For much of my treatment career – yes, I am indeed calling the taming of the beast these years have evolved into a “career” – I have painted a two dimensional piece, whether it be a Monet, a Picasso, or an unintelligible charcoal-smeared creation. The point is, these pictures are flat. For the last eleven or twelve years, I have relied oh-so-heavily on the powers of psychiatric medication. I was once again recently hospitalized for bipolar symptoms, and during a visit with my mother following a highly frustrating and disappointing meeting with my inpatient psychiatrist, we made a list of the treatment options I had tried thus far. First came the list of medications – lithium, depakote, risperdal, lamictal, clozapine, haldol, trilafon, thorazine – the list is endless, and nearly so. We calculated an approximate trial of 20 to 25 different medications I had endured over the past years. Next we tracked treatments I had undergone, including naturopathy, acupuncture, electroconvulsive therapy, and twelve inpatient hospital stays. Is it time to paint a Van Gogh?
The use of psychiatric medication has drastically altered my life. In fact, I can confidently say it has saved my life. But then, what is left over? There is only so much a psychotropic drug can do in the recovery of a person with mental illness. It propels the car down the interstate, but there must be another driving force to push pass the border. There must be more to the picture. Effective coping skills. Do not undermine the power of the mind to alter a mood state, thought pattern, or to deescalate a crisis through the implementation of learned skills and behavior modifications. My greatest experience with learning and engaging in coping skills has been through Dialectical Behavior Therapy practice. I have had much interaction with DBT, mostly beginning with the three week completion of an intensive outpatient program. For three weeks – three weeks! – I ate, breathed, and slept DBT. Yet I did not implement the principles into my life – mindfulness, acknowledgment and acceptance of painful emotions, distress tolerance, emotion regulation. The invaluable things I learned in this program could have served to begin to possibly alter my art into three-dimensional pieces, had I been doubly persistent.
I also received intensive DBT exposure and training in the four hospitalizations I have experienced in this past hospital. Our days were centered upon groups led explicitly in the informative and practical application of DBT principles. Yet, I come home and once again fail to implement them into my life. A few days ago, I came upon my medical records of my hospital stays at UCLA and documentation with the Department of Mental Health in Los Angeles. I was shocked, disturbed, and distressed reading through the records, realizing how long and arduous a road this has been. Medication after medication, unsustained improvement. I suddenly realized that these medications are getting me only so far. I must begin to exercise my inherent powers to alter my life, use my mind, thought processes, and cognitive abilities to effect change. It is the only way I will cross the border and enter the adjoining state without disregarding or disparaging the gas the psych medications have fed me. There is a possibility to work to control my neuroses and obsessions, to combat my suicidal urges, and to attack and smack down the thoughts of self harm and punishment that often plague my mind.
I am slowly working through the practice of these skills. It is a process – an extremely slow process – to effectively learn and implement them, but I believe they are as valuable as my psych medications. Perhaps in the future I will be able to exclaim the power of my mind and thought processes in their imperative role in the dismantling of the current and historical blockade inhibiting my path to recovery and the rescuing of my life. No more Renoir. Shall I try a Michelangelo?