CW: mental illness, suicide

This week Kanye West and Chance the Rapper’s manager and some other folks decided to share a few thoughts on mental illness and medications that were less than ringing endorsements of the latter. In the midst of a Twitter rant against two other artists, Kanye mentioned that he’s not taking medication anymore because he felt it hindered his creativity; seemingly as a response to the backlash against that statement, Chance’s manager tweeted that folks should try lifestyle changes before taking psychiatric medication and referred to his own experience becoming addicted to doctor-prescribed Xanax for anxiety. 

At first I was just going to let it ride and not say anything, because it’s Kanye and I don’t particularly like him or what he has to say lately. On this point, though, I felt where he was coming from. In the 20 years before I began withdrawing from all my psych meds, I also felt my creativity drain away. Yes, it was eventually replaced with the ability to hold down a steady job and maintain some level of stability on my meds that didn’t require me going in to the hospital every year to have them readjusted. But I mourned that loss, and I had to learn to accept a reformulated version of myself: one who was not a prolific writer, who didn’t use writing as a form of creative expression but merely as a tool to document my mood states from day to day.

Anyway, I was going to let it ride until my timeline started to clog up with other folks with mental illness (I won’t call them crazy, since I’m not sure they would take kindly to the reclaiming of that label) exhorting other folks to take their meds and completely dismissing what Kanye said. And then when Chance’s manager said their piece, it ramped up even more. It became overwhelming, confrontive, all that stuff–especially when people started trying to pathologize Kanye’s reaction to meds as resulting from “medication resistance”, and his Twitter rant as being evidence of his “rapid cycling”. It just reminded me that as someone who still has a severe mental health diagnosis somewhere in the system, I won’t be taken seriously because I’m not taking psychiatric medication. 

Which is absolutely wild to me, because for the first half of my life I wasn’t taken seriously because I was taking psych drugs. 

Back in the 90s, when I first started writing about my mental illness in ‘zines and online, mental health awareness seemed to be at absolute zero. Barely anyone was really talking about it in any real way in popular culture, and those who were, were usually white and upper/middle class (a la Elizabeth Wurtzel and Susanna Kaysen). I was all about the personal being political, so I felt revolutionary being a Black girl talking about my crazy openly and without shame.

I opined about my broken brain’s inability to produce a “normal” level of serotonin or norepinephrine or dopamine. I wholeheartedly accepted the medical model and in fact, in one ‘zine I wrote when I was a teen, I took it to its logical extreme by comparing folks’ unwillingness to allow me to commit suicide with denying a terminally ill cancer patient access to euthanasia. I thought this was logical because the doctors were telling me I would have to take a med cocktail composed of dozens of meds for the rest of my life just to maintain my marginal existence.  

I never guessed that I’d be on the other side nearly 25 years later, disagreeing with folks whose arguments are based in the same logic. Or AGREEING with motherfuckers who advocate lifestyle changes before starting on psych meds. 

Now, that last part is way controversial and I don’t fuck with saying anything of the sort on social media because it requires over 280 characters to articulate my feelings on the matter. But I do think that in an ideal society doctors would try nondrug treatments for mental illness first, because those treatments don’t scramble your brain chemistry. And I think our belief that meds are the first line of defense is rooted in capitalism’s productivity edict (which necessitates that recovery from mental health crises be quick) and the decades-long project the psychiatric establishment has engaged in to promote the chemical imbalance myth (in order to convince the public their discipline is as scientific as others in the medical field).

But I also know that we don’t live in an ideal society, and people don’t always have the time or spoons or resources to engage in nondrug treatment. I want people to be able to relieve their suffering by whatever means they need, whether that’s via psychiatric drugs or therapy or recreational drugs or exercise or massage or sex or nothing at all. Life is hard, and everyone is different. That’s why I’m not out here demanding that we stop prescribing medication across the board. But I see way too many folks doing the opposite and demanding that talk of medication only be positive to avoid scaring people away from getting the help they need, and that isn’t realistic. People need to know what they’re getting into. They need to be able to make informed decisions. And dismissing those who’ve had negative side effects from meds (like a loss of creativity) isn’t facilitating informed consent among psychiatric consumers.

(I’m not even going to get into how many of us enter the mental health enterprise under coercive circumstances–as children and teens, as adults under 72-hour holds, etc.)

So yeah, I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few days, and I decided I’m gonna start trying to pitch some essays to outlets about this stuff*. Because I don’t see my experience represented in the current discourse on mental illness and I think it is a valuable one.  There are so many others who were harmed by psychiatric meds, and who have written about this stuff for years with little mainstream recognition. I want to help bring attention to this. Not because I want everyone to give up their meds, but because I want to offer a counterpoint. I’m not speaking out of turn; this is and has been my life since I was a teen. If there’s one thing in this world I know, it’s what it’s like to be crazy. And what it’s like to survive, every day, a mind that wants me to die.

(P.S. – I didn’t cite anything here because this is just a quick blog, but do please Google stuff if you think I’m a conspiracy theorist or making things up about psychiatry or whatever. Eventually I want to upload a lot of the material I have on the sociology of mental illness, because I think everyone should have access to this stuff. But today is not that day. Sorry!)

* Edited December 23, 2018 to say: I’ve realized I probably don’t have the emotional energy to handle the amount of rejection this would (and already has) result(ed) in, and so I may or may not do this, after all. I gotta save my rejection spoons for fiction.