When I was younger I read a lot of science fiction from the 1960s and 1970s. I remember reading some stories which looked at the idea of different decisions creating alternate dimensions. If the central character in the story made one choice it would result in, for example, destruction of the world and if they made a different choice at that moment of decision, then the world was spared. I loved the concept of different dimensions shaped by our choices. Reality is in fact similar to that model although I don’t this there are infinite universes crrlatign to the thousands of different decisions made by the countless multitudes of humans who have walked the earth. Anyway I shall stop daydreaming and get to the point.
Many years ago, I lived a shadow life far removed from the good things I now know. I made many poor choices but this post is not really about my for choices but the choices made by those in caring roles working to assist me (or manage me, depending on which sort of institution I was in at the time).
I spent around three years on and off in prison and forensic psychiatric wards. I have a kind of schizophrenia which used to be largely resistant the the treatments I was given. These treatments basically consisted of very large doses of Largactyl, one of the first anti-psychotic drugs which came onto the market in the 1940s or 50’s. As I was a prisoner and ’a management problem’ I didn’t have a lot of say in the treatments I was given. Largactyl is sometimes called a chemical straightjacket as it strips you or energy and will, at least it did in the doses I was given. I existed in a fog, my body felt heavy and I had little interest in anything. In the three years I was in orison I saw the psychiatrist who prescribed this drug once. He was a large bearded man and he didn’t seem very engaged in his work.
When I was released from prison for the final time in 2000 I was sent to a therapy program for people who (actually) had the condition I had been misdiagnosed with, borderline personality disorder. This program was a very new thing indeed, and considered innovative. I was its seventh ‘customer’. The staff were very different to workers I had been cared for by, well ever. They listened and respected the women in the service, included recently released ex-prisoner me. Within a few weeks, the psychiatrist at this service – who all the clients saw at least once a week – asked me if I was aware that my tongue flicked out of my mouth, rather like a lizard. I was worried by this and said I had not been aware of this. The psychiatrist thought I might have a movement disorder caused by the medication I had been given for the past four or so years,
It just so happened that the preeminent movement disorder specialists in Melbourne worked in a building adjoining the one where our program was housed,. I was given an appointment and met the two doctors who specialised in things like my lizard tongue thing. I was acutely embarrassed by this issue. It made me more reserved and I didn’t want to meet new people. The specialist doctors diagnosed me with a condition called Tardive Diskqynesia which is frequently caused by some of the older anti-psychotic drugs. These doctors consulted with the program psychiatrist and she changed my medication to a more recent drug. After a while my tongue stopped flicking about. I was happy and figured this issue must be a fairly simple thing to treat.
Years later I mentioned my movement disorder and how it had been effectively treated through a change in medication to a psychiatrist who was treating me at the time. He was visibly amazed and told me that disorder is almost always permanent. This got me reflecting about the decisions people make on behalf of others.
I can’t vouch for everything my twenty-something self would have done, but I’m fairly certain that had my movement disorder not been treated I would have felt acute embarrassment. This would have limited my path in life and probably have made all the things I do now impossible. I think it would have kept me away from social contact. For someone as self-conscious and insecure as I was then this apparently little thing would likely have had a huge impact only experience of life.
A few things came together which enabled this and the main catalyst as I see it was having medication staff who cared about my welfare and saw me as a valuable person with potential. Sadly prisons don’t often do that very well. Had I not been fortunate enough to find my way into a service for a condition I was only diagnosed with due ti a huge lack of understanding of female Autism. Had I not had consistent care from a the same psychiatrist who saw me more then once in three years, had those movement disorder specialists not been just down the road….who knows.
Those things happened and I was not limited by being self conscious and embarrassed to exist. One thing to know is that I was hight socially devalued. I had no job, no education, no power or status of any kind, I was a recent ex-prisoner with a mental illness who was in the autism spectrum at a time where neurodiversity barely existed, I was homeless and poor and had low self esteem. One characteristic of low social value is that a person is often largely reliant on the mercy of strangers. In my case it was mostly the mercy of mental health workers which was relevant. I was fortunate that the strangers on whose mercy I was reliant were decent kind people.
When we meet people who are devalued, maybe we should all be thinking of little recent ex-prisoner Jeanette. Jeanette had her lovely family in her corner which was great and facilitated social recovery but she didn’t have many others. From my perspective, the amazing recovery from the movement disorder was in and of itself a protective factor. So those strangers caring for me enabled me to live my life now and all it includes.
- Gain a Masters degree
- Work full-time
- Write books about Autism which help others
- Mentor and support people
- Look after a beautiful black cat
- Own my own home
- Be a role model for others on the Autism spectrum and those with mental illness
- Be happy from time to time
- Pay lots of tax to help society
- Express my love and gratitude to family and friends for being lovely
- Be a good friend
- Give presentations about a number of good things to many thousands of people over the years
- Grow older
- Help challenge stereotypes about all manner of groups of people who are disadvantaged.
If you care for people who are socially devalued, or even if you just come across people, I reckon maybe reflect on the fact that my recent life was made possible by a psychiatrist noticing something in her client and being concerned. The way workers and support people care for people and the choices they take is often critical in which path they take and which ‘dimension’ they find themselves.