I must make something very clear. I am not anti- psychiatry. Not by a long shot. Were it not for my psychiatrist, Dr. Bob, I wouldn't be the person I am today, sitting here at 6:48 a.m. writing to you, which, by the way, I consider an enormous privilege.
However… I just wish that Psychiatry would more openly and genuinely embrace Recovery.
Too many people tell me their psychiatrists insist that they have bipolar disorder and they'll never be well. That it's a chronic disease like diabetes which must be controlled by medication, like insulin, that they must take for the rest of their lives. I hear this all the time. It really upsets me, especially when the medication these people are prescribed often makes them feel awful.
This doesn’t have to be true. Medication is a tool. In many cases, it doesn't need to be taken for life. That's a decision the person who is taking their medication must decide. Often the decision rests between two polarities.
Are you going to be ill for the rest of your life? Or are you going to begin your recovery journey to wellness.
That journey may involve your taking some medication, for a while. Or not. It's your body. It's your life. You decide.
Recently, Dr. Bob and I had this discussion because I was thinking about going off my medication. He left the decision up to me and I decided, for now, to stay on my Tegretol, an anticonvulsant, which is my mood stabilizer and keeps me from becoming manic. Had I decided to go off it, Dr. Bob would have taken me off the drug very gradually, as it has dramatic implications on the way the other drugs I take for my kidney transplant react in my body. It’s a tricky business.
Dr. Bob is a most unusual psychiatrist. He cares about the whole person – all of me. Mind. Body. Soul. Spirit. My health and wellness. He treats me, and I'm sure all the people with whom he works, with enormous respect and dignity. He is a humble man despite his enormous accomplishments.
Let me tell you a story. It's true.
Once years ago, he was planning an academic one-day conference for all the in-patient doctors, nurses, psychologists and occupational therapists working at the hospital where he is clinical head of the psychiatric in-patient ward. The topic of this conference, I recall, was how to improve the in-patient unit and in-patient care. Dr. Bob asked me if I would be willing to speak for about 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning of the day about what I thought might make things better for in-patients, as I had been a guest on his unit several times.
Not only that, he offered to pay me for my time.
The point is, how many psychiatrists in his position would turn to one of their patients to enlighten doctors, nurses, and all the professionals working on a psych ward about how to improve conditions for their in-patients?
Brilliant idea, when you think about it.
Who knows better than a patient? But how many patients are invited to present at medical or psychiatric conferences about this, our field of expertise?
I cannot remember what I said, but apparently, my remarks set the tone for the day. Have things changed? I don't know. I haven't been back, but knowing Dr. Bob, they probably have.
Recently, I was reading John McManamy's wonderful blog on at BipolarConnect and he made a fascinating point.
If you haven't read John, I recommend him. He's one of the "experts" writing at BipolarConnnect and as you'll see from his profile, he is eminently qualified to write about bipolar disorder as he's the author of Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You... That You Need To Know, the first and most comprehensive book on mood disorders from a patient's perspective. He has several different online venues and he’s definitely worth a look.
In one of his postings about Recovery, here's what John wrote about psychiatric medication – getting better and being well – which are not the same.
"Meds will make us better, after all, but they will not necessarily make us well," McManamy wrote. "Psychiatry is very good at getting us to 'better.' The success rates for 'better' are very high, backed by impressive research. 'Well' is far more problematic. Virtually no research exists. There is no evidence base, no way of determining how successful psychiatry is in this regard, if at all."
Do you want to be better? Do you want to be well?
You can be both, but it takes time and a lot more than popping pills.
Tomorrow, I turn 60. I've been in psychotherapy of several different kinds over the last 48 years. I've been hospitalized about 20 times for mania. I've read a great deal about the mind and mental illnesses and mental health. I am constantly learning and open to new ideas. I've also spoken at a variety of conferences all over Canada and in some spots south of the border. Knowledge about psychiatry and mysteries of the mind and the brain is growing exponentially. It's hard to keep up, but I'm learning all the time.
This is a life-long journey. I'll never graduate with my PhD in me, but the course is fascinating because there's so much to learn. It's never ending. How exciting!