i was going to write about all the difficult lessons i’m learning this scorpio season about fluid boundaries and respecting others’ wholeness at the same time as you respect your own. but then i crashed back into depression after turning my attention to financial matters again. so instead i’m going to tell you about the darkness, because it teaches us something too.

i have tried to end my life actively twice and passively an uncountable number of times. 6/7 days of the week, give or take, i am in an intentional practice of finding reasons to live. in a world where new reasons not to live manifest on a daily basis, this requires a good deal of my energy and focus. there are nearby things that are reasons to die and far away things that are reasons to die: nearby, financial instability, hunger, and unemployment; far away, climate catastrophe, ableist white supremacist fascism, capitalist ruin. all these things and more weigh on my mind, weigh down my mind so that depression becomes inevitable.

when i look back at each moment i can remember making serious plans to kill myself or actually trying to kill myself i think about whether or not i would regret it if i had died then, if i had missed out on all the events in my life that followed. the answer is invariably no. not because i don’t love the people in my life dearly. not because i haven’t had good times since. the thing is, i don’t think being alive in and of itself is worth anything. i think being alive is worth something if you love your life. i don’t love my life a lot of the time. sometimes it feels like i’m always miserable. but i know depression fucks with my sense of balance in that way, so i don’t use my proportion of good days to bad when i’m doing the calculus of whether or not my life is worth it. what i do is think about the proportion of struggle to reward. for me. i’m sure other people get something out of me being alive, because out of necessity i have shaped myself into a person that others would enjoy being around. but for me, life is also often way more struggle than reward.

of course things might turn around at some point if i stay alive but the way things are looking now in the context of my life history thus far doesn’t bode well for the kinds of extraordinary developments that would have to occur for this to reverse course. plus, i don’t have a lot of life left in me. i have multiple disabilities and i am multiply marginalized. every day a new study comes out telling me this or that trait is a risk factor for early death. being Black, being mentally ill, being queer, being fat, being in chronic pain. all these things wear on my bodymind. and accessing the things i need to counteract them is contingent on me having the money to do that. if i can’t make or raise money, i am on a path towards death anyway, regardless of if i want it or not.

so i am presented with a choice: use my spoons on trying to keep on top of finances/fundraise OR look for a job OR find a reason to live. because at this point i don’t have the spoons for all three. and since i can’t always generate reasons to live for myself i am falling into depression way more often. and i am afraid–no, i am not afraid, not anymore. i have accepted the inevitability that if this continues, if i cannot find some kind of work, at some point i will fall in and be unable to pull myself out. i don’t want to hurt the people i love, but i cannot control the world. i can only do what is within my capacity.

this is what is real for me right now. nothing else takes up so much space in my life. the specter of death. the futility of trying to find a reason to live as a suicidal person when every day brings your involuntary negation closer. i am angry when i think about how i’ve fought to survive for so long and i might just die because capitalism. because i fell for a lie, when so many others fall for the same lie and are rewarded.

this is what is real for me right now. i say optimistic things on social media but i don’t believe them. i don’t really believe the world won’t just let me die. i don’t believe i have the ability to survive. i am scared and hurt and angry and i feel abandoned and betrayed and bitter.

this is what is real for me right now. people die every day. people are abandoned by their families and communities and societies every day. if there is a god they do not discriminate when distributing suffering among the marginalized and oppressed. if there is a god they seem to favor the rich, the white, the depraved. at least in this realm.

(god, please tell me there is a place where this is made right. please tell me this pain isn’t for nothing. please help me understand.)

this is what’s real. i don’t know how i am going to get through the rest of today, or the rest of the week, or the rest of the month. i have nothing to guide me but a shaky faith in myself as a part of the divine and in the divine themselves. i constantly shift between deep, bone-crushing despair and butterfly-wing-beat-hopefulness. i constantly delude myself to keep going and that’s okay. when consensus reality is too harsh sometimes you have to exist in your own.

this is what’s real. i can’t promise to stay alive because that’s not entirely up to me. the world has the ultimate say in my survival. but i promise that i will keep fighting. i promise that i will stare down the darkness until it has said what it needs to say. and if i survive, i promise that i will teach you everything it taught me.

image showing degree conferral from UCLA: bachelor of arts, sociology, magna cum laudeSociety—other people, systems, institutions, culture—has so much more power over our lives than the average person gives it credit for. Acknowledging its outsized influence is devastating at first, incompatible as it is with a vision of the individual as master of their own destiny, culpable in failure and deserving in success. But there is a freedom in relinquishing our illusions of control. If I am not charge of my destiny, if my class or race or assigned gender or national origin are stronger determinants of my fate than my individual decisions, it matters less what choices I make. I can make the choices society prescribes for me, or I can choose a different path.

A little less than six years ago, I fled back to school hoping that when I finished, I would be able to avoid the stress and disappointment of looking for a job without a college degree. I had just been laid off from my job as a technical support specialist and was already attending community college part time, so it seemed fortuitous, especially since my partner and were talking about me quitting my job and going back to school full time once he found a teaching job. I made the leap and enrolled in a full load of classes at my local community college.

(Society told me going back to school was a respectable choice, the right choice. I should have graduated from college a long time ago, according to chrononormative* standards, anyway, and won’t a college degree give you a leg up in the job market? They can never take your degree away from you, they say, and promise it will all be worth it, all the struggling and debt and biting your tongue.)

There was no way for me to know five years ago that I would be graduating into a job market even more unfriendly to folks like me than I had avoided by entering college in the first place. No way for me to know that I would be made more disabled by my time in academia; definitely no way for me to know that the world as I understood it would effectively be ending in slow motion, that overt and aggressive fascism and white supremacy would be in power all over the world, that the naively hopeful environmental trajectory I thought we were on would be replaced by dire warnings of our dwindling opportunity to halt the inevitable collapse.

But—this is actually an okay place to be, for me. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Even if sometimes it hurts so bad I wish I could sink into the molten outer core of the earth. Systems are failing, nakedly, obviously. That means there is no way for me to blame myself. There is no way for me to be exceptional enough to overcome an actual apocalypse. If I learned anything from studying sociology, I learned that.

At last, finally, and in the end, I understand: It’s not me, it’s society.


I once believed that higher education was a refuge for the bookish and bright. Being the kind of learner that prefers to absorb a subject through obsessively researching as much as I can on it, I found only misery in elementary and high school. I felt trapped, forced to learn in a regimented way, forced to adhere to conventions set by long-dead colonizers and bootlickers and other types interested in turning children into compliant cogs in a surplus-generating machine. College, I thought, would be different, would be more open to the kaleidoscope of brains humanity contains. Despite having attended college on and off since I was sixteen, I didn’t have enough long-term experience with it to dispel my idealistic beliefs. I was always too crazy to attend class regularly, always withdrawing mid-semester to deal with some emotional upheaval, some mental collapse. And I was so drugged up and indoctrinated into various mainstream viewpoints that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the reality of it all even if I had managed to spend any length of time at school.

This time around, though, I noticed. I noticed all the ways higher education operates to exclude folks like me, all the ways it demands exceptionalism in the face of its own mediocrity, all the ways it perpetuates a status quo of ableism, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism. And as I got further into my upper division major work—sociology—I noticed even more. It became too much to bear too many times to count. The small ironies piled up like so much oppressive detritus, my daily commute a recounting of historical and present-day trauma, my thoughts a running tally of injustices: I am currently driving on a freeway system built by displacing poor people of color, past houses big enough to hold every single houseless person I meet on the way, to a campus more concerned with the appearance of diversity than materially improving the lives of its Black or disabled or queer or immigrant students, to learn about the impact of housing discrimination on intergenerational wealth in whites versus Black folks.

I channeled my anger, my outrage and existential despair, let it flavor impassioned papers and pointed presentations, but it felt hollow, was hollow. It meant nothing, and I knew it. I had to endure the slights, had to make do when my disability accommodations were phased out, had to push myself beyond the point of burnout to finish my degree. Because in my mind, if I didn’t, I’d just spent five years and however many tens of thousands of dollars to have my dreams crushed without even getting a receipt. As much as I wanted to be the kind of bitch that says you know what, I’m good and forges their own degreeless path in life—as much as I had effectively been that bitch for the first part of my adult life out of necessity—I felt obligated to finish, not only for myself but for the loved ones who were sacrificing to help me get through school.

To stay motivated, I told myself that I’d find a job quickly once I finished school. I knew this was a fiction, but it was a necessary one—more than once, the specter of graduating and still being unable to find a job almost convinced me to drop out. I pretended as if this degree really would allow me to navigate the job market with ease, picking and choosing from a panoply of well-paying jobs with full benefits, leapfrogging over my un-degreed competition. But even if that were the case, I was using every last bit of my energetic reserves to reach a finish line that had shifted since I started the race, leaving me in no condition to leapfrog over anything. I spent the first few weeks after graduation pretending it was just another summer, trying to recharge a little before I started my job search.

A manic episode lent me the optimism to apply for a dozen or so jobs and write sparkling cover letters to each. The inevitable fibro flare and depression that followed forced me to acknowledge the truth of 2019’s job market hellscape. Several of the $15/hr-and-under positions I applied to expected me to do free labor in the form of aptitude tests and their ilk. (For some jobs, I did these, because I felt the position/salary would be worth it, and the tests weren’t too egregious. On others, I declined.) Out of the positions to which I applied, only one has even opened my resume—I’ve received no response from that employer at the time of writing, two weeks later. One job I was particularly excited about, one whose qualifications I greatly exceeded and whose hours and duties perfectly matched my needs, had over a thousand applicants at last update. A few jobs have “moved to the next stage in their hiring process” without my resume even being acknowledged.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be jobless for a while, if traditional employment is the way I insist on making my living. I can write about it now, find the silver lining in my misfortune, because it’s been a couple weeks and I’m high as fuck. But realizing that I just spent five years under some of the most extreme stress of my life to basically end up worse off than I started broke me for about a week. My always-tenuous commitment to staying in corporeal form dwindled to nonexistence more than once, but I happily do not own anything capable of killing me in a guaranteed manner, so I’m still here.

(Kidding, kind of. As long as the people who love me are here on this planet, I’m staying in solidarity. But things did get pretty pale in my head.)

I cannot Black excellence my way out of being on earth as worlds crumble around me. I cannot young, Black, and gifted my way into insulating myself from climate collapse, into financial security, into overcoming a system built to oppress and exploit folks like me before leaving us to become casualties of their disregard for life. All I can be is open to learning how to live in different ways, how to ride the waves of change such that I can keep my head above water, keep what’s important in sight. And if I can’t keep my head above water, I can learn to take bigger breaths before I go under.

If I could travel through time, I would impart this wisdom to 34-year-old me on the eve of their decision to go back to school. I would whisper in her ear: Do not give in to fear. Leap. You will find you have wings. I don’t know that I would fly, that things would turn out any better if I threw myself into professional writing in 2014 instead of seeking the comfort of official validation, but I might have avoided destroying my health in order to get it. I really thought I needed the legitimacy of a degree. I didn’t. Turns out what I needed was to finally internalize the idea that it’s not me, it’s society. For accomplishing that, at least, perhaps going back to school was worth it. For what it did to my emotional and physical well-being, decidedly, it was not.


It’s the end of the world—at least, it’s the beginning of the end of a way of living based in colonialism, ableism, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and cisheteropatriarchy—and that means we don’t have to do things the same way anymore. We never did, but we have even less incentive now that doing things the way we were told to do them has been so starkly revealed as a path to destruction and separation from god, god being that spark of the divine we each hold within us, the glue that binds us to each other and the planet and all beings across the universe. The way of living that tells me that I must depend on a boss or a landlord or a mayor or a president to manage my work, my housing, my community, my people, is the same way of living that has cleaved Indigenous land from Indigenous humans, the same way of living that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for large human populations, the same way of living that I will reject every single day until it has been banished from this earth.

We must reject ways of living that perpetuate systems of oppression if we are to have hope of humanity surviving the catastrophic change that is underway. But since systems of oppression also shape the ways of living we have available to us, this rejection will come with pain and sacrifice, especially for those of us who are subjugated under the same systems. I know this, I been known this, been known revolutionary change is full of what we are taught to perceive as negative emotions and experiences, but that there is growth contained within them. If a little pain, a little discomfort on my part, on our part, could propagate through the system all the way up to the institutional level, could destabilize the systems that oppress us, wouldn’t it be worth it? Especially when—in my experience, at least—pain can be a catalyst for awakening, and a pleasure unto itself.

For me, the desire to be traditionally employed is partially rooted in a genuine concern that my disability might prevent me from being able to manage freelance or self-employed life. Putting the responsibility for finding streams of income on myself and not on some professional who ostensibly knows what they’re doing is a terrifying prospect when I consider how few days out of a month I feel well enough to work on projects. At the same time, I do get shit done despite how I feel. I don’t have to feel good about something in the moment for it to be worthwhile. In fact, the most worthwhile things I’ve done have often been ordeals to get through.

That’s not to say that everything worthwhile must be painful, or that suffering is necessarily productive—I would never endorse that idea. Sometimes, though, the only way we get out of a destructive situation is for it to become untenable, uncomfortable, painful. Sometimes pain is a friend nudging you: Are you safe here?  Is this what you really need? I’ve been trying to understand what this pain is trying to tell me, this discomfiting space I’m in where I don’t know when I’ll find work, how I’m going to support myself, where I’m going in life when it comes to career.

Before I got my sociology degree, I might have blamed myself for my inability to find a job. I might have taken the metaphorical whip to my own back, expected that I would be able to make up the gap between economic expectation and reality by hustling, killing myself to meet a capitalist ideal of productivity and employability. Now, I know. It’s not me, it’s society. Trying to be middle class, trying to live up to hegemonic ideals of success, is destructive. What I am feeling is in part the shame of not being able to consume the same disproportionate amount of resources as my parents did, the anguish of believing hard work gets you anywhere, the guilt of having held that ideology against the poor and the houseless and other unfortunate souls I probably thought myself better than, the humiliation of having that ideology thrown back in my face when I cannot succeed under the same terms.

(And when I say I, I mean we. None of us are safe here, and this is the opposite of what we need.)

This job market, this disappointment post-graduation, is painful for me to confront. It’s a bit of the same pain I felt when I came to understand that higher education was not a great equalizer but merely a mechanism to perpetuate the status quo, the same pain I feel when I hear people defend throwing families in cages because they violated some law, the same pain I feel when I see folks saying we can’t take radical action on climate change or abolish prisons or dismantle capitalism because it will cost too much or be unfair to folks who paid off their loans or their debt to society or whatever milquetoast excuse the centrists are offering that day. We insist on adhering to the tenets of a way of life that is killing us. I adhered to them by going back to school, even though I had literally no reason to, was receiving no real benefit besides the false sense of security that comes from doing the right thing. If we just work hard enough. If we get a degree. If we are exceptional. If we go high when they go low, if we open a business in a disadvantaged community for three years, if we are silent as the waves of change crash upon us, as the inexorable tide of exploitation pulls us under, we might become one of the lucky ones.

The past is the past. I made my choice, I went back to school, I graduated. But now, I intend to break away, take a different path than the one society prescribes for me. A scarier path, but maybe a more realistic path. A path that I forge myself, with guidance from others who have navigated this chaos longer than I have, successfully. I want to write full-time, or as full-time as my bodymind allows. It isn’t my first choice to make writing my primary source of income—it is partially a function of the reality of the job market—and I may end up needing to find part-time work to supplement my income after all. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe that making writing my full-time job is at least something worthwhile for me to attempt. Writing is where I see myself doing the most good on this planet, and despite the awful state of publishing, I think I have a chance—however tiny—at my version of success. It will be hard. It will involve a lot of rejection and crying jags and questioning whether I ought to just peace myself out and avoid all the misery. It could also be the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. The way I find community. The way I build community and leave a legacy of work for the folks who live after I’m gone. I have nothing to lose, anyway. We have nothing to lose but a world that would see us in chains again.

It’s not you, it’s society. And society is in shambles. What would you do if there was nothing holding you back, if you had nothing left to lose, if everything you thought you knew turned out to be a lie? What will you do now, at the beginning of the end of this world?

* Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Duke University Press. 2010.

[In the first installment of this series, I talked about my politics in general and how the connections between systems of oppression and my personal experience have become incredibly salient to me. Here I want to talk about how that awakening impacted my attitude towards my various disabilities and how I navigate the world with them.]

I’ve experienced the world in the way I do for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I was officially diagnosed with depression and later bipolar disorder (along with assorted goodies like dissociative identity disorder and panic disorder and PTSD and and and). I’m off psychiatric medication, and for the most part I don’t find my panoply of diagnoses useful anymore, but they were a part of my journey at one point.

It was also around this time–maybe a little before, maybe a little after, my memory of my childhood is hazy–that I was diagnosed with two other disabling conditions: irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. I’ve had digestive struggles since I was very young. I can recall missing a lot of school due to stomachaches that were almost certainly a result of internalized stress and trauma. The fibromyalgia did not manifest itself until I was in my teens, but it came on strong when it did. I needed to use a cane to walk for a long time. (Along with all this, I had extremely debilitating menstrual pain that seemed to take up a majority of the month, I developed PCOS as a consequence of being treated with valproic acid during puberty, and I had various other issues crop up–like sleep disorders and RLS–due to the psych meds.)

My teenage years were mental and physical hell, some of it a byproduct of my not possessing the framework to understand the societal underpinnings of why I was experiencing the things I was, some of it a direct result of my divergent mind and body. I was taught to blame my hellish existence solely on my mind and body. The treatments I was given focused on correcting supposed imbalances in my brain or building tolerance in my body to things I felt I shouldn’t have to tolerate. I eventually got balanced enough or good enough at pushing past the pain that I could get off disability and get a job and tolerate injustice for a paycheck. And I thought I was as close to cured as I could possibly be; I was approximating normal, at least.

When my life fell apart and I along with it, I again sought cure. I thought psychiatric medication was the reason for all my disability, and if I could just get that out of my system, cleanse my system with enough detox and healthy living, I wouldn’t be in constant pain, wouldn’t feel like I needed to curl up in bed after a couple hours awake, wouldn’t feel every single worry in my muscles and joints or every single piece of food pass through my digestive tract.

(That wasn’t the case, either. I’m still very much in pain, very much beholden to my body’s need to eliminate fully every morning before I’m able to comfortably start my day, and very much inhibited by overwhelming fatigue on most days.)

Here’s the thing: until 2017 or so, I’m pretty sure I saw my disability as something I could overcome. Much like all the other characteristics I talked about–my race, my gender, my body size–I saw my disability as something conquerable if I was just exceptional enough. I’m not saying I would have ever verbalized this, and I certainly didn’t think it about other folks. But internalization runs deep, is insidious. Uprooting hegemonic thought patterns takes a lifetime, because they are forever changing and adapting as you change and adapt.

It took withdrawing from psych meds and confronting the continual presence of my disabilities to force me to reckon with their permanence. This reckoning is ongoing. I still sometimes find myself looking back at some mythical time before I became disabled, or looking forward to a time when I might be some shade of healthy, that is to say, less sick. And when I envision me as my best self, too often it’s a vision of myself being productive and able-bodied enough to perform activities like running or cleaning my entire house. The goal is to get to a place where my best self isn’t molded by ableist values. I want to make plans for the future that don’t center on the pain abating or my moods stabilizing.

I’ve realized that up until recently, I was attempting to do one of three things to my disabilities: cure, control, or contain. When cure seemed out of the question, I sought containment through rebellion and self-destruction or control through meds and adopting abled culture; when containment and control became untenable, I set my sights on cure through withdrawing from psych meds and convincing myself my disability was an artifact of their effects. Cure, control, contain is the model for cancer treatment, deadly and alien as we know it, and I knew my disabilities similarly. I hadn’t considered that they were inseparable parts of me, and might have something to offer other than suffering and eventual death.

That these parts of me are disfavored by white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy is not a reflection of their true worth. The parts of me that achieve academically or generate income or do sports aren’t better than the parts of me that were too depressed to finish an assignment on time or that were on SSI or that couldn’t walk without a cane. I don’t need to isolate and berate the so-called deficient parts of me to protect the virtuous parts. All together they make me who I am, and I am glorious because of my disability, not in spite of it.

Now I have the language, the frame through which to extricate the struggles I experience due to ableism and the struggles I experience due to physical or psychological pain. I no longer look at my mind and body as something to be overcome. I’m learning to interact with my bodymindsoul in a tender way, to listen and consider and ask for consent, and not to judge or reprimand when I can’t perform in some way that ableist society has demanded. I’m lowering my expectations, because I wasn’t put on this earth to be productive, and I don’t see the point in playing along. What society has to offer me in exchange for breaking myself at its feet isn’t worth the blood spilled.

My disabilities are foundational to how I navigate the world. Having limited energy shapes my view of what is truly necessary to spend one’s time on, and thus dictates my priorities–growing love and nourishing spirit. My mental illnesses have shaped my understanding of the nature of reality: the relative abundance of sorrow and the rarity of true joy, and how important it is to protect the latter when it crops up. If it weren’t for these supposed impediments, I would likely have spent my life pursuing goals set for me by society rather than building a life guided by transformative love principles and seeking pleasure.

I truly believe my disabilities have something to teach me about how to live wholly in this world, something precious. I need only agree to stop trying to fit them in an ableist box, stop trying to make them small or acceptable or part of an inspirational narrative of overcoming that ties up neat in a bow with me as the cured crazy person at the end.

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.

Neoliberal capitalism is obsessed with choice: the illusion of it, anyway. Same with patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, settler colonialism—they all sustain themselves in part by making our oppression our job. We internalize the rules so we can flog ourselves for breaking them, over and over again. We proclaim, loudly, that we deserve what we get, that we are oppressed because we choose it, and we must only wish away or ignore structural burdens in order to experience freedom. We fight other oppressed folks who dare to name our oppressors as entities outside ourselves. The ways our oppressions internalize themselves are often so insidious that the ideas our brains produce in their thrall can appear revolutionary, at least to us, at our current level of awareness. (See Kanye thinking a white supremacist chestnut is the key to black liberation.)

I’ve been thinking about why I’m fat, lately.

In the past, I declared that I was fat by choice. It was important to me, then, to grasp at what few shreds of individual agency I could. I needed to feel like my existence as a fat person was a rebellion in the sense that I could quit any time, and not doing so was a middle finger to society. At any point, if I just paid a little more attention to my body, if I was just a little less frivolous with my food groups, I could leave the abundance of fatness behind. I just choose not to, right?

(I see them, now. Ghostly relics of internalized fatmisia: my insistent proclamations that I had a choice in the matter of being fat. Relics adorned in the garb of an illusory agency, a complicity in my own destruction that was difficult to resist when I was deep in my feelings about having had little say over the trajectory of my life.)

For some oppressions I live with, the origin lines are relatively linear to me. Ask me why I’m Black and I will tell you a story of chattel slavery, a colonial project undertaken as the greatest wealth redistribution project in human history, and a category created to distinguish humanity from property; ask me why I’m femme and I will tell you of babies carelessly assigned a gender based on a glance at external sex organs, a patriarchal society’s desperate efforts to contain femininity, and my own journey reconciling my internal experience of womanhood with my apparent gender.

My fatness, though, reaches from all directions. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about patriarchy, his tyrant son, rape culture, and the wrath their mortal instruments inflicted on my young psyche. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about ableism and the forced drugging of psychodivergent adolescents. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about capitalism, its capricious devastation of our food environments, and its sorting of humanity into useful and useless. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you, again, about the razing of a continent through enslavement and colonialism. There are so many reasons, and I realize, now, that all of them are outside my control.


I had a 23andMe health and ancestry test gifted to me a while back by a friend. Last week, I got the results, and part of my health analysis stated that I was likely to be average weight. After I stopped grumbling about Whose average?, I started thinking about the course of events that tipped the scales of probability in favor of fatness. Not in a wistful, if-only-this-hadn’t-happened way, honestly. Just musing on the fact that my body, as reviled as it is, is basically a monument to the success of capitalism (and white supremacy, and settler colonialism). Like, look what having food accessible abundantly (to a few) and insisting we prioritize productivity over well-being to increase wealth (for a few) can do for a body. Or, look what tormenting brown folks whose bodies crave taking up just a little more space than your narrow white selves are comfortable with into yo-yo dieting in order to fit a white supremacist ideal can do for a body.

(Basically, y’all should be worshipping fat folks as gods of the fucking free market, patron saints of capitalism. Something other than pretending we don’t exist, or actively working to ensure we can’t.)

I know that genes aren’t destiny. I also know that I am what society made me. It is vital, then, to me, to find and name origin lines, because I do not believe in a fat liberation that does not also seek the dismantling of the structures that created my fatness.

But. But.

I’m not looking for reasons why I’m fat so that I can make it so less fat people exist. Despite my belief that our current food environments are designed to maximize profit rather than human happiness, and despite my belief that our ever-diminishing access to guaranteed shelter, abundant leisure time, and safe outdoor space is making our bodies and minds sick, I also believe that humanity contains a diverse array of naturally-occurring, joyfully normal body types, sizes, and shapes. I also believe that good health looks different for everyone, and is not a moral obligation.

(Especially when we’re in no danger of extinction from any “obesity epidemic”, but we are damn sure in danger of extinction from capitalism and white supremacist imperialism.)


I read a HuffPost article that really resonated with this desire I’ve been cultivating, to have the origin lines of my fatness identified (“Everything you know about obesity is wrong”, September 19, 2018). In it, the author, Michael Hobbes, prints the words of actual fat people, their stories of medical discrimination, inaccessibility, and wage theft. He also touches on the impossibility of losing weight and the paradox of individual choice in a society that works against you. I felt seen, affirmed: we know it’s not your fault, in article form. And I felt angry, because in that article are so many injustices. So many of my fellow fat folk pouring out their experiences, maybe hoping for understanding from their oppressors, maybe hoping to inspire their kin.

(I channeled that anger into wearing a crop top to pick up my parking permit at school, hoping my belly fat would disgust someone so much they’d say something and I might bring the full force of my rage to bear upon them.)

Of course Hobbes is saying things that fat acceptance activists have been saying for ages; diets don’t work, fat stigma kills. He’s just acting as a thin interpreter. And as Margitte points out in her incisive rebuttal (Everything you know about ‘obesity’ is still wrong, September 24, 2018), he’s still approaching fatness as a problem that needs to be eliminated. He is still linking fatness with health. Margitte, in response, implores us to stop searching for the cause of fatness and instead work towards liberation via building a society designed for all body sizes and shapes.

But when I read her words, I felt myself chafing against the idea. Why? I had to think about it, sit with it, make sure it wasn’t another relic of internalized fatmisia. And then I discerned my problem. It wasn’t the idea of working towards liberation, but the idea that I had to stop being concerned with the cause of my fatness. Because, like I said, I can’t see a true fat liberation existing in a framework where fatness is not a choice, and as long as patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism and capitalism are still standing, my fatness will never, can never, truly be my choice.

Even my current level of health is not my choice. I think one reason Hobbes’ article resonated with me is that I have a deep longing to be healthier than I am, but I’m up against structural obstacles that make obtaining the health I want difficult. It sounds like liberation to my ears for society to remodel itself so that eating foods that don’t trigger my IBS or fibromyalgia flares is easier, so that I can get the free time and access to exercise I need to soothe my crazy mind and achy body.

But Margitte is right in the sense that a society remodeled in this way would be remodeling itself in a fatmisic image. It would be remodeling itself to achieve the erasure of fatness under the guise of improving health, because we have not accounted for the root of our hatred of fatness. And when the remodeling project did not succeed, society would again turn its wrath towards us and demand we account for why we’re still fat unhealthy, because in a fatmisic society fatness can never be healthy. And our subjugation is not dictated solely by our socially constructed health status.

(Fat folks are expansive, billowing. It takes many tethers to tie us down.)


Is it paradoxical that I still feel some sense of choice to my fatness now, having firmly outlined my lack of such? Let’s see: I choose to love myself even when I don’t. I choose to rage against my creators. I choose to exist in this body, every day, even if that choice is only made by inertia. But no, I don’t choose to be fat any more than I choose to be Black, queer, femme, or crazy. These are all categories created to divide humanity into those who hold power and those who do not. I find joy in the family I’ve discovered through the sharing and celebration of these identities, but I can’t deny their nature, their intended, oppressive purpose. And my fatness strikes at the core of all of them, connecting them, nourishing them with its decadence. I could not exist as any one of these things without my fat.

(Like so many beautiful things in life, fatness is multifaceted.)

I want us to create a fat liberation movement that strikes at the core of our intersecting identities and nourishes other liberation movements. I want us to acknowledge and honor where we came from, acknowledge that we share the same root system with others who are oppressed by white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy. We all have different origin stories for our fatness. We have all been shaped round in part by the societies we live in. Our bountiful, glorious abundance deserves an acknowledgement of receipt, a tracing of origin points. Not so we can follow them back to their heart to destroy the adipose beast that birthed our kind, but so we can dismantle the structures that prevent our fatness from truly being a choice.

primary conflict:

i know i’m insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but i need to believe i’m talented (aka special) in some way to motivate myself to try.
why (is this a problem)?

1.   the odds are stacked against me due to my:

i. non-traditional (read: non-straightcisrichwhitemale) life trajectory
ii. race/gender/class/sexual orientation/disability

and i’m not a normal* so i lack the capacity to easily delude myself into believing that i can bend the world to my will.

1a.    i was watching Neil Gaiman deliver a commencement address & i wanted to apply some of it but i kept being reminded that my positionality will make a lot of his advice moot.

1b.    reality is basically an illusion. human vision is all weird hacks. so technically i never see anything as it really is.

1c.    & maybe i could shift my reality so i’m living in a world where i can do anything. i can act as if all this shit is available to me.

but what happens when my reality collides with consensus reality? how do i overcome that? & what does that do to my reality?

 [it changes in some way; forces an identity reformulation.]

(then wouldn’t i be constantly having to confront the fragility of my own reality? what’s to prevent me from lashing out when my status is threatened? [see: whites in USA today])

1d.    so much of advice for artists/writers/entrepreneurs/etc is based on a normative white model.

2.    when i allow myself to feel even a teensy bit special, or to have any desire for success, i run up against individuality vs. collectivity.

2a.    i’m pretty convinced Western individualistic culture is fucking up the world & i identify a desire for individual achievement as rooted in this culture.

i feel like the idea that you have to: “make something” of yourself, or have a meaningful impact on the world (even if that impact is positive or centered on helping others), or leave a “mark”
is a facet of individualism

2b.    when i get excited about writing this novel because i might get it published, or when i dream about having conversations with people i admire on podcasts, i identify it as a function of being raised in an individualistic culture

& thus it’s a problem

& so i beat myself up for wanting those things

3.     then i decide my motivation for writing will be changing the world for the better, in collaboration with other artists writers activists etc. my contribution will be cultural, i tell myself. i’ll be working to shift the dialogue through my art, nothing more. no pressure. i’m one of many.

(it’s not about being famous or successful. it’s about making the world a better place, eliminating oppression, blah blah)

3a.    but to do that i still have to be a singular person out here trying to market my writing. i have to believe my shit is just a bit better than the average writer because i’m asking you to spend your few coins on it in this time of scarcity/uncertainty. i at least have to believe it’s as good as the average writer.

3b.    what if it isn’t good? (it definitely isn’t) then i’m just some shill out here duping unsuspecting people out of their hard-earned money, constantly looking over my shoulder.

3c.    what if it is good, but i can’t get anyone to read it because i don’t have the energy/confidence/money/followers/x to get anyone’s attention?

3d.    and even though i’m doing this to help better the world, and i’m not doing it alone, isn’t the belief that i can have an impact at all still individualistic at its core?

3e.    um, what if i get financially secure/rich/famous and i sell out?

(don’t worry famyou’re never going to be financially secure)

3f.   …say you live the good life, you stay true to your principles, you make art, you publish it

choose your outcome:
maybe your words touch the hearts of billions and spark some kind of cultural shift
maybe your words touch the hearts of a few hundred, a few thousand, or a few hundred thousand. you lay a foundation, but nothing changes in your lifetime. so isn’t that still succumbing to individualism in the end?
maybe you sell a bunch of books but still struggle to make ends meet, and end up dying young from oppression and depression and stress

4.     anyway, in 3 billion years the universe will die & no one will ever remember any of this happened. so why bother with it? why not just end it now?

4a.   you have agency, you have choice.

you don’t think suicide is a sin
you know the world will not be losing some irreplaceable voice if yours is silenced
you know you are insignificant in context
you know death is only the companion to life, that it comes to us all, & is nothing to fear
you are in physical and mental pain
(so why not just die?)

4b.   your people love you. your people would be emotionally devastated if you die. maybe it’s not the world, but they’re your world. don’t destroy them

4c.    everything is suffering. maybe death is no more peaceful than life, just different. what if you are who you are even in death? what if you spend eternity ruminating over how pointless incorporeal existence is given the impending heat death of the universe?

4d.    inertia is always less effort than changing course.

you know where these rapids lead. you know once you go over the falls you’ll get to spend some time in tranquil waters. let yourself go over. cry.

4e.   maybe, eventually, it will get better.

4f.    and if it doesn’t, don’t worry, you’ll probably die young —

—to 1>


* “Perhaps the clearest evidence for the benefits of illusions comes from the study of depressive cognitions. Independent work by several investigators has shown that relative to depressives, normals … are more prone to an illusion of control—that is, the perception that they can control objectively uncontrollable outcomes…” SE Taylor, Adjustment to threatening events: A theory of cognitive adaptation, American Psychologist (November 1983)

Even before I stopped taking medication, I stopped going to therapy. I didn’t have a therapist through most of the withdrawal process; only at the very beginning did I seek out a psychologist because I thought it would be safe. But I just found myself arguing with her, as we had such different worldviews and experiences. I could never get her to understand that given my history and my positionality, my extreme emotions were rational and evidence-based. I know there are radical therapists out there, but I just don’t have the time to find one by trial and error, and my insurance situation is such that I can only go to Medi-Cal approved providers or UCLA doctors. I did go to a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner while I was going through withdrawal because I still needed that script and because I figured they might have some knowledge worth sharing. Once I was done with the meds, though, I found no help in continuing to visit a mental health provider. I know therapy is, maybe, supposed to be a place to have your views challenged, but I don’t think therapy should be a place where your essential humanity is challenged. Most therapists are viewing me through the medical model or a similar paradigm, and likely have varying degrees of allegiance to the status quo. This is evident in their disbelief of my experience.

Before I went back to school, my desire to disengage from the mental health enterprise was not an issue. I didn’t see myself needing to verify for anyone that I’ve got the crazy. I figured that in a work scenario, I would continue to—like most people–use clever little white lies to get the breathing room I needed for myself. When I first started back at community college, I dodged needing to request accommodations for my crazy when it came to assignments, accessing services, and the like by leaning on financial and temporal support from my mom and my boyfriend. Their help allowed me to arrange my life as such that I could focus solely on school. That combined with my school being on the semester system rather than the quarter system (meaning we had 16 weeks to complete one course rather than 10) provided me enough cushion time to perform my self-care activities and fall apart when necessary, but still do the homework, meet deadlines, and get high marks.

the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house, but they WILL build a kick ass shed miles away, in the woods.
the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, but they WILL build a kick ass shack miles away, in the woods.

I first realized I would have to notify the system that I was, indeed, a person who has historically been labeled “mentally ill” by practitioners at the end of last spring, when I was investigating how to get to UCLA. For some reason, simply living off-campus doesn’t entitle you to the ability to buy a parking permit. You have to go through this bureaucratic process that involves applying for the permit several months prior to the start of the quarter—with the potential to not be approved—and paying for it regardless of whether or not financial aid has disbursed. At community college, permits were cheap and plentiful; they issued them without regard for lot capacity. I spent a lot of time circling, but at least I didn’t feel like I had to fight to get a permit at all.

To get a permit the “normal” way for fall quarter last year, I would have had to apply for the permit in May or June and pay for it in August. I didn’t even know for sure that I would be driving there alone (rather than carpooling or using the vanpool) until August, because I wasn’t able to register for classes and thus couldn’t know what my schedule would be. And I sure didn’t have almost $300 in August, since that’s the month Rob doesn’t get paid and I don’t get any financial aid until the end of September. For a couple months, I was wracked with anxiety over the prospect of having no way to get to school, and I realized that I shouldn’t have to deal with this. No one should have to deal with this. No one should be going through this big step, going from community college to university—a step notorious for being a stumbling block for many students—and also having to deal with uncertainty on such a huge issue as transportation. Living 30 miles away should get you access to a permit, period. So, I decided to use the fact that my anxiety has been labeled pathological to make my life a bit easier. I got a letter from my last doctor vouching for my disability, and I applied for a permit via the Center for Accessible Education (CAE). CAE allows you to get a pre-approved application pretty much anytime during the quarter, so as long as you can get the money together, you can get a permit. But, I had to consent to be labeled in order to secure this luxury for myself. I had to admit on paper that I couldn’t navigate the obstacles the school erected in my path without an unacceptable level of suffering.

CAE also offers other services—and professors will grant you accommodations like more assignment time—if you submit to their more in-depth application process. At first, I thought I would just need the parking, but lately, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t make it easier on myself and just allow my diagnosis to serve me. UCLA is on the quarter system, so everything is accelerated, and it’s far, so getting there and back drains my soul. I’ve found that here, circumstances are such that I need to leverage my diagnosis to secure breathing room and refuge from unrealistic demands. The idea of expending valuable energy on the application process and potentially having to defend my choice not to take medication is intensely unappealing, however. What I really wish is that universities would stop simply accepting the inequality in society and perpetuating it, and start modeling what a better world could look like. Part of this might involve not forcing differently abled/neurodivergent/neuroatypical etc. people to engage with or submit to the medical system in order to prove their suffering would be increased without accommodations, especially when doctors are the source of that suffering for so many. A better path would be to simply disengage from capitalism and the culture of individual achievement and hyper-productivity it has produced. But since universities themselves are metamorphosing into profit-making enterprises, I suppose that might be asking too much. What’s really frustrating, and borders on gaslighting, is that the rhetoric the administration and faculty deploy around being more inclusive and supportive of nontraditional and historically underrepresented students does not reflect the structural reality. From jump, I have noticed obstacles that make it more difficult for students who don’t live on campus, who have jobs or kids or just the desire to not completely destroy their health over trying to meet the extracurricular and academic demands of being a “successful student”.

Part of me wants to try to change this system while I’m in it, to help whoever comes after me. I realize, though, that I just don’t have the energy to expend changing an institution I’m not even sure needs to exist in the first place. I don’t know that these sites of formal education are the best way of disseminating knowledge through a populace. I don’t think they are; I don’t feel like they are, but I’m willing to be wrong. As mechanisms for producing more individuals to fill socially acceptable occupations, universities don’t have a place in my ideal world. In my experience, formalized education processes out creativity and true contemplation in favor of a kind of diversified groupthink that passes for critical thinking. I would like to see a much more individualized educational system that allows learning to happen naturally. I don’t think we all need to know the same things. I do think we should all know certain things—a true history of world societies, economics, and exploitation for example—but I don’t think we’re currently teaching those things in school when we need to be, which is at the elementary level. In any case, my survival strategy for the remainder of my stay in the educational system has to be conservation of energy. I will leverage my diagnosis when need be to counter any structural obstacles both at the institutional and the social level that cause me unneeded suffering, but I won’t seek to transform the institution itself.

These are the trade-offs we make every day as revolutionary-minded crazy folk. We consciously choose when we engage with labeling and when we disengage; we decide when to deploy it in order to mitigate some of the harm structural inequality and access barriers cause, and when to reject it when it degrades our humanity. Hell, these are the trade-offs we make every day as black women, as queer and trans people, as people of color and other oppressed folks. Systems of oppression all have release spouts, features that allow oppressed people within them to use the system against itself in small ways. For example, as a queer femme cis woman, I could potentially leverage sexism and patriarchy to get a free meal on a first date if I was broke and starving (and single!). But no one should be starving in a world of abundance. My pseudo-privilege doesn’t negate the immense and disproportionate harm patriarchy does to cis women versus cis men, and it doesn’t negate the fact that the harm I would be attempting to mitigate was inflicted by an unjust social structure. I see the “accommodations” I can access similarly, in that I am addressing a harm that derives from our society’s embrace of hyper-productivity and white supremacist capitalism. It doesn’t negate that harm, but it makes it just a little bit easier to live with.

In this moment, that has to be enough.

Time is a major fuel for my crazy—I worry about how much I have left in my life, how much we have left as a society, and how much we have left on this earth. Most often, though, my anxiety around time is centered on how little of it I have in each day that I can truly call my own. Being in school means my time is fragmented; although I only have to commute to campus two days out of the week, the rest of my time is primarily occupied with reading, writing, and adulting*. a Black woman bares her teeth at a frowning clock and a calendar giving her the middle finger I have these competing demands for my “free time” at home, and it generates anxiety because I feel like I can’t get everything done, like there’s not enough time.

One day, I was doing dishes late, past my bedtime. I felt that familiar temporal anxiety creeping up my sternum, into my throat. I failed at time management yet again, it was 11:30 pm or whenever and I still hadn’t finished these damn dishes.

I said to myself,

[Why is a robot not doing my dishes yet?]

I know, right? No, actually, I said:

I never have enough time

And I realized two things.

1. Time is not mine to possess; and
2. Time is infinite, I merely move within it.

Since then, I have tried to use “time is infinite; I move within it” as a mantra when I feel the temporal anxiety rising up again. I also connected this concept to my experience of time as nonlinear in some ways, how I often live in past/present/future simultaneously and how that shapes my perception and interaction with the world. Often this manifests via my crazy. When I recall past events, if I remove the protective filter I have learned to construct around my memories, I feel acutely, as if the events were occurring in the present. I feel events I imagine will happen in the future similarly. So I believe time is not actually linear, it is only consciously perceived to be by many people.

I think our society’s ideas about linear time—about what activities are worth our time and what aren’t, about whose time is worth more than others and who is worth our time, about what free time is and who deserves it, and the classist/sexist/racist/colonialist/capitalist/etc. nature of those ideas—are oppressive. I want to reclaim time for all of us, since it ultimately belongs to none of us. Linearity is associated with scarcity, in my mind. Living in nonlinear time is living in abundance.

This is all fine and good, but in the society I’m at, they still use linear time and the 24 hour clock and all that racket.
– Me, 2018

Yeah, I know. I know this is abstract. But it helps me, honestly, to think of myself as moving through time fluidly, choosing what I want to experience and making space for those experiences within time, rather than thinking of myself as a temporal miser, a fourth dimensional Scrooge always worried about how much time she has, greedily trying to grub up enough to watch Deep Space 9. This is part of being kind to myself and others, trying to live in the future now by modeling what I think future social relations could look like. I think a remodeled conception of time might have an impact on our conception of the world. What if time was determined subjectively? What if you went in to your “job” (I put this in quotes because in my ideal world every day you would spend the majority of it doing whatever you felt called to do, so I don’t think it could be considered an actual job) not at the start of business hours, but whenever you felt ready enough in the morning to face the day with a clear head and open heart? What if your ability to be present—or your need to be absent—dictated what time it was?

These are the possibilities I think a world without linearity has to offer, honestly. But, I’m just dreaming and using that dream as a salve for my crazy. I’ve added this tool, this vision of a world without linear time, to my repertoire. I’m on an upswing now, so it’s hard to say how it will work when I’m in the dark. So far, though, I’m finding it soothing. I like the idea of swimming through time, like a temporal mermaid, so I try to envision that along with saying the mantra.

Hopefully, I can learn to permanently drop the scarcity complex when it comes to time, and live in the abundance.


For the last 5 weeks, I have been psych med free. I’m kind of ecstatic.

The only pills I take daily now – cod liver oil, cal/mag+D, and vitamin K.

I’ve been on some kind of psychiatric medication since I was 14 years old. I’m 37 now. For nearly 23 years of my life – the majority – I’ve lived under a kind of haze. At one point, I was on 13 different medications. When I started this withdrawal process almost 6 years ago, I was down to 6. I was told by various doctors throughout the time I was on meds that I wouldn’t be able to live without even one of my medications, that I would surely spiral out of control and become depressed or manic and have to be permanently hospitalized. Yet the last 5 years have contained some of the most objectively stressful events of my life, and I’ve managed to maintain my stability with a decreasing amount of meds in my system. One of the things that helped me greatly was to read sites about the withdrawal experience, like Beyond Meds and Surviving Antidepressants. So, I wanted to talk about my withdrawal process here, in the hopes that my story can help someone else, too.

First, though, I want to give a bit of background to why I was on meds in the first place. I no longer put much stock in psychiatric diagnoses, but for context, mine at the time I started withdrawal was bipolar I with psychotic features and an anxiety disorder not otherwise specified. Although personally, I think I was probably just clinically depressed rather than bipolar, and that the symptoms I exhibited which led to my expanded diagnosis were triggered by SSRIs. I am a sexual assault survivor, and due to unresolved trauma, when I was 14 I attempted suicide. This led to my entry into the psychiatric system, and it led to the introduction of psychotropic drugs into my brain chemistry. I developed both manic symptoms and psychotic symptoms after being put on Zoloft as an inpatient. However, rather than discontinue the medication, my doctor put me on additional medication because he saw the symptoms as an endogenous illness rather than an iatrogenic effect. I’ll never be able to prove that my so-called mental illness was induced by drugs, but given that I’ve come off them successfully, I definitely think I’ve proven that the severity of my illness was greatly exaggerated.

Fast forward to September of 2011. After an adjustment to one of my medications, I started having mixed episodes. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of becoming intimately acquainted with the psychiatric descriptors for various emotional states, a “mixed episode” is symptoms of mania mixed with symptoms of depression. Me having a mixed episode wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it hadn’t occurred right after the med adjustment, and if it hadn’t been followed by my psychiatrist recommending we add yet another med to my regimen to counter this new side effect. With that recommendation, something clicked in me. Maybe I was primed to be open to change because I was going through a divorce and I had been underemployed for 2 years and shit was pretty hard right then. Who knows. But I knew it was utterly ridiculous to take another medication to counteract side effects from raising a dosage, rather than just lowering the dosage. And after a bit of reflection, I recalled that every medication I was put on, besides the Zoloft, was basically prescribed according to the same logic. Therefore, the only way to figure out what my actual problem was would be to completely withdraw from all the medication I was on. So I told my doctor this, basically, because I was cool with him and I always spoke plainly to him. I told him I wanted to come off my medication, I told him why, and I asked for his advice on tapering. I knew you shouldn’t just cold turkey psych meds, and I knew the longer you were on a med, the longer you should take to withdraw. I wanted to start with the Geodon I was on, because tardive dyskinesia terrifies me, and I was sure I was a ticking time bomb what with having been on neuroleptics for over 20 years. His suggestion? Switch to Seroquel, then taper over a period of a month.

I was shocked. Seriously, bruh? Do you want me to get TD?

At that point, I knew I needed to find another doctor, because he wasn’t going to be able to give me any real guidance through the process. I figured I’d be doing a lot of the research myself on what was best, but I wanted to work with someone who at least understood that slower is better. After shopping around (and encountering one naysayer who refused to take me as a patient and said he doubted I’d be able to come off the meds successfully), I found a doctor who was willing to help. He gave me a special compounding pharmacy prescription for liquid Geodon so I could taper with tiny doses. I felt that going very slowly would give my brain time to recover and not develop a dopamine hypersensitivity. I had reduced my Geodon on my own while I was looking for a new doctor, and I eventually developed some neurological symptoms (twitching, tremors, muscle spasms) that fall under the broad umbrella of tardive dyskinesia. I was scared shitless. I was so sure that it would eventually progress into something obvious, that my life would be ruined. And I had to deal with that very real depression and anxiety while my neurotransmitters were going absolutely haywire.

The panic I experienced over the possibility of being disfigured forced me to develop strategies for dealing with anxiety about the future, and learn how to avoid catastrophizing. Those strategies helped me deal with later crises in a productive way, when I had even less medication to bolster me. I never ended up getting full-blown TD, but I still have twitches and tremors and various mild neurological problems. I have to avoid things like coffee and excess sugar (tea is okay for me, presumably because of the l-theanine), because the twitching is exacerbated by stimulants. I also have to wear a sleep mask at night because my eyes have trouble staying closed if they can sense any light.

I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about what I did to support my withdrawal because it lasted for like, 5 years, and a bunch of other stuff happened in my life that’s somewhat unrelated. Maybe a post dedicated to all the minutia of withdrawal will materialize in time, but until then, here’s the meat of my survival strategy. In the beginning, I journaled every day so I had a record of any slow descent into madness. I ate well, slept for at least 7 hours a night, exercised, and managed my stress. In addition to quitting coffee and excess sugar, I quit smoking weed. I didn’t start smoking weed again until I had been free of Geodon for almost a year. I already didn’t like drinking, so I had no problem avoiding alcohol. In general, I tried to give my brain the tools it needed to repair itself, and abstain from any additional chemical interference. Eventually I felt comfortable making periodic exceptions, particularly after the Geodon withdrawal was over and it was clear I wasn’t going to be permanently disfigured or disabled. But that drift towards health was permanent. The mindset change — from accepting a lifelong identity as a permanently mentally ill individual, to actively shedding that identity and embracing a new identity as someone who might have some mental challenges but has learned to work around them — was permanent.

My tendency to analyze, my love of thinking, and my deep concern for the environment and human society are traits that led to my being diagnosed as mentally ill. Not because the psychiatric establishment is out to suppress free thought or something, but because those traits, left untrained and unchecked, can lead you to depression. Combined with the trauma of being sexually assaulted as a child and the intellectually oppressive nature of the Christian school I attended for elementary, I was doomed without some kind of intervention. The withdrawal process forced me to create a framework where those traits that led to my diagnosis could also get me out of it. My love of thinking was employed in the service of self-reflection and improvement. My tendency to analyze was focused on analyzing my habits and actions and deciding what needed to be changed or eliminated to improve my mental health. And I realized that in order to support my mental health, I needed to take actions that were in sync with my deep concern for the environment and human society. I needed to live in accordance with my values, because when I did things that were counter to them, I felt discontent.

So, I set about determining what my values were and how I could best live up to them. I started a vegetable garden because I found that a connection with nature and the food I eat is essential to my psychological and physical well-being. Gardening led me to consider how learning to work with nature to feed yourself could improve the lives of oppressed people who have so often been forcefully disconnected from nature. I became passionate about food justice, access to green space, agricultural self-sufficiency for minority neighborhoods, and other issues that combine environmental preservation and conservation with social justice. And I changed my major to sociology because I decided that I wanted to get a degree that would help me further my dream of a better society rather than just help me make more money.

Despite the detour my life took as a result of having been put on psych meds, I don’t advocate the abolition of psychiatry, and I’m not evangelizing against all meds. I think pharmaceuticals have a place, and that sometimes people might need meds to help them out of a tough situation. I just think that choice should be an informed one, and I think meds should probably be a last resort. Kids and adolescents should not be put on drugs if at all possible because their bodies and minds are still developing. I’m lucky I was able to emerge from the other side of my experience relatively unscathed, against the odds. Not everyone is so fortunate. Now, I’m looking forward to living the rest of my life unencumbered by meds, rediscovering my mind and experimenting with different ways of managing difficult emotions without pharmaceuticals.