CN: gaslighting, abuse, money, in-depth discussion of the symptoms and treatment of borderline personality disorder, medication, and mental illness; mention of suicide.
As I discussed recently, the use of medication to treat mental illness is the target of a lot of undeserved societal stigma; however, it’s a tool that comes with many challenges in managing side effects, finding the right balance of brain chemistry for you, and for some people, it simply doesn’t work. In today’s guest post, Sandra Jones looks at how even though medication increased her tendency towards positive feelings, it was still more detrimental to her in the long run to continue using it as a treatment, and she encountered a lot of resistance from the medical world in reaching that conclusion.
I want to be clear that you should not let this sway you from considering medication as a treatment option, and you should always consult your doctor or psychiatrist before making a medication change. But just as medication should be accepted as a valid treatment, there should also be support for treatment plans that don’t involve medication.
A usually overlooked thing for those suffering mental health afflictions is the subtle conformity surrounding treatment. With current treatment that persists, perhaps without anybody realizing it, people can become a glutton to incidental gaslighting-- the process of convincing someone to question their own sanity against the external world around them, in order to conceal flawed intentions or dynamics.
In the movie, “Gaslighting,” a woman notices gas lights flicker on the ceiling of her bedroom yet her husband tells her she is imagining things. Her husband plots to steal her precious loot in the attic upstairs, and tries to convince her she is mad - hence where the term “gaslighting” is derived from. Every time I watch the film, though in nostalgic black and white, and filled with attractive movie stars, I cannot stop flinching regarding its psychological truth.
Diagnosed with elements of borderline personality disorder and major depression, I was always encouraged to feel like my emotions were inherently disordered or were an over-exaggerated response to my external environment. BPD is the borderline between neuroses and psychoses, where people become overwhelmed by emotions and have difficulty keeping in touch with reality. The world begins to appear unreal or like they are dissociated from it. People with BPD, suffer chronic low self-esteem, identity issues, depression, anxiety, addictions, and are often considered the hardest to treat because of their jarring world experiences.
After relying on medication for many years, when I came off drugs I realized something. When I had gotten a bad vibe about someone I would override it, thinking it was dysfunctional or wrong. But noticing those feelings was part of my instinct to help protect me from bad social interaction. This ability had inadvertently been thwarted by drugs. When I came off them, professionals considered it a dangerous thing to do because I became much more emotionally intense. But in the right environment at the right time, the highs and lows of social interaction were what I needed to work through, rather than quash.
For some people, medication is imperative. Without it, they would not be able to function. Some people take medication at one point, and realize later, that it does not work for them anymore, or have simply banned it completely from their therapy repertoire. There is no right or wrong management. It is just what works individually.
I had taken the gamut of psychotropic medication over a fifteen year period - Zoloft and Lovan - producing varied results. These drugs would make me aggressive and overly happy, making me appear unaware of my issues. People described me as intimidating and socially regressive as I seemed to be stuck in anger and ignorant of my anger. I recently tried Prozac, as it is touted as a wonder drug. It was nothing of the kind. I had to stop the medication swiftly as I became aggressive – lucky it was a vacuum cleaner I nearly demolished rather than anything serious. I became suicidal, felt financially inferior to others, and experienced intense thoughts like thinking people were watching me or were conspiring against me.
Prozac isn’t dangerous for everyone. I have relatives who take it and swear by it. I have tried many drugs that never quite did it for me, though I survived on them for a long time. I am “medication resistant” if you like. My reaction to all of these drugs was my body saying, “Drugs do not work for you. Stop this stuff.”
While on antidepressants, I allowed toxic people into my life because drugs gave me a rosier vision of the world. I had never lived the life I wanted to, even on drugs – one which encompassed accepting my uniqueness.
People always have mental illnesses or even neuroses that need to be tweaked. However, treatment that does not follow course is considered avoiding responsibility or inadequate treatment by mental health sectors.
Gaslighting or overriding individual responses to medication is not necessarily done deliberately. Mental health professionals were encouraging me to utilize medication out of good intentions, such as wanting me to achieve emotional stability. But medication was also detrimental to my tailored progress, where my instincts about others or the world were inhibited.
For me personally, not seeing the world with rose colored glasses is extremely liberating. That often flies under the radar in psychological arenas, as lack of positivity is seen to be the hindrance in people’s lives.
“How to spot a liar,” on TED talks, by Pamela Meyer, is a very insightful public speech about the subtleties of body language that are emergent, despite people displaying socially desired emotions. Such insight is often seen as cynicism about humanity by all kinds of mental health professionals, where cynicism is considered an enemy to the mind. Allegedly wreaking havoc for those with absolutely everything, it is seen as the mind’s poison, perennially hurling sufferers into a world of eating disorders, plastic surgery, and ridiculous consumerism.
In a controlled fashion, cynicism prompts us to seek better pickings. I had been in particularly toxic workplaces all my life, where my focus was just on making money, rather than quality employment. I was working in a call center, where my calls were largely unwanted. I had studied journalism and wanted to write. Between my feelings of frustration and purposelessness, and lack of creativity, I had to get out. The article, "7 Signs It's Time to Change Jobs" is a good guide on indicators that might be prompting you to change course economically. This helped me validate that the desire to leave was legitimate, rather than being some kind of dangerous neuroses. Things like cynicism and dissatisfaction are required for healthy survival.
Guarding against cynicism regarding social interaction also seems apparent in counseling or talk-therapy for those with BPD, such as dialectical behavioral therapy. Dialectical behavioral therapy, one of the best talk therapies for BPD, encompasses discouraging black and white thinking - the idea that the world is either all good or all bad. For those with BPD, their thinking is extreme. They either don't trust anyone or idealize others, such as their partners or friends. These feelings are often brought about due to having been abused in some way by a manipulative authority figure, comprised of layers of dichotomies - someone violently abusive yet a pillar of the community in public. This therapy sets to undo extreme thinking by outlining that people are comprised of many layers or selves.
I had unsupportive parents, where I then relied on social externals for validation. This would propel me into extreme reactions such as anger or severe disappointment when it went wrong and when people appeared to have good qualities I would latch on, almost as a buffer against my feelings of the world's rejection of me.
I have always known people are a mix of all shades in varying degrees, however, I was confronted by the many-layered selves people apply, rather than being unaware of them. I was in a state of shock, choosing to ignore social realities, like some kind of way of reconciling with humanity, rather than having no concept of them. I felt this way off antidepressants already and then DBT set up a false argument. I needed to come to terms with the fact that people are comprised of dichotomies, rather than become aware of this. Antidepressants confounded the issue as I'd show the wrong responses to the wrong stimuli. I’d be smiling while someone was insulting me. This seemed a cue for people that I was unaware of what they were doing and that it was acceptable for them to continue. Sometimes I would react so angrily, people thought I was socially regressive or inept. This only exacerbated feelings of alienation and being voiceless as I seemed to be unable to control people's responses to me.
Antidepressants stopped me asking the many reasons for my circumstances, such as economic struggle, while I was reading books about things like money philosophy every day. A professional told me I simply wasn't listening to positive messages if I was still obsessing about lack of finances. However, while I was trying to find a resolution for why I was in these economic circumstances, happy pills wouldn’t let me get to the deeper roots of understanding.
The philosophies of Marissa Peers, famous author and hypnotist, remind us how powerful the mind can be with what we simply tell ourselves. Throughout her talks, she lists examples of famous and or successful people who have emotionally destroyed themselves with self-talk, though the world deems them as having a privileged lifestyle.
While trying to absorb her philosophies, I began comparing myself to others in relation to my lack of economic status and lack of writing achievement. Trying to adhere to this philosophy was making me feel worse. I realized that money making philosophy that is filled with strategies on wealth generation seems aggressive and narcissistic. It is all about how your thinking contributes to your state of mind and thus negates your success. While mental health may be linked to the way we think, celebrities and successful, rich people are not necessarily stable according to Peers. However, despite the way they behave they still have more money and power than others so they can't be exemplars of failure due to ailing mental health. Yet a healthy mind is seen as an imperative for happiness.
Landria Onkka talks of opening up our minds with positive expectancy to the frequency of money and success, which is thwarted by negative self-talk or self-doubt. Control over our minds and our destiny is good for us, but some rich and successful people have applied none of these mental strategies to get where they are. These philosophies set up a fixation with prowess and achievement or being known, which caused me to compare myself to others. However, people get rich or famous because of many, many circumstances that worked in correlation.
Conversely, poverty also operates in the same way. I never asked to experience economic hardship, it happened. I studied, I tried to network, I sent resumes off. None of it worked. I had to pay rent, I could not just quit my job. In a state of despair, I began to question my plight until a solid philosophical reason came up for me - I had less money because life had thrown me a curveball. This curveball gave me the chance to see how much of a real struggle it can be when money is an issue; it taught me resourcefulness, resilience, appreciation for the things I could buy, and taught me that I could survive despite the odds against me.
Having money is not a bad thing. I worked for a good reason – to try and get myself out of economic vulnerability. However, being rich in wisdom is of utmost importance, otherwise, money will never be enough. I have been on antidepressants most of my life. Now I have come off them, I have recognized that leaving my job was far more important than just money; however, that was once I had gained economic growth.
You have to be at the right place to start to manage a sometimes unfathomable world. Parts of a toxic workplace might serve a need, like economic stability. You can only discard things like bad workplaces when you are ready.
One of the major reasons I stopped drug therapy in the end, is that I love to write. I love philosophy, understanding issues, and how the world goes around. If drugs are not working, your body might be trying to tell you something. When people feel medication is the wrong fit for them this should not necessarily be seen as a sign of denial of their issues.
Pills helped me transcend the pain that sometimes goes with reality but if I did not eventually come off them when I needed to, I would not be here today. I would not understand why my life was the way it was, nor have the capacity to write about it. Pills blocked the source of my writing inspiration in the first place – understanding the subtleties of how life works; seeing that the dynamics of life are sometimes complex and full of clouds with silver linings. This is me. This is my identity. That makes me happy.
About the guest blogger: “Sandra Jones” is an Australian poet and freelance writer. Call centers and the like have allowed her to subsist while still embellishing her passion. Sandra enjoys empowering others and herself via the written word. She hopes to write for a living one day - hopes!