The Friday Confessional : Baby Weight


TRIGGER WARNING : This post contains material that may be a potential trigger for some.  It’s contents include talk of eating disorders and self-injury.  If you are sensitive to this material, please use your discretion before reading.

I am by no means a thin woman.  As a matter of fact, according to my BMI, I am actually slightly in the overweight range.  It’s not really unusual for a person who lives in the good ol’ US-of-A.  Obesity is considered an epidemic in this region of the world.

I have bad body image.  This started as a very young child when the other kids would pick on me for being overweight.  At that point, it wasn’t my fault.  I wasn’t responsible for my diet, and my family had terrible eating habits.  In fact, as I started to notice while my parents were watching my child, they encouraged recreational eating for lack of other engaging activities.  As a result, I ended up a fat, miserable kid.

I remember I stopped eating my lunch at one point.  A lunch aid came over and asked what was wrong.  I recall telling her, “I’m on a diet.”  She looked shocked and appalled.  Now that I’m an adult, it’s completely understandable.  I was eight, and I was confessing that I was unhappy because of my weight.  To her credit, she attempted to explain to me that I had a lot of years to grow into the weight, and it was unhealthy to deprive myself of food.

Essentially, she was trying to talk me out of developing an eating disorder.  Unfortunately, talk is too cheap when you’re eight.

Eventually, people close to me stopped mentioning my weight.  And I continued to grow.  By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was obese.  I was eleven, 4’8”, and weighed approximately what a fourteen year-old 5’1” teenager should have weight in a healthy weight range.  My clothes continued to shrink rapidly, and the only excuse my mother could come up with was that I was just “having a growth spurt”.

It wasn’t lost on my peers or teachers, though.  While I had the brains, I didn’t have the body.  And the outside was all that mattered.  Summer break came, and I was about to enter middle school.  It was at that time that I decided that I would shed my “baby weight”, as people were so eager to call it, and become a slender woman.

That was the summer where it all began.

The real secret is something I’ve hinted at throughout the last year, but could never bring myself to actually come out and say.  Even now, I find myself typing and retyping the sentence that will start to change everything.  It will change how people think of me, and how people treat me.  It will have people worry and watch me like a hawk.  And those are all things that I’ve tried to avoid over the years.

I have undiagnosed disordered eating.

As a child, it developed from recreational eating into comfort eating.  I would gorge myself far beyond bursting, to the point of where it felt like the contents of my stomach were backing up into my throat.  The act of eating was comforting and satisfying.  The sensation of fullness seemed to fill this hole inside of me.  It took away the emptiness that I had tried so hard to fill with accomplishment.  Even for a moment, I was full.  I was whole.

That led to another problem.  Childhood obesity.  And the lack of friends I had resulting from my obesity and the intimidation of my perfectionism and accomplishment created an even bigger hole.  What started out as a small snag in the woven fabric of my life started to unravel into a gaping hole, threatening to tear seam to seam.  Comfort eating turned into binge eating and created a cycle that continually fed into itself.

The summer before middle school, I decided to start dieting.  How absurd – an eleven year old on a diet.  I restricted my food intake to half of what I was eating.  I refused to eat between meals.  I started both biking and running once a day for at least an hour.  When my clothes started to become loose, it only served to encourage all of these behaviors.

I was a child on a mission.  I started only eating half of what I was eating, leaving me eating meals off of saucers.  I added running stairs onto my exercise regimen.  I would spend a half an hour each day running the basement stairs, as to not bother my parents.  My clothes became so loose that I became reduced to wearing my 90lb mother’s clothes.

I had done it.  In fact, I had done so well that most of my peers didn’t recognize me anymore.  Many people started referring to me as “the new girl”, as I didn’t have any friends to correct them.  And much to my surprise, those shallow little girls I had come to despise welcomed me to their clicks with open arms.  I was no longer intimidating or disgusting.

Throughout the years, my weight bounced up and down.  I would binge and then go on an exercise craze.  In my mid-teens, I discovered those ephedra pills that could be found at any gas station.  Friends and I would take handfuls of them and stay up, bouncing off of the walls, for 72 hours at a time.  I remember lying in bed just vibrating, desperately mentally exhausted, but completely wired.

My relationship with my first love, my high school sweetheart, started going south around the time that I was seventeen.  And the binging started once again.  I hated myself for it, and I watched myself grow out of my clothes once again.  I knew he had to have found me repulsive, and I knew he was eyeing other women.  But, it only served to make it worse.

I will never forget this.  I had my eighteenth birthday at my boyfriend’s place.  I was surrounded by many of my friends, and we ordered several pizzas that I paid for.  I watched all of the girls daintily eat one or two slices of pizza, when I realized that I had gorged myself on four.  I looked at their slender bodies with envy.  What a disgusting pig I am!  I thought.  No wonder I’m so fat!

I went to the bathroom and locked the door.  I leaned over and stared into the bowl.  I was about to do something that we all had accused and ridiculed thin cheerleaders for.  It was this, or being doomed to a life of obesity and loneliness.  I extended my index finger and pressed down on the back of my tongue.

The vomit came pouring out like a fountain into the bowl.  The taste was awful, like orange juice mixed with something foul.  But, the sensation was incredible.  I could feel the load lightening, and my stomach shrinking.  I did it again, this time making myself gag harder, almost to the point where I made an audible noise.  It felt like all of the awful feelings were just pouring out from inside of me.  It was almost like cutting, but without any noticeable tell-tale scars.

I purged until there was nothing left but stomach acid.  I sat against the door, breathing heavily and relishing in the hollow feeling in my belly.  There was something so beautiful about feeling that emptiness.  It ached, along with my raw throat, and the bitter aftertaste of vomit in my mouth.

This doesn’t happen regularly.  It only happens when I have a severely awful body image.  My clothes start to get tight, and automatically, my stomach starts to churn, as if it knows what’s about to come.  If I’ve eaten just before a fight with someone, I find myself getting queasy and running for a bathroom.  If I am rejected, I automatically assume it’s because I’m not attractive.  I find myself hell bent on getting back a body I once had.

But even worse is when I do it as a form of self-injury and control.  I binge, feeling the sensation of my belly swelling with all of the emotion I can’t experience.  The contents rise into my throat, without a place left to go.  I excuse myself and wrap myself in an awful embrace with that cold, unforgiving porcelain.  For a moment, just a brief shining moment, I stare into the bowl, trying to talk myself out of it.  There’s no other way.  I lean in, and the deed is done.

And each time, the whooshing of the flush brings shame to my already teary eyes.  I stare at the bloodshot eyes, ringed with raccoon eyes.  My face is red and looks exhausted.  All I can do is take to cleaning up the mess I created.

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The Friday Confessional : Always a Passenger

The Friday Confessional is probably well known by now as a very soul baring exercise in writing.  Today, I’d like to talk to about something rather embarrassing for me.

A major milestone in most people lives happens at the tender age of sixteen.  There’s the sweet sixteen, usually accompanied by the awesome responsibility that comes with a person’s first driver’s permit.  And the teenager blossoms into an adult as they take on that adult responsibility and freedom of driving.

I am nearly 30, and I never learned how to drive.

Originally, it wasn’t because of my lack of enthusiasm.  The prospect of the freedom that was associated with driving was intoxicating.  It was all I could ever want, being able to drive.  I could take myself places and not have to rely on anyone else.  It would open up new worlds to me, and allow me to do so many things I had always dreamed of.  I could pick my boyfriend up and see him more than twice a week.  We could go park somewhere and maybe make out for awhile.

My mother doesn’t drive, and my father refused to use his precious vehicle to teach me.  I was crushed.  They claimed they didn’t think I was responsible enough to take on driving.  But, as with everything else, it was an excuse not to allow me to have any kind of breathing room.  They could continue to circle me like vultures for my remaining two years in that house, ever judging and scrutinizing me while I remained under their thumb.

I was stuck for any options to circumvent this decision.  There is a law in Pennsylvania that prohibits teens from teaching other teens how to drive.  Most of my friends were under 18, and those who weren’t didn’t have their own cars at their disposal.  It seemed that I would have to wait indefinitely to gain all of that freedom that I craved so deeply.

Time passed, and most of my friends still remained as pedestrians.  It used to be easy in a city like Pittsburgh to get by without a car.  Most of the places anyone would want to go were accessible via bus.  And taking the bus was infinitely cheaper than owning and maintaining a car.  College came and went without a driver’s license.

Once out of college, I had already developed an alcohol problem.  Driving became less important.  My job was within walking distance, and everything else wasn’t quite as important anymore.  Most of my friends had their own license, and the responsibility of driving seemed to great for a person who was perpetually drunk.  It didn’t matter to me anyway.  I was broke, and there was no way I could possibly afford a vehicle of my own to drive.

More time passed.  I got married, had a kid, and jobs came and went as I settled into family life.  The need for a license started weighing on me, as I was begging for more favors from people with vehicles.  I lived poorly and saved every last penny to buy my very first car.  And eventually, I got it.  I paid outright to avoid financing.  It was a black 2000 Volkswagen Jetta.  It was beautiful and one of those 0 to 60 in ten second cars.  It would have been perfect for street racing, as it was the sport edition.  Of course, that wasn’t the plan.  The plan was to get my license in the spring.

A whole year passed without any attempt on my part to get my license.  The idea started filling me with dread.  How could I possibly drive while so incredibly medicated?  I had just started treatment that year, and I was foggy most of the time.  I couldn’t focus on a task for more than a few minutes at a time.  Driving seemed to be an impossible task that had become far out of my reach.

Then, it happened.  The car that I had paid in full was totalled in an accident with Xan.  I was devastated.  It was my very first car, and we had hardly seen more than a year with it.  I was supposed to learn how to drive with that car.  It was compact and would have been perfect for my needs as a driver.  But, no more.  The car was completely gone.

For awhile, we borrowed my MIL’s car.  I refused to begin learning on that car.  It didn’t matter, because fall was coming.  I was beyond hesitant to start to learn how to drive in inclimate weather.  The car didn’t feel entirely safe, and I was too nervous about the possibility of getting into an accident with it.  It would have been different if it was the Jetta.

That car died too.  It died up on a rack during an inspection, just a few months after we borrowed it.  It turns out that the undercarriage was completely rusted out.  The car was in such bad shape that we didn’t even get charged for the failed inspection.  Instead, the mechanic told Xan to get the car out of there, and get rid of it as fast as he could.

We were at the lot that day.  The problem with the car was that it wasn’t even ours.  There was no possible way we could trade in the car, even with the express permission of the owner.  Instead, we had to eat the entire cost of a down payment. It seemed that there wouldn’t be yet another Christmas in the Stark household.

We drove off of the lot in another dream car, a 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser.  My driver’s education teacher in high school owned a different years when they were brand new.  I had always admired that car.  It cost the same as the other, lesser cars in the lot.  I’m not a fan of Chevy’s and that’s all they wanted to give us.  But, I didn’t really want to buy another car.  I wanted the Jetta back.  But that was impossible.  It was wrecked beyond repair, with a bent frame and the entire driver’s side crushed in.

Almost another year has passed, and I still haven’t learned how to drive.  This time, it wasn’t for lack of a car.  It wasn’t a person standing in my way.  In fact, Xan has been more than supportive in this endeavor.  It is me standing in my own way.

I still don’t have my permit.  And every time I think about the possibility of getting it, I cringe.  I’m on so many medications, and most of the time, I’m falling asleep in the car anymore.  I’m so nervous that I can’t concentrate.  Even just imagining driving fills me with anxiety.

I’m Lulu, I’m in my late 20’s, and I can’t drive.

Just Snap Out of It

Society has developed some seriously bad attitudes toward mental illness.  It’s no surprise.  We see it attached to the stigma of it.  We’re treated like lepers, as if this were a terribly contagious thing.

Depression is no exception.  Today, a lot of people have been discussing the topic of the “Just Snap Out of It” phenomenon that occurs out there.  Honestly, there is a saying out there about how if a person hasn’t experienced it, then they can never truly know.  A person who hasn’t experienced clinical depression, either in the form of MDD or BP depression can never truly know it’s depth and breadth.  It is an all encompassing monster that claims every last bit of life and any possible joy that can come from it.

Having Bipolar Disorder, I am a person who naturally experiences some sometimes pretty obvious mood swings.  And the attitudes toward it are so completely off.  I have never had a person treat me poorly while I was in a manic episode.  Not one.  Not even when the plainly awful behaviors were showing.  Each person seemed to find it charming, amusing, or interesting.  Even when there were moments where I was so out of control that I was scared out of my wits, not a single person around me seemed to notice that there was something absolutely wrong with it.

No, my energy and spirits were high.  I would act impulsively, and people would take it as spontaneity.  I’d be overly, annoyingly chatty, and rudely interrupting others, but they took it as being outgoing.  Everyone seemed to think that was a sign that I wasn’t depressed anymore.  They seemed to think that it was some kind of miraculous recovery from “being like that”.

People only seem to take notice when I am depressed or mixed, like it’s some kind of disease that I choose to be afflicted with.  And the comments are absolutely endless, because everyone seems to have their own opinion about it.  It’s as if they consider themselves to be the authority on depression, anxiety and sadness in general. I will constantly hear phrases like, “Get over it” and “Get a grip” as if just snapping out of it were an option for me.

Meanwhile, people without mental health diagnoses start flinging clinical terms around, like they had some true application to their fleeting, shallow emotion.  For instance, “Oh, I’m so *bipolar* today”, instead of just saying that they are moody, or women arbitrarily making a comparison between PMS and Bipolar Disorder.   Or “I’ve just been so depressed lately”, to reference a little bit of discontent or sadness.

It’s not cute. It’s not funny. No one with those diagnoses thinks that it’s witty that someone is taking a serious clinical term with so much guilt and stigma that it could bring down a religion, and applying it to their BS, frivolous emotions!

It does everything it can to minimize those conditions.  It puts it in a light that we have some kind of real control over it.  As if it were something that a person can just “snap out of”.  It implies that a person chooses to be disordered.  It also puts a shameful connotation of attention seeking behavior.

Yeah, it’s the life, let me tell you. If I were doing anything for attention, it wouldn’t be this. It would probably be something more hilarious, like plastering myself with an obscenely worded banner and rollerblading through Downtown. Depression isn’t newsworthy, but that sure is.  Or maybe I’d be doing something a little more productive or noteworthy, like finding a cure for cancer.  But no, my depression is just that interesting that I would choose to gain that much needed attention from people I don’t even know or care about.

I have to wonder if the general public has to be so naive that they would actually be jealous over it.  So much emphasis is put on the “just get over it” ideals, as if that were possible. If I could will myself out of this state, don’t you think I would do it already? It would be more logical to think that I want to reclaim my life and be a productive person.  But no, according to others who are ignorant enough of mental illness, I am perfectly content to have disordered behaviors.   Sure, who doesn’t love ignoring their kid because the voices just got too loud? Personally, I love gripping my ears and screaming, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!!”

And as a result of this blatant ignorance, I am really starting to believe that some are just plain jealous.  Because, they seem to think that those with disorder aren’t being responsible for their emotions and behaviors that result.  I certainly have quarrels with wanting to thrust a sense of selfishness and entitlement out there, because it’s what I have to do to take care of myself and my own in this world.  It’s those same people that shove themselves and their ideals down other people’s throats, only to make them feel bad. Misery loves company, and we’re perfect targets, right?

The point is this.  If a person is out there reading this and getting offended, it’s time to take a step back and think hard.  Is it so fair to be so judgmental?  Isn’t it about time to take a look from another perspective?  Does a person with a congenital disorder choose to be symptomatic?  It would be an entirely different story if I were refusing treatment, but like anyone else, I am keeping my appointments and taking my medication according to doctors orders.  We don’t blame someone for their symptoms when they have a seizure.  Why should this be any different?

Let me assure everyone.  If could have snapped out of this disorder and been a “normal” person, I may have done it, instead of living this ongoing nightmare.

The Friday Confessional : Romancing Suicide

 

 

Though I confess the things that are most intimate to me, I don’t know if I am accurately painting the picture of the real me.  To everyone here, I am Lulu Stark, the writer, the mother, the wife, and most importantly, the woman who bares herself in the name of mental health and disorder awareness and advocacy.  But, I wanted to put some truths out there.  The uglier side.  The real side.

I only Lulu Stark in the persona.  The one that you read about.  The antihero, the antagonist, protagonist, the victim, the perpetrator, the survivor and occasionally, the hero.

What I don’t talk typically talk about is one of my darkest, sickest secrets of all.

 

Suicide.  I regularly have suicidal thoughts and occasionally ideation.  The little voice goes through the back of my mind, sometimes as an unintelligible whisper and other times as clear as a bell, I want to die.  I want to kill myself.  It would be so easy.  No one would miss me.

I imagine ways it would play out.  I idealize all of the scenarios of suicide.  In a way, it seems I’m under it’s spell.  It seems like the only way out of this torturous world of disorder and dysfunction.  I am more crippled by my illness than I let on.  I feel pathetic in my bones, and I desperately search for my solace in this place of distress and despair.  An endless string of hopeless days and bottomless pits.

I fall deeper, clinging to my last shreds of hope.  I am flirting with suicide, with his silver tongue, soft, familiar caresses, and honey sweet kisses on my neck.

I see a sturdy rope swung around a rafter in my basement, tied with a tidy slipknot instead of an impossible noose.  I stand on a rickety chair, dressed in my Sunday best, leaving a pretty, cold, lifeless corpse behind.  The shell of a woman who never really existed.

I stand with a glass of juice and a bottle’s worth of blue pills in my hand.  I am ready, stripped to nothing but a bathrobe.  Down the hatch, the medication leaves a bitter aftertaste.  I draw myself a hot bath and arm myself with a razor.  And then, I wait.  I wait until I am almost seeing double, and world starts to blue around the edges.  I dig the razor into my wrist and drag it with all of the force I can up to my the bend of my elbow.

Or, I just await death.  I lie in the tub, feeling myself slip away under the surface of the water.  In my mind, I imagine all of the people that would be thankful that I am finally gone.  How in a year or two, I will become a distant memory that only leaves the tiniest pang.  How my sullen face starts to fade from everyone’s mind and any trace of me begins to disappear.  I think of how easy the clean up would be.

Or maybe, I would clean myself up to begin with.  I would be powder fresh in a pretty pastel little girl dress I bought for the occasion.  I would empty all of the contents of my medicine into my stomach, washed down with an entire bottle of vodka.  I would tuck myself into a warm bed, and swaddle myself in blankets.  It would look like sleep at first.  My final sleep.  My resting place.  The only place in my life where I ever felt warm and safe.

 

For the record, I’d never do it.  There is an uglier side to suicide that I’m painfully aware of.  It could possibly be the most selfish act I could ever commit.  The finality of it all is too much for me to even wrap my head around.

My son asks where I went when I am gone for an hour for class.  I imagine his confusion and sadness when he comes to see that his mother will never return. I imagine the possibilities of who would raise him if I were to be gone for good.  He would likely fall into the hands of my own parents, and I would be sentencing him to a similar fate that I experienced.

There would never be enough of an apology for my Xan.  A piece of him would die inside, and he might go mad himself.  There wouldn’t be another out there for him.  He couldn’t possibly recover.  Leaving him to his own devices at work, cutting off communication, it’s too much for him to bear for a few hours.  What if I were to be gone for the rest of his lifetime?

And then there’s the matter of the afterlife.  What comes after death?  Through my Christian upbringing, I fear the day of judgement and the sentencing to an eternity of hell, separated from my friends and family, endlessly tortured in unimaginable ways.  Ways that are beyond my comprehension.

But, what if there is nothing?  What if I sacrificed my life for a world of nothingness?  What if a person just dies and there is nothing behind?  What if I am condemned to walk this Earth as a true ethereal being, and not just the kind I feel as a flesh and blood person?  I stand there and watch as people file in for my funeral.  I see my family overlooking my lifeless body, consumed with grief.  Then, I get to watch my family and friends mourn the loss, as someone irreplaceable that met a tragic and unfair end at my own hand.

Sometimes, I feel as if I am condemned to life.  Sometimes, I feel like I’ve chosen life over the alternatives.  Sometimes, it’s for the sake of my family and friends.  And there are those brief shining moments where I live life as the gift it was meant to be with the promise of tomorrow.

Buyer Beware: Medicating Children with Psychiatric and Behavioral Disorder

 I wrote this in college in a course.

BUYER BEWARE: MEDICATING

Buyer Beware:

Medicating Children with

Psychiatric and Behavioral Disorder

Tiffany M.

CM220-17

        If you discovered that your child had a disorder, you’d do anything to fix it, right?  Some parents are going to great lengths to “fix” their children, including extensive pharmacological therapy.  In fact, the incidence of children using prescription medication has more than tripled in the last twenty years.    However, it does not statistically make sense that an epidemic of psychiatric illnesses and behavioral disorders would present so suddenly.   This is cause for great concern when it comes to unnecessarily medicating our children.  Therefore, many children with behavioral and emotional disorder do not require pharmacological treatment, because of the questionable existence of disorder, risky and sometimes unknown side effects of medication, and serious ethical concerns surrounding the topic.

Disorder is a term used frequently in the field of Psychology and in Psychiatric practice.  Merriam-Websters defines disorder as “to disturb the normal functions of” (Merriam-Webster Online.  2010.)  A childhood psychiatric disorder or behavioral disorder would, in this vague terminology, cause dysfunction in certain aspects of their life, if not globally.  However, being met with challenges and discomfort is a recognized part of the natural process of maturing into an adult.  The way in which each individual handles these challenges and expresses themselves uniquely is part of their innate personality.  When we begin naming personality traits as being dysfunctional or part of a disorder, then we begin classifying unique behaviors as distinctly acceptable and unacceptable.  For example, there is a new birth control medication on the market named Yaz, that has been named the only oral contraceptive that will reduce mood swings during a menstrual cycle.  Many teen girls have been prescribed Yaz for a naturally occurring ailment!  Yet, many will not hesitate to classify “mood swings”, however small or brief, as symptomatic of a disorder, when it is really just a part of the regulation of hormones in the newly developing sexual system; thus, it is a part of a maturing woman’s life.  Then it will become a question of whether an active, extraverted child has symptoms of ADHD, a shy, sensitive child has Major Depressive Disorder, or a socially awkward child has Pervasive Development Disorder.  Even the DSM-IV states that “neither deviant behavior nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders” (DSM-IV. 1997.)  It is a subjective point of view of what is “normal” and “abnormal” childhood behavior that makes the diagnosis.  The point is, children are still in the process of developing and their expressive symptoms are not necessarily resulting from a suspected disorder and may better be explained by environmental or physical stressors.  It may be better to take into consideration that this may just be the child’s response to their environment, provoked by their unique personality instead of haphazardly slapping on a label and pumping the child full of medication to make them comply with society’s idea of normality.

It is these reasons and more that there is a suspected epidemic of over-diagnosis and therefore over-medicating children in our country.  Labels such as ADHD, behavioral disorder, and emotional disorder are leading parents searching for answers and doctors and pharmaceutical companies to provide them in the form a pill to answer their prayers.  “American children are taking four times as much psychiatric medications as any other country in the world” (Frontline, 1999) although the rest of the western world has the same medical technology and advancements.  One of the reasons may lie with the legislation of free education and related services for those with disabilities, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act being passed into law in 1990.  Many parents and educators saw the advantages of additional assistance, services, and educational grants.  The average number of children taking medication in two to three in each classroom (Frontline, 1999).  “About ten percent of ten-year-old American boys are taking such medicine” (Washington Post, 2006).

There are a great deal of often overlooked or negotiated risks for taking prescription medications, including cardiac arrest and suicide.  In October 2004, the Food and Drug Administration released a list of psychiatric medications suspected to increase the risk of suicide in children and young adults (National Institute of Mental Health. 2010).  The National Institute of Mental Health sought to investigate this claim further.  They discovered in a 2006 study that there were no completed suicides by a vast increase of suicidal thoughts and behaviors (National Institute of Mental Health, 2010).  However, many of these medications are fairly new, such as Abilify and Yaz, and have not had been thoroughly tested.  Yaz, an oral contraceptive used to treat mood swings associated with menstrual cycles, is now showing a higher incidence of women developing life threatening blood clots.  Even medications that are much older are starting to show new effects when prescribed to a larger population.  The Washington Post reported in 2006 that ADHD medications, including Ritilin, first created in 1955, were about to carry their own “black box” warning concerning the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.  Many medications of all varieties, including Yaz and Lamictal, have warnings about Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.  Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a life threatening skin rash resulting in an allergic reaction to a medication, therefore it is possible that it can happen with all medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers.  Plainly said, there is no safe medication.

Long term side effects and consequences of many medications are still very much unknown.  However, researchers are starting to have an inkling and the prognosis is bleak.  Anti-depressants are found to cause neurogenesis, or new brain cell growth, but the implications for children are unclear (Homes, 2005.)  Evidence from research concludes “that the use of neuroleptic and psychotropic medication makes long-term, if not permenant changes in the brain structure” (Sparks and Duncan, 2004.)  Unfortunately, there is no research available for lifelong usage effects since prescribing these psychiatric medications to children is a fairly new trend.  In fact, it is advised that long-term treatment of adults on the same medication must be reviewed, such is the case in Lamictal.  Lamictal is the only FDA approved medication for treating Bipolar Disorder, besides Lithium.  Research on the Lamictal website is provided but only for as long as 18 months.

Medications also have side effects that are not life threatening but carry huge consequences.  Many anti-depressants and benzodiazapines, prescribed for anxiety, cause weight gain and drowsiness.  This may adversely affect their already damaged self-esteem and their overall functioning, both in the academic and social area.  Oppositely, medications for ADHD may cause patients to lose weight and while that may be desirable for females, it may not be for males, who are the typical patients.  Many mood stabilizers cause hair loss, irregular and painful menstrual cycles, and acne.  Sometimes, in the cases of sleep and appetite changes, doctors will prescribe another medication to combat the side effects.  (Breggin, 2010).  Although psychiatric medications have been proven to be effective in a number of cases to treat a disorder, they may have unwanted side effects when it comes to an aspect of their personality.  Many patients with Bipolar disorder report feeling “emotional deadening” when using mood stabilizers.  Others who are prescribed these medications, particularly those who are the more creative type, feel less like themselves and the medication “completely took your inspiration away” (Smith, 2010).  This leads us back into the original argument that some dysfunctional traits associated with disorder may be an integral part of one’s fully functioning personality.

Then, there is the concern of misdiagnosis.  Often, mood disorders can be misdiagnosed (DSM-IV, 1997.)  Major Depressive Disorder may be a result of an environmental cause, such as a bad home or school experience.  Bipolar Disorder is often misdiagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder, Schizophrenia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder when either the depressive or manic episode is more prevalent.  Most of the symptoms that occur in childhood Bipolar Disorder are atypical (Weller, 2002.)  A single misdiagnosis can cause years of agony for the child and delay the psychological help that is desperately needed.  Not only are these children still plagued by a disorder, but they are treated with potentially toxic medications that do nothing to ease their symptoms, often reaching a disturbingly high dosage.  The illusion that is created when a host of medications do not work is that these children are damaged beyond repair.  Many teens may seek to start self-medicating by using illicit drugs and alcohol.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse examples comorbid mental illness by stating that “people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders” than the general population (NIDA, 2009.)  All of these issues combined can generate the potential for more serious problems like delinquency, promiscuity, delayed development in the cognitive and social areas, poor academic performance, and dropping out of school altogether.  Worse, misdiagnosis can lead to death.  One family had both of their daughter’s lives taken, one by overmedication and the other by misdiagnosis.  Two daughters in the Hall family were both diagnosed with ADHD.  One, Stephanie, died the very same day her medication was increased.  The other, Jenny, began to have seizures and was later found to have brain tumors that mimicked ADHD.  It is wise to have a second opinion and have all of the other factors checked into before settling into a diagnosis.  According to Janet Hall, “Don’t trust your doctor. Question him over and over. If you are not happy with what he says, if you have an intuitive feeling that something doesn’t seem right, it’s not. Get second and third opinions. It may not seem reasonable to have to go to that extent, but if it’s at the price of your child, it is” (Null, 2001.)

These concerns raise a great deal of ethical issues revolving around the issue of medicating children.  Children certainly have rights, but those rights are being violated when they are forced to take medication.  One mother, Robin, went as far as getting a court order to force her son back on medication (Frontline, 1999).  Children in psychiatric wards are being dosed through “chemical restraint”. (The Columbus Dispatch, 2005.)  Children should have a voice.  Some would say that highly medicating a child borders on abuse.  Forcing children to take medicine when they refuse violates their rights.  After all, it is their bodies and their minds.  The long term consequences are their own to bear.   It should be their decision ultimately, because we cannot “discount the accuracy of the youngest voices to tell us what is working and what might help” (Sparks and Duncan, 2004.)  Honestly, professionals and parents alike only rely on circumstantial evidence, colored by personal emotion and investment.  If a parent puts faith in a medication to solve the problem, then the slightest progress can be magnified.  However, the only person who really knows is the child.

Contrary to popular belief, many children who remain unmedicated or are only medicated for a short period of time have a great prognosis.  In one of the longest research studies done on the performance of Ritilin versus Behavioral Therapy for ADHD, Ritilin patients only slightly outperformed the BT group.  After a six month follow-up, the BT group was maintained throughout the 14 month study.  More impressive, the BT group was the only intact group after the 24 month follow up!  Most parents see the best results through at the very least combined therapy, and the medication is often short-term when it is felt necessary.  That is why “nonmedical intervention particularly important because effects of stimulant medication, though beneficial in the short term, do not last beyond medication termination” (Sparks and Duncan, 2004.)  The same goes for any medication.  Once the medication is terminated, the noticeable changes and advancements seem to disintegrate.  In many cases, Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Thearpy are a better route to go.  Although they may not produce the instantly gratifying results that American’s are so accustomed to, the long term benefit outweighs everything.  As we’ve previously discussed, no medication is safe and therefore cannot be expected to be maintained for life.  Therefore, if we build the skills within the child to manage their condition, then they can live medication free and have full, happy lives.

In the end, it’s all about the happiness and health of the children.  Many parents are desperate for the quick fix to the problem, due largely in part of parental anxiety.  The other part is most likely the strain that disorder brings into the family and their lives.  Yes, medication will provide the relief that parents and children may be looking for, but will it in the long run?  Many times, we’re used to focusing in on the smaller picture, the point of the problem, rather than standing back to examine the bigger picture.  Parents and doctors do not stop to think seriously about the dire consequences that medicating their children and patients may have.  Children have needlessly died, been brutally tortured without having a hand laid on them, and suffered at the hands of medical science.  Parents beware; fight for your children’s lives, protect your children’s rights, question everything and get as many opinions as you need before taking the leap into medicating your precious babies.

References

Antidepressant Medications for Children and Adolescents: Information for Parents and Caregivers. (2010, March 16). NIMH. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health/antidepressant-medications-for-children-and-adolescents-information-for-parents-and-caregivers.shtml#Bridge-JAMA

Antidepressant Use in Children, Adolescents, and Adults. (2010, March 2). U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/UCM096273

Antidepressant Use in Children, Adolescents, and Adults. (2010, March 2). U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/UCM096273

Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders – InfoFacts – NIDA. (n.d.). National Institute on Drug Abuse – The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/comorbidity.html

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). (2004, May 15). Psychology Classroom at AllPsych Online. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://allpsych.com/disorders/dsm.html

Gaviria, M. (Director). (2001). FRONTLINE: Medicating Kids [Documentary]. USA: Pbs (Direct).

Holmes, L. (2004, June 16). Should Children Take Antidepressants?. Mental Health – Information on Mental Health. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://mentalhealth.about.com/cs/psychopharmacology/a/kidzoloft.htm

Lanham, T. (2010, January 14). Mindy Smith on the rebound. San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.sfexaminer.com/entertainment/Mindy-Smith-on-the-rebound-81337537.html

McEvoy, V. (2008, August 11). Go slow on medicating children. Boston.com. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2008/08/11/go_slow_on_medicating_children/

Mercola. (2000, August 13). US Courts Forcing Parents to Medicate Children. Natural Health Articles – Latest and Current Health News and Information by Dr. Mercola. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2000/08/13/courts-adhd.aspx

NIMH · Mental Health Medications . (2010, February 24). NIMH · Home. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/mental-health-medications/complete-index.shtml

Null  , G. (n.d.). The Drugging of Our Children. American Family Rights Association :: The Voice of America’s Families©. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.familyrightsassociation.com/bin/white_papers-articles/drugging_our_children/#1

Pyle, E. (2005, April 25). Forced medication straitjackets kids. The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.dispatch.com/live/contentbe/dispatch/2005/04/24/20050424-A1-00.html

Sparks, J., & Duncan, B. (2004). The Ethics and Science of Medicating Children. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 6(1). Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://psychrights.org/research/digest/ADHD/MedicatingKids.pdf

Stevens-Johnson syndrome: Causes – MayoClinic.com. (2009, April 10). Mayo Clinic medical information and tools for healthy living – MayoClinic.com. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stevens-johnson-syndrome/DS00940/DSECTION=causes

Vedantam, S. (2006, February 10). Warning Urged for ADHD Drugs. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/09/AR2006020902325.html

Your Legal Right To Refuse Medication. (n.d.). Advocacy, Inc. – Home Page. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.advocacyinc.org/IR8.cfm

Zimmer, G. (n.d.). DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Mental Illness, Disease, Health. Say No To Psychiatry – The Danger and Harm of the Sham Pseudoscience Known As Psychiatry. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.sntp.net/references/dsm_definition.htm


Liquid Courage and Tablet Saviors : 30 Days of Truth

Day 20 : Your views on drugs and alcohol.

“Drugs are bad, m’kay?”

Or are they?

There is this long, Nancy Reagan-induced diatribe about the dangers and evil of illegal drugsSay no to drugs.  This is your brain on drugs.  The war on drugs.  Above the influence.  Don’t drink and drive.  Prom promise.  Those of us that are Reagan babies and older, through the boomers, are well aware of the presence and negative consequences of drugs and alcohol.   And despite the heavy dialogue, many people have personally experienced their own battle with substance abuse and dependence.

Alcohol had torn my life apart at the seams.  As with any addiction, it starts off as a recreational activity.  It’s a part of popular culture, especially in the younger age groups.  In my youth, drinking was cool.  Truthfully, it was a fun escape from the drudgery of daily life.  That was at seventeen.  Within a year, I started to find solace at the bottom of a bottle.  Coincidentally, that was the same year Smile Empty Soul sang:

I do it for the drugs.

I do it just to feel alive.

I do it for the love that I get from the bottom of a bottle.

Bottom of a Bottle – Smile Empty Soul

By the time I was in college, I was seeking out opportunities and excuses to drink.  A set of rules existed which meant to separate alcoholics, the loathsome bunch that we perceived people like our own parents to be, and recreational drinkers.

  1. Never drink before 5PM.
  2. Never drink alone.
  3. Never drink without occasion.
  4. Don’t drink before or during work or school.

As I gained my own freedom with my own apartment, the rules started to change.  In private, I could do what I liked.  I could deny everything and anything when I failed to be under the limelight of public scrutiny.  I began to use alcohol as more than a crutch; I started to abuse it completely as a coping mechanism.  That’s when alcohol and I started our sordid love affair.

The environment in my private life began to change.  I have spoken about it many times in various posts like Decent into Hell where I described my addiction as:

The last days of that relationship are blurry; my memories are obscured by the drugs and alcohol intoxicating my mind.  The days blended together in a ritualistic, self-medicated loop, work.drink.sleep.work.drink.sleep.sleep.drink.sleep… suspended in agonizing slow motion.  The silence was deafening in the deep, dark hours of night, still, cold, indifferent.

I had become a functional alcoholic.  I never drank before 5PM.  There was always an occasion, even if it was a day ending in “Y”.  And I certainly was not without company to share in my intoxicated merriment.  But there is a solid difference.  Every waking moment I did not spend at work was with a glass or a bottle in my fist.  I had gone far beyond the point of mixers, and mostly beyond the need for glasses.  It was me, a bottle of Bacardi 151 sans the filter, and a bottle of Gatorade to chase.

I wrote in Love the Way You Lie:

At that point, the seeds of alcoholism were taking root.  I violated my own rules of drinking.  It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!  I’m not drinking alone if I’m drinking with my boyfriend.  Hair of the dog, best way to cure a hangover.  If I’m still managing to get to school and hold an honor’s average, I’m not drinking too much.

Liquid courage and comfortingly numb.

It has always been my vice, and holds the looming, unending threat to assume control and ruin my life. In another 30 Days of Truth piece entitled, Control, or Lack Thereof, I went into a full exploration of recent recreational alcohol use and the negative impact it created in my life.

Flip that coin.

Drugs have revolutionized my life.

People neglect to realize that they are consuming legal drugs daily.  It becomes painfully obvious when you sigh over exorbitant copays at the pharmacy counter, like many people with mental health disorders often do.  But, instead of calling them “drugs”, we call them “medications”.  Did you know that Wellbutrin technically has the same chemical composition of a methamphetamine?  And that benzodiazepines work on the same receptors in the brain as alcohol?

So here I am, with my uppers to wake me in the morning, and my downers to put me to bed at night.  It would be illegal and detestable if I were using meth and boozing away.  Instead, it’s under the supervision of a doctor, as a controlled substance, in a convenient little pill.  Don’t get the wrong idea.  I am only likening the effects.  The supervision of the doctor is safer, and the medications are regulated by the FDA.  And as a result, I have most of my functioning back.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.