In the year 2008, I was sitting at the breakfast table in the psychiatric facility of a certain hospital in California, when I noticed something disturbing. All of the other people had coffee — the kind with caffeine — but only I had decaf.
Naturally, I summoned a nearby psychiatric technician, and I asked him why I was given decaf, rather than regular coffee. I remember his name was Steve.
“Because you are bipolar,” said Steve, “a cup of coffee will hype you up, and put you at risk of having a manic episode.”
“But I drink coffee every morning, Steve,” I said calmly. “I find that my morning cup of coffee relaxes me, and helps me to focus.”
“If you were ADHD,” Steve continued, “your cup of coffee would relax you. But since you are bipolar, your cup of coffee hypes you up.”
“Well then, I must be ADHD, because my morning cup of coffee relaxes me. And really, Steve, don’t you think I know how my cup of coffee affects me? I mean, I’ve been having a cup of coffee every morning since I was 19 years old.”
“Andy,” frowned Steve, “I know that you sincerely want to be helped, but you seem to want to be helped on your own terms.”
At that, I could no longer suppress my outrage.
“A cup of coffee is my OWN terms?” I cried. “Me and a hundred million other Americans!?”
(Granted, I was a bit agitated. But what do you expect? It was early in the morning before breakfast, and I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet.)
Long story short, my outcry attracted the attention of a number of other clinicians, and before I knew it, I was forcibly given a shot of concentrated Zyprexa on my tongue, before the words “I have the right to refuse any medications,” could emerge from my mouth.
What followed in the next few minutes is hazy in my memory. But evidently, I shortly later fell into a deep sleep. Either the next morning or the morning after, I awoke. A psych tech named Tim was standing next to me.
“Andy,” Tim said in a compassionate tone, “don’t make a big deal out of a cup of coffee here.”
I shot up from my bed. “WTF!!??”
Me being me, I made a totally big deal out of it! I went over people’s heads until I found the guy who was in charge of the place, who happened to be from Austria. Apparently, they do things a bit differently in Austria than they do in the San Francisco Bay Area. Or at least, he had a sense of right and wrong.
“That was horrible what they did to you!” he said. “And of course, you may have your morning cup of coffee from now on.”
I was considerably calmer each following morning, for obvious reasons. It also caused me to wonder if I had been misdagnosed. Later in Berkeley, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist both independently diagnosed me with ADHD, and both of them said I showed no symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Not to overemphasize demographics, but they do things differently in North Idaho, too. My present physician is considered to be an expert on mental health conditions. I saw him twice a couple weeks apart, and thought I was a little “manic” the second time I saw him. He reeled off five known symptoms of bipolar disorder and explained why I demonstrated none of them. Then he said, “If there were a line-up and I had to pick who was bipolar out of the line-up, I would not choose you.”
Prior to getting my Medicare and Medicaid with my retirement income, I was at the low income clinic where again I was disturbed that the bipolar diagnosis was on my chart, following me wherever I went. After much self-advocacy, which included accessing records from the psychologist and psychiatrist in Berkeley, the physician there diagnosed me with ADHD. I also took a test on my own — something I found on the Internet that seemed reasonable — that labeled me “Severe ADHD.” Then my physician gave me a test independently, yielding the same results.
I was put on the drug Straterra, and after three months of urinary retention and sleep paralysis, I stopped. I was able to urinate normally within two weeks after stopping, and the sleep paralysis stopped as well. I’ve not taken a psychiatric drug since then, although I’m certainly not opposed to the concept. I get tired of being a total space cadet. A little bit better focus, a little bit better reading comprehension, would be welcome. But you know, I also like my excellent physical health, and I don’t like it being messed with.
Maybe I’m proud. All I know is my morning cup of coffee relaxes me. Just ask my ex-wife.
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