How I was failed by the mental health system, and why leaving it led to recovery

Julie G

To fully explain how the System failed me you have to understand the chronology of events in my life that caused utter misunderstanding on the part of my providers. I trusted them and held them as authority for decades, yet they were the ones who were holding me back and keeping me dis-abled.

First, I took myself to therapy when I was 23, having no clue what was in store for me. I told the therapist of my eating troubles. She was a good listener but very quickly defaulted to the assumption that all my troubles were rooted in my upbringing. I am saddened that she used a textbook approach instead of seeing me as a unique individual.

This continued, only manifested itself far worse, in my day treatment program, which failed to address my eating disorder as the personnel there were not trained in ED. I got worse. I began to adapt the habits of the other attendees. I even started smoking! I was so over-engrossed in the “therapeutic process” due to peer pressure that I stopped doing the things I was good at. My parents were shocked at the profound changes. I had been a music prodigy and now, I was nothing but a mental patient!

I relocated, hoping that getting away from the day treatment program would solve the bad habits I had developed there. Sadly, I was unable to do this because I immediately went back to therapy! I was transferred to a new therapist who was antisemitic. He stereotyped me and told me my “bad mother” was to blame. Finally, when it was obvious his “therapy” wasn’t working, he threw his hands in the air and said I was “faking ED for attention.”

All this non-treatment had worsened my ED. I decided maybe I should ask for “medication” since I heard it might help. The doctors claimed I was “faking it” and surely med-seeking. I asked over and over, but they still didn’t hear that I really had a problem.

Early in 1983 I went to a hospital voluntarily. I stayed seven weeks but during that time I noticed the personnel didn’t take my eating disorder seriously nor did they have any knowledge of ED. The most helpful staff told me her ideas that maybe it was an addiction like alcoholism. Some of what she said was helpful, but mostly she put me into a mold according to her own agenda.

After leaving the hospital I didn’t expect to go back to my eating disorder but immediately, I did, even worse now. I felt hopeless and wanted to go back to the hospital. I managed to do this, but I was starting to notice that any complaints about ED went over their heads. To get hospitalized, I had to say I had some “other problem” since they never took my ED seriously. I began to give up hope that it would ever resolve.

Due to my hopelessness borne of provider incompetence I willingly accepted Social Security Disability, knowing that my ED had rendered me incapable of holding down a job. Yet the providers failed to see what was really happening. To get me onto Disability, my provider lied, saying I had “schizophrenia.”

My parents repeatedly tried to approach the providers and told them the “schiz” diagnosis was false since I had no psychosis and no signs of schizophrenia. Finally, they got a provider to change my diagnosis to “bipolar” even though my moods were pretty normal (whatever that is). I recall my parents considered this a victory.

My worship of this new provider rapidly faded to disappointment as I found he knew nothing of eating disorders. He even poked fun of me every time I mentioned ED. Now I was in my 30’s and had no job and no career except that of a mental patient.

I became more and more fearful of telling anyone what was really happening. The binges, which I always did in secret, were horrific, large in quantity, and made me physically ill to the point that I could do nothing but lie in bed for a long time afterward. I would often go without food completely, terrified of the next binge. I felt hopeless that this would even be addressed and wondered if anyone cared about what was really going on. They argued with me, claiming they were giving me the “best care”! I knew this wasn’t even possible since they denied my ED was a problem, and still insisted I was “exaggerating for attention.” I wasn’t!

If you are reading this and feel skeptical of what I am saying, I want you to ditch any prior assumptions you have about eating disorders. ED is rarely due to “poor coping” or “inability to handle emotions.” This is nothing but a textbook response based on stereotyping. Most people I know who suffer from this are not poor copers. To say so is nothing but blaming the patient for the provider’s incompetence and failure to listen.

An eating disorder is a Diet Gone Haywire. The diet or deficiency is the original root cause. Chronic starvation then affects our thinking and the cycle continues. Even those whose ED started out of the blue or at a young age started with a diet or deficiency, whether the sufferer is consciously aware of this or not.

It is the diet that has spiraled out of control. Sadly, seeing mental health providers who are unequipped to address the real problem will only make it worse. For thirty years I hung on, hoping to get help with my ED, yet each time all I could do was to cling to the idea that some new doc would be “better.” They never were.

In 2009 I was able to get the attention of one therapist who finally noticed and truly wanted to help. I’m not sure she would have, since circumstance forced us to stop the therapy, but at least now the psychiatrist I was seeing was also aware that I had ED. However, the psychiatrist didn’t realize that I had always had ED, and assumed this was “late-developing.” She was clueless that I had been suffering in silence for decades. I was over 50 years old now. I feared I would die of my eating disorder.

I fretted each time I went to bed that I would die in the night and never wake up. I looked scary since I was so thin. I lost most of my friends that I had. They, too, had given up faith in me.

Now, I was alone with this. I had no one to talk to, ever. I realized that being alone might be a blessing, though. I looked down and saw my feet, realizing that I was standing on them. I praised God or whatever it was that I had thought betrayed me, but now was giving me just what I needed. I needed to believe in myself. I was still alive, wasn’t I? I picked up my dog. I held her and cried for a long time.

The “care” I was receiving only got worse, sorely inadequate, and impersonal. I got a new therapist who abused me in a narcissistic way. She was controlling and manipulative. Leaving her was a blessing. But what to do now? Another I tried asked me out on a date so I ended the “therapy” as fast as I could. To my shock my psychiatrist claimed I was “delusional.”

I wasn’t delusional. Complaining about psych abuse is not a psychosis nor an “anger issue” but using one’s Freedom of Speech to speak out against injustice. We all have the right to speak out and shouldn’t be persecuted for doing what is intrinsically a moral obligation.

When I relocated in 2014, leaving the USA entirely, I had no fears of returning “mental illness” since I knew inside I never had one to begin with. I felt better being away from the expectations of others, finally, which had boxed me into the role of mental patient. I didn’t need that, I needed to be me!

Gradually, I began to like who I am. What was normal for me, a creative person, had been falsely labeled with all kinds of mental disorder names. This was so untrue. I am saddened to know that most these days believe in the myth of mental illness.

I began to study the works of Thomas Szasz, Robert Whitaker, and others. I found community among others who felt the same way. I began to call myself a survivor of psychiatry and understood that psychiatry exists to silence and imprison people. It isn’t curative, which is why it had failed me again and again.

I didn’t expect my ED to get better. At first, it didn’t. It was not improved at all after 34 years. I realized I would have to get rid of all the bogus lies my therapists had told me. The major one was dependency on their “expertise.” I realized that the System creates dependency and neediness. But my own philosophy of self-reliance won out. Now, I noticed I was really getting better!

Because I took control over my life, my eating disorder has completely disappeared in a short time. I do not rely on doctors to make my life decisions for me. I replaced learned dependency with hope.

I am so excited because my life keeps getting better. I’ve started a new career in public speaking and am auditioning to act in a play. I love getting up in front of an audience. I give speeches regularly, warning others of the harms of the mental health system and encouraging people to break free of medical dependency.

When I was a dependent mental patient I had lost my passion. Now, I have more passion than ever. At 59, I am thrilled to be realizing my dreams. I wish this joy and freedom for anyone out there.

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