It's hard for me to realize the full extent of time, effort, pain and stress that I’ve exerted over the years trying to stay thin. I cannot believe how long I have tried to control and micromanage my body. But then, like any other pattern in my life that I examine closely, when I look deeper, it makes perfect sense. This awareness has been gradually unfolding for me over the past few years as I’ve begun to slowly uncover and heal from decades of controlled eating, exercise fixation and an overall obsession with weight and body image.

Beginning to peel back the curtain on the underlying beliefs about my body has felt challenging to say the least, as well as shocking, frustrating and confusing and disorienting. For most of my life I genuinely had no idea that they were even there. They were such an accepted and normal part of my every day existance that I wasn't even aware I had them. I am not trying to guilt or shame myself for this. I understand now why they existed, and that helps. It helps to recognize the narratives that have run so deeply through my psyche for so long. After all, you can't free yourself from a prison that you're not even aware that you are in. If I could go back twenty years and tell my 14 year old self one thing it would be this:


'always question the things that society tells you will get you the love you so desperately crave'.

For most of my life, I thought I was doing things so right. I have always considered myself to be a very healthy person - and on the surface I was. I exercised regularly, I ate low fat, nutrient dense food, I took pride in making sure I was following public health guidelines around exercise and weight management. But underneath all of that, was a deep suffering and a pain that no one, not even myself could truly see.


You see, I grew up in the 90s, when diet culture, fat phobia and ideas around health were hugely attributed to BMI. I absorbed that information and those belief systems like a sponge, soaking them in from a young age through the shows I watched, the magazines and I read, and the subtle and not to subtle conversations that were everywhere I went - at school, from teachers and peers, at home from family members and throughout the media I was consuming. The message: thin = healthy, good, worthy of love, ‘fat’ = unhealthy, bad, unlovable.


Looking back on it now, it blows my mind how ingrained and normalized these messages were. When you look at it objectively, you realize how insane it truly is. I didn't know that there was anything wrong about my eighth grade teacher announcing to the class that she was going to get running pants that would increase her sweat outtake so that she would lose weight, or with my aunt making a pig face when I prepared Mac and Cheese as a child, suggesting that this food would ultimately 'make me fat', or my middle school friends pinching the thin layer of skin on their bellies, renouncing bread for the foreseeable future. The messages ran deep - deep to the point that I would find myself, as a thirteen year old, stick thin girl, staring into the freezer as I reached for the ice-cream and thinking to myself 'I will eat this now, but the moment I begin gaining any weight I will stop...'


I thought what I was doing was noble, and it was celebrated as such. I took pride in my daily runs and visits to the gym. Peers and family members would salute my exercise regimen and I was praised by coaches and teachers for 'taking care of my body'. I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be fit. The problem was, emotionally, not much about what I was doing was healthy for me. Sure, exercise is important, but rather than doing it out of care and love for myself, I was approaching it from a place of control, dominance and numbing. Intention is everything.


I didn’t think that there was any harm in my behaviour. I have always been very small in stature (the 'correct' body type by society's standards) with a large amount of thin privelege. I had muscle tone, appeared fit and was encouraged to continue to 'take care' of that. What I didn't see was how completely consumed my life had become with how much I exercised and ate - so much of my thinking and energy wrapped around ensuring that my body achieved a specific beauty standard. There was just no space for entering into a dialogue or a healthy relationship with my body. I was too dissociated from it, numb, angry and forcing it to do what I wanted it to do - stay thin, stay worthy, stay lovable.


Looking back now, I can see that exercise was the first addiction that I ever developed in my life. I feel slightly proud of this as it was an extremely adaptive behaviour that was highly praised by those around me. I wanted to be good, after all. You wouldn’t know that what I was doing was actually a version of self harm because of the way that it appeared and how it mirrored so many normalized, cultural belief systems around 'health and wellness'. Almost everything that I did was fixated on how/where I could get a workout in and how I would be able to force and maintain my 'thinness'. Hours and hours spent staring into a mirror, pulling my gut in, ensuring that I had that perfectly flat stomach, not a centimetre of fat in sight. I avoided 'fattening' foods like butter, cheese and anything deep fried - believing the social myth that 'fat' foods made you fat. It is hard for me to acknowledge that I did this to myself, even now. But beginning to explore these thoughts and behaviours has led me down a path of understanding about myself that goes back. Like, way back. Early childhood back.


What I’ve come to see for myself is that in order to truly understand behaviours around food and exercise (the compulsive types) I have had to move beyond surface level thinking around diet and body image and use a Trauma Informed perspective. I have had to understand how early relational patterns, developmental needs and nervous system responses all tie in to the decisions I am currently making, the behaviours I exhibit and the coping tools I so brilliantly and adaptively choose.


For me, restricting and controlling my body and diet was a survival strategy that allowed me to hold some semblance of safety in my life. Those behaviours gave me the sense that I had some form of control over what was happening around me, over making sure my needs for connection were met. Where I felt like I couldn’t control anything else, I could control what was and was not going into my mouth. As my exploration of developmental/attachment psychology has progressed, I've begun to understand at a deeper level just how adaptive these behaviours truly were. Through studying the work of Dr. Gabor Mate I've learned that, as children, if we are not getting our emotional needs for safety, recognition and acknowledgement as our true, authentic selves met, the safest way for us to continue on is not to realize that our caretakers can't or won't meet those needs, it is to adopt the belief that there is something inherently wrong with us. We are dependent on our caregivers for our very survival. To understand that they can't meet our needs is too terrifying, too unbelievable, too destabilizing. If it is us that is the problem, well then, that is something that we can actually do something about. We can make our selves better. We can try harder. We can continuously change our behaviour in order to make ourselves more worthy of love. What better and more acceptable way to do so than to try to achieve a perfect body - though I can think of many other approaches that I tried, too. (*See perfectionism, in general).

In my own experiences, I have also been able to link my eating behaviours to nervous system function. I started to notice that I would use eating behaviours in order to either up-regulate or down-regulate my stress response as needed. Having grown up in a deeply stressful and unpredictable home environment, it was rare for my system to find a sense of safety and regulation. My stress response was groomed and primed for easy activation, making it difficult for me to achieve a sense of peace and stillness inside myself. After all, we learn how to regulate our stress response through our early relationships with our primary caregivers. In fact, one of the first ways that our nervous system becomes programmed towards regulation is while we are being breast fed by our mothers. Think about the soothing effect of the feeding on the baby, the oxytocin and dopamine flooding through its system, the gentle gaze/eye contact with the mother, the calm, warmth and safety. This early connection/attachment is what allows the 'rest and digest' branch of our nervous system to develop. Without this developmental requirement, we are stuck in a chronic stress response that we struggle to soothe. As Alanis Morissette sings in her recently released song 'Rest', 'We are a country desperate for the embryonic', and we will go about achieving this in any way that we find available to us.


Enter 'disordered' eating behaviours.


In my case, I believe that it was also my sensitivity and empathic nature that played a role. I have always felt things deeply and intensely - a superpower often viewed as a massive inconvenience by our production and consumption based culture. As a child, my big emotions were too much for the adults who hadn’t sat with their own. In order to get my attachment needs met I had to shut them off. I got the message, in order to be loved, you have to stay small, controlled, managed, suppressed. There was a protective voice inside my head reminding me that I had to stay ‘safe’ at all costs. I did that by:


Holding in. Suppressing. Perfecting. Containing. Controlling. Not having big, inconvenient feelings. Stuffing them down. Blocking them off. Keeping myself small and acceptable. Not rocking the boat. Not expressing emotions. Not showing my anger. Not being ‘too much’. Not being ‘too loud’. Adapting. Adopting. Being ‘good’. Being ‘nice’. Being ‘pretty’, ’delicate’, ‘fragile’. Doing the ‘right’ thing.

The list goes on and on. As I developed, I learned that if I could control my eating and my body shape I could block the flow of my emotions that I have been so afraid of and not risk rejection from the people who I needed the most to survive - my caregivers, my peers, my culture. AND, like any other coping strategy, it worked brilliantly, until it didn't.


Gradually, my nervous system became overtaxed and the obsessive exercise proved to be too much. The stress hormones that I had been running on for so long by overworking, perfectionism and controlling my internal experience began to take their toll. My body began to collapse, my adrenals burnt out, I became overwhelmed, stressed, and autoimmune ridden. All of the years of self suppression had caught up with me. A survival strategy gone awry, as they often do.


Now, in order to get well, I am having to reprogram my system and change my belief systems around what it means to be 'healthy'. I am having to do everything that I was always told not to do - eat more, exercise less. I am having to begin to actually listen to my body, which for now, really just wants a fucking rest. I am having to process the emotions that I have been running away from through compulsive exercise, food control and other numbing, dissociative behaviours. AND, I am having to question and deeply examine toxic diet culture and cultural belief systems around beauty and 'wellness'. The takeaway:


If something serves to disconnect you from yourself, your power, your wholeness and your inherent, existential beauty that is not 'health', that is brainwashing.

Cognitively, I know now that it doesn't make sense that these new actions of mine will mean rejection, but emotionally, that is something else altogether. How hard it is to release of one of the things that allowed me to feel in control of my safety and connection needs. In order to tolerate it, I'm having to explore it slowly, in a way that my nervous system and inner child can handle. If I push myself too far, it won't work. I have to listen to those protective, survival mechanisms that worked so well for so long. I have to ask them what they need and find other ways to give that to them that doesn't involve pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion. Even as I write this blog I am having to pause and ask myself if I'm going too hard and overdoing it. Retraining the brain and nervous system takes time. So I breathe, I ground and I cut myself some fucking slack.


I want to live a healthy life now, more than ever. I've just realized that my idea of health has changed. Now, I understand it as paramount to the degree of relationship and compassion I have towards my myself, my inner child, and all of my various inner parts that have been working overtime to help me, even if they have gone about it in ways that have appeared harmful in the long run. It's not easy, it’s a process and I'll be working on it for the rest of my life. But, it's a start and we have to begin somewhere on this path of remembering who we truly are. I have no intention of no longer taking care of myself or of neglecting my health needs. Quite the opposite. I desire to take care of myself in a much more holistic and all encompassing way and that involves flexibility, openness and consideration towards my emotional and spiritual bodies as well as my physical one.

When I look at my body now I'm starting to see a vessel brilliant in its intelligence and love for me. A being that always wants to keep me safe, whatever the cost. An entity that is ever changing, ever evolving, that holds the sacred potential to grow a human life. How amazing is that? Mainstream diet culture would have me view it as something to control and ‘monitor’, to restrict and to shove into a box of social and cultural idealism. It would have me use up all of my energy, money and other resources trying to achieve a beauty standard that it has intentionally created in order to maintain its grasp over my entire life. But I’m no longer buying that bullshit. The curtain has lifted. I have much bigger, better, interesting and more important things to do with my life, thank you very much. Number one being to enjoy it.


For now, I will continue to adapt my diet in ways that make me feel good in my own skin, give me energy, vitality and allow me to live my life to the fullest (with a side of fries and coconut ice-cream because dairy gives me a stomach ache). My appearance will continue to change and evolve naturally with time and age, I'm sure. And as it does I will continue to remember and honour that young girl examining her belly in the mirror and will never forget how brilliant and brave she is - because that's all she ever really wanted in the first place anyways, to be fully seen and loved by me.


References:


https://drgabormate.com/culture-good-health/



264 views0 comments

Updated: May 15


Lara Zombie ‘State of mind’

Lately, six different friends have reached out to me, separately, to share that they are either choosing to go off work entirely or are deciding to go down to part time. Each one of them has confided in me the deep pain and shame that they are experiencing from making this decision, the societal pressures they experience, and the profound sense that they are somehow defective and unable to live up to the expectations of society around them. In other words, they have the underlying sense that there is something very wrong with them. Why can't they just suck it up, stuff it down and continue on like the rest of the population?


These are exactly the feelings that I have been grappling with since deciding to move to part-time work with my day job five years ago. I was experiencing overwhelming anxiety, fatigue, lac of concentration, inability to focus and/or care for myself in the ways that I needed to. My sense was (and has still been to a certain degree) that there was something wrong with me for not being able to 'fit in' to the working world in the ways that I felt I was supposed to. It has been a deep challenge for me, as a single person, to figure out how to support myself while not working full time, manage health costs without benefits, and just in general keep up with the basic costs of every day life. Still, it was a decision that I felt I had to make for my own overall health and wellbeing. To continue to work full time would have been disastrous for me. It continues to be the right decision for me to work part time, and yet, I continue to feel the subtle and not so subtle pressure around me that it should just be a temporary thing while I work to being able to move back to the correct way of existing. Just the other week I was having a conversation with my mom where she suggested that perhaps eventually I would be ‘able to' work full time again. But I have absolutely no intention of going that route and here's why:


I am an artist. A creative type. I like - nay, I require, to be able to express myself creatively. When I don't, my overall health suffers. This creativity comes spontaneously. It does not abide by a 9-5 schedule. It suffocates under the restraints of a boxed in lifestyle where I am overseen by the governance of management and the 'higher ups'. Working a 9-5 job has always, and will always continue to feel like a prison to me. I never understood this entirely as a young person. Fed the social rhetoric of the way that I was supposed to live, I didn't understand why I had such a hard time with it. It was never that I was lazy or didn't want to work. Throw me into an inspired creative project and I will forego eating, sleeping, socializing and pretty much anything else happening in my life in order to complete it. I work around the clock with passion, vigour and dedication. What I despise, is having to sit in an office for eight hours a day, despite what work needs to be done, and even if there is nothing to be done - as if my soul is imprisoned by the conventional, industrial work complex.


But there is another reason for my avoidance of the classic 9-5 and it has taken me years to figure out, acknowledge and honour. And that is this. I am a Highly Sensitive Person, an empath, a healer, an artist, a creative and a deep feeler. Always have been, always will be. It has been that way since I was born. Constantly picking up on the energy and emotional states around me, it has felt almost impossible to simply exist and function in this world in may ways. My nervous system is highly attuned to my environment. I pick up on subtle cues around me. I absorb other people's emotional energy. I have a very difficult time regulating my nervous system and emotional state on the best of days when I'm alone, never mind when I'm out in the world picking up whatever everyone else is giving off. At the age of 36 I have only JUST begun to truly understand what this means and how to manage it and it's been a long road towards that understanding.


Along with the sensitivity traits that I was born with has come inherited belief systems that began in my earliest years. These belief systems have evolved around the idea that I am too sensitive, too deep, too emotional, too much. My feelings and observations and sensitivities about the world make others uncomfortable. Others who are less in tune with their feelings typically do not want to be reminded of their own emotional realities. It is inconvenient and scary for them. It is easier not to look inside and understand their emotional worlds. I get it, it's not an easy or comfortable task in any way. These inherited belief systems have also evolved around the idea that I need to turn off my sensitivity traits and shut my body up in order to conform to the 'correct' ways of existing in this society. It has not felt ok that I require a lot of freedom, flexibility and space for regulation, processing and creativity in order to just function at the most basic level.


To add to this all, it has come to my awareness over the years that many of these sensitivity traits that I embody are either consciously or unconsciously attributed to weakness, frailty, lack of character, strength or even intelligence. Feminine based traits that are my strengths such as emotional awareness, intuition and creativity are typically viewed to be less important than more masculine dominant traits such as logic, productivity and cognition. I have had a hard time finding my place in a society that worships the latter as the superior way of existing and as a result, for most of my life, felt ashamed of who and what I was.


It is no surprise to me that every single one of those friends who reached out to me over the past month to share their work/life changes are also highly sensitive persons. We pick up on the stress around us. We absorb and feel deeply the environments in our homes, relationships, work settings and even our societies as a whole. Over the past year, with the COVID-19 crisis, it has felt often almost impossible to function and continue on with the basic responsibilities of life such as work, home duties, relationships etc. In the past, I would have said that I was perhaps depressed. But I don't believe that is so. When I look at the global climate right now, I understand that I am picking up on the insanity, terror, chaos and unpredictability of the world around me. Others who are less sensitive may be less effected. Me - I look around and have a hard time processing everything that is happening and what we are experiencing on a global scale to the point that it feels hard to do basic tasks. I'm not denying the stress of this experience on anyone and everyone experiencing it. What I do think is that the highly sensitives are the ones who are really feeling it. It's showing up in our bodies, minds and spirits. We are the ones, after all, who will take on the emotional energies of others who are not capable of processing their own stuff. No wonder my friends' systems need a break.


For most of my life I have been led to believe that the idea of emotional energy is 'woo woo'. Why? Why is it that we are so afraid of what we cannot see? Why is it that we must label it as being some type of hippy dippy nonsense when we know that science has proven that everything is just that - energy. Emotion = energy in motion. When we put our hand close to a flame, we know that it will get burned, even though we are unable to actually directly see the heat in the atmosphere. That is not 'woo woo', that is science. So why, when it comes to our emotions do we view this differently? My belief is that it is because we are afraid. We are afraid of our own internal, emotional worlds. And those of us who bring these worlds to light and highlight the reality of them are often feared as well. We are written off as being different, 'woo woo', out there, flakey, hippy, or even weak. My belief is that it is that fear of emotions and sensitivity that causes us to be labelled as such. And I am just SO done...


I am done with somehow internalizing or subtly accepting the belief that my sensitivity is a weakness. I am powerful, intuitive and emotional. These are important traits. This is important work. We need these traits now more than ever. And yet, those of us who have them are left feeling like we can't quite measure up.


In his work focussing on addictions, ADD and trauma recovery, Dr. Gabor Mate speaks of the relevance of genetically inherited sensitivity. He claims that while conditions like ADD, depression/anxiety, addiction, and even physical disease are not genetic in nature, what is genetic is a propensity towards sensitivity. In other words, individuals who are born highly sensitive will feel emotions very deeply, which means that they will also feel pain (their own and others') more intensely, which will give them more of a need/urge to escape that pain through various addictions. In Mate's opinion, this is the connection that is witnessed between artists and suffering. Creative types may be more likely to experience emotional distress and/or mental illness because they are more sensitive to emotions, the environments around them and to the effects of personal and intergenerational trauma. It is not the 'disease' that is genetic, it is their sensitivity. In his book 'Scattered minds: the origin and healing of attention deficit disorder' he writes:


'The existence of sensitive people is an advantage for humankind because it is this group that best expresses humanity's creative urges and needs. Through their instinctual responses the world is best interpreted. Under normal circumstances, they are artists or artisans, seekers, inventors, shamans, poets, prophets. There would be valid and powerful evolutionary reasons for the survival of genetic material coding for sensitivity. It is not diseases that are being inherited but a trait of intrinsic survival value to human beings. Sensitivity is transmuted into suffering and disorders only when the world is unable to heed the exquisitely tuned physiological and psychic responses of the sensitive individual'.

I, myself, have been prone to anxiety and depression. I have developed Complex PTSD as the result of familial environment and intergenerational trauma that I am actively working to heal. I am more prone to burn out, sensory overload and physical illness. I have two autoimmune illnesses that began during periods of deep emotional stress in my life - my body spoke when I was unable to find solace. I have been pathologized, stigmatized, re-traumatized, belittled, medicalized, invalidated, medicated and brushed aside. I have been unconsciously viewed as the 'weak' one, the one unable to keep up with the world the way it is, the one who just 'can't seem to get it together'. What I have really been experiencing all along, has been highly attuned responses to the environment around me and lack of support in understanding how to work with and honour my inherent sensitivity. It is this sensitivity that has allowed me to create beautiful music that has touched others in important ways. It has allowed me to write, to feel, to sing and most importantly, to see deeply into other people's souls and understand why they are in pain and where it comes from. These are gifts, not deficits. I am so absolutely done with the shame and inherited belief systems that have led me to believe that there is something wrong with me and I am SO grateful to finally be at a place in my life where I can say 'no' to subtle or not so subtle suggestions that that is the case. I am grateful that I have the privilege to be able to stand up for my own needs and that I live in a part of the world where I have options and the rights and freedom to make decisions for myself. I am grateful to be stepping into a place of empowerment.


To my dear, dear friends who are making the decisions to take care of themselves despite the belief systems that society, work culture, the patriarchy, industrialization, and our culture as a whole forces onto you, I see you. You are beautiful. You are the deep feelers, the healers, the empaths, the truth-tellers, the seekers and the creatives that our world needs the most right now. You are not broken. You are breaking open. Keep going.


Always here and sharing with you this experience of the healing path.


xo



References


'Scattered minds: the origins and healing of attention deficit disorder'. Mate, Gabor. Random House. 1999.

187 views0 comments

Updated: May 9


Over the past three years I've been on a journey of unlearning most of what I was taught to be true within the framework of allopathic medicine in regards to my mental health and the support available to me. This journey has felt incredibly disorienting, lonely, isolating and even scary some days, as I've started to question most of the beliefs that I inherited throughout the years. One of the hugest shifts that I've made is moving from the belief that I am broken and diseased to understanding that my body and all of its responses, coping strategies and adaptations are brilliant survival mechanisms that are always on a mission to protect me, no matter what the cost.


When, after close to two decades of accessing various forms of mainstream care, I continued to get worse, not better, I finally started looking beyond what I was being told by the allopathic practitioners that I was utilizing. I want to share some key things that I've learned that changed the scope of my healing journey in a significant way. Take what you like the leave the rest. I've come to understand everyone's journey as unique with no general 'one size fits all' approach. My intention is never to tell anyone how they should manage their health or to shame anyones personal choices. My aim is simply to share information that I have found supportive on my own path that has helped me to make informed decisions from a place of empowerment. Sending love to you on the healing path.



1) Diagnosis is subjective.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is used like a bible for modern psychiatry. It contains diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, as well as a series of codes that allow therapists to easily summarize patients symptoms for insurance purposes. Every mental health professional must refer to the DSM's codes in order to bill treatment to insurance companies.


This manual is currently in its fifth edition (DSM -V) and each time is it renewed, various diagnosis are either added or taken away due to the cultural and medical beliefs of the time. For example, until in the 1980s, homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a mental disorder until it was eventually removed because belief systems changed. As UCLA Child Psychologist Dan Siegel has put it ‘The DSM is concerned with categories, not with pain’.

Crosbie Watler, a practicing Psychiatrist from Vancouver Island addressed the ever changing nature of psychiatric diagnosis in his article 'A call for action: transforming mental health care’.


He writes:


‘The image of a group of endocrinologists debating whether Type 1 diabetes should be a legitimate diagnosis is laughable, yet this is precisely how psychiatric “diagnoses” are minted. If something is objectively real, we don’t debate its existence, and what was truth does not simply become untruth with the next edition of DSM. The DSM committee meetings provide forums for so-called experts to lobby for their pet “diagnoses”, ones they feel comfortable treating and ones that will enhance their credibility and prestige'


I have received a myriad of diagnosis over the years, which continued to change depending on what the doctor of the day decided. With time, I came to see these labels as just that, labels. I took what helped and directed me towards healing and left the rest. I no longer chose to identify with these diagnosis as I realized that they were not set in stone, and, as I continued to grow, change and heal, so too would the symptoms that led me to receive them in the first place. I learned more about the nature of early trauma, the nervous system and my overall physical health in relation to much of what I was experiencing and realized that I wasn’t a victim to genes and lifelong prognosis in the ways I had been led to believe.

I would encourage anyone who has received diagnoses to look inside and ask for themselves if/how they feel this label is serving them with the understanding that it is to some degree or another, subjective. If the diagnosis resonates and there is healing and context to be found through it, wonderful. But labels don‘t make us who we are - our commitment to ourselves and our journey of self understanding does.


2) The efficacy of psychiatric medication has never actually been scientifically evidenced (The importance of Informed Consent).


Disclaimer: this one was extremely tough for me to swallow and even to believe given the decades that I was treated using only pharmacological approaches. Please know that in sharing this I am by no means intending to shame anyone who utilizes pharmacology as a tool. I have and do use it myself. My aim is to simply provide a broader lense on the topic than I was given throughout my many years of seeking medical support.


With all that being said, here goes...

The chemical imbalance theory of mental disorders has never actually been scientifically proven - psychiatric medications, while shown to provide relief for some, have never been scientifically evidenced to impact brain neurochemistry and have been shown in studies to work only slightly better than placebo.


In his article 'The Chemical Imbalance Myth', Functional Medicine Specialist Chris Kressner writes:

'there is not a single peer-reviewed article that can be accurately cited to support claims of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder, while there are many articles that present counterevidence. Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not list serotonin as the cause of any mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry addresses serotonin deficiency as an unconfirmed hypothesis, stating “Additional experience has not confirmed the monoamine depletion hypothesis'


He goes on to explain that the concept that mental disorders were a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain was established in 1952 when the first 'antidepressant', iproniazid, was discovered accidentally when

tubercular patients became euphoric while being treated with this drug. However, motivation of Psychiatrists to accept the chemical imbalance theory expanded due to growing competition from non-medical therapists such as psychologists, social workers and counsellors and a drive to differentiate as medicalized specialists focussing on physical treatments like drugs and electroshock therapy. And yet, while medication does seem to support some people in providing relief from symptoms, there is no scientific understanding as to exactly why.


Furthermore, where pharmacological treatments for mental health conditions may be standardized and utilized as common practice, there is good reason to also question their efficacy and even their safety. Dr. Arielle Schwartz, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of complex trauma, has written in depth about the contraindication and potential harm of the use of benzodiazopines, a medication commonly prescribed to treat symptoms of PTSD such as anxiety and panic.

She writes, ‘In my experience treating trauma for the past 15 years I have seen the negative impact of medical mismanagement of PTSD. I have witnessed clients suffer trying to recover from their psychopharmacological treatments and painfully try and rebuild their lives from the impact of physiological and psychological dependence upon medicine; conditions that are sometimes equally painful or worse than the initial traumatic events’.

Throughout the many years that I accessed medical support for my symptoms, I was prescribed benzodiazepines and various other pharmaceuticals (including anti-psychotics, though I never experience Psychosis) to manage them. They were offered as more of a silver bullet solution, rather than one potential piece of a complex condition and at no point was it suggested that there could be potential harm or side effects as a result of taking the medication. As there was no link made between my presenting symptoms and past trauma, I took the medications prescribed to me while not undergoing the therapy required to process those experiences in a supported environment. This lead to more strain on my brain and body and gradually, a worsening of symptoms both physical and mental. Whenever I reported that the medication I was receiving was either a) not helping and/or b) making things worse, I was met with disbelief or complete dismissal. It’s been important for me to recognize how, many times when these medications were prescribed to me, I was not in an informed position or in a place where I felt strong enough to advocate for myself or to question the directive of the medical providers I was seeing. When we are struggling with our health it can leave us feeling more vulnerable then when we are thriving. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a power differentiation at play when we seek medical support from professionals that should always be acknowledged.

I am extremely grateful to have never suffered from benzodiazepine withdrawal and/or to have developed a dependence on that specific class of drug.

See the journey of Toronto’s Dr. Jordan Peterson and his long road to recovery from benzodiazepine withdrawal as a result of routine medical care: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3ktjZhih3LQ).

The worst outcome of my consumption of psychiatric medication has been my need to process the years of built up emotional material that accumulated due to the numbing qualities of the psychiatric drugs I was prescribed. I was also not informed about the difficult road of cessation ahead of me or the impossibility of finding medical support to safely come off these medications, as medical practitioners are rarely if ever educated on withdrawal symptoms and the potential for discontinuation syndrome (a very real condition where symptoms emerge upon cessation due to a withdrawal of the drug from the body rather than evidence of the return of the ‘underlying illness’). My process has involved needing to self research and seek support outside of the medical system in order to safely wean off of medications. It has also involved pulling open capsules and counting beads with a micro scale in order to create dosages small enough to gradually wean in a way that my body could tolerate, as the drugs were not created or offered in dosages small enough for me to wean gradually and safely, and even my pharmacy wasn’t able to compound them for me. I was very quickly and flippantly prescribed these medications but was not able to find any support to come off of them within mainstream medicine. While that journey has been a difficult one unto itself, I am grateful every day that I wasn’t harmed in a more significant way.

To summarize, where I used to believe that psychiatric medications were the gold standard to treat mental health conditions and that they were not only completely safe but a required element of treatment, I’ve since learned through reading, studying and speaking with other survivors that the reality is that they will help some people, others they won’t and some they will harm. It is my belief now that the assumption should never be made that they definitely will help somebody or that they are the best and/or the only treatment option available - and the realities of those individuals who aren’t helped and/or are harmed by these medications should never be denied. While I believe that psychiatric medications have the potential to be an effective tool to support symptom management, not eradication (symptoms carry messages that are very important to hear), I also am a firm believer in the importance of informed consent - ie. ensuring that the consumer has a complete understanding of the potential benefits and risks of the treatment options that they are offered and that they are empowered to make decisions around treatments that are best for them given their unique circumstances.

To be continued...



References:


https://rootstothrive.com/2020/05/20/transforming-mental-health-a-call-to-action/


https://chriskresser.com/the-chemical-imbalance-myth/


https://drarielleschwartz.com/medications-and-the-mismanagement-of-ptsd/#.YJWLa2ZKjUQ


https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)72262-5/fulltext

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