Mental Health Warrior: Allie Burke

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I thought that this introduction was something that I would be able to bang out in mere minutes, not because Allie doesn’t deserve a well thought out and articulate intro, but because I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have struggled for over a week trying to come up with the words to do Allie justice, and no matter what I say, I will fall short.

Allie Burke is not only an accomplished best selling author; she is also the VP of the Stigma Fighters, the founder of the OCH Literary Society, and an outstanding mental health activist and speaker. She opens her soul, and gives her readers a glimpse of what it’s like to live in a mind that is often times overcome with paranoid schizophrenia, and that is fucking brave, and admirable, and courageous, and she would laugh and tell me it’s not. But, she’s not writing this intro, and she doesn’t get a say, because I think that she is one of the strongest people that I know. And if you look at her column, Paper Souls on Psychology Today, you’ll agree with me.

Allie, you have gone above and beyond to help so many people, and I know you don’t want praise for that, that’s not your deal, but I’m recognizing you for it, because I’m one of those people, and I love you. Thank you for the endless replies to the manic texts that I’ve sent, the calls to me to make sure that I’m okay, and the love that transcends anything that I could ever put into words. You have changed my life, and I am forever grateful to you.

It’s not all the Medication’s Fault, but it’s not all our Fault Either

By Allie Burke

Sometimes people call me brilliant. The lovely, amazing (brilliant) Nicole Lyons is one of these people. But I don’t feel brilliant all the time. My IQ doesn’t lie, but I feel like I should be more successful and I should have more books written and I should have a lot more money than I have. Failure is a clawed animal that lives somewhere in the back of my brain. My father also tells me I am too brilliant to fail, but let’s be honest: the only time I feel brilliant is when people say that I am.

I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when I was twenty-five years old. Mental Health Awareness Month 2015 marks my twenty-ninth year on this beautiful earth. It wasn’t beautiful then, though. Then I was six months into a marriage I wanted nothing to do with, post-abortion I didn’t want to have, caught in a life that couldn’t possibly be mine. Surely this wasn’t all there was. Surely paranoid schizophrenia wasn’t all there was.

But it was all I had. That, and the meds.

My first experience with the mental health industry is a very long story—I wrote an entire novel about it—but basically I saw a psychotherapist who referred me to a four-hundred-dollar-an-hour-specialist who told me I had a sleeping disorder who referred me to another psychiatrist who told me I had schizoaffective disorder who referred me to another psychiatrist who finally diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia. Then began the six-month medication trial period that every mentally ill person hates: trying new meds every 4 weeks to see what works and what has side effects that we can bear. It was this experience with the mental health industry that put me in a mental institution more than once.

I wasn’t cured by any stretch of the word, but the medication with the least amount of side effects didn’t work and the medication that did work stripped me from everything I loved to do. So I went off it. I went off it and undertook a hippie lifestyle wherein I got on the right diet and I took the right supplements and I saw the right hippie doctors. And it worked for a while. Until it didn’t.

It had been two years.

To kick off the first day of Mental Health Awareness Month this year, I found myself in a UCLA urgent care center requesting the same medication that ruined my life the first time. They gave me what I wanted, and I’ve been taking it since. And guess what, it’s not that bad.

I mean, I have serious light sensitivity. Which was not really the case last time. I had blurry vision to the point where I couldn’t focus my eyes on a computer even with my glasses on, so I picked up some sunglasses and called it a day. I’d much rather have that. I’m really tired, which worsens with every day I take the medication, but I also haven’t really slept in two years, so it’s not terrible actually being able to sleep.

But I can write. I have consistently been able to write ever since being on the meds, which is a blessing. I’d be lying if it hadn’t crossed my mind that this medication was going to strip me of the ability to write entirely. I mean, I’m on the medication right now, as I write this. And I don’t feel like my brain is going to explode, like I have on and off for the years I was not being treated in the way that they tell me I should. And I’m totally good with my brain not exploding.

What does that tell me about medication? That medication is still, not the way to go. But, if it has to be the way to go, there has to be something else. Some growth in a person. Therapy. Change. A will to be the best we can be. If some of the people that know me today met me two years ago, they wouldn’t even know that person. They wouldn’t believe me when I told them my name is Allie Burke. I am stronger and I am happier and I am braver. I have grown into this person who doesn’t give a fuck what people think of her, for I love this person that is me because I have taken the steps to make her into someone I can fall in love with.

Ergo, it would turn out that I am not as brilliant as people tell me I am. For I have been preaching that meds are not the way to go (for me) for two years. Which, they’re not, really. I know that makes me sound like a hypocrite, but I am being absolutely truthful when I say that I don’t know what other choice I have. I have tried therapy and alternative and holistic measures and like I said, they worked for a while, until they didn’t. I lived in struggle, sans sleep for too long without the medication that is really the only treatment for this illness, and it caught up with me very fast. I am at the mercy of this medication because what other choice do I have? The only focus on schizophrenia right now is some journal trying to get the name of it changed to eradicate stigma. Is that really going to eradicate stigma? Changing the name of an illness? As the VP of Stigma Fighters, I’m all for eradicating Stigma, trust me—but couldn’t the resources that are being spent deciding whether or not to change the name of something be collected to devise a better treatment or even a (shocker) cure?

Do I feel that medication is an acceptable form of life long treatment? No I do not. I believe that the more focus that is put on mental illness and the more we refuse to be silenced, that the people responsible for treating the mentally ill will be able to treat with more care and open mindedness. So what do we do in the meantime? We fight until we can’t fight anymore, and then we fight a little harder.

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A Bestselling Author, NPO VP, and Psychology Today Blogger from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.

Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.

From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel. Visit Allie at her author page on Facebook, her column on Psychology Today, as well as on Twitter.

I would also encourage you to check out the amazing talent at OCH Literary Society, their Facebook Page, as well as Twitter. They’re always looking for submissions from people that celebrate and love literature in all forms.

12 comments

  1. Thank you, Allie. You inspire me and so many others. I wish I could put it into words as eloquently as you could. If only you could read my mind. Thank you for sharing with TLC.

    xoxo

    Like

  2. Nicole, you could put all these inspiring profiles into a book! 😉 No bias there, eh? And I have heard fabulous things about Allie for months now…I’m not at all surprised to read your glowing words about her. Happy Mother’s Day to you and Allie and all our Warriors, my beautiful friend! XOXOXOXOXOX

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “You fight until you can’t fight anymore, and then you fight a little harder.”

    That means you constantly battle to balance treating mental illness with having a quality life. Mental illness is a moving target, so no one answer works everyday. Sometimes meds are a necessary evil, sometimes we can hold life together while off them. The brave, incredible, successful battle you engender is to not give up and medicate for life until comfortable numb. You fight everyday with every weapon you have to make the most of the life you are given.

    Going back on meds is not a set back, it is not giving up, it is a regrouping to come at the battle from a new direction. I asked the first doctor to medicate me if I will be on pills for the rest of my life and she said there will be periods where I can have “time off for good behavior.” But time off only comes if you take charge of your treatment and make those judgment calls of when to go off and when to go back on. No one outside your brain can make that call. This also means that you have to ride the edge of therapeutic levels to know how you are intrinsically doing. Numbing levels of medication prevent even you from knowing your state of functioning.

    I don’t see you as less brilliant or a hypocrite for going back on meds; I see you as a role model for fighting the good fight, and that includes admitting when you need to medicate and not using it as an excuse to give up the war, but using it as a time to regroup and devise your next strategy.

    “Fight on, my brave [warrior].”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Nicole & Allie. Allie, I hope that your current med regimen doesn’t knock you on your ass, fuzz your thinking, or slow the movement of your pen. All for the continued fight for better treatment, betteer solutions, better management, but better cure – I do not know. I pause at cure because I’m not sure where my illness ends and where I begin, quite honestly. It affects how I experience life. I do believe that the more we know, the better we understand mental illness, the healthier we can be. But, I do not want anything that may approach eugenics – a complete removal of brains like ours. Not so sure…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The struggle between being on or off meds is so real. I went through therapy and different meds and am just now a year free of both. Sleep was huge and I still remember the first 2 nights I finally slept. I have had moments I felt I needed to be back on meds and it will always be a constant balance of listening to my body and watching for the signs that my mind might be strong enough to kill me.

    I am so proud to watch you and Sarah, two beautifully powerful voices, working to fight Stigma.

    Liked by 1 person

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