February 5, 2009 – Thursday
MEDS AND MADNESS
MEDICATION AND ‘MADNESS’
This is a controversial and emotive subject and I don’t have definitive answers but do have life experience so gonna muse out loud an see if I’m any clearer by the end…hopefully you too!
I try to only write from a personal perspective cos I’m not interested in pontificating.
An I always try to trace a generational pattern cos I’m interested in the nature versus nurture debate.
So dear ol Mum whose name I so often take in vain…the only trauma in Mum’s otherwise idyllic middle class English childhood was being evacuated out of London during the second world war…torn away from family age 4 to be sent to distant hitherto unknown relations in the depths of Somerset for her own ‘safety’. I don’t agree with that policy in hindsight…I’d rather keep my children close by my side in danger, but that was what they did in London during the blitz…just sent the kids far away. Don’t think my Mum really got over the shock. She only went back home once in her 4 year absence and that was cos her older brother got killed in action, so everyone was crying and she was more confused.
Then a rebellious marriage choice at 19 to an uneducated catholic (oh horror said her parents) Irishman, who was in the British Air Force (traitor!) and brought Mum with him all round the world, with 8 pregnancies in 9 years resulting in 5 daughters and 3 miscarriages…all a bit mind-blowing to an innocent English rose.
Then there was her randy tormenting alcoholic father in law….another sad blog. So long story short Mum started showing serious cracks, and was prescribed first valium then librium for a few years, both of which she became seriously addicted to. She went on to admit herself voluntarily to a psychiatric unit, where they kept her four or more months, and administered lots of electric shock treatment…barbaric, seems to me. And then she went into alcoholic mode for 15 years heavy horrible drinking, before finding AA safe harbour for 20 years. So in one form or another she was self medicating. Even in ‘sobriety’ her addiction switched to food and she became obese. Many addicts do not get cured they simply switch addiction.
I was always highly strung, sensitive and emotional, a little spoiled too because of ill health in my early years. Throw in the alcoholic mother and some awful sexual abuse at the hands of strangers and distant relations, plus my authoritarian cruel and sometimes brutal father administering ‘discipline’…. an I picked up the mantel from Mum of being the one to ‘suffer with my nerves’. I started having breakdowns around the age of 15. Quite severe. I would become agorophobic, terrified of men, stammer and stutter, retreat into silence and child like introversion.
Mum because of her own experiences with an over-zealous and relatively ignorant health service, was adamant that I should deal with my nerves myself, and not go near medical people…I should avoid medication at all costs…and certainly never go near a psychiatrist or psychiatric unit because of the stigma as much as some of the scary treatments…
So she and Dad would pack me off to Auntie Mary the nun whenever my ‘nerves played up’…Auntie Mary was quite high up, Mother Provincial or Superior or both, with houses in France and Ireland and England…so I would get packed off in varying states of distress to Ireland or France…I would be fed, and given a room, maybe a few light chores as well…and just left like a sick animal to self heal. I would read. Write. Sing. Cry. Talk to myself. And the nuns too, although the French abbey only allowed 15 minutes conversation after dinner each night. Food was superb though. And actually I liked the silence. Still do when I am stressed. And I would talk to myself and God out loud, walking the usually beautiful grounds and kicking leaves and watching garden fires and wondering why why why…
It was healing of a kind. Well-meaning. Sometimes think it was a cop out like we don’t want people to know Angela is ‘unwell’ again and at least if we send her away quietly we can ignore it. Once the head honcho nun in France asked me if God was talking to me. In French she asked me. ‘Yes No I don’t know Definitely Not’ I replied as it dawned on me slowly she thought I might have a VOCATION I had visited so often! No no, even in the depths of despair I knew I one day wanted to marry…have children…no bride of Christ was I, at least not in the catholic sense. I loved the catholic faith, was raised in it, loved the nuns that taught me, and felt the beauty of God as the nuns sang each morning and evening in the chapel…but not for me that life.
I visited a psychiatrist once at the age of 21 after a particularly bad breakdown which necessitated 6 weeks off work in a very high-powered job. But either the shrink was stupid and over worked or I was already a brilliant actress and convinced him a few pills and some time off work would see me right as rain in no time. I regret that immensely, because at 21 with proper help and medication for a short season I may have made a lot better choices for the next 25 years and not had such a chaotic life, resulting in fractured multiple personality disorder….
But like Edith Piaf I aspire to regrette rien…
Finally in 2001 I stopped running around the world, self healing whenever I hit hard places, and sought PROFESSIONAL help which my mother had so strongly warned against all those years previously. I had by then moved 46 times in 48 years, lived in 7 countries on 3 continents. Turned down 11 proposals of marriage, broken 3 engagements, married unsuccessfully, had 3 children to 2 fathers….chaos chaos chaos. Lots of adventures and excitement and achievement and glory and 3 beautiful children along the way but still chaos and my poor battered soul could withstand no more…
I repeated Mum’s path of trying to self admit into psychiatric care…the first attempt in 2001 was unsuccessful because I was not considered acute being neither suicidal nor psychotic! And presenting too well because I was educated and insightful even in the midst of melt down…I maybe should have faked a screaming fit with foaming at the mouth or something because shit I know I needed help…but they suggested I was stressed and gave me a referral to a women’s refuge where I could rest for a week. Which only lasted 2 dayz cos my child care arrangements broke down and my parents promptly called Social Services…gee thanks. A bit of help would have been better??
So a year later the psychiatric unit did let me in reluctantly….12 day stay, with zanex and a variety of anti depressants over the next few months, none of which worked for me, some of which made me more belligerent than usual and that’s not pretty…some of which zonked me out to the point where I would not have been able to care for my 3 children…they diagnosed me a bit tentatively with a Borderline Personality Disorder and told me to take anti depressants the rest of my life. Organised cousnelling too for 5 years, that was good.
I accidentally discovered an anti depressant that worked for me…Zyban, only licensed in Ireland to aid smoking cessation, but originally licensed in America as an anti depressant. I took it for a few months to quit smoking and noticed in the meantime I stabilised at a level of function that was good for the high demands on my time and energy parenting 3 children alone. I got permission to use it and stayed on it 5 years. Stabilised big time. I have lived in this house in Ireland longer than I have lived anywhere in the world in 51 years. And I’m only talking 7 years. My daughter went off to University and got a great degree…she got pregnant too but that’s another blog, and at least she is in love and settled down with the father…my sons love life and sports and are integrated in the community in a way I never was as a child because we moved every 3 years in the Air Force…
but I got kinda resigned and thought this is my life…this is how it turned out…all my dreams gone, unrealised, buried, lost…nothing good but memories and three beautiful children…and here I am in rural Ireland. So I drank. Well I always drank but I drank more and more. At home. Alone. Kids in bed or at school. Still on the medication.
Till I woke up and smelled the coffee…went to rehab, quit the medication and the alcohol and got in touch again with the glory of no mind altering substances. To FEEL again…to WRITE…to laugh cry wonder dream… and I thought, I will never medicate again. I will heal. God will heal me..HAS healed me…I will study think research pray…but HEAL without meds.
So I’ve been over a year medication free. My diagnosis is changing probably to be confirmed as Dissociative Identity Disorder or Multiple Personality Disorder as it is also known…not psychosis, more a clinical psychology issue so no meds absolutely necessary like librium for schizophrenics or such like…but still a bit chaotic, especially for those around me. I fight with ALL the adults in my life. I alienate myself and isolate still, although I counter act that urge by going to AA three or four times a week.
Then I met someone, possibly that special someone, and went CRAZY with the pressure of it…the RELATIONSHIP thing, which had been my biggest missing in life and biggest fuck up repeatedly excuse my French but you weren’t there!!
So I am back on medication…good old Zyban again, half dose, until I can see if my consultant can come up with a more appropriate drug. I am doing it for a season, six months or a year. I am in charge. If I don’t want to take meds I won’t. But it works for a while. Takes some of the edge off my self confessed craziness. I felt like I was too raw, too vulnerable, walking around with no flesh on my bones is how it felt, and way too fragile. Terror. Anguish. No, bring on the meds, just for a while. Just till I stabilise in this new relationship and give it half a decent chance…
My 14 year old son was diagnosed aged 7 with A.D.H.D. – attention deficit hyper active disorder. I believe my father myself and my daughter had it too, although I never got her diagnosed and was more able to cope with her boundless energy and hyper up all the time nature as the only child…she was 8 before I had the next child and 11 when the last was born. My Dad definitely had and still has it. In his day (he is 82) it wasn’t even recognised, but he thought he was stupid at school, left at 13, and never sat another exam, despite being very intelligent and able.
I won’t be so arrogant as to try and cover this whole mine field in a couple paragraphs…another blog surely. But I choose to medicate my son for his well being and peace of mind and need in my opinion to get an education…I don’t choose medicating out of laziness or ineptitude or single parent syndrome etc etc which so many think is reason for medicating children… I have had him off meds for a year. On full time. Now he only takes his ritalin in the form of concerta (slow acting 12 hour release) on school days. Not weekends. Not holidays. An I think that’s a good compromise. So does he. He has never not taken them deliberately or acted like he is being forced…just a bond between us where he trusts me (God knows why in some respects, but God I guess is the reason why…)
The best description I heard of A.D.H.D. is it’s like a child is in a room with 5 large television screens all on different channels all on maximum volume AND NO REMOTE…not even hand controls. You try concentrating like that, let alone getting an education….
I am trying to find a school with smaller class sizes. Josh has a part time classroom assistant, and some one on one resource hours. He’s not so keen on that side of his condition…doesn’t wanna appear to be a dummy or different. He’s open with his friends about the A.D.H.D. and his meds. He does funny little impressions of himself max hyped up to demonstrate to his buddies why meds are a good idea for school.. He would prefer not to have A.D.H.D.. but he does, and he’s happier with the meds for now. On the odd day he forgets them, he invariably comes home with a note from school for some anti social infraction or off the wall behaviour that had the class in fits of laughter but the teacher in melt down…
I do dream of an ideal world where I would be part of a happy Waltons family and my lover and I would have hours to home school and nurture and manage the condition…mine too…with no meds. But reality for now is…broken homes, single parents…issues, addictions (I still smoke like a chimney 2 packs plus a day…) financial and social stresses….life’s tough most times and Walton like not so often and in the meantime lots of kids can slip through the cracks.
I do believe kids with A.D.H.D. and similar will self medicate with drugs or alcohol if they don’t get appropraite diagnosis and help…cos they know as did I, that it was too much. I used to drink mostly to calm down…
And of course there will be trigger happy shrinks who will diagnose it at the drop of a hat and medicate the kids as a means of social control or pacifying of parents as much as kids….there will always be pendulum swings. I had my 11 year old assessed because both his siblings had had the condition, but I was delighted when his assessment came back negative, and he takes no meds. I am not med attached. Just in my experience, IT CAN SOMETIMES HELP. Not forever. For seasons. In moderation. With sensitive supervision. But it can help. And zealous backlash can sometimes be misguided. All I can share is my experience.
GOD BLESS OUR CHILDREN. This is dedicated to Josh, and children who suffer from A.D.H.D, everywhere.
Post Script: I have saved my facourite note home from school on one of the days a few years back when Josh forgot his medication….infractions listed included: Joshua disappeared under the desk for a prolonged period of time, when questioned he said he was looking for his erasor which was non-existent…when asked to return a large jigsaw puzzle to it’s place in the corner Joshua insisted on carrying it across the classroom on his head causing disruption….Joshua forgot his books, P.E. kit, lunch and homework….and on and on…CUT THE KID SOME SLACK!! He can’t help it! (lol)
ANGIE POWER B.A.(Hons).
and MOTHER (more hons!!)