Sick‘s Wild Ride –
From Treatment to TEDMED


When I started to write my full-length play Sick in 2010 I was simply looking to understand how it was possible that I could have gotten trapped inside a “mental Illness” when all I had was ovarian cysts. I really love science. I still do. I had a respect for the medical profession and had no reason to question that the well-meaning advice and guidance I was receiving could possibly cause me harm.

The experience of making and touring the play had been so surprising. While I was living through the story – I was certain that what was happening to me was extreme, that I was one in a million and that nobody else could possibly be going through the same thing – Once I started to perform and engage with audiences I was shocked by how many people wanted to talk after the show to share their stories. I have lost count of the number of times I heard “I think this is happening to my sister, or mother or aunt, or boyfriend.”

It has become clear to me that what I, my family and my doctors thought was a rare occurrence may be far more common than any of us can fathom. I feel an obligation as both a writer/performer and as a person who came through an iatrogenic mental illness to raise the questions – How many more people like me are there? How are people’s lives being subtly or not subtly diminished by their treatment? Are we really operating within a system that allows for informed consent if all our drug information is coming from those who stand to profit from its sale?

I was invited by TEDMED to perform an excerpt from the full-length play at their conference in September. It was the 1st time I was able to reach a large mainstream dominantly medical audience. I am still digesting that experience and will talk more about it in a future post. At the end of the talk, I ask the question “So what do you think we should do?” I think most people hear this as rhetorical but I’m really asking 🙂 so as you watch and share the talk if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

This experience has been at times overwhelming, healing, and yet I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Our national conversation about mental health care and health care in general is broken. We ask all the wrong questions, and seem to be looking in the wrong places for answers.

John Kazanjian and I worked hard to come up with a 13-ish minute version of my play:

As part of the release of the video, I’m also doing a Facebook Q&A on Thursday at 10:00 AM Pacific (1 PM on the East Coast). More information is here:

It’s been a wild ride sharing the big play with small audiences around the country these last couple of years, and I am excited and humbled by the potential audience this abbreviated version can have online. I hope you have a chance to watch it.

It turns out that I’m not alone in this experience and I would love your help in sharing it wherever it is you share things… Facebook, Twitter, things I don’t even know about. There are links for such things on the TEDMED and YouTube pages too.

Even though I hate the phrase “patient-centered care” (because who would go to a mechanic that said they did “car-centered mechanicness”?) it’s a great first step that TEDMED asked to hear the voice of a patient and was willing to shine some light on iatrogenic mental illness. I’m grateful to them for the opportunity, and appreciate all the amazing support I have received through the MIA community along the way.
Happy holidays, enjoy this uplifting video :-), and have a peaceful new year!


    • markps2 (& Elizabeth),

      I think a lot of us are here because we know the drugs cause iatrogenic illnesses, in at least a fairly large percentage of people. And we don’t believe in the scientific validity of the DSM disorders, and even Thomas Insel has conceded there is none – and that includes schizophrenia.

      So the answer to your question, markps2, is no. So called “schizophrenics” don’t deserve to be forced onto these toxic drugs either. And, we know recovery of “schizophrenia” is better in areas where the meds are used sparingly, or not at all. So we’re hoping, by educating others in creative ways, to bring about mutual respect, the right to choose, for all human beings, including you.

      I’m grateful to Elizabeth for pointing out the toxic nature of these drugs, and I’m hoping her education of other will help end the forced drugging of all so called “seriously mentally ill.” And I ran into a fairly similar situation. A “bad fix” on a broken bone, led to a “safe smoking cessation med” / actual antidepressant prescription, unbeknownst to me at the time, from the wife of the “attending physician” at the “bad fix.”

      The Wellbutrin didn’t help me quit smoking, so I was abruptly taken off it (known to be improper withdrawal from antidepressants today). The withdrawal symptoms, for me, were odd dreams, odd sexual side effects, and brain zaps – all now known to be fairly common ADRs and withdrawal symptoms of Wellbutrin.

      These withdrawal symptoms resulted in a bipolar misdiagnosis from a second opinion psychologist. The first antipsychotic I was prescribed caused a terrifying first ever psychosis for me, confessed to be a “Foul up” in my medical records. But a cover up of this “Foul up” led to a 3 and a 1/2 year iatrogenic nightmare, at which point I was weaned off the drugs. But then another year of cover ups of the resulting withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic issues. Psychiatry creates lots of iatrogenic illnesses with their drugs.

      Thank you, Elizabeth, for your creative interpretation of what I agree is a likely enormous societal problem of psychiatric iatrogenesis, and covers up there of. I saw your full length show at the MiA film fest, and very much enjoyed the full show, but think you did a good job in synopsizing it for TEDMED.

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  1. This story rings so true to me. I have not gone all the way to hearing voices and having vibrating bones but that was just because I was skeptical of all drugs and didn’t take any of them for longer than few weeks. Each and everyone of them had serious “side effects” and some of them withdrawal symptoms even after a single dose (Zyprexa was hellish for that). It’s truly iatrogenic insanity.

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  2. I totally get this because it happened to me for 15 years. Over and over I kept getting worse (bizarre symptoms that were drug induced) as the psychiatric drugs changed and doses upped. Later I was told I’d never been mentally ill.

    Please keep on telling what happened to you. It’s happening more than anyone truly knows, iatrogenic illness.

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  3. Elizabeth, you have done what people who go into this drug nightmare through a psych hospitalization can’t do. Anyone with a history like mine (hospitalized 6 times), has a helluva time standing up to friends, family and anyone else who “cares” to say, I’m going off these drugs. Once my head started to clear, I realized the last 13 years of my life was like your 18 months because of the drugs. In the meantime, their effects prevented me from doing the work necessary to deal with the grief, trauma and poor lifestyle choices that led up to each of the hospitalizations.

    The answer is to keep talking about it. I’m surrounded by “peers” who are convinced their drugs are essential to their stability. As they believe it, so it’s true. If there is a way I could participate in a larger effort to address this, I want to know about it. I did post your talk on my FB page and urged people to watch it.

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    • Seventhsense: When I was institutionalized in 1989, it was when the whole bi-polar fad was just getting started. I appreciated that certain friends and family disowned me, and it seemed that complying with the medication was part of the bargain. It seems that a little time later, that prime time Tv got into the business, by weaving in narratives about the downsides and horrors of patients going off their meds. Needless to say no one informed of the existence of Mad Pride movements, which easily could have dovetailed with my community activism around issue of Central American Solidarity, anti-Apartheid and anti-CIA activism. It seems to me today that their are more cracks in the facade than in 1989.

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  4. Oh, Elizabeth, your video was riveting and lives will be spared for it. I have shared in my two mental heath groups on Facebook – Cymbalta Hurts Worse and Prescription Drug Dangers. I lost a family member due to polypharmacy. Indeed the poly-drugging of people is gravely under-reported. Thank you so very much!

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  5. Here is ‘Iatrogenic Insanity”s story on Youtube as part of a series:”Watch the Stories of Harm the American Psychiatric Association Refused to Hear: Lee’s Story” . This video and eight others were the initiative of psychotherapist and author Paula Caplan. This one goes from one drug given for exhaustion/ insomnia from caregiver stress, to 30+ drugs plus 25 rounds of ECT in 8 months, and the diagnosis of dementia. The final verdict: institutionalization, pharmaceuticals for life, weekly maintenance ECT for life. WRONG.

    I wish Elizabeth Kenny had mentioned here how she got rid of her ovarian cysts – it wasn’t by conventional medicine and pharmaceuticals.

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  6. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I believe people will be really helped by it, and I hope it will be widely viewed.

    I hope you don’t mind me giving one piece of critical feedback. There were a couple of times that you made comments that I think some people who experience psychosis for other reasons then iatrogenic illness, or for whom iatrogenic illness is only part of their problem, could possibly feel discriminated against. I think you said things like ‘my mom didn’t think I was a crazy person, I was almost the crazy person in the bedroom of my mom’s house’ or some things like that.

    Thankfully, there seems to be great hope now for recovery, not only for those who suffer from iatrogenic illness, but also for those who are suffering from psychosis for different reasons. Whether their psychosis results from iatrogenic illness, trauma, weaker neurological system or any combination of psycho/social/biological reasons; I think it is important to think of all of those people as human beings in extreme distress rather than having them fall into a different `category’ as a `crazy person’ .

    Aside from the one criticism above, I think you have done an amazing job. It sounds like you have gone through such a horrible time by those who were supposed to help you, that you have great strength and now you are trying to help others in a very uplifting and entertaining video. Bravo.

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    • Sa, thanks for pointing this out. I do qualify as the “crazy aunt”, but am becoming aware that label is both unkind and untrue. It’s also the reason why Elizabeth can say these things and be listened to. I can say these things and watch my loved ones faces grow concerned as they mull over my becoming “symptomatic”.

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  7. Refreshing confirmation! Losing my life for 17 years is nothing short of criminal. I will never gain back everything I lost. I continually questioned it and was poo poo’d because the doctors were the experts. Only due to severe memory loss and my insisting I taper off all Rx to evaluate for alzheimer’s did I witness each and every symptom disappear. Thank you for your bravery.

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