Beneath the Fog

Michael Baker
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Editor’s note: this story contains descriptions of graphic violence and death.

I took antidepressants every day for a decade. You name the drug and I was probably on it at some point—Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Lithium, Celexa, the list goes on. The medication, prescribed to me after a bout of severe obsessive-compulsive behavior, left me emotionally numb. Most of my feelings were buried under a thick mental fog, making it impossible to connect with people, or sense the aliveness of the world around me. On a scale from one to ten, excitement, joy and sympathy rarely reached more than a two. I simply couldn’t look forward to anything, or care in the least about anyone. The love I had always felt for my family vanished after only a few months on meds.

This brain fog made life seem unreal. I would often be driving somewhere, or talking to someone, or wandering through a mall, and the whole process went on without my awareness, as though I wasn’t a fully conscious participant, but a dreamer trapped within a dream.

After two years on antidepressants, I found something that gave me a jolt of feeling strong enough to wake me up for a moment. I was surfing the internet one night when I clicked on a mysterious video file called Unknown Soldier(very graphic). Sitting alone in the dark, I watched a young man get his head sawed off with a large hunting knife. As the blade carved through flesh and tendon, the victim’s screams of terror turned into gurgles of death.

I could not believe my eyes. Hollywood movie violence is one thing, footage of a real murder is another. The sheer brutality of the film lifted me out of the fog and into a mildly disturbed state of mind. I clicked the play button again and again, trying to keep my stomach churning for as long as possible. It wasn’t the most pleasant feeling in the world, and I knew I should have felt much worse than I did, but at least I was feeling something.

A month later I joined a shock website called Ogrish, which featured the most gruesome content on the internet—suicides, executions, animal torture, the sickest stuff you can imagine. I saved anything that moved me in a file on my desktop. The problem was that it took a lot to move me, and because I never felt the same way the second time I watched something, I was always searching for the next gut-wrenching image or video, like a drug user chasing an elusive high.

I often visited the Ogrish chat room, where members discussed recently added content. One night, the chat room erupted when a video surfaced of a cat being burned alive. Everyone shared their opinion, but only one opinion caught my attention: “That was the first time I felt anything since going on Paxil,” wrote one member.

I immediately sent her a private message, asking how long she’d been on the drug, and if she knew anyone else on Ogrish who was taking meds. She told me that five other members she chatted with were on antidepressants. She also told me that they watched the videos to “try and stir some kind of emotion.” I could barely wrap my head around it. Somehow my obsession with violence had led me into a subculture of ‘med-heads,’ all searching for their humanity in the same way.

This discovery should have had me running to my family doctor with some concerns. But of course that didn’t happen. I couldn’t think clearly enough to figure things out. To be honest, I still wasn’t sure if we were all crazy, or if the antidepressants had fried our circuits.

I spent the next seven years giving myself daily doses of horror. Sometimes I looked at morgue photos all night long, staring into lifeless eyes until a sense of wrongness slithered through me. When that didn’t work, I read news reports about vicious gang beatings, trying to visualize the crimes and induce an emotional reaction. Any feeling would do—empathy, disgust, even shame for indulging in such morbid behavior. But after a while I couldn’t feel a thing. By 2008 I’d grown so desensitized that I began to question whether or not I was human. That’s when I decided to go off the medication.

To avoid any family drama or protest, I quit the antidepressants on my own, in secret, cold turkey. This was a huge mistake, for the mental fog lifted far too quickly, exposing me to years of suppressed thought and emotion all at once. One minute I’d be weeping uncontrollably for no reason; the next minute I’d be curled up in a ball, paralyzed by anxiety. A constant agitation burned inside my brain. If someone said the wrong thing at the wrong time, looked at me a certain way, did something I didn’t approve of, this flame lit me up with rage. Thankfully I kept it all inside.

It took several weeks for my head to settle down, but when it finally did I noticed many positive changes in my behavior. I no longer had any urge to get drunk, to smoke weed, to gamble like a maniac. These artificial highs were unnecessary. I also had absolutely no urge to watch violent material. Just the thought of going on Ogrish made me queasy.

But curiosity soon caught up to me. Four months later, with my perceptions clearer than ever before, I returned to the website to test my reaction. I could feel my skin crawling, my heart pounding when I entered the video section, which now seemed like such a dark and immoral place. I watched ten seconds of a homeless man getting beaten to death before shutting off the video in a state of shock. It was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen, and as I struggled to understand how anyone could do that to another human being, I became dizzy and nearly threw up.

In the midst of my discomfort, an overwhelming sense of relief washed over me, as I knew that my reaction was finally a healthy one. I never went on Ogrish again.

I’ve been med-free since 2008, and I’m happy to admit that I am an extremely sensitive person. Sometimes I cry when I feel sad, or when someone I love feels sad. Sometimes I get so excited that my stomach fills with butterflies, all fluttering at once. Sometimes I can feel a stranger’s pain or fear, as though I am standing in their place at that moment—suddenly they aren’t a stranger anymore, but a reflection of myself.

My emotions come in a variety of colors, from vibrant yellow to dismal gray, and they remind me that I am awake and alive and connected to the world.

As odd as it may sound, I don’t regret taking the antidepressants, because without that foggy decade in my life, I may have never learned to appreciate what it means to be human.

61 COMMENTS

  1. Michael, with this really grueling piece I think you’ve answered a question that’s been on my mind and probably on the minds of others; why is it that ‘school/mall shooters’ are so frequently either on prescribed antidepressants or anti-psychotics? The explanation that we feel like zombies on medications or lack self control doesn’t quite answer the question logically. What you just describe, having to shock yourself enough to experience human feeling DOES seem to explain such behavior very succinctly. I hope others pick up on this and use this hypothesis to guide further research.

    • That is true but anti depressants have become the replacement to unhappy people who would normally use alcohol or some illegal substance and commit crimes.

      Obviously is better for the richer or better half of society than having more depressed drunk drivers, or illegal drug users causing dangers, but as we all notice anti depressants are causing unhappy people with legitimate grievances with society to be quiet, and not express themselves by suppressing their emotions.

      I don’t want to sound extreme, but it appears like population control to keep the privileged and happy people from having to deal with the under privileged and unhappy people.

      • Jack
        “That is true but anti depressants have become the replacement to unhappy people who would normally use alcohol or some illegal substance and commit crimes. ”

        I disagree here.

        Alcohol and drugs seems to heighten a lot of feelings….the “high”, the excitement, the colours, the buzz, while psychiatric drugs kill them off completely. I know many people (myself included) who were using neither drugs nor alcohol when doctors got us hooked on psychiatric drugs.

        It is in the killing off of feelings that true, catastrophic danger lies, as without feelings we cannot be human. Ethics, morals, relating with others, making good judgements, are all based on the ability to feel and be connected to emotion. Psychiatric “medications” can wipe that out completely.

        I know when I was on “anti-depressants” and/or “anti-psychotics” I felt for the first time in my life I would have been capable of truly doing harm to others. I have been off them for almost 6 years and in that time I have never had such worries.

        I agree that psychiatry is a form of social control though, as well as a licence for large corporations (pharmaceutical companies, hospitals etc) and doctors (particularly psychiatrists) to make massive amounts of money and wield almost unlimited power over people’s lives – usually without their informed consent and often totally against their will.

        Michael, the story you tell so eloquently here is a testament to the nastiness of these drugs – that you experienced what you did, and came through it and are now able to share your experience in the hope it will help others is testament to your strength, decency and health.

        Thank you.

  2. With all respect why did you get on anti depressants in the first place, if you do so well without them?

    I honestly think they should be banned if used without talk therapy. I think that will solve a lot of the problems where people are just prescribed anti depressants with no hope of ever getting happy.

    • I’m a little confused by your statement, Jack, so I’ll try a few different ways of addressing the issues you raise.

      My experience is that if you go to a doctor complaining of being tired, lacking in energy, or sick and in need of time off work, then they say maybe you’re not coping, and prescribe an “anti-depressant”. They do it to many millions of people each year.

      However, it is worthwhile noting that neither the safety nor efficacy of “anti-depressants” has ever been proven, used with or without talk therapy, and that the side effects of “anti-depressants” are many and dangerous (read the warnings!!). These are dangerous drugs that are handed out because doctors get paid to do so. At BEST they are about as good as sugar pills…but they do have many undesirable “side-effects” which are actually their primary effects as they don’t work on “depression” and hence are not actually “anti-depressants”

      It seems the most effective treatments to improve mood are exercise and mindfulness meditation along with trauma counselling if appropriate. But when exercise is supplemented by “anti-depressants”, exercise is LESS effective than when done without them.

      Many people are labelled as “depressed” for psycho-social reasons…their most basic needs for food and shelter aren’t able to be fulfilled in a safe way, or there’s family breakdown, death, job loss…you know…life’s little and not-so-little hiccups?

      You seem to believe “depression” might actually exist as an illness. “Depression” isn’t an illness with physical causes. No blood tests, no scans, no genetic tests can show it exists. The “disease” is purely its symptoms, and the symptoms ARE the “disease”. How a chemical solution is supposed to fix something that essentially isn’t physical is hard to comprehend.

      “Depression” caused by “chemical imbalance” has never been shown to exist. No chemical imbalances have ever been shown to exist. We don’t know what chemical levels in the brain are “normal and/or healthy”, and we can’t measure chemical levels in a live brain, so it is impossible to say that ANY chemical imbalance exists. We can measure chemicals in a dead brain, but killing a person so we can measure their brain chemical levels is not going to be particularly useful, really, especially as we don’t know what we’re measuring it for and dead people are not going to be responsive to treatment.

      So I guess the answer as to why Michael was prescribed these drugs can only be that the doctor could, so (s)he did. Drug company marketing, perhaps? Med school propaganda? TV ads? Yes…and…(s)he could.

      So I am with you on banning these drugs, but not with you in saying they should only be used in conjunction with therapy…they should NEVER be used. Simple.

      • A neurologist can actually measure brain chemicals but psychiatrists do so by the description of your symptoms when they prescribe anti-depressants.

        Though I take the point at hand, but other people have problems and force themselves to work.

        The anti-depressants do work on many as well, as people have been taking them since the 1990’s and still on them 20 to 30 years later.

        In summary, they want people to work and stop complaining so in theory they are willing to take the risk of prescribing anti-depressants when some people react badly most notably on the news.

        Do I think that’s right? No but who are we to speak up against them, we are not empowered as they are with either money or power.

        Good luck with your journey.

        • Jack,
          No, a neurologist can’t measure these chemical in the brain of a live person. They can measure the levels in the blood, but these have been shown to differ markedly from the levels in the brain itself.

          The Random Control Trials that pharma has used to “prove” the safety and effectiveness of their drugs have repeatedly been shown to be very dodgy indeed…data falsification, hidden data, people mis-catagorized as far as adverse events go, suicides hidden, ghost writers used…and a whole other world of dishonesty.

          BILLIONS of dollars in fines for drug companies have resulted, but this is small bikkies for such a massive industry, and the message has not yet made it through to many front line primary care doctors.

          Many psychiatrists know this, but are happy to hold onto the lie of chemical imbalance to get their patients to take the meds and get funding for research and medical schools. They rely almost totally on the (very real) placebo effect of medications as a surrogate for their efficacy. This has been scientifically proven.

          Many supposedly patient-centered groups like NIMH etc are largely funded by pharma and are no more than marketing channels for pharma.

          I know people who swear by their meds, and I will not argue with them or try and convince them to come off them, as coming off them, especially quickly and without adequate support, can be absolutely disastrous.

          They ARE addictive, which is why people who don’t get horrid side effects stay on them and defend them for years.

          I know this, as it took a while for my side effects to become so severe that I simply had no real choice but to come off them. Many people do – in some countries services have been set up to help people withdraw safely.

          Yes, we agree that it is a horrible situation and that issues of power and money are at the bottom of this whole scam, but we have some disagreements on the facts surrounding the science underlying the widespread use of these drugs.

          I too wish you well on your journey.

      • A neurologist can actually measure brain chemicals but psychiatrists do so by the description of your symptoms when they prescribe anti-depressants.

        Where are you pulling this stuff from? In any case, wrong on both counts. Especially if you’re implying that a neurologist can determine dopamine/serotonin “imbalances.”

  3. I think it must have taken great courage for you to write this piece. I wonder if you realise how much comfort, relief, and understanding this will bring not only to the people who have suffered in this way, but also to their families, friends and loved ones. Thank you

  4. Very brave and enlightening article, Michael. Congratulations on embracing your wholeness. I wholeheartedly agree, to be sensitive is to be human. Our emotions are such a gift, when we are not beating ourselves up with them.

    I had a teacher who would say that the idea is to learn to swim in our emotions, rather than drown in them, as this is how we learn not only our humanity, but also that of the collective. Feeling our way through life takes courage, strength, and trust, and from my experience, it also leads to well-being and good manifestations. Our emotions are our most powerful creative tools. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Love your website, too, I think it’s right on. Wonderful work!

  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Michael, and I agree the antidepressants do take away the intricacies inherent in being a human being. As a fine artist, I went from working on these very cerebral, complex paintings to painting very simplistic pieces, after unknowingly being put on a mind altering antidepressant. I’m glad you, too, were able to get off the drugs, and heal.

  6. Congratulations on a breakthrough article. Breakthrough in that you may have articulated for the first time from a survivor’s perspective what is likely the common connection in the current slew of “mysterious” and “senseless” mass killings by people on psych drugs, and the horrific consequences of people being so desperate to regain their sense of being alive and human.

    I’m glad that others are recognizing this connection as well.

  7. Hi Michael,

    Great article. I used to watch videos off Ogrish, Bestgore, Goregrish, etc myself, partly to make myself feel more alive/connected to reality (even if in a “bad” way), and partly out of a grotesque fascination with the material on there and the fact that people could commit these horrendous acts.

    I think antidepressant meds dull down the ability to feel and experience life strongly, and since people naturally long to feel alive, to be stimulated, and to feel connected, it is natural they would turn to things like “gore porn” to get a sense of being excited even through being horrified… feeling some sense of life inside oneself, even if it’s in relation to something truly horrifying, is better than feeling nothing at all.

    As Ronald Fairbairn (psychoanalytic thinker) said, “A bad object (experience/person) is better than no object”… or as James Grotstein said, something like, “Bad internal mental relationships plug the internal void and prevent the descent into a psychic black hole”. In other words such negative exciting experiences can serve as substitutes or counteracting forces to experiences of deadness, emptiness, and alienation, as you well described.

  8. During the years I took psychiatric drugs, I too experienced an unstoppable need to watch “ultra-violence”. Clockwork Orange was one of my staples, as you may have just guessed. Though I made no conscious decision to stimulate my drug-numbed mind and body this way, I gravitated towards this form of self-demedication and latched onto it for dear life. My body “kept score”. It was smarter than I had the capacity to be, dumbed as I was from my daily “cocktails” of brain-damaging psychiatric narcotics. Before I finally quit taking psychiatric medications, my autonomic nervous system saved itself and the rest of me from my psychiatrists.

  9. All through childhood and adolescence I was mocked for being too sensitive and easily frightened. Then I went on zoloft. I never watched real-life snuff flicks, but I did start watching creepy things like The Shining and The Omen. Nothing but horror and violence could fascinate me. A bit of a personality change!
    Now, as I taper off my effexor I find my sensitivity is returning with a renewed sense of empathy. I’m curious to discover who I really am after 24 years of constant drugging.

  10. Great article. I agree 100% that the effect of antidepressants appears to often be to have a person feel LESS rather than feeling good. And I have long believed that the increase in violence and suicide by some people on SSRIs is a result of a lack of concern or awareness of consequences that the drugs themselves induce.

    Thanks for writing this courageous narrative – I hope it is read by many readers who are having similar experiences. Perhaps you can post it on the Ogrish website?

    —- Steve

  11. Wow, I don’t know where to start. Prior to Paxil, I couldn’t watch horror movies, let alone internet shock videos. Even the most lame, obviously fictional horror movie would leave me with nightmares for several days. After two years on Paxil I found myself spending hours on LiveLeak watching gory videos trying to feel something, but it was totally subconscious. I felt nothing, so feeling something became addicting and the easiest thing to get access to was videos on LiveLeak. Unfortunately, over a year off of Paxil and I still haven’t regained my emotions and still live in a fog of apathy and indifference. My own family doesn’t recognize me anymore, it’s really destroyed my life.

  12. Thanks for this, Michael. I really admire your honesty. I think this article will benefit a lot of people.

    I was on Paxil for over ten years, and I went through a period during which I developed a somewhat compulsive and ghoulish fascination with true-crime mysteries in a way that was disturbing to me, and which I find myself having a hard time reconciling with my now non-drugged sense of self. I think it was a way for my drugged-to-the-gills self to feel something, even if that something was horror. I’m only grateful that I can’t remember any of the details. During that same period, I also became quite a solipsist, which was the exact opposite of my natural orientation. I think it’s really telling that so many people on the website you mentioned were also taking “anti-depressants.”

    The following video popped into my mind as I was thinking about all this, so I hope you don’t mind if I share it here: “Peter Breggin MD: How Do Psychiatric Drugs Really Work?” (10m23s) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4Xb29geVwE.

  13. Jack,
    Your repeated assertions that “these people (??)(are) productive and working instead of drawing entitlements or welfare, alcoholics, or illegal drug addicts who also present a danger to society and with greater risk at that” are never substantiated. Please let us know the sources supporting your beliefs. The number of people on anti-depressants has risen astronomically; CDC, the FDA and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (part of DHHS) clearly establish this (the latter documents that pscyh medications kill more Americans than heroin in Behavioral Health, 1/5/16) . The number of people on SSDI is skyrocketing and the number of people on it due to MI is growing exponentially as well. There’s ample data that suicides are higher than they’ve been in 30 years and we’ve never ‘enjoyed’ such a high rate of mass shootings in recorded history. That’s substantiation, Jack. Where are your sources?

    • Sir the evidence is in plain view for all to see, western society is depreciated where many are becoming sad and need to be medicated.

      You want to call it population control? I call it as I see it, and the medications are necessary for the numbers to be managed.

      Without the buffer or safety net created by the profitable psychiatric industry, addiction rates to drugs and alcohol would be much higher than now, violence would be much higher than it is now, and welfare would be much more drained than it is now.

      The obesity and diabetic epidemic are not because people love donuts, it is because they are sad and eating to fill a void. The psychiatric industry also treats eating addictions as ‘binge eating disorder’.

      Now if you think there is a better way to treat sadness other than medications, that is a different discussion and one that probably not only the psychiatric industry can solve but greater society involvement.

      The pursuit of one persons happiness should not come at the expense of another persons sadness.

      • Jack,

        First, I appreciate you coming on this forum to play the role critiquing critical psychiatry. Your voice is an important and necessary one for our ongoing dialogue about issues that matter to us all.

        To quote you:

        “Sir the evidence is in plain view for all to see, western society is depreciated where many are becoming sad and need to be medicated…Now if you think there is a better way to treat sadness other than medications, that is a different discussion and one that probably not only the psychiatric industry can solve but greater society involvement.”

        I agree that Western society’s ongoing development has resulted in a dramatic increase in sadness. I argue with the NEED to be medicated as the only logical response (I would always agree that medication use is best framed as a coping style choice, rather than a need).

        Instead, as psychopharmacology has become a mainstay of the Western model of handling emotional difficulty, rates of sadness have only increased, as have diagnosis and treatment. A logical response to this phenomenon would be the implication that medication management on the wide scale is not effective as a full scale “cure” for sadness, as it is most often implied.

        Instead, what is necessary the recognition that there a “better way”, or at this time at least, ANOTHER way. This other way, however, will require more initiative on the part of the patient, which is a change of life style: diet, social support, a search for meaning (political/spiritual/creative or otherwise) and exercise.

        If these possibilities could be included in the conversation as viable paths toward fulfillment, the “depreciating” culture itself would be altered and the catalyst for the increase of sadness would be mitigated.

        I’m wondering about your thoughts on this.

        • Let me address your attempt at solutions to the main problem.

          People who are sad are not going to force themselves into a gym on a treadmill, much less stop eating the junk foods they are addicted too.

          They aren’t going to look for social support when they are most likely anxious about social situations as part of their sadness.

          Lastly ‘search for meaning in life’ or navel gazing, isn’t going to help if western society is going too fast for them to keep up, and does not offer any good examples for those without the privilege to see them.

          My thoughts are critical psychiatry is too idealistic.

          You have to accept losing some of your liberty or freedom to receive compassion at someones perceived expense. There will never be enough good people who want to stand up against bad people, because even the good people aren’t perfect.

          • Sorry, but there is a huge difference between finding purpose in your life and “navel gazing!” A person who has to work a dead-end job for years on end in order to barely put food on the table and who can’t afford healthcare or any entertainment or luxuries and feels he is simply walking a treadmill every day toward the end of his meaningless life is very likely to be deeply depressed. I have certainly helped many people find reason or purpose even in negative events that have happened to them (I have worked with domestic abuse survivors, child abuse survivors, and foster kids and their parents for years), and also see that when a sense of purpose is achieved, these people feel a lot better about themselves and their lives. In fact, it is one of the ost critical aspects of good therapy, for the client to find ways to turn suffering into meaningful action. Comparing this to some sort of es0teric meditation practice (though I remind you that meditation has been shown to have positive effect not only on the psyche, but on the brain itself) feels like a distracting minimization of the potential power of human contact and relationship on depression.

          • Jack,

            The worldview you described does sound very sad and hopeless. I understand your position.

            Much love, light and compassion to you, brother. I wish you the best. Looking forward to your ongoing contributions on MIA.

  14. Steve the worldview you describe is the reality for most people, everyone has a tough life and many do jobs they don’t like, but it has to be done to put food on the table.

    There are many abuse victims that don’t need someone to hold their hand to get through life, or ask for handouts from the government and other taxpayers who work to get by.

    We don’t live in a society where you have the time to navel gaze in order to find meaning in life, or ‘sense of purpose’.

    To oldhead, the idealistic view that you get compassion without expecting anything in return for it.

    You need the psychiatric medical business to provide that compassion, and in return they make money for that service, we live in a capitalist country not a communist country.

  15. Jack, you seem to live in a very dark world indeed; where you must buy sympathy or forego it completely. I’ve never lived in that world and imagine most people wouldn’t recognize it. Most of us have families and friends who freely share compassion with us and expect nothing in return but for us to return the same. This does not cost money. This behavior is reflected in almost all of the species who share our world with us. Watch and you’ll see that this is the case. One could say that this is socio-biological determinism and it is, but regardless it is quid pro quo behavior which makes the world go, even ones that call themselves communist.

    If one can get past the need to ingest indiscriminately and stop being a biological black hole one would discover that this is reality, not the cold capitalist fantasy which surrounds you. Your choice.

    • “Most of us have families and friends who freely share compassion with us and expect nothing in return but for us to return the same”

      That is your sheltered world, but not the real world. If it were the real world this website would not exist, as there would not be a problem with psychiatry to criticize as it would not exist.

      In the real world compassion is given, but something is expected in return for it. When patients don’t have the family and friends to freely share that compassion, they go to the psychiatric industry who is subsidized by the insurers who pay for the mentally ill.

      When that compassion comes from the taxpayer publicly, or privately from the insurance contributor something must be returned to them, it is not freely given.

      Even in your world, it is not free because you expected to show compassion in return when it is given to you, in capitalism that compassion takes the form of money.

      Good luck helping others.