Finding the Meaning in Suffering: My Experience with Coming off Psychiatric Drugs (in a Nutshell)

Laura Delano
77
2016

For the last month or so, Mad in America has been hard at work building a directory of “mental health” providers across North America (and eventually, we hope, the world) who will work with people wanting to come off psychotropic drugs.  So far, we’ve connected with traditional doctors, osteopaths, naturopaths, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and alternative/holistic practitioners and healers who do this work in varying ways — some have prescribing capacities and some don’t; some do the actual tapering, while others provide psychotherapy; some offer nutritional or supplemental support; others, Reiki and acupuncture.

I’ve been honored to have been tasked with the responsibility of building this directory, and I have to say, it’s been inspiring to talk to people all over the country who do this work, and who “get it”.  Closer to the launch date, which we anticipate will be in the next few weeks, I’ll write up more about this project, and thank those who’ve played such a significant part in making it happen.  In the meantime, I’ve been itching to write a bit about my own “coming off” journey.  While it’s on my mind every day, I’ve been thinking more about it recently, given my work on the directory and the recent release of Daniel Mackler’s new film, “Coming off Psych Drugs: A Meeting of the Minds”.  I woke up this morning and my fingers were itching.  I knew it was time to write.

In September 2010, I came off the last of my “med regimen”— lithium, Lamictal, Abilify, Effexor, Ativan, and a PRN of Seroquel— and I said goodbye to a life of orange pill bottles and phone calls to CVS pharmacy, of dosage increases and new scripts to be filled, of the floral pill bag that shook like a maraca, and of the complete and total dependency on inanimate chemical capsules to define what I felt, how I thought, and who I was.  After over ten years on psychotropic drugs, it had been an agonizing five months of tapering— I realize today that my psychopharmacologist likely had no idea what he was doing— and I would continue on for the next year and a half in the midst of daily physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain [for more on this, see my Madness Radio interview].  In the midst of this suffering, however, I was able to put my head on the pillow at night knowing that these pills were out of me.  Gone, never to enter my bloodstream again.  A decade of daily psychotropic drugs had circulated through my veins, seeping into my organs, my brain, my hair, my skin, my nails.  A decade of daily psychotropic drugs had successfully disconnected me from a sense of self, physical health, emotional balance, and social connectedness.  A decade of daily psychotropic drugs had nearly succeeded in killing the last scraps of my human spirit, and me, along with it.

On that brisk fall day over two and a half years ago, against the wishes of my “treaters”, and in the midst of hell on earth, I reclaimed myself.  My Self.  By no means has a second of it been easy, but it’s certainly been the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

As time’s gone on, particularly in the second and third years of my post-psychiatry life, I have slowly but surely healed from the trauma of my psychiatric “treatment”.  It’s been a long road, fraught with physical pain, unparalleled emotional upheaval, gut-wrenching anxiety, and paralyzing fear.  In the midst of my worst moments— whether it was the hours upon hours spent lying frozen in fetal position on the sofa, staring blankly at the wall, disconnected from the world; or wondering if I’d ever be able to hold down a job, a relationship, or even the daily task of showering and changing out of sweats; or looking at healthy people functioning in the world around me and feeling baffled by how the hell they could possibly be doing it; or wanting to rip my skin off from the debilitating anxiety, and shut my head down to silence the endless chatter; or crying when I didn’t want to cry, and laughing when I didn’t want to laugh; or feeling like the only alien on planet Earth— I clung on to the one and only reason why I’d started my journey off of psychiatric drugs in the first place, my life preserver, keeping me afloat: I was determined to find myself, the Self I’d lost as a fourteen-year old to a “Bipolar” label, and a life sentence of polypharmacy.  This spark of fire, however small it might have been in the beginning, outweighed all the pain, and allowed me to keep trudging forward.  I was absolutely, 100% determined to find myself, no matter what the cost.

As a person who’s found liberation from psychiatry, I have learned that the least fruitful path to follow— for me, at least— is one of self-victimization.  I served a long sentence that began early in my life and came with the shackles of numerous psychiatric labels and at least nineteen psychotropic drugs.  I could say that I had my life taken away from me by Psychiatry, but I simply don’t believe that anymore, for only in finding peace with that chapter of my life’s story, and acceptance of all the suffering, the isolation, the hopelessness, the desperation, the self-sabotage, the self-destruction and the nine years of daily thoughts of suicide, can I say that I’m truly free.   I decided about a year into my post-psychiatry life that continuing to think of myself as a victim would mean keeping myself dependent on Psychiatry, locking myself up behind its bars as an emotional slave.  I turned my deep-seated resentment and rage at Psychiatry into passionate and productively channeled anger, and suddenly, I took off, shooting forward into a new life that continues to unfold in truly amazing ways now that I’m no longer held back by those toxic emotions, and, of course, the toxic psychotropic drugs.

As I’ve written before, and however backwards it might sound, today, I am grateful to those doctors, even to the first psychiatrist who threw me on Depakote and Prozac as a young teenager.  I’m grateful to the locked wards and the internalized oppression and the security-blanket dependency on my “meds” and their numbing and disconnecting effects, because all of it has allowed me to become who I am today: a thirty-year old woman with a life ahead of her, who feels the full spectrum of human feelings and an authentic sense of self and purpose.  Had I never found Anatomy of an Epidemic, had I never felt that tiny spark of fire in my belly that told me to take my life back and stand up against my seven-person “treatment team” when they disagreed with my desire to come off psych drugs, and had I never been determined with every ounce of my being to move through all the pain that came along with it, not only would I not have this exciting life ahead of me, but I wouldn’t be alive at all.  I know this to be true.

I do not pretend to have expertise on the topic of coming off psychiatric drugs.  Nor do I believe there is one right way to successfully do it.  What I lay claim to is my own experience, my own lessons learned from constructive choices and destructive ones, and from the intuition I’ve only recently begun to tap into since healing from the trauma of “treatment”.  What never ceases to amaze me is how vast the experiences are when it comes to coming off psych drugs— I’ve heard stories about successful cold turkey withdrawal with no symptoms, and ones about unsuccessful slow tapers.  I’ve heard stories of those who’ve successfully come off in months, and others who did it in years.  I’ve heard of people who found tremendous benefit from supplements, and others who never took a single dose of one and succeeded anyways.  I know some people who’ve thrived from strict nutritional protocols, and others who couldn’t care less about cutting out certain foods.  Exercise, no exercise.  Yoga, no yoga.  Meditation, no meditation.  I know people who were on psych drugs for many, many years, and have successfully come off, and others who went on for a year or less, and struggle tremendously with the withdrawal.  There is simply no one way to come off psychiatric drugs, and no one withdrawal trajectory.

While I certainly agree that the thousands of anecdotal stories out there suggest that a person’s odds of success are increased greatly by slowly tapering off, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way.  It wasn’t, for me.  I came off of five psychotropic drugs in five months; many would say that this is much too fast of a taper, or even not a taper at all.  A wise woman, active in the Psychiatric Survivor movement, once shared with me that tapering off psych drugs very quickly, or stopping them cold turkey, is like Russian roulette— you just don’t know what’s next in the chamber.  Maybe I would have experienced withdrawal for a shorter amount of time, or with lesser intensity, had my doctor brought me off in a year instead of five months.  Maybe had I been ten years older, I would have struggled more.  All I can say is that my journey went the way it did, and here I am today.  I know what’s worked for me, but what’s worked for me might not work for someone else.  No one told me to do all these things; I simply tested it all out, often times accidentally, and bumbled around until I found my path.  I established my own threshold for pain; what I can bear, someone else can’t, and vice versa.  I’ve heard many say that when it comes to the world of self-help, it’s important to “take what you want, and leave the rest.”  That’s been a helpful motto for me to live by, especially as it relates to the topic of coming off psych drugs.

There are many of us out there who work incredibly hard to support people who are coming off of psychotropic drugs.  Among us are psychiatric survivors, medical doctors, psychologists, social workers, counselors, holistic/alternative practitioners, and family members.  You can find us in coffee shops, online forums, facilities, clinics, private offices, via Skype, on the phone, or holding banners at protests and yelling in the megaphone.  Each of us brings a particular nugget of wisdom, inherently subjective, and not for everyone.  There are books, articles, forums, chat rooms, websites, and presentations devoted to the topic of psychiatric drugs and how to come off of them.  Each is simply one way to do it.

When I began the process of tapering off of psychotropic drugs, I had none of these resources.  Sure, I had that huge “treatment team” who met about me on a regular basis and worked hard to ensure I relied on them to “manage” my life, but other than one social worker, a wonderful man whom I’ll never forget and always be grateful to, I felt zero emotional support from the “mental health” system as I came off.  In fact, from looking at my medical records at that time, it appears that my psychotherapist didn’t even realize that my psychopharmacologist was managing my taper, because she reported that I was “non-compliant” and came off my “meds” against medical advice.  But I digress…  My psychopharmacologist had agreed to bring me off four of the five psychiatric drugs (not Lamictal, which he claimed had been proven effective for “Borderline personality disorder” and thus I needed to stay on it), and this was only because the “team” had decided I’d been “misdiagnosed” Bipolar and really, was just an alcoholic and a Borderline!  How interesting!  I met with that doctor once a month as he decreased the four drugs, and I came off the fifth on my own, without having read a single paragraph on how to taper off.  Never once did I connect with a provider about the pain I was going through; I used my psychopharmacologist to taper me off, and nothing more.  This was my experience: not right, not wrong, just mine.  There are certainly providers out there— many of whom will be in our directory— who practice in entirely different, humanistic ways, and who are true supports for people coming off.  I just simply never crossed paths with one during my time in the “mental health” system.

The bulk of my support came from family, and from the sober community I was very active in at the time.  Having a space in which I could express my pain every day, and listen to others do the same, even if their pain wasn’t necessarily connected to psychiatric drug withdrawal, was incredibly beneficial to me, and I believe I wouldn’t have made it through without that support.  In part, I bumbled through the first six months or so believing that the excruciating pain I felt was “early sobriety” from alcohol; I had no idea until many months in that it was less my body healing from alcohol and more my body’s desperate attempt to heal itself from all those years of damaging psychotropic drugs.  At the end of the day, though, that community worked for me because while the drug was different, the emotional pain was the same.  I was also lucky enough to be living with extended family, to have no job (other than being a professional patient, a career I became quite good at!), and to not have the worries of rent, children, or paying the bills.  In short, I was incredibly lucky, and incredibly privileged, to be so taken care of.  I look back on this today and feel gratitude from the bottom of my heart.

While I was able to withdraw in large part because of the reasons mentioned above— unconditional love, a de-stressed environment, and a space of mutual support, among many things— in truth, my success was not because of how quickly or slowly I tapered, the order in which I came off the drugs, my nutrition (or lack thereof), my exercise (or lack thereof), my sleep (or lack thereof), or the people from whom I sought support.  There was something much deeper I had to search for first, something I couldn’t find in an office or on the internet or in a textbook or in a church basement or in the words or wisdom of another person.  For me, what helped me successfully come off of over a decade of polypharmacy was the WhyWhy do I want to come off psychiatric drugs?  What did it mean to me?  What was it that I was searching for?  After I connected to this deep sense of meaning in the “coming off” process, those factors mentioned above— in other words, the How of the withdrawal—carried me through, and brought me slowly back to health.  Discovering why I wanted to come off psych drugs was like putting the key in my ignition and turning it on; the method and the means by which I did it the steering wheel, accelerator, and brake.  Had I not found that key, the process would have been mindless and empty, only about tapering, measuring, calculating, adjusting, so on and so forth.  Likely, I wouldn’t have been able to continue, had that been the case.  When I really connected to the Why of it, I could face the suffering that followed.  As I say often to others, in my experience of coming off psychotropic drugs, the only way out was through.

While I’m really just scratching the surface here with all I could say about my experience of coming off psychiatric drugs, I’ll leave you with what I believe, in my experience, are the key components to a successful withdrawal.  You can take what you want, and leave the rest:

  1. While it’s important to be well-informed about psychiatric drug withdrawal, too much knowledge— and too much fear— can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I bumbled through my withdrawal with little to no knowledge of what was ahead, and I actually believe that this helped me tremendously.  I didn’t obsessively read up on withdrawal and fill myself with fear about all the horrible things that could happen to me, and thus, I didn’t set myself up for defeat.  I think there’s a fine balance here between knowing too little, and too much, and it’s a line that each person has to decide for him/herself.
  2. There are no universal experts on psychiatric drug withdrawal, because each person’s journey is so different.  While it can be really informative and helpful to learn from others who’ve been through this process before you, and there are people out there doing very good and determined work to bring people off psych drugs, you are the only expert on yourself and your experience of the world.
  3. The mind plays tricks on you.  On a regular basis, my mind wanted me to give up, to wave the white flag of surrender.  In those moments, I reconnected myself to my sense of purpose— to that determination to find out who I was off of psych drugs— and I did my best to coexist with my thoughts, anxiety, and fear without letting them take me over.  It was in times like these that I did my best to reach out to a friend or family member for support.
  4. Take the time to understand how your body is impacted by nutrition.  I was never a believer in the power of nutrition, and this has been a profoundly beneficial discovery for me.  Cutting gluten out of my diet, however hard it initially was, has done wonders for my mind and body; cutting out processed sugars and processed foods in general, except for the occasional splurge of course, has proven just as helpful.
  5. Remove whatever stressors you have control over, to create as de-stressed an environment as possible.  For me, this meant staying free from “illicit” drugs and alcohol, from unhealthy or traumatizing relationships, and from responsibilities that I wasn’t required to take on.  My body was (and often times still is) incredibly sensitive to the environment I’m in, and thus, managing whatever I did have control over was important for me.
  6. Listen to your body, however hard that may be.   Psych drugs disconnected me from my body and desensitized me in so many ways, so this was certainly a difficult process for me.  I know today that my body is always communicating with me, if I just take the time to feel what it’s saying.
  7. Surround yourself with unconditional support, whether that means family, friends, providers, healers, or some other type of supportive community.  I’ve learned that no matter how isolating or painful the journey may be, you never have to be alone.
  8. When you’re losing hope in yourself, and feeling yourself sinking in the quicksand of withdrawal, place your faith for the time being in those who’ve walked the path before you.  There were so many times when I wondered if I could keep going, when any faith left in myself was so pushed down that I could no longer feel it.  On those days, I thought about others who’d walked the same path before me, feeling the same pain and the same fear, and who were no longer mired in the suffering anymore.  Faith in them was my way of having faith in myself.
  9. More than anything, connect to the meaning behind why you are coming off psychiatric drugs.  This is the seed from which everything grew for me— both the thorns and the blossoming buds.

 

I could keep going, and going, and going.  For your sake, I’ll stop here, and leave you with a quote from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a book that was instrumental to me as I came off of psychotropic drugs.  It sums up everything I’ve said here, in one beautiful sentence.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Indeed, we’re all in this together, and in the midst of the often tremendous suffering lies freedom.

 

 

 

77 COMMENTS

  1. I do believe that some people have to figure out where they need to think for themselves. I was told so many times that it was me not the drugs and I was not sure what to believe when the psych docs said this. I was on meds that made me feel so bad and then they were telling me it was me. In my own mind I knew it was the meds and I was taking a chance with it, but then I thought well what if they were right. I have been off psych meds for a year with minor returns to try to see if they will help, not really. Just more depression than i wanted to handle and it was enough to throw me for a loop in two days. I refuse to take any type of meds that have mood changes without knowing what it is first. If it is psych med I tell all the docs I am not gonig to take them. I know what they do to me. I had such a reaction to one i took withdrawal over the med itself. It was hard but way more worth my time than thinking how it could get me permanent hosp or my own death. Good for all the people that take care of themselves. It does not matter what people have to say about me taking meds or not, they will not ever know what i went through unless they decide to believe that I can be honest. If not well they do not need to be part of my life and me and when they get it then i will welcome them back with the knowledge they finally saw that i was truthful. Some docs do not think this with me, they call me non compliant. Not so. I feel better for taking me back.

  2. The pressure to stay on psych drugs is intense. And I’m not even talking about coerced or forced treatment. Their guarantee that I couldn’t live without them turned out to be false. I argued about this recently with my psychiatrist and I mentioned Bob Whitaker’s books. The doctor replied “But he’s not a scientist.” That’s right, he’s not, but it doesn’t take a scientist to point out serious fallacies in a pseudo-science like psychiatry. Next time the topic comes up, I’ll tell him that psychiatry isn’t science — it’s a marketing empire.

    • Buddha taught that one is not to take anything a person of authority says as gospel fact unless it jives with your own sense of what is correct and proper and what makes sense to you. We are not bound to accept what comes out of the mouths of psychiatrists just becuse they have a diplomma, have a title in front of their name, and wear a white coat. Buddha said that this applied even to him and his teachings.

  3. Wonderful! When I took off mine (cold turkey, against the advise of my psychiatrist), I felt terrible for a couple of weeks. So terrible that I even thought about going back. I was encouraged by the numerous testimonies that I read online that eventually withdrawal effects go away. And they did! Since I was on a cocktail sertraline/clomipramine, the withdrawal effects that I experienced were mostly SSRI withdrawal. The most annoying of all were the so called “brain zaps” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SSRI_discontinuation_syndrome#Neurological .

    BTW, I want to take this opportunity to express my most sincere sympathies to all those of you based in Boston (you seem to be quite a few in MIA). You’ve been in our thoughts and prayers. We were all saddened by the unjustifiable loss of innocent life as well as relieved and celebratory when the remaining terrorist was finally caught. You brought the best of America in the aftermath of the attack, which made me even prouder of being a US citizen.

  4. Thank you for this empowering post and for your community service in assembling a list of supporters for those seeking to distance themselves from psychotropic toxins.

    Psychotropic drugs have numerous harmful side affects besides the well documented physical ones. First, they wrongly imply that they treat a neurological dysfunction (a mental disorder); this pseudo-scientific premise promotes a harmful sense of victimization. Second, they fog the thinking process; this is problematic for people who desperately need to focus on solving real problems that cause emotional distress Third, they cause physical fatigue; again, this is problematic for people desperately needing natural energy to solve real personal problems.

    Your post promotes empowerment- the most important element in overcoming emotional distress.

    Best regards, Steve

  5. Such a beautiful piece, Laura! As usual there is such a wealth of information and experience here that it takes time and multiple readings to absorb the depth and breadth of it all.

    For my tapering and withdrawal, points 7. & 9. were what I used and then nearing a year into withdrawal point 8. came into play with finding you and connecting to others who have gone before me.

    I congratulate you on compiling resources on those professionals of varied disciplines who are familiar and friendly to aid those along the coming off process. I would love to help if I can! You know my locale and my contact info so if you’d like me to make calls to people in my area to build the lists for MIA, please invite me in on the protocol.

    Your friend,
    Emily

  6. Thank you for your insights, offered motivation, and for your continued effort towards the creation of a resource directory for those wanting to come off psych drugs. I identify with your withdrawal experience you’ve shared, in several profound ways. My suffering and intense perceptions and experiences which drove me to rely on and trust psychiatry – in a paradoxical way, were overcome by the effects of psychiatry’s drug cocktails being far more intolerable than the agony of my experience of my human existence (which drove me to accept psychiatry after resisting several times initially). The cultural and social norms within which I interacted when I began to experience extreme states of mind – did not promote any arenas other than psychiatry as appropriate responses to or forums for exploring said experiences. So I went to psychiatry and was told that the most viable thing to do was to view my experience through the lens of a chemical imbalance and that any deliberate effort on my part that didn’t include psych drugs (which might cause sexual dysfunction, lower my white blood cell counts, or cause weight gain and or diabetes – would most likely fail (I guess this anecdotal argument was based on the psychopharmacological industry’s revisionist history of the world and human civilization). But some innate or primordial instinct told me that this line of thinking seemed inconsistent with my intuition about me and human communities – and that this plan didn’t seem healthy or likely to be successful. So I left psychiatry and didn’t take their drugs and wasn’t encouraged by anyone to intentionally respond to my overwhelming experience of life in any other way – nor did I take it upon myself to respond to my debilitating experience of life in any deliberate way. And eventually my experience of the world consumed me in a crippling way and I couldn’t function or be present or engaged in my life in any way that satisfied me. So I went back and took their drugs and became a professional patient. I’ve rambled on in an attempt to provide context for my interpretation of a profoundly empowering concept I perceive in your thoughts about coming off of psych drugs. This concept I perceive is that perhaps the most important variable for coming off of psych drugs is having a personal reason that is part of your inner-being, for wanting to come off. For me, my inner-motive for coming off was to give myself another chance to have an exciting and fulfilling life rich in texture and joy. The effects of the ten drugs I was on (at least three and as many as six different ones per day) every day for four years – made my life an exhausting and torturous constant battle against fatigue, involuntary muscle movements, and an irrepressible desire to eat. I slept at least 16 hours per day for over two years. This daily torture consumed me and distracted me from whatever distress propelled me to trust psychiatry. So I decided that my mission was to give myself a chance to live a life that I am engaged in by coming off of psych drugs – even if this life involved extreme states (I vowed to experience them without psych drugs). I tried to come off unsuccessfully several times “outpatient.” Then I checked myself into a psych hospital with no intention of coming off of drugs. I was just tired and beaten on so many different levels and knew that I had to change my approach to life even though I had no clear thoughts about how to do so and wasn’t optimistic about being successful. Many of my psych-survivor friends find what happened next hard to believe. I met with a psychiatrist who encouraged me to stop whining, take responsibility for my own life, and suggested that I had received poor psychiatric treatment and recommended that I come off of all of what he called “psychiatric medications.” This floored me and possibly influenced the trajectory of my life more constructively and beneficially than any other singular interaction. So against, the quite vocal opposition of my “outpatient” “treaters,” I began a rapid detox from klonipin, geodon, risperdal, and effexor – even though I didn’t want to at the moment, I took the psychiatrist up on his suggestion because he had struck on chord with me on a fundamental level because I knew that I had been wanting to come off of drugs for at least two years because I knew that I deserved another chance to enjoy my life and knew on a profoundly deep level that giving myself this opportunity required me to come off of drugs – which I had tried several times and was unsuccessful in frightening ways. My experience suggests to me that coming off of a daily regimen of benzos that I had been on for years – in one week inpatient – was a blessing in disguise. It was a blessing because it was so harrowing and hellish that it sort of desensitized/strengthened me and my resilience. I was in a sur real nightmare full of illusions, constant panic, disturbing noises, intense temperature swings, and sweating – for the time I was inpatient. When I left the hospital benzo free and with a plan to taper off of geodon, risperdal, and effexor, I was still constantly panicked and in a hellish space somewhere between life and death for most of the day every day. But I was resolved to keep going and was committed to listening to whatever I was experiencing and sitting with it and I changed my relationship to my experiences and drastically increased my tolerance for suffering. I found profound comfort in my commitment to try and create/return to a life in which I was present and energetically engaged. And I wasn’t worried about any potential withdrawal experiences from geodon, risperdal, and effexor – after benzo detox brought me to my knees and I found peace and inner ease in accepting that if I died at any moment or something terrible happened at any moment, “so be it,” I wasn’t going to worry about what might happen or be afraid of dying. After about four months my psychological hellish fog lifted, I was drug free, and have been living an exciting and happy life which involves deliberate discipline and structured wholesome activities – ever since.

    • Once in a very great while you do find a psychiatrist who isn’t a quack and a shill for the drug companies. They seem to be far and few between these days but it’s good to hear that you discovered one and that he empowered you to take charge of your own life. Too bad we can’t clone the guy! Glad that you’ve found healing and well-being!

  7. “. . . against the wishes of my “treaters”, and in the midst of hell on earth, I reclaimed myself. My Self. By no means has a second of it been easy, but it’s certainly been the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

    Laura, this statement is so true for me. I am so glad you wrote this part of your story, and I love how open you are. Thinking about where I am in my journey, your writing gives me great hope about my own “Self” discovery. If it were not for the good friend who introduced me to Bob’s book, his immediate response to my email (driven by the spark of rage that awakened me), and your willingness to share my story, I might have lost hope on my path and waved my own white flag of surrender back into psychiatric treatment. I have finally come to a much more meaningful place of surrender – or rather acceptance – where I know I can never willingly go back to that system of endless prisons. Now I am in a limitless space where I actually feel like I am helping others discover their “Selves” as well. Thank you!

  8. Laura,
    Thanks so much for writing this out…sharing your experience and giving others lots of latitude to chart their own course and have their own experience.
    I’m so sorry the conventional system failed you, but it does seem you have made lemonade out of a lemon windfall and learned many lessons through this dark night. You have great strength in your soul.
    Emma

  9. Hi Laura-
    Thank you once again for an informative and fascinating post. I have a few thoughts and questions that I offer not with the intent to challenge you but rather to foster discussion of this important topic.

    You write that you initially attributed some of your post drug problems to alcohol withdrawal but then learned that it was due to the psychiatric drugs. How did you exclude alcohol? Although most people are familiar with the serious short term withdrawal from alcohol I have known people who appeared to have quite prolonged withdrawal states that seem to have much in common with what is described by others who are withdrawing from psychiatric drugs. This may be a minor point (because I am not suggesting that your experiences could not be due to everything you had stopped), I am just curious why you think that alcohol withdrawal was not a contributing factor.

    My other thought is that in my own mind, I have come to think of the problems of people who were treated for problems that include anxiety and depression as generally distinct from those who experience psychosis. I know that categorical distinctions are always flawed, however, I still find this general distinction to be of value. People who experience extremely dysphoric mood or anxiety states are more often coming to our clinic seeking treatment. Whereas people who are experiencing psychosis are more often in the category of those who do not want treatment. People in the latter category often have others who are insisting they need treatment whereas people in the former category seek it for themselves (I realize that this may not hold up for children and adolescents).

    So as a physician, I face different challenges. The person with severe anxiety is often pleading for me to prescribe something even when past experiences with psychiatric drugs have been unhelpful. The person with psychosis who does not want to be on drugs rarely complains about withdrawal. In those instances, the conversation is about avoiding harm from the psychosis, from avoiding getting into trouble from the condition or situation or extreme stress that led to the person being on medications in the first place.

    I reiterate that this type of categorical distinction is fraught with exceptions yet I still find it important because the conversations I can have with people who I either I am suggesting stop (or do not add more) psychiatric drugs in the face of their pleas are so different form those who insist on stopping in the face of previous problems they have had that have gotten them into serious trouble.
    Sandy

    • I don’t know if anxiety/depression is so much different in many cases of psychosis, which word itself is not very rigorously defined. Prolonged stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, etc, can in some persons lead to what will be diagnosed as psychosis. It’s not all psychosis patients, but I think in psychosis patients it’s not all anosognosia, they know from experience or otherwise that their drugs (large doses of neuroleptics) can seriously suck subjectively, or in some cases they know of other dangers. The outward signs of misappropriate behaviour may calm down but often they’re trapped inside their mind in a miserable state. If the drugs made them “normal” they would gladly eat them.

      • I am not dismissing anyone’s assertions that the drugs are not helpful. I am talking about some individuals who seek drug treatment – even in the face of these drugs causing problems and not being terribly helpful. Although some of this may be due to the hype of the “pharma/mental health industrial complex”, I am not convinced that all of it comes from that.

        • One of my points was that the psychotic patients maybe know from experience, etc, that their treatment with heavy doses of neuroleptics really suck. Start treating them with heavy doses of benzos or opiates and see if they get more compliant. 😉

          The people with anxiety or depression don’t get quite as severe effects from their drugs. The drugs may even help in some way, at least in the beginning.

  10. Hi Laura,

    I greatly respect how you have overcome your struggles. But unfortunately, I am about to be the voice of negativity.

    I realize that everyone’s experience is different as far as withdrawal but to essentially infer that it is ok to cold turkey because of some people were successful, simply is playing a dangerous game in my opinion.. Yes, some people may be lucky but if you’re not, you could have serious problems big time including suicidal ideation and death. Is that really something we should be telling people to roll the dice on especially when alot of people are getting zero support from their providers regarding withdrawal?

    I agree that no one is an expert, including me but when mainstream and alternative professionals and drug companies agree that psych meds should not be cold turkeyed, I think that warning needs to be heeded.

    And by the way, cold turkeying successfully has nothing to do with attitude. I cold turkeyed Prozac twice under stressful and wonderful circumstances and still become severely suicidal.

    Finally, since I know this is a hot button issue on this board, I would greatly appreciate it if people could be respectful in their replies. I know I am in the minority on this issue and that is why I initially hesitated to say anything. But I felt I had to speak up.

    • Dear AA,

      Let us hypothetically consider an individual whom might share their story of coming off of psych drugs cold turkey and omit the caveat – (which I agree with you is the prudent thing to do) – that cold turkey can be quite dangerous. If an individual shares their personal story of coming off cold turkey and doesn’t state that this can be dangerous or maybe isn’t prudent about when and where they share this story – (which by the way is not at all a sentiment contained in Laura’s words) – are you suggesting that they have done something wrong by expressing their perception of their experience – because someone else may get sick or die coming off cold turkey because they infered that they will likely have a comparable cold turkey experience as someone elese?

    • I don’t think you’re in the minority here on MIA. I’ve not run into anyone who advises going cold turkey off of these toxic drugs. I had to do it three different times and was extremely lucky but would never advocate anyone doing this unless there just was no other choice when you found yourself between a hard spot and a rock. It would have to be a choice of your life or the drugs as far as I’m concerned.

      I never got the idea that Laura is advocating going off these things “cold turkey.” This is just my HO.

  11. HI Laura,

    I think this is what I was reacting to:

    “” I stand firmly in the place of non-judgment when it comes to coming off psych drugs, because I truly believe that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Thus, I never push an agenda, or one particular “method”, or anything else.””

    Aren’t you essentially endorsing cold turkeying when you say there is no right or wrong way to do it? I understand the issue of not being judgmental of people but in my opinion, you can be non judgmental while at the same time, letting someone know that cold turkeying is a very bad idea unless there is a medical emergency.

    Perhaps I am splitting hairs but this isn’t the first time I have felt this way after reading posts on withdrawal.

      • I mean, yes it’s possible but not often wise to go cold turkey. It works for some people, for others not so well. I don’t think she has made any points about in which situations that would work. We’re in a gray area. Laura was repeating the point that we are diverse in what was we get better.

    • I think Laura never did NOT endorse cold turkeying. That said, I did it, it was a hell of an experience in the physiological realm ONLY (I was never suicidal not before, during or after the drugs). The only reason I wouldn’t recommend it is because it is severe. However, I would do it again without hesitation. A few weeks later, I was a free man. I was very encouraged by the testimonies I read online that withdrawal effects were only temporary. So while not everybody might have the stamina for it, it’s faster than the alternative.

  12. Hey Laura, Thank you for your post. This is – as others have already stated – such an important issue and it’s going to take many voices to counter the deeply embedded beliefs so many have about medications and psychiatric labeling. On another note, even though I feel like I’ve gotten to know you fairly well over this past year, it’s always great to read bits of your story and learn a little more. You’re such a strong voice and I see your voice being a part of what is helping to draw out so many other voices! 🙂

  13. Laura,
    Excellent post. I urged my 29 year old son to read it, to know that there are others his age who have been through what he’s been through. These kinds of stories (including Matt Samet’s most recent) are inspirational. How did you get your family members to buy into the idea of your going off medications? I see this whole area as fraught with difficulties. Perhaps you have been more explicit elsewhere in the answer threads to this post, so I may have missed it. Since you were living at home while going off meds, chances are your behavior/reactions/withdrawal would have been very disturbing to those around you. Relatives get panic stricken and usually want the person back on drugs toute suite. So, how did you finesse this with them?
    Best regards,
    Ross

  14. Beautiful writing, thank you, Laura.

    As you know, when I likened cold turkey to Russian roulette, what I was saying was you could hurt yourself very badly by taking that risk.

    Yes, it’s true some people play Russian roulette and win the bet. But others do not.

    The successful cold turkey-ers testify about how they got away with it, and good for them. The ones who failed are wandering the Internet — or going from doctor to doctor — begging for a cure.

    If you’re unlucky and shoot yourself in the head, you could end up with problems much worse than being poly-drugged.

    There is no cure but time for severe withdrawal syndrome.

    Every single failed cold turkey who’s come to me for advice and support had every intention of winning the game. Each and every one thought he or she would have, at most, a few weeks of feeling lousy and then be finally free.

    For a glimpse of the odds of successful cold turkey, see this study:

    J Psychiatry Neurosci 2001;26(1):44–8.
    [b]Abrupt discontinuation of psychotropic drugs during pregnancy: fear of teratogenic risk and impact of counseling. [/b]
    Einarson A, Selby P, Koren G.

    Abstract at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11212593 with free full text.

    Experiments in cold turkey are considered unethical because cold turkey is so thoroughly regarded as harmful. Therefore, observations need to be based on accidental cold turkey.

    In the study, out of 34 women who quit abruptly
    • 26 (70%) reported physical and psychological adverse effects
    • 11 (30%) reported suicidal ideation “because of ‘unbearable’ symptoms,” and 4 were hospitalized

    An additional 3 women “used some form of tapering off. This tapering was unsatisfactory, however, because even these patient suffered from adverse effects.”

    “One woman had a therapeutic abortion because she did not feel she could go through the pregnancy feeling so awful….”, another considered it.

    Correct — severe withdrawal syndrome caused 2 of 34 pregnant women, who had quit antidepressants to protect the babies they were carrying — to consider terminating their pregnancies.

    As before, I respectfully and strongly disagree with your position that there is no one way to come off psychiatric medications. If you can manage it, there is only one way — that is to taper at a rate your nervous system can tolerate.

    If you are a person who happened to have been successful at cold turkey, you were lucky. Unless you have developed an ability to predict the future, please do not urge others to take this risk.

    (If you still insist cold turkey is a “right,” I invite you to join my site, SurvivingAntidepressants.org, and provide emotional support for the people who are suffering from cold turkey gone wrong.)

    I am sorry to take this politically uncorrect position yet again on MadinAmerica.com. I am sorry that the prison of psychiatric treatment isn’t easier to escape. These drugs are pernicious from start to finish. It’s hard to get free. That’s just the way it is, and it does no good to anyone to pretend the reality is otherwise.

  15. What a triumphant reflection on the past few years! I can’t wait to see the new directory and thank you all so much for taking the initiative to make that happen. It is going to be such an important resource.

    I’m so glad you’re out there, doing what you do, being who you are. It’s amazing, the transformation that takes place. There is nothing more beautiful nor more human than becoming who we are in spite of what we are told we might never be.

    Hey, Laura, the other day I did a quick off the top of my head tally of the folks I am aware of who were put into the psych system prior to age 18. I could think of a fair number…but, not so many considering all the kids that have been affected.

    Where did they all go? Where are all the other survivors?

    I can’t wait to read your book…and I hope that some of the adults who were kids in the system read it, too.

  16. Thank you so much for sharing your story… you are so brave and I have learned so much from what you wrote. I also so appreciate your nonjudgmental attitude of how we all need to find what works best for us and that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Victor Frankl’s quote at the end is one of my favorites. Bless you and thank you for all that you are doing to heal your own self and others.

  17. Hi. I am a 32 year old women who has been on meds for severe anxiety and panic disorder with severe panic attacks since I was 16. About 2 months ago I decided I wanted to go off my meds. I wanted to find out who I was without pills. How I felt without pills.The way I felt was that my psychiatrist was just throwing pills at me at this point like hey try this or lets up this and down this and add this. I felt like an 80 year old women with my weekly pill containers. I figure with the amount your brain changes between 16 and 32 I didn’t know who I was without prescription drugs. I have successfully come off of zoloft and Lomotrogine so far and am currently coming off of Clanozopam and then I have 2 more after that. I am doing this with the support of my psychiatrist, my family, and my wonderful boyfriend. I am not saying that I won’t need meds ever again. I don’t know yet. I just want to find out. To find the me without pills and give myself a chance to feel the feelings I need to feel to see what my next step will be. Its hard both physically and emotionally and sometimes I want to give up but I am trying to get through it the best way I know how…Lots of sleep lol