My first experience with traditional medication was at age 17, and after it triggered a severe mixed episode and hospitalization (where I was forced through a serious withdrawal for 12 hours by the half-witted staff) I became extremely suspicious of both the standards of American medical practices and psychiatric medications themselves.
Though that whole period was followed by a time where I was a (mostly) willing party to a handful of other drugs, my German psychiatrist was convinced (I’m not sure if it was by me or if it was on his own accord) that I would be fine without the drugs, and after a year I was freed of them. My biggest complaint had been that I wasn’t able to think clearly while taking them, or at least as clearly and rapidly as I had been previously. This made things like mathematics incredibly taxing, when math was something I could do standing on my head before.
This ushered in the drug-free era. Something which only ended recently, as in a year ago.
A year and a half, or maybe two years ago I began to reconsider trying the traditional medication route again. I had been combating my episodes cognitively, and similarly to how I combat them now (with the external variables) but I kept dipping down into depression that I couldn’t seem to shake. Between the depression and managing episodes on my own, I was exhausted.
So, I found a local support group in an attempt to get a little perspective. Being one of only two unmedicated folks there, I was a little intimidated, but I wanted to hear what people who lived the medicated life had to say.
Around the same time I was hearing rumors of another group that was meeting in the Seattle area, comprised of some very unique artists. The rumors were cautionary, as they were said to be so extreme and free-spirited that if one didn’t begin the evening mad, after one night you’d certainly leave that way.
Naturally, I was curious, but I was already leading the sort of alternative bipolar life. The immediate information I was concerned about was of traditional medications, so I forgot about the other group.
When I was reminded of them again recently, I actually took the time to check out The Icarus Project website.
From The Icarus Project main page:
We are a network of people living with and/or affected by experiences that are often diagnosed and labeled as psychiatric conditions. We believe these experiences are mad gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world. Participation in The Icarus Project helps us overcome alienation and tap into the true potential that lies between brilliance and madness.
At first I was a little nervous to write about The Icarus Project (heck, this post has been sitting as a draft for the last couple months because of that nervousness), because in a sense what they’ve comprised is relative to The Anarchist Cookbook in regard to mental health. At the same time, though, after my own experiences with medications this last time around (mostly the fact that I tried about 15 in a 6 month period, all of which were incompatible with me except one), where do I sit in regard to alternatives to the traditional, modern medication route?
I don’t believe that medications are the only solution here, whether what we’re looking at is an alternative to medication or in conjunction with medications. Consider therapy, consider diet changes, supplements, sleep hygiene, any number of things. I think alternatives can be ok, it just depends on the situation, the alternative, and the person.
In that respect, I absolutely cannot judge anyone based on what they do in an attempt to navigate having a mental illness. Some of the drugs administered by doctors today can have effects just as deadly or crippling over time as many self-medicating techniques, and what other people do is not my business.
What I do is my business.
When it comes to the decisions I’m going to make, I want to have as much research and perspective as possible. Really, that is the only thing I hope others will consider. I don’t want to push one form of alleviation over another, but I do want to push you to consider what the options are.
For that, I would say The Icarus Project is excellent. They have a massive amount of information on all types of alternatives, and in their forums they are particularly open and accepting of everyone, medicated or not. Plus, learning doesn’t hurt, right?
The forums do not appear to be as active as they once were, and I couldn’t find any information on whether local groups (in various places across the country) are still meeting, but this could provide a good read on a rainy afternoon.
As just a quick end note, I wanted to point out the irony (intentional I’m sure) in the fact that The Icarus Project is named for Icarus. If you’re not familiar with the story, he was the guy who made wings out of wax and feathers, then flew too close to the sun. When his wings melted, he fell to his death. I can’t think of a more fitting parable in regard to what we choose to use to escape mental illness, and how important it is to consider that decision and subsequent actions thereafter.