I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in October of 1998 at a New York hospital. It was the first learning difficulty I was diagnosed with and it was a long time coming. Running around without a clear idea of what was affecting me or how I should better take care of myself eventually took a serious tool and stirred a great deal of stress and anxiety in my parents. By the time we arrived at the hospital and persuaded someone to intervene, I had to be admitted. This was not a pleasant time. Nor was this experience becoming of what we had heard about the magical and wonderful American healthcare system and all the advances it had made. True, the era of tortuous electroconvulsive therapy and people being shipped off to lunatic asylums was all but gone and we were within grasping distance of being able to share information about patients and illnesses and symptoms over the internet but I was still on a conveyor belt. I was still trapped just as much within the institution’s bureaucratic confines as I was within the intimidating concrete walls and sealed off wards. My trauma was that I was a burden to my family and now I was a burden to these people.
This was how I was to be introduced, at 22, the beginning of adulthood, to coping with and treating an illness that would affect me for the rest of my life. The reality was all too close to the ‘fictionalised’ hospital depicted in This Life is Beautiful. Here, the place of care and healing was an academy of self-medication and self-destruction, quite intentionally ran more like a prison. I was to have autonomy for taking care of myself and limiting my symptoms, it would be my responsibility once these brilliant physicians taught me how. But I had no freedom. No real ability to leave or to protest and no escaping the sense that I was back in school, my activities and interactions mandated by authority figures who had to be worshipped and obeyed – hey, when they weren’t that tough they were often caught in the same bullying rings most of the new patients were. I was told to trust in new medications and in the power of pacifying oneself narcotically, which was a well-researched and reliable way to get better, only to find that these precious medicinal resources were being abused recreationally. Perhaps most disarmingly for myself was the therapy, though or at least what passed for it. Here we were supposed to allow people who voluntarily occupied the role of bully or bureaucrat to also usurp the roles of confidant and friend. We were supposed to supply the discriminatory with information on with which to discriminate against us. We were supposed to share our deepest weakness with these people, the effects of deep-seated brain disorders and maladies when, in actuality, these were the people who were supposed to tell us about them.
I’m calling out the system that made this conduct possible and continues to do so in the more impoverished parts of the world. Though I stress again: this was ostensibly the best treatment I could possibly receive, world standard healthcare. In this end, I was saddled with a councilor whom, quite apart from situating me in a careless, compassionless set of sessions which indemnified the entire ‘conveyour belt’ approach, didn’t even see the conveyor to the end. Then and only then did I take formal action. So consider this an extension of that formal action, where the articulacy and lucidity of mind that I was granted when I finally received proper care from my therapist Dr. Catherine Brindorff can be put to something genuinely productive. This, coupled with the fact that research is increasing to patient testimony in order to collate evidence and devise new treatment plans, is why I’ve been trying to push more and more posts about this issue through to my audience. It’s why I’m eager to expand the history of my medical experience, however ugly it may be, as working with fiction doesn’t absolve me from doing so. It also, in response to some of the questions I’ve been seeing, why my articles are taking a much more polemical perspective and shall continue to do so.
I hope that is a clear enough mission statement on the need for change in the medical system, locally and globally, physically and mentally, in practice and in bureaucracy. I look forward to reading the stories that the other articulate voices are starting to put forward about their experiences but also to keep their readership until we can form real solutions.