Coming to Terms with Psychiatry [Prose]

March 6, 2018

It has occurred to me that mindful authenticity is a strong weapon for bipolar people like me and may in fact be the antidote. Confronting delusions, I’ve begun questioning myself and trying to put an end to the bullshit I’ve been telling myself and others—sometimes catching myself mid-sentence. In setting out to find a way to write authentically a few rhetorical forms favored by psychoanalysis came to mind: e.g., stream-of-consciousness and free association; instead, I settled on writing therapy—honest narrating, written or recorded in live time from a specific location.

December: 2017

I’m drinking a cappuccino at a hospital in New Delhi. There are a lot of bad hospitals in IndiaI’ve heard storiesbut not this one. It’s part of a healthcare franchise called Max that’s taken good care of me in the nine months that I’ve lived here.

I came to India for the amiable and cost-effective web developers and then stayed for the woman I’m dating. Since I was already in the neighborhood, I decided to take advantage of the affordable dental and dermatological doctors in Delhi. I was able to get all the treatments I couldn’t afford in America, including the cosmetic removal of one of the moles on my face. Today I’m meeting a psychiatrist.

I’m going back to the States in four days and want to stock up on varenicline tablets, sold as CHANTIX, to patients struggling to quit smoking cigarettes. After six emotional but rewarding weeks of working out and tapering off of both tobacco and CHANTIX, I decided to stop treatment and see if I could refrain from smoking without the drug that blocks nicotine neurological receptors. Unfortunately, I then endured a lot of stress and sadness, mostly due to the state of affairs regarding my websites and apps. I shot back up to a pack a day within two weeks.

Clearly, until my life as a nomadic entrepreneur finds some stability, I should continue the medication that helped me so. (I’m very grateful for Western medicine, when properly applied.)

It’s remarkable how meaningful a doctor’s appointment can be. I suppose it’s no surprise considering the high-stakes, the life or death context within which hospitals operate. For me, this appointment is significant because of a traumatic history regarding my family and me personally, surrounding the occasions that we’ve seen psychiatrists.

The most devastating experience of my life was when I was involuntarily hospitalized for six days in 2011, held and medicated against my will. My mother was deeply involved in psychiatric treatment, voluntarily, and the family decided that I had inherited bipolar disorder from her when I started demonstrating behavior that they identified as manic.

It was a very Kafkaesque experience because I was in graduate school, training to become a psychoanalyst, and writing a term paper about why psychoanalysis is a better option than psychiatry when it comes to treating patients with bipolar symptoms like my mother. Instead of the gentle, nurturing care I associated with my fellow students, teachers and the psychoanalyst I was required to see frequently as a student, I accidentally got sucked into the harsh Western mental healthcare system and then spit back out with a ton of new emotional baggage.

I admit that I was acting strangely but there were good reasons for this, especially my concern that something was dysfunctional about my family. Later I learned that my mother was actively attempting to take her own life and that she was actually hospitalized for attempting suicide while I became ostensibly manic. Also, my friend had just started dating my future ex-fiancée. In the midst of all this negativity I decided to organize an underground party in NYC—unusual yes, but not crazy. I was only 23 and had just spent a gap year in Buenos Aires, soaking up the electronic music scene.

In preparation for the rave I bought coke and ecstasy. I wasn’t consciously aware that it was mania I was after. I wanted to observe and document the arrival of my alter ego, whom I knew I would meet again if I partied like I did in Argentina. A high-performing student, I had an academic curiosity about manic episodes, which complimented my personal momma’s-boy interest in understanding what my mother was going through, so I now know that I was unconsciously striving to experience another manic episode. Taking the drugs for several days and not sleeping because of them allowed me to become manic, to meet the cooler, more confident, ostensibly happier version of myself.

The first episode was different. I was in Chile, toward the end of my gap year, far away from my family, and no one thought to hospitalize me there. Incidentally, I visited South America that year partly to observe a culture where psychoanalysis is still more popular than psychiatry. Moving to NYC, home of Big Banking and therefore Big Pharma, things were different. I was now in my home state, a couple hours away from my parents, and everything that didn’t count before suddenly did. I don’t blame my family for hospitalizing me during my second and most recent manic episode but I do regret it.

I regret that we live in a world where family members value what psychiatric “experts” say over what they tell one another. I regret that I wasn’t able to plan a rave or start my businesses without being labeled as mentally ill. I regret that bipolar patients are discouraged from exploring their natural peaks and valleys, and that I wasn’t free to explore my own without repercussions. I regret the punitive nature of Western mental healthcare and the harm a label can do. I regret that the psychoanalysts running my graduate school didn’t support me when I needed them, when push came to shove. Instead, the New York Graduate School of Psychoanalysis demanded that I obtain confirmation from a psychiatrist that I was fit to attend. I refused to see a psychiatrist on principle and was thus coerced to withdraw from the institution.

If I could rewrite history, when my dad drove into the city to check up on me that fateful day, he would have taken me home instead of to a hospital. I would have learned from my experience. I would have finished my masters degree in psychoanalysis. When I tried to get CHANTIX six years ago, the doctor would have given it to me, instead of rejecting me because of my bipolar diagnosis.

Traumatized by and resistant to psychiatry, I didn’t see a shrink following my hospitalization for six years. Finally, I had to see a psychiatrist this year in Delhi because, unlike in America, general practitioners can’t prescribe CHANTIX. During my visits to my psychiatrist here I’ve taken care not to mention my hospitalization or diagnosis. I just got the pills and got the hell out of there.

I think that if you can tolerate your mental condition with common vices like drinking and smoking, you’re not doing so badly in life. These substances are sold almost everywhere and their side effects don’t include social stigma the way psychiatric medication does. In my case, cigarettes eventually become a problem instead of a solution. Several months ago, I switched my attention from my main startup to Healers Magazine, which made me realize it was time for me to focus on my own health. I thought I should be healthy in order to launch this initiative without hypocrisy. Now I think it’s not so much about my health. It’s all about authenticity.

For years I’ve been operating in a caffeine-infused state of bad faith, propelled forward by mountains of hard work. My ego became sublimated into my startups, so my well-being became dependent on their success. I wasn’t thinking about myself. I wanted to help people through social business.

Channeling the dominant schools of ethics, I saw my actions as part of a categorical imperative: once I saw the good that my website Commonstake could do, I had to launch it. Moreover, as a chronic existentialist, I saw my martyrdom as the less of two evils: if existence is meaningless—it is what it is—I might as well spend my time helping others. It wasn’t sustainable. Neglecting my mind, body and spirit caught up with me when, running out of money to fund my unfinished products, my sadness and stress compounded into distress.

A painting of the Red Robbin superhero looking sad.

Untitled by Ricky Kruger

Unsure of my future and ashamed of the delusional elements permeating my endeavors, I started to experience suicidal thoughts several months back. I instantly took them as a red flag. I saw clearly that my current approach to life wasn’t working. I decided it was time to prioritize my own health over the health of my startups and make time to pursue physical and emotional health. I recognized that for me to be happy I’d need to be in control of my behavior—so no smoking—and start working out. I was in bad company, spending time with myself, whom I could no longer tolerate.

So here we are, in the midst of a relapse (smoking), and with several failing startups. What to do? This is where things get interesting. I’m not quitting my startups. I’m going back to my roots, sticking to my guns, moving forward with a sober sense of the real-world difficulties of being a social entrepreneur. I’m putting it all out there and being authentic as can be. You won’t see me putting on airs, or posturing. What you will see me doing is struggling. I’m coming out of the closet it that regard.

I don’t have a therapist yet but I have you and something tells me that if I tell the truth and don’t hold back, I’ll find happiness and my businesses will find success. What’s up with that? Well, I have a big heart and it’s too big for my brain and my eyes are bigger than my stomach but if I learn to circumnavigate my limitations with the help of the Healers Magazine community I can eventually accomplish anything.

People who mess with startups feel pressure to perform and, when things are looking bleak, we feel that they won’t improve if other people know it. When things get really bad the situation changes and we reveal our cards. Yesterday I was desperately negotiating with some of my Indian business partners to fix and improve Healers Magazine’s website.

Despite all the stress my startups are causing me, there’s no way I can walk away from them. I agreed to pay a couple thousand this month, giving Healers Magazine a makeover, and $500 a month after, making gradual improvements to user experience. Actions speak louder than words and the doubts I was feeling about Healers Magazine, valid as they are, were no match for my resolve to manifest my vision.

January: 2018

I am driving in NorCal right now near the coast, recording my voice, and I’m approaching a hill. I don’t know what’s on the other side of it, but I notice in monitoring my body’s rhythm, my breath and pulse, that there is fear, that my body is programmed to anticipate that I’m approaching something bad on the other side of the proverbial hill I’m about to reach.

I guess the difference between me and my ex, in terms of our inner health, is that our upbringings have conditioned one of us to continuously anticipate something positive, something bright, in the futurejust beyond the visible horizon. Before my recent depressive episode, I was at least superficially in a similar state for years and years.

Depression is a totally non-conscious condition and because it’s physically present, coloring your feelings, it takes time to change. It took 32 years for me to even be aware of it. Therefore it may take a decade or more for my body’s condition to be physically optimistic.

Referring to optimism, I don’t mean thinking about things rationally and expecting something positive to be approaching because of my action in the world, but optimism physically in terms of my heartbeat and health. I am sure the presence of such positivity in my body would affect the positivity of my consciousness as well but that’s not what’s bothering me. I think I have been very optimistic, probably too optimistic, in my consciousness and that is something that has had sometimes-negative repercussions on my body and physical feelings.

When I realized consciously that I could not make it all the way across the finish line and be successful with my actions in the world, in regard to my social-venture startups, without the strength and health and positivity to keep me going, this was largely because of the disconnect between my emotional and physical practice. My mental thoughts and physical feelings became divergent and that’s what led me off the cliff into a nervous breakdown of sorts in December.

Psychological conditions are not attainable in an individual because individuals are always in a group or tribe or family or team. Unsocialized homo sapiens exist but they know not individualism, nor neurosis. So, it’s in everyone’s interest to work through such states of consciousness, or rather more accurately such emotional, psycho-physical conditions.

So, I am currently living this reality having just returned to the States after nine months in India working on my startups. During the last two weeks of my trip, I became acutely depressed and suicidal. So much has changed in the last four weeks. I’m processing the emotions as quickly as possible, adjusting to the reality I’m living in now, which is a transitional one. Now things feel like they are going in the right direction, having communicated my problems to my family and some friends and getting help from therapy and finally from psychiatry.

March: 2018

I’m sitting in a bar near my flat in New Delhi. How did I end up back here? While it seems so naive now, the original plan was to return to the States, find a job and wait for my girlfriend to join me from India.

In the midst of an acutely depressive episode I returned to California and told me ex what was happening. She helped me stabilize and begin to repair my relationship with my father, handing me off to his care like a human baton. I then enjoyed a reunion with my sister and brother. All of this was healing but I was still suffering.

After several years of resistance I was finally ready to give psychiatry a shot. I warmed up to psychotropic medication out of gratitude to CHANTIX for helping me quit smoking. Also, it dawned on me that my reluctance to psychiatric medicine was hypocritical considering that I used to take recreational drugs that were toxic in comparison. Finally, observing all the technological innovations arising around me, it occurred to me that modern psychiatry must be pretty sophisticated nowadays.

With my dad’s support I was able to find psychiatric help. I eventually got on anti-depressants. Several weeks later, I’m also on an anti-anxiety medication, which is the most helpful medicine to date.

When my mother took her own life I blamed her psychiatrist. A personal vendetta against him and psychiatry itself was born. After several years, the war is over. Of course, just because I’ve finally succumbed to Western mental healthcare, doesn’t mean I’m any less passionate about holistic healing. Unfortunately, even though I’m the founder of Healers Magazine, like most people I’m woefully under-informed when it comes to integrative therapies; therein lies Healers’ raison d’être.


6 comments:

  1. Jennie Kristel

    March 8, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    thank you for sharing such a deep art of yourself Ben. The world is as it is which often means that we are put in boxes and blamed when we try to think or be outside them. I hope that you find a community that offers you space, healing and the ability to simply be who you are. By the way, I work in India and personally find it very healing there even with all the chaos. Warmly, Jennie

    Reply
    • Benjamin Eisenstein

      July 11, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Thanks Jennie, I appreciate your supportive words and agree that India, if nothing else, is a place where you will inevitably learn a lot about yourself.

      Reply
  2. John Tucker

    March 8, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    Ben,

    We have numbers of common experiences. I look forward to years of fruitful conversations with you. I’m so glad you are doing this – carry on!

    Drugs: are you taking or have you taken Lithium? Do you monitor your thyroid? Are you aware that Fluorides have psychotropic effects (they are in most drinking water, many prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and of course they are your dentists favourite drug).

    The human mind and body are designed for stress, that’s what its good for… but some things to monitor, your personal approach to reality, are you hopeful about aspects of your life, hopeless about others, and are there issues there to visit? One’s personal position in the caste system, in other words one’s self esteem or estimation of where one fits in in the whole pecking order, these are issues better understood in India than in the USA, but very critical to understand for all of this.

    Cigarettes: the first time i quit was for a woman, 12 years, but then I changed women and the next one smoked so… The second time I quit because I got cancer, that will do it for most people, that was 10 years ago and I never looked back. I tell others who are trying to quit, “just don’t put it in your mouth”. There is physical pain involved in breaking the addiction. Then, there will be memory tugs, habit tugs, for a long time. But eventually you realize that cigarette smoke really stinks, and then there is the cost, and it all adds up to anger and your place on the pecking order, there are other ways to stay down without hurting yourself so much…

    The magazine: it is free? I sent links to three pastors and one community organizer that I know, they will spread the word further…

    M writings… that will be fun… I have so many stories!!!

    Reply
    • Healers Magazine

      July 11, 2018 at 10:24 am

      Thanks for sharing! Yes, our online magazine is completely free.

      Reply
    • Benjamin Eisenstein

      July 11, 2018 at 10:32 am

      I’m not taking Lithium, though this was originally prescribed by the psychiatrist I saw after being hospitalized, whom I ignored. I do not monitor my thyroid and would be interested in learning more about it. I didn’t realize that fluorides have psychotropic effects and would be interested in learning more about that too.

      I look forward to reading you writing when you share it!

      Reply
  3. Benjamin Eisenstein

    July 11, 2018 at 10:34 am

    I have good news. It’s been several months since I shared this article and in that time I’ve successfully quit smoking! It’s been 6-8 weeks now and my self-esteem and sense of control over my life have improved quite a bit.

    Reply

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