This photo was taken about 6 months before my fall into psychiatry. I was 19 years old. I was an athlete. I swam, cycled, and ran most days and was training for a triathlon. That was a dream that never came to fruition. The psych meds can not only put weight on regardless of how you otherwise care for yourself, they also tend to make people feel gravely lethargic and vaguely sick all the time. I could not exercise as I had before. Could not. It doesn’t matter how much mental health professionals try to tell us that if we just exercised we’d be okay in the face of neurotoxic drugs that cause weight gain, because the fact is the drugs impede that capacity. This is not widely appreciated or understood and people on psych meds are again traumatized and made to feel guilty for something that is truly outside of their control as long as they are taking these medications. Exercise should be made a priority in the care of those who would be labeled with any psych diagnosis… everything should be done to avoid destroying people’s vital energy with psych drugs. Exercise is absolutely imperative for good health — mental and physical. When we lose the capacity to exercise we lose the potential for good health. Period.
This photo was taken pretty much at the height of my drug cocktail. I had gained about 95 lbs from the healthy weight I was in the first photo. I want to be clear that I do not assume that all heavy people are unhealthy or unfit, but for me this change was indicative of my failing health and wellbeing. I had always been very active and athletic and the loss of that was devastating emotionally and physically both. I found it hard to walk much, let alone do anything more strenuous than that. I still loved going on easy walks in nature, as I do now and always have. I never stopped doing that. I think that’s an indication that at my core I remained strong and untouched.
I was not well during these years. I felt flat and empty and like my life had no meaning. I slept a lot. I slept 12 hours a night in fact. I was heavily drugged and sometimes could not be roused. I also felt drugged and fuzzy headed. I did not express myself creatively as I do now and before I took drugs, too. I worked most of the time, but given I required 12 hours of sleep a night a full-time job was really far more than I could reasonably handle. Still, I did it for many years. I really don’t know how. I was a social worker in mental health social services. I learned a lot about the system. I actually worked for fairly enlightened programs that maintained philosophies of harm-reduction and minimal coercion, but even in such settings a lot of coercion happened. It’s simply endemic at this time, anywhere you go within social services. Sadly, it is how professionals are trained to interact with clients and that’s not even acknowledged or conscious for most people.
After approximately two decades on psych meds I came off a six drug cocktail in about six years. This proved to be a gargantuan task. I’ve written about that here. This post is about the time spent healing since the withdrawal was completed over three years ago.
It should be noted that I have indeed lost most of the weight I put on, but the weight loss came as a result not of trying to lose weight, but instead learning to get healthy after the insult of iatrogenic illness. This is an important distinction since weight loss diets, per se, tend to be very unhealthy and most people don’t keep the weight off because of that fact. All the changes I made to my diet were for my overall wellbeing. The weight loss was secondary and happened as a result of learning to be healthy. My diet is deeply nourishing, consisting of whole real foods with dense nutrition. I eat a lot of healthy fats and do not count calories or concern myself with portion size. By paying attention to my body’s needs these things have fallen into place naturally.
The weight is really the most superficial aspect of the global and broad healing that has occurred in my life. It’s also the only one visible to anyone other than myself and those closest to me and so I share it because it remains a rather astonishing contrast.
I see in retrospect that some core, vital part of me was always there during the drugged years, learning and remembering much that would help me in these years of coming off meds and now being med free. I no longer believe that I “lost” my life to drugs. I do think that it’s tragic that I could not be more conscious during those years and that my body became toxic, polluted and chronically, painfully ill; and this is why I help others learn to avoid what happened to me. Still, all my experience was not lost; in fact it was stored in my body to be processed when I got free of drugs. This is one of the many ways that psych drugs are agents of trauma. Part of the healing process, for me, and clearly many others who’ve been on psych meds and come off, is one of working through layers and layers of trauma — that which was incurred prior to psych drug use as well as that which is incurred as a result of psych drug use and exposure to the dehumanizing psychiatric system. I have done this mostly through meditation and yoga. Trauma becomes embodied. Embodied therapies are very important.
As many readers know, the process of drug withdrawal made me much sicker before I started to then regain well-being. Protracted withdrawal syndromes and associated problems are much more common than most people realize.
I completed my withdrawal in February of 2010. I was one of thousands of people who develop serious protracted withdrawal issues that lead to grave disability. Still, I have not had 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 while gravely impaired I have been grateful for that.
My healing journey has entailed learning about our deeply holistic natures as human beings. Everything matters. Our relationships with others and the planet, the food we eat, and the air we breath… how often we move our bodies and the thoughts we nurture in our minds and souls.
That is what understanding ourselves as holistic beings entails. Understanding our relationship to EVERYTHING in our environment and our bodies, what we’re born with and how it’s all connected. It’s not some sort of new age hogwash. It’s just plain and simple reality.
So, by that slow and painstaking, but ultimately joyous process of coming to understand how everything matters, I’ve been healing and bringing back well-being to this body/mind/spirit. At this point I am in many ways better than I’ve ever been in my life. I do still remain significantly limited in some practical ways… but at this point I’m sure the limitations are time-limited.
The ways I’ve healed myself are numerous and undeniable. I’ve healed my endometriosis. I no longer have menstrual pain and I had very severe endometriosis since I was about 16 years old. I even had repeated surgeries that were never successful.
I’ve healed severe, chronic and acute irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That too I had since I was about 16 years old. Many people who take psychiatric drugs have serious gut issues. Some of these gut issues predate psych drug use (mine did) but others are actually caused by the drugs (mine certainly got worse). In any case, healing my gut has helped all my well-being. As indicated above it’s all related. You start healing one thing and you’ll end up healing everything.
I was pre-diabetic as a result of heavy use of neuroleptics. I now have blood-sugar levels that one doctor told me would be the envy of even the healthiest people! Sadly type-two diabetes is an epidemic today. Those of us who take or have taken psych meds are high risk. It’s almost always reversible so it’s well worth learning to heal oneself.
Psoriasis, a horrible skin condition, is virtually gone. It once covered my whole body and now I have only a couple of spots left.
My hair is much thicker and shinier than any other time in my whole life. I had incredibly thin and sparse hair. It’s not luxurious even now, but the difference is amazing, striking, visible and palpable.
I’ve lost 75 lbs. My body continues to changes in multiple (positive) ways daily. Seriously. I can feel and see it change, transform, heal. It’s astonishing and lovely. It continues to communicate its needs and our partnership grows and prospers in love everyday. Our bodies are miracles, truly.
Lastly but perhaps most significantly for this particular article I’ve integrated and embraced my human nature, that first manifested in a way that got labeled “bipolar.” I “undiagnosed” myself a long time ago, but since then I’ve come to more fully understand my experience. For me it was the lovely capacity to access and delve deep into not only my own psyche, but the consciousness of humanity itself. It’s been a deeply rewarding journey to reclaim these parts of me that psychiatry almost always tragically misunderstands in the people it purports to help. It is this reclaiming that allows me to feel well even while I am still physically compromised.
I did all these things in part by having developed deep daily practices of yoga and meditation that essentially entail simply but profoundly listening to my experience. That includes learning to pay attention to my body’s needs. Psych drug withdrawal causes extreme and multiple sensitivities in some people. I discovered I had to change my diet to heal my gut and whole being. Ultimately the practices of meditation and yoga and listening to the body in general, have allowed me to develop a deepening understanding of the human condition in general and the nature of our reality on this planet. This has, in turn, allowed me to release anger and blame and simply come to a deep gratitude for being alive and having had every experience that has brought me to this place without regard to whether they’ve been painful or pleasant. I have learned to embrace that which I have been given. Life is messy and painful and it’s glorious, too.
I’m not fully functional still in that I cannot make plans or travel or even leave my house daily at will. It can on occasion be frustrating but not nearly as much as it once was. My spirit is well and my body continues to get better. I now walk almost daily (walking in the woods is generally so restorative that even if I can’t go out in the world otherwise, I can do my nature walk) and I also do yoga daily which continues to be my most important means of physical rehab. Being that I was bedridden for two years it’s been a miracle of rejuvenation for me.
My husband left on a trip a few days ago for ten days. It’s the first time he’s been able to leave me in over 5 years since I’ve needed close to 24 hour care. I can manage on my own for 10 days. This is wonderful.
I am now able to run errands two or three times a week rather than once or twice a month. I can talk on the phone more often and am reconnecting with loved ones I couldn’t talk to for years. I’ve also developed some of the most rewarding relationships of my life as a result of the work I’ve done while sick via the internet. I can also, now, on occasion, be social and spend time with trusted friends in person. My life is rich and full in spite of limitations. I don’t judge the ups and downs so much anymore. This is my life. It’s a meaningful and lovely life I’m living. I am eternally grateful to be med free.
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.