RxISK STORIES: Monica’s Story – Polypsychopharmacology Aftermath

David Healy, M.D.

November 16, 2012

I recently contacted the doctor who is responsible for my iatrogenesis — the doctor who grossly over-medicated me and made me ill. I’ve been corresponding with him for several years now, but this was the first telephone conversation I’ve had with him since telling him what his drug cocktail did to me. He rarely says much in response to my emails where I link to the articles I’ve written casting large shadows on the “treatment” he gave me. So I called him and left a voicemail that I might talk to him.

When he returned my call a few days later, we talked for perhaps a half hour. I always liked this man when I was his patient and now that I’ve worked through most of the rage of having been harmed by his treatment, I still like him. His intentions were good. I’m clear on that. I do not think this relieves him of responsibility, but it does relieve me from hating him which simply isn’t good for my soul. Still, I simultaneously appreciate Dr. David Healy’s insight about patients succumbing to Stolkholm Syndrome and have made the same observation about myself. I contain multitudes. There is nothing easy about emotionally processing what happened to me and what continues to happen to so many others.

So my conversation with the man who practiced wild, untested poly-pharma on me was actually quite civil and I felt it was productive too. He listened and shared his view too. He did not always agree, but he was clearly listening.

I want to share a bit of the conversation. He has a hard time believing that what happened to me is routine, that it happens to many patients. He grants me my experience, though, like a good shrink. He believes me when I tell him both that my mind is clear now and that I’ve been gravely harmed by the drugs. I’m not sure he thinks he’s responsible, but he doesn’t challenge my experience. The phrase cognitive dissonance comes to mind. How do they do this? I don’t claim to understand.

So he said something suggesting what happened to me isn’t the norm. That he sees medications working wonders all the time. I challenged him like this, “Dr. M, when you were treating me you thought I was one of your successes, right?” He said, “Yes.” And I responded with, “Well, you were wrong. My life was miserable. I lived in a drugged haze. I slept and worked because that is all I had time to do. I had no passion for what I did and I just lived by going through the motions, flat and empty. My life was hell. I liked you and you needed to believe that I was okay…I tried to please you like a “good patient.”  Still if you’d paid attention you  know that I was always asking to be put on disability. That’s because it was insane for me to work 8 hours a day when I required 12 hours of sleep because of the heavy sedation. It was also dangerous for me to drive on that pharmaceutical cocktail yet I needed to drive to keep my job. If you had really paid attention you would have known my life was miserable. And I promise you, you have other patients just like me.”

I’m sharing that vignette as an opening because I think most doctors hear stories like mine and think that they are not the ones perpetrating such injury. My doctor is a very well-reputed psychiatrist in the Bay Area, CA. He’s well-known and well-regarded. He is a typical psychiatrist and typical psychiatrists are causing grave harm every day all over this country and throughout a good part of the world. He still seems to believe that I’m an anomaly and that somehow I’m not his problem. Yes, cognitive dissonance.

So I was on a six drug combination including every class of psychiatric drug at high doses that required over six years of withdrawal. I was left severely ill, afflicted by a severe iatrogenic illness:  “Withdrawal syndrome“ for lack of a better name. The name makes it sound like something that might last days or weeks but it’s crippled my life for years. Those of us who become this sick (I’ve networked with thousands of folks in withdrawal now) are  subject to dangerous care and outright denial of our experience by medical doctors and the medical establishment in general.

What possesses a doctor to prescribe such a cocktail? I don’t think I’ll ever know, but I can tell you how it happened.

The drugs never did “work” and in retrospect they made me much worse…in fact they caused the chronic illness I am now living with. It became clear to me when I was unable to continue working about fifteen years into the (heavy) drugging as my mind and body simply stopped cooperating under a fog of neurotoxic chemicals. I knew I had to try to free myself from them.

So, how did it all begin? After an illicit drug-induced mania I triggered in college, psychiatry got a hold of me. I was told that I was bipolar and would be sick for the rest of my life. One doctor, in fact, told me I would die if I did not take medication for the rest of my life.  Having suffered repeated traumas in my life the additional trauma I was subjected to in the psychiatric ward took its toll. I gave in to what they told me, they scared me good including threats to send me to a state hospital for permanent residence. It’s clear to me now this was used only to terrorize me into submitting to drug treatment, it was not a threat that would have been carried out, but I did not know that then.

The truth, however, is that I had a history of trauma that needed tending to, not any sort of brain disease as mental illness is popularly understood. The years of heavy drugging, in the end, is the only thing that made me truly sick. That is, psychiatric and physical symptoms caused by the drugs I was being given for “treatment.” My original diagnosis, bipolar disorder,  given as a life sentence never really had much credibility. The tragedy is that during all those years of being drugged during the prime of my life I felt purposeless, flat, barely alive and sexless. I went from being a fit and toned athlete to being 100 lbs over-weight and unable to exercise much at all due to the sedation and nausea. Yes, I had long-term chronic nausea as an adverse effect of the Lamictal. I went through the motions of living while in a fog.

Now, drug-free, I’m  quite often too ill to leave my home but my mind is crystal clear. I am motivated and productive, the author and editor of a popular mental health blog that offers alternatives to psychiatry. Having been both a professional in the mental health system and a victim of the same system, I have some interesting and uncomfortable insights into the standard of care. I’m passionate about my work. I have more of a life than I ever had on drugs even while able-bodied and even though now my life is painfully limited in ways it’s hard to convey to those who’ve never experienced such illness and isolation.

In retrospect I see now how one drug led to the next. The “mood-stabilizers” which left me depressed led to the antidepressants which left me with insomnia and agitation which led to the benzos for sleep. They still didn’t get rid of the agitation which led me to the antipsychotics (which made everything worse and in fact my doc kept adding Risperdal milligram by milligram until I was on 11 mg for my akathesia which I now know is CAUSED by the Risperdal—he was treating a symptom with the very drug that was causing the symptom!! My akathisia ceased when I finally got off the Risperdal. We always called it “anxiety,” but it was akathisia.

That big cocktail of drugs left me sedated and lethargic. No surprise. The next step was stimulants. Addiction and dependence to benzos also leads one to needing more and more drug to get the same “therapeutic effect.” And so my dose continued to increase. Unfortunately I’ve learned this happens to way too many people, some of whom never even realize it. Drugs leading to more drugs leading to more drugs. And once in the trap it’s almost impossible to see clearly. To realize what is going on is difficult and perhaps sometimes impossible.

I’ve been free of this massive cocktail of drugs for over two and half years now. The sad part is the greatest amount of suffering I’ve ever endured in my life has been a result of my body adjusting to no longer having neurotoxic drugs in my system. Medically-caused harm and a term that often sounds Orwellian to those of us who experience the protracted version: withdrawal syndrome. It totally fails to capture the grave disability some of us experience.

Still, I have not one moment of regret for having freed myself from these drugs because my mind is clear! I have a clarity of mind that is so beautiful I can cry if I spend time thinking about it. My clarity was stolen from me for almost half my life. I have it back and even impaired as I am, unable to leave the house most of the time, I am grateful.

I once made a list of the myriad insults my body and mind endured. It included over 50, mostly disabling symptoms . What is most astonishing is that I am exponentially better now and don’t experience the bulk of these symptoms anymore, but I’m still very very sick. This, again, is something very few people can conceive of. It’s mind-boggling to me as well and I’ve experienced it.

The fact is our bodies and minds are intrinsically driven to seek wellness and mine is no exception. I am on a path towards wholeness. I don’t imagine it will stop now. There is no going back.

David Healy, M.D.

David is a founder of RxISK.org, whose mission is to capture the data that is missing from anyone taking treatments in order to help make medicine safer for all of us.

RxISK STORIES: Monica’s Story – Polypsychopharmacology Aftermath Comments RSS

11 thoughts on “RxISK STORIES: Monica’s Story – Polypsychopharmacology Aftermath

  1. Monica’s journey is vital for people to read and understand. She is right that, for the person who has not been on these drugs, or hasn’t been on them for long periods of time, a withdrawal this painful and protracted is almost inconceivable. What a gift to you and to us to have your clarity of mind restored! Thank you for sharing this. “There is [also] no going back” for those who have been helped by this community space, and for all the commentary and contributors which make its dialogue so dynamic. Thanks, Monica!

  2. Monica,

    Your writing has personally made my life better. Your early angry blogs directed at your former psychiatrist has helped me to process through my anger at mine. I am a little surprised that you would want to contact him by phone when you have an infinitely more varied, intimate, and interested audience listening to you today through your blog. Forget what the professionals think about your experience, what is more important is what us patients and former patients (yay for me!) think… And I think what happened is a travesty. I don’t believe your psychiatrist was well-intentioned at the time and I don’t believe he is being very frank with you today. I conclude my psychiatrist– whom I had a very close trusting relationship to at the time of her prescribing me my 4 psych drug cocktail, plus a Xanax prn, plus stuff like Metaformin to address the side effects of my psych drugs– did not truly care about me or my health/well-being as much as she cared about making money off of me. My misery and dependency worked entirely in her favor.

    It sounds good to say that a psychiatrist who would prescribe in excess of three different kinds of drugs at a time actually cares but let’s be honest and look at what happens. Psych olypharmacy solves nothing, absolutely nothing; it creates additional new problems.

    I had a check-up this morning with my upper-cervical chiropractor (my alignment was holding after 7 months!) and he told me that two Mds who he has in his care said they would recommend his services for their family but not for their patients. Remember that. Family is family and business is business.

    Americans are 5% of the global population but consume 70% of the world’s prescription drugs. Overmedicating is a growing national health care problem across the board. The sad fact is that with psych drugs, not only are the numbers growing unabated, but they are spreading particularly to the more vulnerable among us like children, prisoners, and the elderly.

    I’m glad to have survived from my withdrawal healthier than I have been since before I got medicated (I was 19), but I hear this is not the same for you. Still, we both have made it to the other side and have clear minds to celebrate! Cheers to you, Monica!

    • When I engage with the doctor I do it precisely because I care about the people he is still treating. It’s not some sort of touchy feeling exercise to commune with him. Seeing and believing him to be evil when it’s clear to me that he is not would get us no where at all. It would only totally alienate him. I may not change him 100% but I’m sure at this point he will never prescribe quite the same way again either. Any time less aggressive prescribing is used…any time people end up on less medications… will diminish how much people are harmed. This too is harm reduction.

      It’s convenient and sometimes satisfying to imagine all these prescribers as evil. But it’s simply not the case…misunderstanding this fact can forfeit any chance of meaningful dialogue. I opt for meaningful dialogue and frankly I welcome the opportunity to dialogue with people that are not part of the choir.

      We all work where we are called to work. Talk to those we can communicate with and help. I was a professional in this field. I am skilled at communicating with other professionals. I do what I can on as many fronts as possible in this battle to educate and change what is happening with the use of psychiatric drugs.

      It’s better that we support each others unique skills rather than question their value.

      • This is a shockingly forceful and biased response, Monica. If I was a little surprised by your phone call to your old psychiatrist, I am a lot surprised by the venom directed at me here.

        “It’s convenient and sometimes satisfying to imagine all these prescribers as evil.” This is not your best use of your professional communication skills as it is attributing to me something slanderous and untrue.

        I haven’t called anyone evil. I am suggesting that money has something to do with the policies of prescribers. My psychiatrist did not support me in going off of my meds. I believe this has to do with her lack of monetary incentive to do so.

        “It’s better that we support each others unique skills rather than question their value.” You could try this out for size by supporting me as an individual with valid experiences and valid opinions that are not some pigeon-hole of a reductionist us vs. them rallying call.

        I am interested in helping others to not live out my particular mistakes with psychiatric drugs, and I have sought out dialogue with others who are not part of any particular faction. I don’t appreciate your prima facia assertions about me and my motives.

        I hope I have misread your response as you might have misread mine. Regardless, I admire your work.

        • I felt you were telling me how I should think and feel about my doctor and my relationship to him. I don’t think anyone can know anything about my doctor and my relationship to him.

          Beyond that I was simply responding to common threads in these such discussions (not just you) that suggest that prescribers are somehow sub-human or unworthy of speaking to with anything other than complete contempt.

          I didn’t really make an assumption about you per se. I simply wrote what arose in me when I read your response…I’m sorry if it offended you.

          • Gotcha, thanks for clarifying. I thought I was complimenting you on how many people you have reached online whose opinions are just as valuable as your doctor. But I can get how it was interpreted otherwise.

            I’m relatively new here to thinking critically and speaking up about my 12 years as an overmedicated bipolar in psychiatry. I am eternally grateful to have made it to psych-free living, 16 months and counting. My desire is to someday (e.g. maybe another two years) start and lead a 12 step support group in my local area to help others go through the withdrawal process of psych drugs and the mentally ill identity that goes with it.

            Reading your blog gave me courage to be able to think my thoughts and feel my feelings about what happened to me with the knowledge that I could move through the hurt with time and use even my most painful experiences for positive change. Basically, it was like auditing an online 12 step class! You have helped me, Monica.

            Thank you for your advocacy,
            Emily

  3. I think many physicians get trapped into believing that what they are doing works through a very typical human self-deception process. They seek out confirming information, and get it because they are looking for it. They think of themselves as scientists, but stop practicing real science themselves as they rely more and more on surrogates (like pharma marketing people, for example).
    –pk—

  4. More people should go back to their doctors, like Monica did, and let them know their suppositions their treatments were having some kind of magical curative effect were wrong.

    This is the only way doctors will stop seeing what they want to see.

    Usually they’re not evil, they’re just misguided, complacent, and self-congratulating. One by one, they can be educated.

  5. Re: “Stolkholm Syndrome”

    Amen!

    A note to parents on the subject of children and psychopharmacology (especially, polypschopharmacology) – Grab your kid by the hand, and run!

    “Seeing a psychiatrist has become one of the most dangerous things a person can do.” – Peter Breggin, M.D.

    Duane Sherry, M.S., CRC-R
    discoverandrecover.wordpress.com

  6. When people wonder what they can do as individuals to change things for the better, I believe educating your doctors can be very effective.

    Each one, teach one.

    I know how very difficult this is. We don’t want to go back to the people who hurt us. We’ve lost respect for them and we feel betrayed.

    If you can let some time go by and you can approach your doctor without fear and rage, this can be very effective. (Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.)

    If you are angry and accusatory, the doctor will write off whatever you have to say as evidence of mental illness. Instead of listening, he or she may start to think of liability issues, become non-communicative, and withdraw from the conversation as fast as possible.

    Don’t expect your doctor to admit he or she was wrong. If you can just get your doctor to listen, the next time a patient like you shows up, it will ring a bell.

    A calm, straightforward letter works fine, too, and it might help get some of the anger out of your system. (In the US, send a copy to your state medical board.)

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