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Looking for something wrong with you?

October 21, 2009

Thinking and writing about “new” symptoms brought to mind one of the unintentionally hurtful comments* my mom aimed at me when I tried to explain to her that I’d discovered that I probably had Asperger’s and not bipolar: “Why are you looking for something wrong with you again?”, with the insistence that there was nothing to find, and that I was overthinking things yet again.

It occurred to me that some other people might reach similar conclusions, as I mention “new” things “wrong” with me. That may well be down to PTSD. At any rate, I thought I should clarify my thinking.

As I have mentioned in other posts, I was given an impressive collection of psychiatric labels, and spent many years heavily medicated for my “chemical imbalances”–i.e., Broke Brain Syndrome. When that did not help, I got more medication piled on, and more than a few insinuations that I just didn’t want to get “better”. The early PTSD diagnosis almost got lost in the shuffle, and was AFAICT never considered in light of my life circumstances at the time. (This started in 1989, when repressed memory was going strong; my problem was that I couldn’t forget. This approach flopped with me, since I’m just not very good at that brand of self-delusion.) There was also a strange thread of Not Trying Hard Enough mixed in, and I was shown no tools to understand what was going on with me, much less how to make constructive changes. I had almost resigned myself to being mentally ill and in very little control of my life, forever.

This still sounds harsh to me, but my mom preferred to believe that I was a psychiatric mess due to biological causes, rather than admit that we were both living in a bad situation. Among other things, that relieved all responsibility she might have otherwise felt for how emotional abuse from multiple sources was affecting me, much less for her having married two different abusive men in the first place. If I had trouble dealing with some behaviors and living conditions, I must be crazy. Incidentally, she gained some similar perceived benefit from self-identifying as bipolar, herself, in the absence of a diagnosis or meds; that meant that she couldn’t help it, and did not have to deal with her own life circumstances and PTSD.** The otherwise strong message that everybody is made differently mostly took a backseat to protecting her own psychological injuries. It was a lot like what I’ve read and heard about living with an alcoholic parent and an enabling one. “Nothing is wrong with you” takes on rather a different light, in context.

In a more general sense, I think a lot of people jump to conclusions based on a fear of what stopping to consider what’s really going on will reveal about their own thoughts and actions.

OTOH, it’s hard to express the sense of relief I felt when I saw how much possibly being on the autistic spectrum (with a side order of PTSD) explained in my life. The idea of being autistic scared me a little at first, but then I found out more about what that actually means, from a neurodiversity perspective. In short, I saw that maybe there was nothing “wrong” with me, and that I might not have to continue taking scads of medications that made me feel worse for the rest of my life, if I wanted to be “responsible”. It showed me that there at least might be some light at the end of the tunnel, and helped get rid of a lot of helpless and hopeless feelings brought on by starting to believe I really had Broke Brain Syndrome.

The same goes for the tics and the auditory processing difficulties***, and all the other things that seem to go along with how my nervous system is made. At least now I have a better idea what I’m dealing with, and can figure out better ways to work with what I’ve got. Thinking and doing research helps me understand and find ways of coping.

To clarify, I am not implying that there is really something wrong with people who really do have “mental illnesses”, but that BBS is a model that hurts everybody. Medicalizing people’s minds doesn’t help people live better lives, but is just about as disempowering as it gets. Following that link, you might want to look at her section on “Beliefs”, about halfway down the page. Whether the outside agency is perceived as God or people waving prescription pads, waiting for someone or something else to “fix” things is unlikely to help you. Some people go for a similar type of resignation and martyrdom with the medicalized approach; I came perilously close to it, myself.

Edit: Reading over this, I’m afraid I came across as sounding bitter about the past. It’s hard not to get fired up thinking about some of the things that happened, but the description was mainly intended for contrast of attitudes. I have been running up against some very mixed emotions lately, having to perform postmortems on some close relationships. It hasn’t always been pleasant, but is helping me reach a better understanding of how I got where I am now–not to brood over perceived injustices, but to figure out what’s been influencing the way I look at things and the choices I make.

* That’s almost on a scale with what I heard when I admitted that I can usually only know the day of the week or the date, and sometimes have to check on both: “Maybe you really should be put away!” That might pass for funny if it weren’t coming from the person who threw me in psych units on three different occasions, and hung that threat over my head for years. It probably wouldn’t even be funny then.

** The stigma worked against her when she was terminally ill, in spite of no formal diagnosis and no mood stabilizing medication. The head of her hospice nursing team decided that she wasn’t having strokes , much less responding atypically to morphine due to having not many opiate receptors (I don’t seem to either); she must just be in need of Haldol. (Then that nurse refused to believe that it made her more agitated, even watching it happen.) Seriously. I am not pointing this out from some strange sense of Schadenfreude, but to demonstrate that stigma is real and can hurt you if you carry certain labels.

*** When I asked for things to be repeated–and tried to explain why–I got urged to go get my serious hearing loss checked out; I might need hearing aids. That was not sarcastic. Another example of how frustrating it is when people you care about don’t even act like they’re trying to understand!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2009 8:15 pm

    This, like so many of your recent posts, is awesome. 🙂 Not quite got the verbal spoons for a direct response right now, but lots and lots of it is very familiar.

    Thing i wanted to ask tho was are you going to the London Anarchist Bookfair this weekend? I am doing a workshop on the Disabled People’s Liberation Movement there, and my friend Mitzi, who is an anarchist, part-Native American lecturer in autism studies, will be there too. Would be cool to meet you, if you are around…

    • urocyon permalink
      October 23, 2009 2:24 pm

      Sorry, I just spotted your comment! Glad I did manage to put things in terms that someone else can relate to, low on verbal spoons as I’ve been running.

      Thanks for reminding me that the bookfair is coming up–I’d managed to forget about it, and had been interested in checking it out. With any luck, I’ll have the physical spoons to make it, especially since Mile End shouldn’t mean too much time/changes on public transport. When is your workshop planned? I don’t see it on the meeting schedule on the website.

      Hope to see you there! I should be easy enough to spot by the flowered walking stick and probably Homeland Security shirt (both clean and distinctive!), if I am able to make it.

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