Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Laughed And Then I Wanted To Scream

My friend sent me an Australian video about adults with autism. It's on the ABC website. The program is called Compass, and the episode is "Alone in a Crowded Room".

I just watched a part that made me laugh....outloud. It was a great hearty laughed, and then it turned into something far from funny. Well, I guess it's funny in a really dark horrible way.

I guess I'll just transcribe what I heard.

An adult with autism says:

My mom took me to a psychiatrist. And he said, Wendy, do you hear voices? And I was...so as clearly, I remember as it was now. I thought silly man, you know Voices are meant to be heard. So yes, I hear voices. And he said, What do these voices say to you. I said, well it depends on whose voice it is. And he said, Ah, you hear more than one? He then asked me, Wendy, do you see things? Yes, I see things. So his conclusion that I had visual and auditory hallucinations was based on my understanding of literal questions about voices and seeing. So I get a diagnosis of schizophrenia. And it also meant that I spent huge chunks of time in and out of mental institutions for that following twenty-five years of my life.

At the age of forty-two, she was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

The misunderstanding between the psychiatrist and patient is hilarious to me. It's perfect comedy. But it's extremely not funny that the psychiatrist didn't take time to examine things through other angles. It's not funny that a woman wasted such a huge chunk of her life in an institution.

The whole world of psychiatry is crazy to me. It's all about putting people into boxes, and sometimes they're put into boxes way too quickly. Or sometimes there are people who NEED help, but because they're not seen as qualified (according to the DSM) they're ignored, invalidated, and sent away.

My favorite eating disorder website, Something Fishy, has a section of things people have heard from their doctors and nurses. There's a lot of horror stories. One person says, I went to a doc I had never seen before because he was the only one who could fit me in to his schedule. He walked in and asked me what my problem was. I told him I had an eating disorder. He said, No, you don't. You're not that skinny and you're teeth aren't yellow. I apologized for not being half-dead on his floor. I never felt so unworthy in all my life.

You know I've been torn up inside lately about all this. I've been on this big thing of anti-psychiatry. I've been into this whole mad pride thing. Why do we keep diagnosing people with mental illness? Are they really sick....or just DIFFERENT? Then I think back to last year when I got extremely upset when my mom had told me no, I didn't have an eating disorder. So, with my new mindset....should I say my mom was right? Why should I call my low calorie eating, rapid weight loss, excessive exercising, and body image obsession a disorder? Can't we just call it a lifestyle choice? I'm quirky. I make strange choices sometimes. Is there anything wrong with that?

Now I'm kind of seeing there's a middle road here. I DO think there are people who are diagnosed with mental illness when all they are is normal people with normal human emotions. I think weird folks are diagnosed as being ill when they're simply eccentric. But that doesn't mean there aren't mental illnesses out there...and people who DO need help. That help may be medication. Or it might be simply having a good friend who listens and responds with compassion.

Listening. That's the key word. I think that's what we need most of all. We need people to listen...carefully, and not make quick judgments.

My ex-boyfriend wrote me letters months before I got married. In one, he went on and on about people watching him. In another letter, he asked me to help him. I think I tried calling him after that. He wasn't there, and his parents answered. I expressed my concern about their son. They tried to downplay it all. Major denial. OR...who knows. Maybe something weird was going on in that town. Maybe my ex-boyfriend WAS being watched. Maybe he really DID need help, and not the psychiatric kind. I shouldn't have so quickly concluded that he was mentally ill. What do I know? On the other hand, maybe he was severely mentally ill. Maybe his parents were in denial, and not giving him the help he needed.

What I'm trying to get at is there's no easy answers in any of this. My heart goes out to all those who have been misdiagnosed and treated for mental illnesses they don't have. And my heart goes out to those who reached out for help and were pushed away.