Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Talking the Walk (5)
Along with the personal Do’s I’ve discovered, there are also lots of Don’t’s. Here are a few.
Don’t panic...try not to. There is a degree of amnesia to my condition, so that every time I lurch upward into mania or downward into depression, it feels like the first time, and I lose all memory that I have been here before and gotten through it. Retaining a thin thread of memory, enough that I can say, “I know this place; I was here before, and I left again,” is one of most important results of my recent years of therapy. It’s a lifeline to cling to, a thread to guide me out of the labyrinth.
Don’t forget the past. And its flipside: Don’t enshrine the past as law.
Don’t overgeneralize, i.e. don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I meet patients who are virulently anti-psychiatry, and I meet others who are passively acquiescent in their treatment. I have been both and I know both to be self-destructive. I feel sympathy with the anger, fear, sadness and distrust of people who have had bad experiences, but recovery means not ruling out any possible resource, while judging each one’s benefits and costs rigorously. Ruling out a whole class of experiences on the basis of a few adverse encounters could cost you valuable allies. It cost me dearly, and I regard the fifteen years when I shunned the mental health system, drifting through a series of rented rooms, short-term jobs and very bad times, as some of the worst and most pointless years of my life...years when I despaired of finding any external help whatsoever and had to be pushed back into it.
People have wondered how I can talk about electroshock in the same breath as drinking too much in rented rooms. But noting certain similarities between experiences is not the same as equating them. Jolt and juice are both ways of battering the brain, though the juice usually happens in slower motion. And when staring at a ceiling lowered to about two inches above your face, it’s never a bad idea to ask what role you might have played in disappearing the horizon.
Don’t forget what they did to you.
Don’t forget what you did to yourself.