I began taking a psychiatric drug cocktail around February 2001. At that time I was mainly scratching my skin, enough to bleed, but superficial marks. I was having almost daily panic attacks, insomnia and nightmares. The idea was that the drug cocktail would help all these symptoms.
On my 3rd admission to South Street 7th floor, I met with Dr. X. We were sitting in my hospital room. I had a bed by the window and this was a ward room with four beds separated by curtains. He sat on the chair that was provided for visitors and scrawled some words on a scrap piece of paper.
Anorexia nervosa (in partial remission)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (mild)
Borderline Personality Disorder.
This moment changed the direction of the rest of my life. Even today, at 35 years old the impacts haunt me. Dr. X explained each of my diagnosis to me one by one. When I learned about PTSD I felt a weight lift. So many things suddenly made sense, why I startled so easily, the nightmares and intrusive thoughts. PTSD was a psychiatric label, but for me it was a useful one. It made me feel less alone, less crazy to know there was a word for what I had been experiencing since I was 15 years old.
The issue was the last line in his list. Borderline Personality Disorder. What did that mean? How could my personality be disordered? Remember that I had only just begun to recover and process memories of sexual abuse and that was the immediate trigger of my instability. Dr. X explained that because of my self harming behaviour this was the diagnosis that fit best for me. Over the years I would learn many things about borderline personality disorder and how it is used as a label to marginalize women survivors of violence and abuse. But in the next few years all I learned was that as soon as a doctor in the hospital saw that diagnosis I would get treated differently, with less compassion, less humanity and less kindness. Quite simply the hospital staff began to give up on me.
A terrible paradox began to occur. The more I felt that the hospital staff and Dr. X did not believe and validate me, the more I acted out. This was not a conscious decision, but I soon learned that without harming myself I would not get hospital care, and after a few more months, I began to be turned away from the Emergency Room on a regular basis, told there were no beds, that hospital stays did not benefit people who were borderline.
Something else was happening during this time period. The toxic soup of psychotropic drugs were beginning to poison me. I was 20 years old, still a young person. SSRI anti-depressant medications can be very dangerous for some young people. They can trigger impulsive self harm and even suicidal thoughts and actions. They can create an almost hypomanic like state in someone who is not bipolar. This is what happened to me. But all the while I kept believing “Drs don’t give you medicine to make you sick”
Anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications slowed me down. I found myself sleeping more than I wanted to, napping during the day, living in a fog. I also became more intense and more impulsive with my self harming behaviours which escalated extremely quickly between February and April 2000. Soon I was harming myself daily, sometimes multiple times a day. My arms looked like a mess of scars, cuts and scrapes.
In April 2000, I bought an exacto knife and for the first time I cut deeply. Down the rabbit hole, down, down, down…I went to the Emergency Room by myself and received 9 stitches by a medical student. When the resident came back to check his work she told him the sutures were done incorrectly. I waited, but she did not offer to fix it. The first time left the worst scar, 6 years later it still hurt me so much I had plastic surgery to repair the scar tissue. I imagine that if this wound had not been self inflicted, the resident would have corrected it and been concerned about the potential scar.
One week later, walking back from University I became consumed with thoughts about ending my life. These thoughts had become an almost constant companion, but that day there was an impulsiveness that was new. Almost without thinking I overdosed in my apartment. Shortly after I told my boyfriend who drove me to the hospital.
I don’t remember very much about what happened after the car ride. I do remember drinking activated charcoal. I still have nightmares about this and I still have trouble drinking or eating things with a chalky texture. It was black and I was drinking it from a bottle with a straw. I was confused and kept asking why I was drinking it.
The doctors discharged me home after a few hours. I vaguely remember the car ride, I remember throwing up in the parking lot of my apartment building and many more times that night. I don’t remember going to bed or much of that evening.
It confused me that I was sent home. Surely a disoriented, drugged young woman who had just tried to end her life was not the person who should be walking out of the hospital. I must have told them I felt better, but I can’t imagine their thought process in discharging me so quickly.
This was not the last time I tried something like this. Looking back from the perspective of a wiser adult I know that:
a) SSRIs or anti-depressants of any kind make me extremely ill/hypomanic, suicidal, impulsively self destructive, and more depressed
b) benzodiazapenes make me extremely suicidal after only a few doses, let alone after taking them daily for weeks.
c) almost every psychiatric drug has similar side effects (ie. making me act like someone who might have borderline personality disorder)
Yes, Drs do give people medication that makes them sick. They do it every single day and then label those same people as sicker than they were previously, with labels that stick with them for life. No matter how recovered I might be, no matter how well I am, no matter how functional, those three words (borderline personality disorder) still have the power to put me into a dark box.
I know that I’m not alone with this. Many women who live with PTSD, and who have used self harm as a method of coping,have been labelled and marginalized this way. And so many youth became ill taking anti-depressants that they now have black box warning labels advising of the increased risk of suicide.
Scars criss cross my entire body and sometimes I wonder, if I’d never consented to taking the medications if my body would look differently today. I know my life would.