I was recently given a copy of a deeply moving letter written to the parents of a young woman who committed suicide after years of desperate struggle with her mental health. The parents had made their daughter’s story public in the hope of finding ways to support other people dealing with mental health issues.
I share the letter with the author’s response, but without the author’s name.
I was deeply touched by the story you shared of your daughter’s life and death .
Your journey has been an enormously difficult one, and I know that many are quite literally, torn apart, going through a similar ordeal. How good that you are able to commit yourselves now to helping other people in their struggles with the medical / psychiatric / justice system.
I too, know the hard road to hell and the extreme frustrations of “system failure.” And I too, feel compelled to help.
Unfortunately, the theory of “help” I want to share is so radical that it tends to seriously challenge and upset people.
So first, let me tell you a little bit about myself. At present, I enjoy a measure of physical and mental health that is truly wonderful. I am a well-adjusted person: stable, productive, contributing. I have a graduate degree. I’ve worked at the same full time job for more than 14 years. I pay my bills. I answer my phone.
And . . . most of my body is covered in scar tissue. Some of the wounds were bone deep. All of them were self-inflicted.
Like your daughter, I experienced quite an upheaval at the end of high school. And, like Laura, I was eventually diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder. I spent the next 14 years on the medical / psychiatric conveyer belt. Starting off with a psychiatrist and a large bucket of pills, I was moved along from one treatment modality to the next. Anxious, angry, fearful, obsessive and compulsive, desperately depressed and profoundly self-destructive, I was hospitalized on three occasions.
But pain throttled in one quadrant simply emerges somewhere else and soon I added codeine to my addiction dependence list.
Each time that I tearfully described what seemed to me a heroic struggle against overwhelming fears, my doctor would say, “you don’t need to live like that. The book says you can safely take . . . x number of these a day . . . – take more.” Taking more was always the solution. I took enough psychotropic medication to stop a bus – everyday – for 14 years. Eventually, I took enough to effect a chemical lobotomy.
One day I reported in for my appointment and my psychiatrist said that he didn’t think that he could help me anymore, and that he had made an appointment for me at a sheltered workshop. I was to go there for any further care or supervision.
At that point an extraordinary miracle took place: Wisdom in my heart started screaming. I said, “no.” – that’s not who I am. You’re wrong.” And I left. I left the doctor — and his pills and his medical paradigm and went out to find my own way “home.”
I’m sure that the road was probably quite hellish for some long time after that. I’m sure my mother must have feared for all of us. It seemed a huge risk. Bodies don’t distinguish source or supply in drug addiction. Coming off drugs is coming off drugs – and that’s a hard thing. But inch by inch, month by month, slowly – ever so slowly, over a period of years I came to a totally new understanding of that time in my life.
One of the most important things I discovered – and there is a considerable body of literature about this now –– is that far from calming me down and helping me to be “quiet,” the psychotropic medicine prescribed had been creating an intense paradoxical reaction that left me more agitated, more fearful, and more self-destructive.
Health care professionals express concern today about the epidemic of young people cutting themselves. I believe that there is a very strong correlation of antidepressants / antipsychotic medication use in those young people.
This is the radical – challenging part that I referred to above — I believe the pharmaceuticals are contributing to the problem – in effect, poisoning people.
I am healed now. I am not the person I was. Today my health is based on grace, – and love – and fresh air and exercise. I walk every day. I take vitamins – but nothing at all in the way of drugs – no pain killers, or mood modifiers.
I must emphasize that this isn’t an “all drugs are wrong” rant. I know that remarkable strides have been made, that new generations of drugs are being developed — and that antiseptics and antibiotics have afforded us all a measure of health that was not possible a century ago.
But I would also say – to everyone watching helplessly as a family member flails around screaming that they want to die, — could you consider the possibility that your son’s anger, your daughter’s anxiety, that fearfulness and self-destructive behaviour – is primarily a result of the “solution” being pressed on them? Could the medicine be making them toxic?
Of course I had all kinds of issues to sort out: all of the existential neuroses and most of the usual problems along the spectrum of food- weight – body image – sexuality, added to layers of hormones difficulties and at that time, unknown, food reactions. And I was bright, strident, wilful and non-compliant which often got me into trouble too.
But for 14 years I sucked back – sometimes as many as 28 tablets a day. And that just finished me off. Prescribed with the best of intentions, given on expert authority, it was a huge and costly mistake that caused untold damage and took many, many years to undo.
But bodies and minds are incredibly resilient. They can recover. People can come to live healthy lives again. I am living proof of that.
Be encouraged. Be curious.
I am so sorry that it is too late for Laura. But if another parent asks you – please tell them to think on this. Quietly ask their heart – is this really my child yelling? – or is it possible that drugs have changed her – that she started getting worse after the pills were prescribed?
Peace bless you both