manic Episode.
A few weeks prior to the manic episode I had gone to my GP complaining about an eating disorder, saying I wished to be referred to a treatment centre. I knew about treatment centres from AA. The doctor told me that I was actually depressed and prescribed, or attempted to prescribe anti-depressants.
My reaction to this first diagnosis of a major mental health condition was outrage. My mistrust of the medical establishment (at that time my thinking was not nuanced enough to elide the distinction), indoctrinated by my mother in childhood, and cemented by my (at that time) four years in AA, reared it’s confused face and I refused the GP’s offer of assistance. This was obviously before I became stridently ambivalent about meds, at least for others, if not myself.
I’m starting to feel the pull of the present, having gone so far back in my medical history. This is day two of the experiment in stage one of my medication free life, let us not forget. Yesterday, when I sat down to write to you, it was not my intention to write a life story. Recently, I had some dealings with my old doctoral supervisor Andrew Samuels, who said: You live too much in the past. He said a lot of things that pissed me off during our two month affair, and this was no exception. But I guess that with a lot of things that are wont to piss a person off there is a ring of truth in it. So lets get back to the present and the matter in hand.
On day two without my anti-psychotic medication I’m not feeling as energetic as yesterday. That said, after really not exactly feeling to pull of this blog, I’ve actually conveyed quite a few of my experiences in psyche: psychology, psyche wards, psychiatry. Day two I’d decided down-beat.
Yesterday (back in the past again!) I cycled to Tesco, when for a walk along the Nature Reserve, started this blog and watched Safe House on Netflix. I was enthused. But it was actually last night that I started to feel so great that I wondered if it was only the relief of the anti-psychotic Olanzapine that was required. The Olanzapine really was like a death sentence. This is what I need to tell you about but I have probably written enough of my blog for today so I’ll save it for tomorrow, I promise.