Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Nobody was on my side"

I sometimes bring up the idea that it is important to be on your relative's side when a diagnosis has been handed down. I read the CNN article Growing up bipolar and glommed onto the following quote:

Jennifer, the middle child, was always the most sensitive of Konjoian's three children, her mother said. She never had any episodes at school; they usually happened when she felt overwhelmed by her family: for instance, when her siblings picked on her.

"I felt like nobody was on my side. That's kind of how I always felt,"

This child was given a label of bipolar (after initially taking an antidepressant, as is so often the case) and yet, here it is, in black and white, that her behavior was a problem at home, not at school. Her family was driving her crazy. She felt that they weren't on her side. I can identify with this. As a child I was continually angry and lashing out, at home, never at school. It was my family that was driving me crazy and I didn't learn coping skills  until I finally tired of myself and made a vow to stop. Naturally I felt nobody was on my side at the time.

Being on the person's side, seeing life from someone else's point of view, is huge in healing. Most parents are too busy settling disputes amongst siblings to really focus on the child's point of view.

When we landed in the mental health system, after a while I began to wonder who was really on Chris's side. It took me a while, but I finally realized that Chris's perceptions were real, not something that should be dismissed as lunatic ravings. Okay, psychosis is an unusual way to express yourself, but for some people, it is the only way until they master a way of not retreating into psychosis. The doctors claimed they were on Chris's side, but then they referred to him as a patient, they spoke of his delusions, they gave him drugs to sedate him. They encouraged a view of a limited future.

Parents can easily fall into the same trap and will take the side of the doctor, which is a negative and mechanical view of the individual. Ian and I cajoled Chris into taking his meds because the doctors said it was essential. We looked at Chris as if he was the crazy one. We were not on his side. We confused empathy with pity.

After a while I "got it."  I decided Chris was right about whatever it was that was bothering him. He had justifiable cause. Chris's way of expressing himself as a child was not like Jennifer's. His way was quiet and non-confrontational. Everybody has their own way of dealing with anger or fear.

Why are we so eager to believe somebody else and not our relative when it comes to mental health issues?


  1. what a wonderful post. I was diagnosed with potential bipolar as an adult - following a few psychotic episodes... Now - I am medication free, and I understand my psychotic episodes... Yes - they were unusual ways of expressing my fears and confusion... but actually in hindsight - I could make sense of them.. CONGRATULATIONS on your understanding!!!

  2. Thanks for the support of someone who's been there! Psychosis is not the strange beast the the mental health industry would lead you to believe.

  3. My friend and my daughter's advocate said "I'm on your side" to my daughter a lot when she was in the locked psych ward last year. She was non verbal and would make direct eye contact when she heard that. He still tells her that and she still intently pays attention. Currently, her psychosis that was induced by meds and trauma and forced injections last year is now in the distance. She's here, and trust is a big factor.

  4. She must have sensed that he meant it. Words need actions.

  5. Psychiatrists are quick to diagnose and prescribe powerful sedating drugs.Most of us were brought up not to question doctors but now some of have learned otherwise.If only I had known what I was getting into when I went to a psychiatrist''

  6. This is beautiful. We want to read all your blog.

    Unfortunately, "I'm on your side" or "We're on your side", "We're just trying to help you", etc., can also be (and often is) a trap. Used to coax a person into being a "cooperative" patient, doing everything the doctor says and taking medication.

    The worst part is when the people saying it are not lying, but sincerely think these things will help. This is why it is so difficult for those of us (especially children) who are different in any way to ascertain whom to trust.

    E.J. Chen

  7. Thanks for the comment. For me, it all boils down to believing that the person has justifiable cause for what is bothering them.

  8. Its sad that a persons experience is more often then not totally denied by not only the medical field but by family and friends as well.
    Real or not a persons experiences should be treated as real in order for that person to develop and grow both mentally and physically.
    Psychiatry seems to practice the exact opposite for some reason.
    They poison the mind with words and the body with medication.
    Unless you are of strong spirit and a fighter you have little to no chance it seems.
    A very unworkable and unhealthy model of care that is a reflection of our ever sickening society

  9. Anonymous - People may think I am "too" involved in my son's recovery, but you have pointed out something that I can use to clarify why I do what I do. My son is not a fighter. He is a thoughtful, kind and gentle person and I knew that at the age of 19 he would have just retreated further if I didn't take over the management of this. There are some people who will resist (sometimes this is not a good strategy) but there are others like my son who just accept. How many 19 year olds know about altnernatives? So, thanks for the comment.

  10. Thanks for the reply Rossa -alternatives are few and far between unfortunately and even then it is up to the individual to seek them out.Not an easy task for anyone when they are unwell.
    I found out the hard way that resistance is not always the best path.Maybe swimming up steam against the current on an angle would be a better description of my experience's.
    I am still struggling 20 years later to keep my head above water since my first hospitalization and at times it seems futile.
    I commend you on taking the time to educate yourself about your sons condition and playing an active role in his recovery.
    My Family are the complete opposite in this regards.Apart from my therapist and a few friends who are psychiatric survivors them selves I am largely on my own.
    It makes me angry , frustrated and sad.
    I wish I had at least one family member that was on my side when it comes to dealing with the psychiatric system.
    Sadly this is not this case and it may well be be the death of me.
    Thank you creating this blog and for your comments.

    Wishing you and yours all the best.


  11. Rick - Swimming upstream on an angle is a great way of putting it. You might want to read A Way Out of Madness, which just came out in May. Even though it seems to be directed to people in their twenties, you will find that your experience of the family is the same as most of chapter authoris. It might be comforting to know that your path is the more usual one. I have a review of it on my blog. You can just put the words into the search engine.

  12. Rossa,

    Thank you so much for being so open and honest. I truly relate to virtually everything you share. I wholeheartedly agree with you "For me, it all boils down to believing that the person has justifiable cause for what is bothering them."

    I too have realized that my attitude has a profound effect on my son. I am blessed in that I have always believed in his ability to recover--and that I am willing to hear whatever he has to say--he trusts me and it is this, that gives me the drive to continue to examine my own actions, and words (I have to be so aware of tone, inflection) so I can encourage his recovery. He is my hero. He has always tried harder than anyone I've ever met, to make friends, and learn how to play games, as a child. And now he is a young man who has a capacity to love and accept himself and others that is profound.


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