Believe it or not . . .

Tracey Cannon
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Driving to work in my car this morning I was struck by a sudden thought; the problem with mental illness is not that people have it but it’s that they BELIEVE they do.

When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in an extreme state I was promptly restrained, drugged and awoke after three days to find myself in another kind of state altogether that was so strange to me it was like I had been taken over by an alien. I literally did not recognise myself in a mirror.

I looked around and saw dribbling, drooling, shuffling ‘patients’ and I knew I was not one of them. And yet, within six months I found myself living with relatives; shuffling up the main street of small town New Zealand having been diagnosed and medicated for a ‘mental illness.’ How had I suddenly gone from being ‘Tracey’ to ‘Tracey with a mental illness’? This was totally beyond me, and luckily (just how luckily I didn’t fully comprehend till many years later) I didn’t actually believe this was really possible so I rejected both the ‘illness and drugs’  as soon as I possibly could and the ‘alien’ me didn’t stay too long. However, the experience of being in those extreme states and the trauma of receiving the diagnosis and ‘treatment’ lasted for many years to come.

Those who work in mental health are starting to hear a lot about the terrible statistics and outcomes for people being treated in the mental health system and we are now constantly hearing about the burden of ‘mental illness.’

However what hit me in a sudden flash this morning in my car was that the problem/burden – or whatever we want to call it – is not that anyone actually ‘has’ one of these ‘mental illnesses.’ Because these fictitious categories of ‘illness’ are actually just invented; mostly by people who have not actually experienced these states and  are therefore not qualified to discuss – let alone decide whether someone fits into one or another of them. No; the problem is not with the diagnosis or the diagnosing of these ficticious illnesses, rather it is that people actually BELIEVE in them.

This is not to dismiss in any way peoples’ actual  experiences of extreme mental states and distress in all its forms; voices and visions – wondrous, relentless, terrifying or overwhelming – or the seemingly bottomless pits of sorrow and grief or any of the other confusing, staggering and mysterious places our psyches can take us to. Because all of these experiences are completely real to those in the middle of them.

The real problem we have in mental health is that people who experience these states have accepted and allowed their experiences and themselves to be defined, conceptualized, diagnosed and framed by others. People have given up their power to ‘experts,’ who take this control – sometimes out of benevolent motives – but always out of misguided and misinformed ignorance and, at its worst, out of indifferent greed. And the experts are able to do this – at least in New Zealand – because it is currently santioned by the government under the legal power of compulsory treatment.

Of course there are some people who, right from the beginning reject outright anyone else trying to tell them what their experinces are about. I did this when I first woke up in the hospital in a drug-induced daze. At first my resistance only happened in a tiny space buried deep inside of me, closed up tight in a box and hidden in a place that was untouchable by all the drugs and ‘you have a mental illness’ messages. However, it can and does take an incredible force of will to hold and nuture this resistance when you are up against a culture of compulsory hospital treatement, forced drugging, direct to consumer marketing, big business, anti-stigma campaigns that tell us all about how we need to ‘accept’ people with mental illness, and a society that has – on the whole – bought into the concept of mental illness and the ‘science’ of psychiatry.

Those who gain the most from the current system have literally ‘bought’ the shares, with those on the receiving end of the ‘care’ provided currently losing about 25 years of their life; which tends to include very poor health (mostly caused by the drugs), poverty, unemployment and being the recipients of numerous ‘services’ they do not necessarily want, delivered by people who may or may not have any understanding and empathy.

I am not saying that ‘treatment’ for the multitude of distress and trauma us human beings experience is all bad. Six years of regular psychotherapy (chosen and controlled by me) helped me navigate traumatic past experiences and gain validation and confidence in myself and my instincts. However most ironically the majority of what I needed to navigate, unpack and work through to become completely whole again, was the diagnosis and treatment I received for my apparant mental illness, which gave me nothing but pure trauma. It wasn’t until this work had been done that I could get beyond all that I had ‘received,’ and to the root causes of the extreme states I had experienced, which as it turned out was the beginning of an amazing journey of revelation and healing.

Today we find ourselves living in the middle of a ridiculous belief system called ‘psychiatry,’ which proposes itself to be science though it has no basis on which to claim this, and which has become so intertwined with profit and status that it has now completely lost any helpfulness it ever had.

This system takes our human experience of grief, loss, abuse, neglect, genius, vision, sadness, etc., and squeezes it all together into some kind of banal sausage meat, then churns it out via a DSM diagnosis with its associated standard treatment of drugs and therapy (if you’re lucky). Those who have been on the receiving end of this process instinctively know it to be a hopeless waste of time. I have never met a person who has been diagnosed with a mental illness who doesn’t believe there is more to the thiings they experience than they are being told to believe. No one who is going through an extreme life crisis or trying to recover from abuse or neglect or who has experienced visions or voices ever says “what I really need right now is a psychiatric diagnosis and some drugs, some supported accommodation and a work rehabilitation program me.” What people actually say they want is validation, safety, somewhere to hide, someone to listen, a space to be heard, maybe to scream and cry, time to explore and to not feel alone.

There never has been any ‘mental illnesses’ and there never will be; they simply don’t exist as ‘scientific’ or any other kinds of entities. There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the brain that ‘causes’ these experiences. Its highly likely that chemicals in the brain do change during times of extreme states and the brain almost definitely undergoes changes as a result of extreme trauma, abuse and stress, but this does not mean someone has a ‘mental illness’ – it is simply a by-product of the experience.

We have had well over 100 years of demonizing, stigmatizing, separating and labeling people as lunatic, insane, mad (or, these days, the politicaly correct ‘mentally ill’). It’s time to stop and say enough –  ‘mental illness’ is a concept whose time is up.

The impact of believing you have a mental illness does so much more harm than good that it is no longer serving us as a society, and while this might sound apallingly simple;  We simply need to stop believing in it.

So here is the revelation that came to me on my drive to work this morning;

Nothing more is needed for us to stop believing in mental illness, no one has to give us permission, come up with a clever strategy, help us write a plan or set a goal – we can just do it!

For people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness; unless this is working out really well for you, and you’re happy with your life just the way it is I suggest you stop believing in it right now and do any or all of the following; Join with others who feel the same way, extract yourself step-by-step-by-step from the pills, the doctors and the programmes and replace these with what you truly desire; reject the belief that you are somehow different from others, somehow damaged beyond repair, somehow not as worthy of the life you truly want and somehow not capable of achieving your wildest dreams. It may take some time to do this but a step in any direction away from believing in mental illness is pretty well guaranteed to be a step towards a better life. Many people have done it before you and many will do it after, and you’ll probably be helping others along pretty soon.

We are bigger and better than we can imagine and together we will get rid of this outdated, damaging and ridiculous idea of mental illness and create a world that is accepting of difference and responsive to human distress, trauma and grief. Together we will stop beleiving in mental illness and start believing in ourselves, and we will change the world in the process!

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Tracey Cannon

Tracey Cannon is a ‘nearly 50’ year-old artist and social change activist who lives in an amazing home overlooking the beautiful New Zealand rainforest close to the beach with her partner of 24 years.

Tracey’s life has been and is light years from the doom and gloom predicted when she was hospitalised and diagnosed with a mental illness in her early 20’s while travelling in the Middle East on her big O.E.

Tracey’s transformation and healing through the existential and spiritual crisis (or mental illness in DSM language) she experienced, firstly diagnosed and medicated and then not, has been the subject of two books and several studies about recovery from mental illness without medication, treatment or services of any kind.

She is part of a growing mental health collective providing support and information for people who are looking for answers and alternatives for mental health crisis and problems outside of the psychiatric system. Tracey supports loving, creative and humane responses to existential crisis, madness and distress and is committed to seeing these grow, expand and take over to become ‘mainstream.’

49 COMMENTS

  1. Love it! This may sound weird and I hope people understand, but the first time I heard of Torrey’s concept of “anosognosia” I thought, “Hmm, anosognosia, works for me.” I’m often driving around in my car reflecting upon how well it’s worked for me and just feeling so damn lucky and glad.

  2. I really like this article too. I think the author describes probably the worst thing (of course there are many) that psychiatry does to people: it destroys their self respect. And the first step to reclaiming their lives, I agree, is to refuse to accept the subhuman identity that psychiatry offers –no, demands– and start thinking of oneself as a valuable human being who can take charge of their own life.

    Even though, because I was not drugged, I came out of a childhood spent on psych wards more or less whole, or at least able to function, it took me a long time to develop self-respect.

    Here I will diverge from the article a bit, and say that our movement ought to be helping people reclaim, or learn, that they are good and valuable human beings. But my experience in the movement is one of experiencing constant attacks from people, often, I think, from jealousy. I am happy when others do good work and get recognized for it. But how are we going to change anything if being an activist is a constant emotional drain?

    • Ted wrote “how are we going to change anything”.

      I guess you don’t understand the power structure? I will explain it to you as I understand it.

      Only Doctors can question other Doctors. Doctors lie and get away with it because no other doctor challenges them.

      A prime example of lies is electroconvulsive therapy E.C.T.
      Some Doctor claims ECT is
      1) safe

      2) effective

      3) low intensity

      4) no pain

      E.C.T. is not safe in my opinion. Who judges the treatment safe? A Lobotomy (the inventor Dr Moniz was given a Nobel Prize in 1949) was also judged safe because the death rate was relatively low. Having a living breathing patient but with no mind is considered safe by people who are litteral about the definition of death.

      E.C.T. is not effective in treating depression and schizophrenia. How does a physical proceedure work on a non-physical illness (mental illness)? I suggest the idea of E.C.T. is to make someone forget. Trying to force the person to forget the reasons why they feel depressed does not work. Force does not work 1)because the destruction of memory in the mind from the electricity is random. The person could lose good memories as well as the bad ones and 2) the only way to fix a problem is to know what the problem is. Even if the memory erasure is successful the persons (unchanged) environment and situation will make them depressed once again.

      E.C.T. is not low intesity. The human body works with tiny amounts of electricity that can be measured in an EEG, an electroencephalogram. Dr Hans Berger recorded the first human EEG in 1924. The brains electricity has to be amplified 1,000 to 100,000 times to get a measurement.

      E.C.T. does produce pain, that is why the patient is unconscious. Ask yourself “Why do we feel pain?”. We feel pain because some damage is occuring in our body and our body is trying to warn us to the problem. To be unconscious while the pain is occuring is cheating . Only real life and death physical desease such as an infected apendix warrent the need for surgery, which means anesthesia. Electricity passing through the brain is an invisible knife.

      But I am not a Doctor, so my opinion means nothing.

      A hundred thousand people protesting ECT will not change the “science” of the claimed benefits of E.C.T.

      You are a general without an army. If your army was to exist, they would have to be fed and housed by someone. This cost money.

      • We are the army.

        There is money available if we organize.

        There are organisations that give money to campaigning organisations.

        We have a valid cause.

        At one time no one thought there would be majority rule in South Africa. At one time no one thought lesbians and gays would have civil rights.

        We can win if we try.

    • It was like that for me (and actually took only a few weeks, maybe because I have some experience in detecting bs). I spend a few days thinking and literally having conversations with imaginary people in my head (representations of actual psychiatrists) because I had this nagging feeling that something was not right, something didn’t make any sense yet I could not figure it out immediately – I lacked the language. And when I finally figured it out it seemed like no one would take it seriously or even want to discuss it. That’s MIA is so therapeutic to me – since people here have similar experiences to me and I see that it’s not only in my head but there is an alternative way to think about mental distress.
      Btw Ted, I have great respect for you and how you managed to have a productive life and be an activist despite the enormous abuse from such a young age.

  3. It’s so inspiring every time someone “new” breaks through the programming and the psychiatric word games and begins articulating their insights in a way that can enlighten others. The psychiatric empire has no clothes & we should all be unapologetically clear about that in our dealings with one another and the world at large. When we look at reality free of the smoke colored lenses we’re expected to wear it’s actually a much harder bit of mental gymnastics to believe in “mental illness” than not to, since after all we have reason on our side.

  4. I guess I’m kind of thankful that the impostion of a form of sharia law by the psychiatric industry isn’t enforced severly. One can choose to believe or not believe in our society. Kuffar are tolerated as long as they gain no traction with the general population. And if they do start to have an influence then the enforcers of the state will move in and deal with them.

    So we are free to not believe, but recognise the danger of expressing this if people start to listen. There may be consequences.

  5. Of course the problem with mental illness is not that people have it but it’s that they BELIEVE they do because a self for-filling prophecy needs a belief to work.

    A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.

    The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.

    • Nice post, Tracey. “For the prophet will cite the course of events as proof he was right from the very beginning.” I, too, was one who didn’t believe the label. How can a person whose never suffered from either mania or depression, and had no family history of any genetic mental illnesses, actually be bipolar? How insane psychiatrists are to think they have a right to go around defaming others with fictional mental illnesses, oh, and based upon a list of lies and gossip from the people who raped my child, too? What psychos! The psychiatric drugs cause the symptoms of the mental illnesses, however.

      But what’s good is now we know the likely cause of the most serious mental illness, schizophrenia. There are no genetic links, but 85% of schizophrenia patients had childhood trauma ignored, and diagnosed as schizophrenia instead. Then they had their brains damaged by psychiatrists with their neuroleptics. And I’m certain I’m not the only “bipolar” patient who had “bipolar” created completely with drugs, to cover up easily recognized iatrogenesis and child abuse either.

      Don’t let someone else tell your own life story, be the best you can be instead. And to those with delusions of grandeur it’s your right to dictate someone else’s story, shame on you.

  6. Beautifully written and most needed humane words with understandable meanings – for severe distress as despair and desparation, for altered affective and perceptive experiences as extremes of spiritual and symbolic, challenging and alerting explosion of wider meanings/processes of the soul, heart and mind.

    What I wish to highlight, however, is the unfairness of presenting the state of affairs as beng one where the person with changed perceptions and energies had any choice of how to interprete them. In the general culture the knowledge of how oppressive, abusive relations disrupt and distort bodily, emotional being in the social world, the turning ghostly of the self and others, the inference of many troubling perceptions, are not available.

    The first framing people in distress, altered ways to experience themselves and the world, are exposed to nearly always is the one of biopsychiatric mental illness diagnosis, prognosis and drugging with neuroleptics. There is scientific and legal power given to this fraudulant and harmful knowledge gained in ‘evidence based’ drug trials, voted by psychiatric guilds in hidden meetings, reinjected in the technical science fiction of studies designed by people with no experience of altered affective&mental realities (apart from falling in love, the terroer of being in a car accident, etc. which should be enough to forget about ‘normative daily functioning as sole standard).

    The legalized and scientized powers behind the psychiatric diagnoses and treatment are the medical institutions and representatives a person in some extreme condition, thus confused or agitated, encounters. The person being ‘naive’ and in a ‘confused’ state, meets up with the doctors trusting their ‘expertise’. She has no idea of the falseness of the whole ‘enterprise’ and thus many ‘patients’ first believe that they really have a mental illness (‘broken brain’, ‘chemical imbalance’). So people in distress or agitation are lied to and given harmful treatments, also psychoeducation on how to be a schizophrenic or bipolar patient for the rest of their lifes in self-surveillance of mental illness prodrome or symptoms.

    This is actually most similar to early modern times ‘witchhunts’ and other inquisition, most similar alliances of governing power elites, institutions, norms, legislation and ‘treatment’, percecution, harm, terror, even murder. But under the guise of science fiction and neuromythology the neophyte is made to trust and belief the medical and legal experts. Therefore it is not about the person in extreme agitation or confusion or unnusual beliefs having any choice.

    It is about exposing the criminality of the psychiatric diagnoses and mal-treatment system. About exposing that biopsychiatry defines and executes modern witchhunt, terror and ‘soulmurder’. Only if this is done for the general public, would it be correct to state that people becoming confused, agitated, experiencing distorted selves and altered realities have a choice to believe

    – wether they struggle with the embodied, affective and mental consequences of abuse, repression, exclusion, social abjection or
    – they believe to have a ‘broken brain’ or other mental disease/disorder/illness, with no unique/specific neuro-hormonal processes or bio-markers to qualify any.

    For the time being it is highly unfair to talk as if the ‘neophyte in psychiatry’ had any choice what to belief. And those of us who have been in the psychiatric system know what happens if one protests and resists their diagnoses and other assessments, alarmed by the negation and distorsion of ones’ experiences. Coercion, forced treatment, ‘legal guardian’, never ending re-definition of ones thoughts, feelings, beliefs in the most brutal and harmful ways as symptoms of madness. It is the same as inquisition and witchhunt and needs be exposed as the same brutal institutionalized, legalized and pseudo-scientized terror.

  7. LOVE this one! i do not think you wrote one thing i do not believe and have always believed. took my husband (dragged us through a psych system nightmare) ten years to believe, but you have perfectly written the truth i have always known. it is unreal how difficult it is to knock this sense into others, especially others who are suffering and would be so greatly helped if only they woke up to the truth!

    ty for sharing and good luck in your quest to share this all-important message.

    all the best

    erin

  8. Hi Tracey, You totally get the point across of the rigidity and defensiveness built in to harboring belief in your mental illness. As far as psychiatry’s prospects and efficacy, I think that many parts of what they do can legitimately attain scientific status, but the behavioral fields all need to make the fact that treatment is pseudomedical explicit and clear. I am not pushing for the idea that psychiatry is automatically anything good, of course. At best, in rare situations, it could work out humaely, compared to the inescapibility of its dictates that we face today. Rather, I am still in the thick of what you have reported about here, committed to looking into every nook and cranny of my encounter with people and situations for what the difference is between seeing myself up against something that is my responsiblity to handle, and letting myself get talked into “having” some discreet disorder or disease to get treatment for. Although never believing in the latter, even giving credence to discussions by those who do, so as to understand in their terms their sincerest concerns leaves a film of superstition and pseudoscientific goop to scrape away and clean out of your mind.

    On that note, I want to say that the worst thing still happening just is forced treatment, beginning with the fact that no matter what you do in checking into hospitals for help with your problems in living or your mental distress, that however responsibly you intend to do yourself good, your effort is immediately ruined by the lessening of your liberty and the doctrine of non-responsiblity that most every “well-meaning” staff person intends as to the patient’s favor. Obviously, psychiatry as practiced just serves as a means to create the classification of defective persons and hopes to tether a group of sufferers to itself for life. Patently, psychologists go right along with helping the psychiatrists enforce the paradigm of “care”.

  9. Hi Tracey,
    Thanks for a great article. I would love to know more about the work you are doing in NZ as I hold similar beliefs to yourself and want to see change in our system here in NZ. I’m based down in Nelson and at times feel very isolated in my views. I know there are many of us kiwis who want change but feel our voices are kept well divided and it is time we all got together to present a united voice. Better alternatives need to be made available. It would be great if we could connect.
    Pauline

  10. This is a fantastic article.

    Well, I could quibble with the statement in the first paragraph: “the problem with mental illness is not that people have it but it’s that they BELIEVE they do.”

    In a sense, you are right, because perhaps if most people did not believe in “mental illness” as such, they would be more open/understanding/supportive of people going through crises, not treat them as alien “other,” and this would go a long way towards the person’s so-called mental health. However, this is still an “if.” It’s still possible to not believe in “mental illness” as such yet be completely unsupportive if not abusive to those going through emotional/psychological/life crises.

    My main thought about that line was that: what gets called “mental illness” is still a major problem in and of itself, even if it is divorced from the biopsychiatric b******* (not sure if we can curse on here!).. So to dismantle the biopsychiatric paradigm is a major part of the solution, but the other part is effective prevention and/or “healing” (an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure) of these problems (where they exist) in the first place.. which itself is a tall order but must be done! Proper understanding of what the problems are about is of course the crucial first step.

    • Regarding [Well, I could quibble with the statement in the first paragraph: “the problem with mental illness is not that people have it but it’s that they BELIEVE they do.”]

      Every human being makes mistakes. The trick is when the person is fooled by psychiatry into believing the mistake they made was “mental illness” a permanent lifelong disease.

      Tracey Cannon , you must not forget THE FAMILY of the mentally ill person can also believe in the diagnosis/ be tricked into believing .

      When I was drugged, I am sure I looked crazy to my visiting family. Unable to speak. This ( also convincing the family) completes the con job.

  11. If you are “schizophrenic” you must believe you are ill.

    This article is a joke to the involuntary patient.

    An excerpt from successful schizophrenia

    {The resident said “Tony, your behavior is sick. We can treat you here as an out-patient, but you must understand you are mentally ill before we can make any progress.”

    Tony shouted “No, I’m not. You doctors are crazy if you think I’m mentally ill!” }

    http://www.successfulschizophrenia.org/articles/dblbinds.html

  12. Tracey, I loved your comment on how those who have never experienced any given state of mind should have no authority to decide who else does. One of the things that I found to be both fascinating and terrifying when I was locked up by psychiatry was that virtually every “patient” recognized that I had been incorrectly labeled, and yet, this was only recognized by three low-level staff members. I was locked up on the premise that I was “delusional” because that particular hospital had arbitrarily decided that a medical condition that multiple physicians had diagnosed me with was “not a real disease,” thus deeming my debilitating physical symptoms psychosomatic (I’ve written more on this at http://www.thesystemisbrokenblog.org/2014/03/26/i-am-justina-pelletier/). During my “hospitalization,” I had the following conversation with at least one “patient” on a daily basis:

    Other person: “Nothing’s wrong with you. What are you doing here?”
    Me: “These people are idiots. They’re trying to claim that I’m not really sick and that I’m, therefore, delusional.”
    Other person: “You could walk when you got here- now you can’t.”

    Common sense, right? If my issue was truly an emotional one, then arguably (meaning, based on psychiatry’s pseudo-scientific arguments), immediately taking me off the medication/supplement regiment that was carefully dictated by my real doctors and essentially forcing me onto neuroleptics would have been helpful, rather than leading to disastrous medical consequences. However, while my fellow “patients” understood what was really going on, the only staff member who immediately understood was a night-shift worker who happened to have a brother with one of the same medical diagnoses. The other two, who eventually understood to a degree, only did so because after three days of this, one of them bothered to speak with my therapist, as I had requested from the moment I got there as I knew she would confirm everything I had told them (the psychiatrist had barred staff from speaking to the medical doctors who called on my behalf, as I was told it would “feed into my delusions,”). It’s a bit ironic that all of these folks who were labeled “psychotic,” “incompetent,” and “without insight,” outnumbered the staff who seemed capable of making an accurate “diagnosis” at least 8:1.

  13. Hi Tracey,

    I was able to find your article and read it! I love it! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I love what you write here: “However, it can and does take an incredible force of will to hold and nuture this resistance when you are up against a culture of compulsory hospital treatement, forced drugging, direct to consumer marketing, big business, anti-stigma campaigns that tell us all about how we need to ‘accept’ people with mental illness, and a society that has – on the whole – bought into the concept of mental illness and the ‘science’ of psychiatry.” I think it takes so much strength and courage to go against the mainstream. And yet it sounds like you knew right off the bat that “Tracey with a mental illness” was a lie. You rejected that “alien” construct right from the start. And I know how strong you were and are to do this. It’s so terrible to be put in a box (0f pathology) that as you write has been defined by people who didn’t have the experience. And the message (from the mainstream) as you further write is “that you are somehow different from others, somehow damaged beyond repair, somehow not as worthy of the life you truly want and somehow not capable of achieving your wildest dreams.” This is a terrible and frightening message. It can literally be soul crushing. I’m so happy that there are people like you urging people to not believe in this dangerous sham. And “to start believing in ourselves….” That’s what it really takes. Last of all, I wanted to say that I deeply related to the long lasting impact of the abusive “treatment.” I also spent years dealing with it in therapy. A terrible trauma!

    Thanks again Tracey. I’m so glad I read your article…. Keep up the good fight!!

    Take care,
    Elizabeth

  14. “……Six years of regular psychotherapy (chosen and controlled by me)…”

    Same here – and this was why it did me no harm.

    I had refused medication initially but years later when I attempted to quit medication I found I couldn’t survive – and then I believed in the “illness”. But it dawned on me that – it could well be the drugs. So I tapered carefully and was successful.

    The thing is, that Psychotherapy was what I had asked for at the very beginning.

    • You are amazing we need to teach people how to demand therapy in a system that targets medication as cost efficient, time efficient and then has to deal with the expensive post medication effects.
      Lucky or brilliant that you found a good therapist….can you share what insurance plan? or is it private pay?