I’d like you to get to know me as you read this. I think I have an important personal story to tell. Frankly, I don’t like that my story can be seen as an illustration or a parable because it came at a cost to me i.e. I could have had a much more placid life. And truth-be-told, I am also enraged at what happened to me. But I feel honored and blessed that I have the capacity to share my story and perhaps help others with it. I’ve now changed from feeling like a permanently unwell human being to someone who knows she is strong and resilient. I am also someone who has realized that she was painfully duped by psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry.
I was a very skinny, petite, very shy, introverted young lady when I entered Yale University in 2000. I was very studious, and a little quirky with an ambitious nature. However, Freshman Organic Chemistry kicked my butt, and by finals week I was cowering and unable to study because of the pressure I put on myself to succeed and the pressure I felt from my father, who would accept nothing less than an ‘A’. I became very anxious and upset and had to postpone taking the exam and went home for the week. My dad took me to see my primary care physician and the doctor put me on Prozac. And that is when it all started, and I eventually became acquainted with mental places I could never have imagined.
I finished that semester (earning a ‘B’ in Freshman Orgo). Spring semester a new personality bubbled up for naas. I became sweet like syrup, but also histrionic and obnoxious at times and very extroverted. I became a performer and every interpersonal interaction I had was injected with intensity. Like the time Don didn’t say ‘hi’. Don was a classmate, and one time a group of girlfriends and I passed him, and I said a loud ‘hello’ and he didn’t say ‘hi’ back. From then on for the next week or so I would announce in groups about “Don’s not saying ‘hi’” and how I was deeply offended, sometimes with Don present. The guilt eventually overcame me for my acting out and I cajoled half the cafeteria to write a collective poem of admiration for Don, which I presented to him with bravado. This was quite a change from the shy girl who would hide behind pillars at social gatherings, hyperventilating from social anxiety. And boy, did I have energy! That summer I worked close to 60 hours a week, 5 days as a research assistant at the Yale Child Study Center, and weekends as a ‘sandwich artist’ at Subway. I worked during the day, spent the nights staying up late with my boyfriend, slept 3-4 hours a night, and was cheery the next day. At Subway I would compliment every customer in line. I was super charming. Fall Semester of 2001 came, and my boyfriend and I broke up. But what I experienced in the aftermath did not even feel like a real human emotion. It was not sadness but a deadness, and I knew it wasn’t even about Stephen at that point. I didn’t understand it. I just wanted to die. That thought became an obsession. I would write notes to myself like, “Don’t drink the paint thinner” to try to preserve myself. It’s like I was programmed on ‘self-destruct’. All this led to a hospitalization and getting kicked out of school for being unstable.
As time passed my unusual states of mind continued and psychiatrists experimented with me by prescribing me different drug cocktails of mood stabilizers, more antidepressants, and neuroleptics. And I got diagnosed with the life-long illness of bipolar disorder. I didn’t feel like my natural self, and when out of frustration I went of my drugs cold turkey, I wouldn’t sleep for days, and my mind states and behavior got even more extreme and more bizarre. One experience was at work. We were all sitting around the table having a staff meeting. But for me, I didn’t experience it as just a staff meeting. Everyone became divine creatures, my coworkers became archangels, the coworker I had conflict with became the Devil, my boss became God. Nothing changed visually, just the feeling and meaning of the experience. When we read the Mission Statement it became THE Mission, and by that I mean a world/cosmic mission. When my boss/God presented a book to our team, it became the holy text, and the fact that I happened to be listed in the acknowledgements, made me a Messenger. In hindsight I think it was an archetypical experience. Experiencing it then, it was simply as it was, quite intense. Psychological archetypes are a Jungian concept. Jungian analyst, Robert Johnson writes about archetype in his book Inner Work: “The idea of archetypes is an ancient one, it is related to Plato’s concept of ideal forms-patterns already existing in the divine mind that determine in what form the material world will come into being.” He writes, “The archetypes are often presented by the unconscious in images that are divine, royal, magical, or mythical. If the archetype of the universal heroine appears in your dream, she may take on the visage of a legendary figure like Joan of Arc.” I was experiencing an inner process, experiencing the world at a different level of consciousness, maybe from a personal and collective unconscious. Surviving on the archetypical plane is very difficult in the normal, consensus reality world, especially also if a lot of personal trauma from your past is also resurfacing, as was happening to me. And I always, sadly ended up in the hospital when going through this process.
But after this experience, when I returned to a more normal reality, I really did take the organization’s mission with a divine passion. I had felt stuck and unhappy in my job then, and after this experience I was ignited. The job was Certified Peer Specialist Trainer and Coordinator in Philadelphia and I became a bit of a celebrity in the Philadelphia Recovery movement, with my fierce advocacy, deep honesty in my trainings, going above and beyond, and my love for the Certified Peer Specialists. It felt magical, like a door to my heart was flung wide open. In his book Trials of the Visionary Mind: Spiritual Emergency and the Renewal Process, John Weir Perry describes how the inner journey that is clinically labeled as ‘psychosis’ is really a visionary self-renewal process that helps people shift world views and values. It is sad to me that mainstream society can’t accept that a person can view the world differently (and intensely) when they are processing something big in their lives.
Even though I did have positive experiences in these altered states, a lot of them were living nightmares, such as having my whole reality dissolve into a feeling of non-reality, time slowing down and almost stopping, so that 5 minutes lasted 3,000 years, and it feeling like a purgatory. In hindsight this happened at quite silly places, like I felt like I was thrown into everlasting damnation while my mom did a credit card transaction standing in line at Burlington Coat Factory. But it was still everlasting damnation! I also saw the figure of Death quite often in people and inanimate objects. The list goes on but it’s quite intense, so I’ll leave you this taste.
Where did these experiences come from? I knew that I was diagnosed with life-long bipolar disorder, but labeling these giant experiences (no matter how divine or dark they were) and minimizing them into a DSM category, seemed to be disrespectful, demeaning, and downright disgusting. I felt very isolated as I searched for their meaning. Then I found people in psychology, such as John Weir Perry, C.G. Jung, and Stanislav Grof, whose ideas had a spiritual nature and resonated with me. I felt validated and started to blossom. And then I read Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, and my world did a back-flip.
I learned by reading the thorough review of clinical studies in the book that antidepressants like Prozac can worsen the course of depression, that antidepressants can trigger mania and bipolar disorder, and that neuroleptics can cause vulnerability to psychosis, especially when withdrawn. This explained exactly what had happened to me. My bipolar disorder with psychosis was induced and maintained by the very drugs that were prescribed to help me. Huge waves of relief overtook me. And waves of anger did too. When asking for help, I never asked to be taken to deep psyche places, some of which were torturous. I never asked to be obsessed with dying. I never asked for massive sleep deprivation. I never asked to feel that there was always something profoundly wrong with me and that I had life-long illness. And then on top of being labeled with a stigmatizing mental illness, I was hospitalized six times, forced to leave college 3 times and reapply 5 times, and was estranged for a long while from my family and some friends.
I feel young in my recovery process. A lot of my healing process has been undoing the harm that was caused by the psychiatric establishment and pharmaceutical industry (not just the drugs, but the coercion, aggressiveness, and condescension) and my label of bipolar disorder. I am not denying that kind people were genuinely trying to help me as I think they were duped too. I’ve worked with a mindfulness coach on dissolving big assumptions that came from my ‘bipolar identity’ that hurt me from reaching my goals. I’m working with a nutritionist to help counteract the massive weight gain from the drugs. I’m weaning off the drugs cautiously with the help of my therapist and peeling away the ‘bipolar identity’ that still clings. I’m repairing relations with my family slowly. True, I have used my ‘bipolar identity’ in my career for good, and being a peer has helped me be a part of a wonderful community of peers. Do I feel like a broken person? No. I am a strong person with lots of loving support. I am pursuing my dream of being a therapist who acknowledges the spirituality and deepness in experiences labeled as ‘psychotic’ through attending the California Institute of Integral Studies in the fall of this year. I am a person whose sense of justice moved her to write this recovery story. I hope it helps others avoid or alleviate pain.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
Thanks for your courage in telling your story! I look forward to having you join those of us who are therapists who acknowledge the spirituality and deeply human experiences present within the states that get called “psychotic.”
thank you ron for your validation! i feel like worlds are about to open to me. so excited to join the community!
If you haven’t yet done so, find a copy of the Red Book and see Jung’s very similar journey, albeit without meds. His family kept this from the public until last year when they finally released the Red Book. John Weir Perry was writing about this in the 60’s or 70’s as was Grof. You’d think that organized psychiatry would hear them, by now. Not so. As you know, psychiatry and those psychologists who patronize psychiatry, support a system based on pseudo-science, false beliefs, and ignorance, often denying or discounting scientific studies that contrast with their beliefs. Not only is that sad, but destructive to millions of lives, unaware of the difference.
yes, i agree! and i will take a look at the red book. it will be a very good thing for me to do. thank you for your suggestion.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, which is unfortunately all too common. I look forward to reading more of your posts!
Wow. Excellent exposition.
With so few words, you have conveyed such deep self-understanding – as well insight into the tragic limits of conventional (‘medical’) psychiatry, when it comes to its addressing what it calls “depression” and then, supposedly, “bipolar psychosis” (oft-called “mania”); of course, each individual who has been made privy to experiences of whatever is called “psychosis” has his/her own tale to tell, entirely.
I.e., “psychosis” is an umbrella term, which covers many possible phenomena.
Some find ‘it’ just terribly frightening; other find ‘it’ full of profound moments of grace.
And, when all is said and done, it may be virtually impossible to reconcile the miseries induced by conventional psychiatric “care” for such experiences.
In all sincerity, I am quite moved by this piece of writing; it is superb; for, it conveys, concisely, a story that must, of course, have been difficult to condense; and, though it read quite smoothly, I imagine it must have be somewhat nerve-wracking and/or painful (if not also, at times, infuriating) to recollect, as you worked to craft it?
(“hospitalized six times, forced to leave college 3 times and reapply 5 times, and was estranged for a long while from my family and some friends”)
Yet, if ever there was a case of suffering the effects of bad medicine, that was ‘gifted’ to someone who is truly resilient, who can surely transcend it and lead herself and others, likewise, away from the deep ignorance of medical-coercive psychiatry, I have no doubt but that yours is a perfect example of such.
You will make an exceptionally fine therapist, no doubt.
More power to you…
hi J, i am really quite honored to read your words. it is an amazing feeling to receive such an affirmation. it’s heartwarming. writing this piece really felt good to me. good to get it down on paper and onto this forum. thank you so much!
What a wonderful and beautifully written story. Thank you for that.
I also hope to hear more from you. Maybe about being a Certified Peer Specialist?
If you would like support tapering, please visit my Web site.
thank you for your kind words. maybe i will write more about being a certified peer specialist trainer and coordinator! it really was quite life changing. thank you for your suggestion.
Thank you for sharing your story. I felt such kinship with your adequate description of the drugs “inducing and maintaining your diagnosis”. I tapered off all of drugs, lost the 80 drug pounds, became “aware” of my self/my surroundings again and successfully re-established myself with great friends and activities. It is so amazing how many have found the psychiatric drugs has actually taken their life down a dead end street, their zest to feel and express and their productivity.
I was able to go on with my life which now I enjoy more than words can say. I feel better and happier than when on the drugs prescribed by my psychiatrist that he said I needed. I’m no longer the “damaged mentally ill patient” my doctor said I was and would always be.
BTW…I did go for other evaluations (I was curious) and was told there was no way I was mentally ill let alone to be prescribed the numerous psychiatric and brain numbing drugs.
I did ask the psychiatrist why he did what he did and he was speechless. I truly hope he learned something from all this.
You’re doing great””
shelby, thank you for sharing. it’s very inspiring to hear! tapering off has been a challenging process for me, but i’m determined to get off the psychiatric drugs.
You’ve got so much clarity, I feel inspired by hearing about your experiences and your journey, your resilience and particularly impressed by your sense of justice that moved you to write, and I guess moves you to look forward to being a therapist one day. Good luck!
If you have a chance, take a look at the website of the Bahá’í Faith – http://www.bahai.org – and I hope to meet you someday!
thank you for your kind words yashi. i will check out the website.
This is a wonderful story of strength and meaning. You are clearly a wonderful person.
I would respectfully submit, that when blaming psychiatric drugs for causing these states, you effectively leave open the question of people who enter these states when they have not taken these drugs. Is it then legitimate to label those people?
I don’t believe so, and I’m not saying you said so either, I’m just saying to the readers, that these states, even in your case, occurred at a time of great stress and pressure, and change in your young life. On the precipice of adulthood, and your world expanding, it is quite possible that these states would have happened anyway, without the drugs.
They did with me. I put it down to a long overdue shakeup and reappraisal of my young adulthood identity with me, and I believe that drugs, ANY drugs, that act to tranquilize or numb the mind, from weed, to neuroleptics, when taken over time, hinder the ability to have a free and clear space to grow and enmesh and coalesce the rapidly expanding maturity and new things that occur in early adulthood, relationships, religious identity, life decisions, life paths, and I do believe, that these subjective confounds, cannot be controlled for in any ‘drug blaming’ scenario.
So while the psychiatric drugs are poisons, I would posit that any months or years spent in early adult with any impairment to one’s body, from any kind of drug, weed, alcohol daily, heroin, or the psych drugs, could and can interfere with the necessary clarity a young adult needs to have at their disposal in order to integrate the journey into early adulthood successfully.
I believe there are profound changes in outlook and identity in early adulthood in everybody. I believe that this is why it is early adulthood that these states of mind are most commonly entered into.
These states, and religious elements that they had to them, are clearly to me, effected far more by the software, rather than the hardware, or drugs acting on the hardware, of the brain.
I do not believe, that we could get in a time machine, and give a prehistoric cave man, some psychiatric drugs, and that he would all of a sudden enter a state of mind like this. I believe that some physical factors, such as exhaustion and sleeplessness, play a role. But I believe far more significant are the massive shifts and changes and hidden desires deep on our psyche, and this challenging early adulthood period of life, or even any major life change, such as having a baby come into your life, ‘postpartum psychosis label, anybody?’, or a death in the family, or college pressure and the myriad externalities that this entails, where your whole future is seemingly ‘on the line’. The pressure to get an ‘A’ from parents, the pressure not to wind up a ‘failure’ in life… all of these things… pressure.
Pressure cooker environments. Sometimes in human life, pressure, cooks up some strange dishes and heaps even more onto your plate just when you thought you couldn’t possibly have more on your plate. The human imagination and desire to find a safe place to escape from this pressure, can lead you in all sorts of directions, sometimes to 3000 years in purgatory.
I believe that deep down we all want to be regarded as important human beings, and to have personal power. Power and mastery over our worlds.
So when we find ourselves in a hyperreal reality play, where we are an omnipotent religious figure, the most important man or woman in the world for instance, I think it is troubling, to simply blame the drug companies for this.
There is I believe too, an element of ‘plugging’ or ‘corking’. That is, when one is evolving, some would say devolving, into an extremely heightened state of extremes, this is a force to be reckoned with, and if, at some point during the temporal timeline of this phenomenon occurring, someone, a psychiatrist, a society forcibly drugging you and locking you up, puts in a ‘plug’ or a ‘cork’ into your system, and tranquilizes you and numbs you out for years or months, it should not surprise, that when that cork is removed, that the process leaves off where it started, for you needed to get through that process, and get it out of your system. It is clear to me, that if people had the basic human right to get through this process without having their biology molested by society, recovery would be the norm.
I believe the people who are able to push through the extreme state, and pull out the ‘cork’ without too many adverse consequences, are the people who have been allowed to mature and grow, and reflect on the meaning of their experiences. Often years on drugs, prevents this period of reflection taking place. Fear, too, prevents this reflection taking place. The internet is just filled, with tragic blogs, read by no one, of lone people, clinging to their labels and drugs, fumbling around in the dark, as their life expectancy gets lower and lower as they live on a diet of nothing but mainstream interpretations of what they’ve been through, and where they are headed.
Maybe that’s why some people ‘taper’ off the drugs and are able to come to a solid new adult self, integrating their previous experiences, shedding the label and the drugs and not being afraid in their skin anymore. Because with each decrease in the dose, the person lets more of the light of themselves back in, and regulates that gradual journey to having full cognitive function (that the drugs steal from you), and during this journey back to clarity, time and reflection on the personal meaning for oneself of the extreme experience, can gain its proper place in the overall tapestry or jigsaw puzzle of the journey toward maturity of young adulthood years.
Seeing the world from an angle that simulates what it is like to live an exhilarating and thrilling ‘life less ordinary’, is a gift never to be forgotten, even if some of it was terrifying.
One of the things I took from my experiences was, ‘people see what they wanna see’.
At that time, I wanted to see myself as the messiah. And I did. A giddy and earth shattering experience.
At all times, society wants to see brain disease. To the point that they’ve lowered and degraded themselves as a society to fill each and every one of the young people’s heads with the faith based belief that their brain is diseased by the time they are released from the ‘hospital’. This is a cruel betrayal of every young person who experiences emergent breakdowns or breakthroughs and extreme states. A serious crime against humanity for which only a tiny tiny almost imperceptible minority of people are now starting to realize the betrayals that are being done to our young people in society.
To be able to find your way out, Naas, makes you one of the luckiest people to have been in your position, in the hundreds of years since biological psychiatry ascended to permeate its misguided beliefs in this society. Something deep inside you never gave up hope that you’d be able to find your way out, and you’ve been blessed to come across the people and information that helped you sort out this mess you found yourself thrown into, and to combine this with the IMMENSE COURAGE that you to stand alone.
The tragedy is, for millions of people, the mess, whatever the initial experiences and problems were, has been made exponentially messier by society’s misguided response.
You’re a brave, brave young woman. An inspiration to many. I can tell you’re what I like to call ‘solid’. Good! Don’t doubt yourself. Keep on keeping on and keep smiling, you’re amazing.
You’ve made some excellent points in your response and have expressed much more articulately than I can how a focus on drugs steers us in the wrong directions. Based on my observations of my son, I can’t say that the drugs caused his problems, but they sure didn’t help them. Many people claim that it was their, e.g. pot smoking that got out of hand that led to their psychosis. I always reserve a part of me that believes this may be so, but I also think that the pot smoking (or other recreational drugs)is just the symptom. “Schizophrenia”, “bipolar”, etc. tends to overwhelm young people just at the stage of their lives where they are expected to become adults and take on all the pressures of higher education, jobs, marriage, etc. Society’s misguided response is to not give people time out and not to respect the nature of what they are going through.
Your post made me think of the fact that back when I was a kid, many years ago, we had things that were initiation rites from childhood into adulthood. We didn’t call them this, we called them by such things as high school graduation, etc. These things were aids in helping kids make the next step. I think we’ve lost many of these rites, or we’ve trivialized them to the point that they have no meaning. Now, we have graduation from kindgergarden! Doing something like this takes away from the specialness of the act and empties it of meaning and therefore it can no longer help people move into the next stage of life. We have little kids dressing up like adults and they all have their smart phones, and they have nothing to make them realize what a big step it really is ito adulthood. I’m not one to tell people how to live, but this has even happened to marriage. When people were ready for the next stage they prepared to get married. It acted as the initiation rite into becoming a real part of the community because you added to that community by way of your children who were born Not anymore. You move in with someone and have no real obligations to and for that person what requires you to make relationships work. We are a society who no longer has any myths to guide us nor rites to mark the movement from one thing to the next. We have lost our way and it doesn’t surprise me that this makes it more difficult for our young people. And if they experience a disconnect because of all this stuff, then they’d better watch out because the quacks and the system will get hold of them and pump them full of drugs which make things even worse. This probably makes no sense but thanks for prompting me to do some thinking about why this might happen to people.
thank you anonymous for your kind words and deep perspective and bringing up the complexity. it makes me excited to be a part of this forum.
Excellent chronicle Naas.
I hope more and more people avail themselves (as you did) of the books and documentaries available now. You were one of the lucky ones, getting yourself out of the vicious cycle of psychiatrists and anti-psychotic medications.
Keep writing and I hope that all your dreams come true for you.
Lori – Deadmansvitamin
thanks Lori! 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story and your insights. Hang onto that strength and that smile because they will carry you a ong way in this world. So glad that you’re getting off the drugs and I know you will be a therapist who will help people heal by delving into your humaity and using asll the great things that are there.
thank you stephen for your encouragement!
Thank you for sharing your story!
Thanks so much for speaking so honestly and articulately about your experiences. It seems like so many people are coming forward with stories such as these, with coworkers as archangels and a driving tension between a sense Good and Bad. This issue has come up all over the place lately. Which is wonderful, because if there is any creedence to collective consciousness, that means people are beginning to reconsider a few assumptions about “psychosis” and are re-evaluating their stories with new perspective.
I am also a Peer that is in recovery from things associated with a crisis of spirit and meaning and context (simulacra)that manifested as “psychosis”* and it is a strange sort of disreality to begin to realize how many people seem to go through this very real process. Thank you so much for stepping up with your story.
Everything we have been taught by the medical model of psychiatry tells us to just shut it down, it’s not real, shut it down, it’s not real. However, there is increasing evidence that it is quite real and those of us who have traversed our understanding of the world so thoroughly that the world becomes something else entirely…wondrous, fascinating, frightening, tragic, and crystal clear…well, it all certainly seems quite real at the time. I think that if someone experiences something strongly in their mind and heart, it must surely be quite real. As with any process, if one experiences trauma or abruption in the process, well…things remain unresolved, and sometimes additional problems can be spurned by that alone.
I feel incredibly lucky to get to see and be a part of intelligent, honest, creative communication about the intersection between spirituality, meaning and story in madness. Still, I constantly think about all the people that – right this very minute – have no context for their experience other than “It’s not normal. It’s sick. You have to take this chemical to be okay.” Oh, that outrages me, to think about how many people are chemically bludgeoned into feeling *nothing* because nobody knows how to or cares how to help them to make sense of/navigate their experience in a way that works for them.
I’ve done a lot of writing on this, given that I (somewhat foolishly) blogged a lot of my experience as it was occurring and then had to try to explain it to myself. As a Peer who is also interested in pushing for a dramatic rethink of psychosis, I’ve gotten very interested in the role of narrative, language, and story in self-directed processing of our experience.
*Instead of psychosis, I’ve been using the phrase “a crisis of reckoning” lately. We need some new words. “Psychosis” says very little about what is happening. It says only that it is not okay. Which is, in itself, not okay.
The action or process of calculating or estimating something: “last year was not, by any reckoning, a good one”.
A person’s view, opinion, or judgment.
c : calculation of a ship’s position
So, I don’t usually dedicate songs to people in comments on science-oriented websites, but this one just came on pandora and it’s a good one. “It comes and goes in waves.”
Keep us posted on your work around compassionate navigation of psychosis. We are changing the dialogue. I’m so glad that you told your story. High five!
By the way, I think you’re spot on in regard to archetypes.
faith, thank you so much for sharing your insight and for your validation. i really like the way you express yourself on this topic. beautiful!
Thank you for sharing your story. Mine is too complicated to go into yet, but your beautiful synopsis helps to confirm the puzzle of mine, so thank you. And my best wishes to you. Plus so many of the comments are helpful, as well, thank you to all.
thanks. thank you for the encouragement.
I wrote this article close to three years ago. I wanted a straight answer to why I entered these altered realms. I realize now there may be more factors than I realized. I think that perhaps past trauma is an important factor and my altered realms played a part in coping, meaning-making, and telling my story in a symbolic way.