BY KIT MEAD
The pills will keep me safe, it's implied. They don't stop the lights from dancing off the coffee at 10 pm and shining into my eyes as I get a little help to keep the sleep away. It's not what they were prescribed for anyway: No one thought I wasn't just a depressed person.
Everything hinged on doctor's words. Since I was 8, there have been diagnoses, misdiagnoses, prognoses. I had no words to protest the tests and I threw everything you could at the psychiatrist--he added a diagnosis to his list and I listed sideways under their weighted ballast--my hands calloused from constant stress biting. They pulled me aside while the other kids stared and grabbed my hands at school. I didn't know then, but I am autistic, and developmentally disabled people's hands are off limits. They fretted over the rawness but couldn't find any wounds.
Anxiety was one of my first friends and neighbors. The pills will keep me safe since age 8, it's implied. There's always an array of rainbow pills to protect me from life's spills. They don't stop my thoughts from speeding faster than a derailing train and railing on about the need to write my memoir, and fix the mental health care system or--stop me from writing three blog posts and pitching five different stories to different publications. It's not what they were prescribed for anyway: No one thought I was this.
They were prescribed for the sleepless nights spent staring up at the ceiling and plotting a million ways to die. The racing thoughts came later, spilling over into my interactions, bouncing up and smiling like never before, spinning on my heel as fast as a quarter on the table to go write five different research projects.
The dosages went higher and higher trying to solve the readily apparent depression that masked the other episodes until I fell down and sprawled out on a bench in the student cafe, the words slurring over themselves and everything blurred. I thought I was making perfect sense but no one understood--I almost lost consciousness several times. They misdiagnosed me with epilepsy when it was the medications. I almost failed all my classes because no one knew what was happening, and no one suggested a medical leave. What is the price of trying to be functional?
It's so easy to look angry, sarcastic, or dismissive when my face has been twitching and grimacing since I was 16. No one gave me a name for it until recently. It's focalized dystonia from the anti-psychotic that serves as a supplement for depression, currently.
What is the price of being semi-functional, of being able to string words together on the page? These pills don't even keep me safe. I was in the hospital this past January, the knives in the kitchen looming ominously in my head. They don't control the racing thoughts and the speeding derailing train wreck that is sometimes my mind. The system works about as well as the Washington Metro.
What if I had the right diagnosis? Then what?
What if I told a story about more than access to care, though? What if I told a story about something I'll never recover from, only learn coping skills and manage on occasion? What if I told a story that doesn't fit these narratives of recovery and treatment being the only thing people with mental illness need? What if I challenged the concept of awareness that focuses on access to treatment as the sole axis for advocacy? The concept of awareness that mentions mass shooters as what we might become without treatment in the same breath as wanting to end stigma?
I may be working to manage my brain's ups and downs. But treatment is not for everyone. And indeed the phrase “treatment” often involves coercive or involuntary aspects, such as institutionalization and forced medication.
What if I told you I am never going to recover? Would you still think I am your model person with mental illness holding down a job and being in therapy and on pills? What if I told you that the recovery model does more harm than good by teaching people to chase the sometimes impossible? That it encourages us to be as little of an inconvenience as possible?
I have to be one of these people who does things like fight the Murphy Bill and against coercive treatment. I have to be one of those people who rejects the recovery model as the only model we must abide by. There are people who are more visibly marked as having mental health needs. They end up incarcerated in prison, homeless, in hospitals repeatedly, or dead from encounters with law enforcement officers.
They are used as scapegoats for your rights-restricting legislation. They don't fit the recovery model in a very visible way. Society sees fit to then discard their voices as “too mentally ill” and declares the best solution more hospital beds.
What if I told a story about something I'll never recover from, and it's okay with me to learn to cope? What if I challenged the concept of awareness?
Kit Mead is a blogger on mental health and disability. They are autistic as well as having ADHD and identify as disabled, and have multiple mental illnesses. A person whose gender is undefined and vague, as well as identifying as queer more generally, Kit's work has appeared in QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology. It has also appeared in Aurora Arts and Literary Magazine at Agnes Scott College.