Why are we in such a rush to “diagnose” and “treat” our eccentrics?

I may be crazy, but it seems to me that the more we focus on “mental illness,” the less we accept people who are different.

People who, just two generations ago, would have been treated graciously as the family eccentric are now being treated aggressively as persons with complex mental health disorders. When our “mental illnesses” fail to respond readily to standard treatments, we are subjected to what is, in essence, live subject experimentation without informed consent. Would anyone in their right mind agree to the treatment I experienced? Over five years, I took more than 20 different medicines in various combinations of two to five drugs which would, at various times …

  • Make half my long, wavy hair fall out.
  • Leave me driving in circles, unable to find my way home from the mall where I shopped nearly every week.
  • Make it impossible to remember a supervisor’s directions for even as long as it took to turn from his desk to his door. Constant note-taking became essential.
  • Destroy my bowel control, so I found myself looking for a potentially “poopy” baby to stand near in checkout lanes, so he or she could get credit for the aroma.
  • Cut typing speed from more than 80 words per minute to fewer than 45 as fine motor skills were compromised.
  • Make auto accidents and near-misses almost regular occurences due to reduced large motor coordination.
  • Create a “word finding” block that frequently made it impossible to speak or write the needed word — creating embarrassing social situations and turning Google Search into a necessary “brain extension” during work hours.
  • Cause me to balloon to an immovable 210 pounds in just one year. (Happily, I’ve lost almost all of the Zyprexa gain. It took more than five years, but it finally seems to be gone.)

At this point, I’m on a cocktail of five medications, some of which are addictive. It’s a far cry from the much simpler regimen a conservative psychiatrist in New England prescribed: antidepressants when my depressions became so black I could not manage.

It is true that I no longer experience depressions that last for months at a time. I also never have the drive that made me fastest to associate in one firm’s history or allowed me to build one organization’s membership 20 percent based on my personal outreach. I still need to practice good “mental hygiene” to remain focused on priority issues and ideas. I need to practice the good social skills I’ve finally been learning. And — five meds notwithstanding — I still want to kill myself almost every day.

The problem is that current psychiatry has really limited diagnostic tools. So among all the practitioners I’ve seen over the years, as I changed locations or insurance coverage, no one recognized Asperger’s Syndrome as an issue. The reality is, Asperger’s might be the main issue. People with Asperger’s can have difficulty managing our emotions, which can look like bipolar. We want to kill ourselves. Often. Way more often than people with “mental illnesses.”

But now I’m addicted to pharmaceuticals that don’t treat Asperger’s (for which the treatments are educational and behavioral).

So call me “crazy” (because almost every day I have to decide not to die, and I have enough ideas to fuel a few multinational corporations and not enough social skills to negotiate the average playground, and I sometimes forget that people really don’t want to know that someone like me can “see through” their masks to what they’re not saying about their lives).

But don’t call me “mentally ill.”

That’s just insulting.