My Pharmaceutical Reincarnation

Theresa Trevor
25
2023

Dr. Fox was recommended to me countless times over the last ten years. She had a reputation for being the very best at finding the “right cocktail” to alleviate depression, anxiety, ADHD or any combination of these. I finally tired of feeling like a woman who lived in a parallel universe alongside millions of happy, well-adjusted, luckier people, and went to see her.

My general practitioner, who fully disclosed that she herself was not an expert at diagnosing or treating psychological problems, had given it the old college-try anyway by prescribing me Celexa (it worked by blocking my ability to feel sadness and happiness with an impressive lack of discrimination); Wellbutrin (to combat the fatigue brought on by the aforementioned Celexa – it didn’t work); Paxil (no dice; it made me sweat like some sort of Olympic athlete and I irreparably stained all of my white blouses under the arms within a matter of months), and Cymbalta (it didn’t work but I got a lot of freebies because a pharmaceutical rep had left her a small fortune in samples, which she was happy to toss in my direction). Eventually she recommended that I take my pesky problems to Dr. Fox.

“She’s the best,” she said.

I hoped so, because I needed the best. And fast. A move to a town in which I knew no one coupled with a divorce shortly thereafter had left me bereft. I’d experienced depression my entire life, and so had my siblings and father to varying degrees of severity and frequency. By this point, I was completely convinced that I’d been born with bad genes and a measurable lack of fortitude and resilience.

Oddly enough though, when I was okay I was more than okay. I wasn’t manic, but I embraced life. I was born to love and find joy in the little stuff – my first cup of coffee, a free hour to read a great book, the anticipation of a night out with my girlfriends. Any or all of those things could bring me an almost spiritual level of happiness. I had many, many soul-level friends and I was charming, social and smart. When people met me, it wasn’t at all uncommon for someone to send me an email the next day to invite me over for dinner or out for a glass of wine. I was likable. I even liked myself most of the time.

But when I wasn’t okay, I was not okay. I would be struck with a darkness so dark that I would disappear from the world for a few weeks, retreating to my bed or praying relentlessly that someone would spare me from the pain – from one more day of sadness and suffering. Often these depressive episodes would follow a financial disappointment or a perceived failure of some sort. I lacked the tools to help myself, and so I allowed myself to fall deeper into despair, knowing that I was not strong enough to fix it.

The divorce and the move resulted in more than a situational episode of depression. I was numb, unmotivated, unable to breathe without crying, and unbearably lonely.

Dr. Fox had a beautiful downtown office with exposed brick walls, high wooden beams, lime-colored plush chairs and a library of psychological publications and New Yorkers. If she wasn’t the best at fixing depression, then she sure was the best at making a lot of money pretending she could. She also didn’t take insurance, so I was about to pay her more than I could afford to fix me. I was going all-in.

She greeted me with disinterest and intensity at the same time. Smart, no-BS, and well-dressed, Dr. Fox was impressive if not a little intimidating. She conducted our 90-minute intake with a complete lack of reaction, asking for more detail when needed but making it clear that this was not a therapy session and I was not to seek solace or a sympathetic ear. I didn’t want one. I just wanted her to figure out which complex combination of drugs would finally help me be my old self again.

She informed me that it was her practice to start her patients on one drug at the lowest possible dosage, then cycle in other drugs to fill in the gaps as needed. She warned me that this would take time and regular appointments and check-ins. She was kind enough to offer periodic phone check-ins in lieu of an office visit to mitigate some of the financial strain. She also told me that she would be trying some medications that I may have tried previously, and she relied strictly on my memory and recollection of experiences with these drugs, not medical records.

Over the next year, I went on and off what seemed to be every SSRI on the market – upping my dosage, monitoring the results and then replacing one with another or removing them altogether. It took about 6 months for us to arrive at a cocktail with which she seemed satisfied. My check-ins became less frequent. Though I didn’t feel like a new person in any sense, I wasn’t stuck in my bed anymore. I was generally functioning, if you consider a lack of emotion functioning.

I ended up on 100mg of Pristiq, 100 mg of Lamictal (“You’re not bipolar, but it will even out your extreme moods”), 30mg of Adderrall (“Depression often results in an inability to focus”) and 100mg of Vyvanse (I can’t recall why I was prescribed this one – perhaps because I commented that the Adderall high was wearing off mid-day). I was also in debt from the thousands I was now spending on seeing Dr. Fox and paying out-of-pocket for Pristiq, for which my insurance company refused to reimburse me due to other similar options like Effexor. I stopped seeing Dr. Fox, save the one monthly visit to her office for a written Rx for my narcotic medication, given to me curtly by the receptionist.

I sent Dr. Fox a Christmas card thanking her for saving me from losing everything.

Little did I know, I was losing everything again, only I had no idea why.

A year after I first saw Dr. Fox, I was reincarnated as a dull, physically exhausted, mentally and emotionally fatigued woman with no sense of humor, absolutely zero desire to socialize or leave my home, and no urgency to go to work or attend to my chldren’s busy lives. And to make things even more interesting, I was addicted to Adderall and Vyvanse, often taking 30 pills in five days because they were the only thing that temporarily made me believe I was happy. I was a pill-popping zombie.

Here are a few other things that happened in my new life:

 A lifelong runner, I had completely given up all forms of physical activity because I was either too tired or too hyper-focused on some Adderral-induced activity such as bleaching the grout between my kitchen tiles.

Laughing was something I no longer did. In fact, I am pretty sure that I hadn’t laughed in more than a year.

My three sisters, with whom I had shared an indelible bond in my former life, hadn’t heard from me in a year and a half despite their ceaseless attempts.

I missed appointments, meetings and nights-out with friends so frequently that I simply stopped keeping a calendar of any kind because I didn’t care anyway.

I no longer had any interest in painting, reading or cooking – all things I had previously found therapeutic and intensely enjoyable.

I had found drugs… and a brand new life. Unfortunately, the life I’d found was void of humanity and joy.

Fast-forward two years to today. Through a series of highly unfortunate events, I was forced to say goodbye to all of my pill friends save the Pristiq, from which I am still fighting to free myself. The brain zaps, sick stomach, inability to stand up and put my leg into my pants without falling over and the uncontrollable crying when I try to wean myself off of it preclude me from being successful.

I lost almost four years of my life, and I’ve not a doubt that it was due to those “life-saving” pills. To that end, they did work. At a time when I was doubled-over with depression, those four prescriptions kept me alive. But then they killed me slowly and brought me back as a stranger. My memories of the last four years are foggy at best; I fake remembering when my friends bring up a funny story we shared together. But I don’t remember.

I am exercising again after losing my long, lean runner’s legs and healthy heart to a sedentary life on the couch. But it will be a long road to my prior physical self.

I have recently started laughing again – sometimes hysterically. And every time I laugh it makes me want to cry because it reminds me of all the years I couldn’t.

I still don’t feel like myself. The Pristiq makes me very tired and it takes the passion out of most things. I feel sad every time I reach for that ugly orange bottle at noon to take my daily dose. When I have just one pill left, I consider what would happen if I failed to refill it; and then I just become paralyzed with fear. What if it is the one thing that is keeping you from going crazy? What if it starts all over again?

What happened to Dr. Fox? I don’t know. I often wonder if she kept my Christmas card in a drawer somewhere in her office, or if she considers me one of her professional success stories. But most of all, I wonder what I would write in that card if I were to send it today. I think it would probably go something like this:

“Dear Dr. Fox, You probably don’t remember me, but I came to see you four years ago and I just wanted to let you know that you changed my life….”

25 COMMENTS

  1. Good luck in your healing journey, Teresa, and thanks for sharing your story. I will say I’ve had “brain zaps” since 2001, due to a PCP abruptly taking me off a “safe smoking cessation med” / dangerous SNRI. This, and the other common symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome were misdiagnosed as “bipolar” in my case. All the psych drugs made me ungodly sick. I’ve been completely drug free since 2009, and am so much better off the drugs, despite the continuing “brain zaps.” It’s so much better being able to feel and think clearly. Best wishes in weaning off your last antidepressant, if that is your desire. But do be aware of the common withdrawal effects:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antidepressant_discontinuation_syndrome

    And the reality that the medical community does frequently misdiagnose these drug withdrawal symptoms, which can last for years, as the other DSM-BS disorders. I do hope to help prevent others from experiencing the medical stupidity fest to which I was subjected.

  2. Yes, I know that feel good is the lure of drugs and alcohol. I know people who have accepted psych meds, and when I discuss it with them they say, “But I want to enjoy my life.”

    Psychological distress is the natural and proper response to injustice. This is injustice can be both past and present.

    So the psychotherapist and the psychiatrist take on the job of convincing you that the injustice is all in the past, and that the solution lies between your own two ears. And then for those who are receptive, there are drugs and hospitalization.

    I am glad your saw through this deception and have survived.

    And so the critical mass of politically aware people needed to redress injustice, is absent. They are all in therapy, on drugs, or in the evangelical churches pleading for salvation.

    Nomadic
    http://freedomtoexpress.freeforums.org/index.php

  3. Thank you for this articulate article. I believe that you describe a common pattern of neuroleptic drugs first providing relief from mental distress and later causing much more harm. Neuroleptic drugs relieve symptoms but not the cause of mental distress; distressful side-effects, fatigue and reduced mental acuity cause substantial long-term harm.

  4. I also thank you for sharing so bravely and beautifully. I believe you speak for a whole lot of people who would more than likely tell a very similar story.

    Two phrases stood out to me from your story:

    “I lacked the tools to help myself…”

    I think this is beautiful and very humble ownership, and that, indeed, we are well-served to learn self-support tools from the get-go. Ups and downs is a universal part of life.

    Of course, most of us do not learn this as children, so we grow up devoid of self-compassion and self-love. We are taught to be very hard on ourselves, so that we ‘measure up,’ (a false premise in life, but all-too-common, nonetheless, and terribly damaging to our self-perception).

    I believe if we remedied this and made it a priority to learn our safest and most effect tools of self-support, including a developing a healthy and validating self-perception, then we could bypass things like psych drugs for alleviating distress, which, as you so well-describe, are anything but safe and effective, and more so, they suck the life out of us.

    “I had found drugs… and a brand new life. Unfortunately, the life I’d found was void of humanity and joy.”

    I’ve often said that the problem with the “mental health world and practices” is that it does, indeed, drain us of joy and humanity. I know for them it is about making a living, but the real question is: what is the point of this, then, from the client perspective? Joy, fun, laughter, feeling and validating our humanity, kinks and all–all of this is what heals us mind, body, and spirit, and which defines our quality of life.

    So it makes no sense whatsoever to provide “treatment” for distress, depression and anxiety by methods which eclipse our joy and humanity, and take away our ability to laugh, have fun, and enjoy life. I’m sure they know this. I imagine they don’t give a damn. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

  5. Psychiatry students don’t study side effects in med school. They are trained to only see the benefit of their drugs. Imagine a your psychiatrist reading whitaker fresh out of med school! They couldn’t accept or believe it. Cognitive dissonance. Whitakers research puts them out of business and they are just starting their careers.

  6. I respect your odyssey with being overmedicated, especially with stimulant prescriptions, but, I didn’t miss something that I interpreted as being added to be “under the radar” but as a physician, a critical piece of information to your story:

    “I stopped seeing Dr. Fox, save the one monthly visit to her office for a written Rx for my narcotic medication, given to me curtly by the receptionist.”

    Hmm, was this Dr Fox in position to be writing for ‘narcotic medications”, you did not specify exactly what that entailed, but, opiate use, if in fact in that drug class, could be a confounding part of your presentation, especially per dosage and quantity used per month.

    Could be a red herring, but, it is part of your story, and I think readers who are attentive to ALL the medication matters here, should be educated to that part as well.

    By the way, did you know that more people these days “speed ball” with prescription opiates and stimulants than they do with heroin and cocaine? Perhaps if readers interested in understanding fully the agenda with “speed balling”, read this link?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speedball_(drug)

    from there: “Cocaine acts as a stimulant, whereas heroin/morphine acts as a depressant. Co-administration is meant to provide an intense rush of euphoria with a high that is supposed to combine the effects of both drugs, while hoping to reduce the negative effects, such as anxiety, hypertension, palpitations and other common side effects of stimulants and sedation/drowsiness from the depressant. While this is somewhat effective, as one drug (the CNS stimulant) triggers the sympathetic nervous system and the other (the CNS depressant) triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, the two systems that regulate the fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest responses, respectively, and simultaneous activity of the two pathways is what normally keeps one’s body in natural homeostasis, there is an imperfect overlap in the effects of stimulants and depressants. Additionally, by suppressing the typical negative side-effects of the two drugs, the user may falsely believe they have a higher tolerance, or that they are less intoxicated than they actually are. This can cause users to misjudge the intake of one or both of the drugs, sometimes fatally.”

    How John Belushi died, and probably some other well known celebrities at the tip of the iceberg of overdosing. Glad you are not part of that toxic mass floating around in society…

    Sincerely,

    Joel Hassman, MD
    Board Certified Psychiatrist

  7. Theresa,

    Thank you again for your article. And I am glad that you have survived this ordeal.

    I’ve slept on the matter and thought better about how to explain how I am seeing it.

    Not everyone sees The Family as the key issue here. I say that this is because they have not learned to understand the situation.

    I go with what Peter Breggin says, that people are depressed because they have depressing lives. And usually this means problems in career or marriage. So sometimes it comes out in depression, and people get shunted into therapy. Other times it comes out in a mid-life crisis and this can lead to crazy behavior and institutionalization.

    So consider if you or I were slaves and we weren’t towing the line. Then they could just whip us. But as we are supposedly not slaves, they send us to psychotherapy or psychiatry. But the basic intent is still the same, to break us, and to make us comply without complaint.

    But why did people get into negative situation in the first place? Well it’s because our world is just put together that way, and because people are dissociated from their feelings.

    The primary institution for child abuse is the middle-class family. It sometimes isn’t my family or your family. But usually it is. But always, it is The Family, that which is held up as an ideal.

    So lots of people, on a forum like this, think the problem is the government, because of taxation and regulation. This is complete fallacy.

    The government is absolutely evil, and we can never eliminate it. But the reason it is evil is not taxation, regulations, or Child Protective Services. These are mostly good things. The government is evil because it uses capitalism and the middle-class family to sustain itself.

    And then to enforce this we have psychotherapy and psychiatry. And so if you ever deal with a therapist, you should not talk. Just demand an attorney. As they won’t be able to provide you one unless you are a criminal suspect, then just don’t talk.

    If you talk to a therapist all you are doing is shooting yourself in the foot.

    The view the therapist will have is that you need to be brought into compliance.

    They will always see the problem as:

    1. You should have listened to your parents.
    2. You should have listened to your developmental disabilities therapist.
    3. You should have listened to your psychotherapist.
    4. You should have listened to your psychiatrist.
    5. You should be taking your medication.
    6. We have a bed for you in the mental hospital.

    You or I may feel distress, but the reason for this is that we lack social status. We lack social status because we are not the people who are using The Family, i.e. normalcy, to advance themselves. And more often than not this means having children and using them to give oneself an unchallenged adult identity.

    Using children this way is of course evil. And so parents must be held 100% accountable.

    So Theresa, having survived such a ordeal and having your eyes opened, are you willing now to organize and engage in Gandhi’s satyagraha, the applying of pressure, to obtain concrete political results?

    http://freedomtoexpress.freeforums.org/survivors-of-the-middle-class-family-t243.html

    Nomadic

  8. Theresa
    Thanks for a great article! I was on klonopin, neurintin, cymbalta and trazodone for years and went off them all cold tirkey and now my life is ruined I ma a 57 year old pshotic loser with 2 wonerful childrena a wife and nothing else. Psychiatry is an absolute scam. F all the psychiatrists and their so clled miracle drugs they ruined our lives completely!

    Mike

    • hi, mike.

      i have a husband who was on the stuff- benzos and at least 12, 15 others, at some point or another- for ten years and ruined everything in our lives.

      starts and stops, steps forward and back…he has all the truths and is living his life again and drug free for over a year.

      want to give you strength and hope. it can be done, but you must push through for your wife and awesome kids. see the truths i wrote out to theresa below.

      one big tool i gave my husband: every time he thought he could not do something- go to work, have a catch with the kids, attend a wedding, whatever- i’d tell him to swap out “i can’t” with “i choose not to” . the whole picture changes. there is no such thing as “i can’t”. you may not feel like it, you may not want to, it may be hard- but you always can. and you owe it to your family and yourself to do the right thing always.

      you can get to a full life again. you absolutely can. let your anger at drs and big pharma p ush you as well. do not let them win!!

      all the very best,

      -erin

  9. hi, theresa. very well written article!

    i have one question- why would you ever think the pristiq is saving you, i some way? here is the truth: if a problem is not chemical or biological, the solution to said problem can never be.

    if one chooses to take a drug, be honest about it. admit it is making you high, stoned, whatever- not curing anything. there is no difference between the drugs peddled to you by a guy/girl in a white coat or peddled to you on a street corner of a slum.

    the power to heal and the tools you need are inside of you, NEVER in a drug. my family learned this the very, very hard way.

    many blessings and continued healing,

    -erin

  10. Theresa,

    Thank you for sharing your story. My personal experience with psycho-pharmaceuticals mirrors yours with the unfortunate addition of benzodiazepines. I marched along blindly during the “trial and error” phase, allowing my “doctor” to prescribe me various SSRIs and ADHD meds, only to be left in a much worse state than where I started. I have similarly lost several years of my life and after two years have still not recovered from the trauma and changes the meds have caused.

    -Dave

  11. Thanks for sharing your story, Theresa. I quit a couple of meds (Zoloft and Zyprexa) cold turkey in feb of 2014 after being on them since 1998. I went from basically being a shut-in on the pills, doing no more than watching tv, eating and sleeping 12-20 hours a day, to once again reclaiming my emotional and creative soul. I went 6 days without sleep while vomiting everywhere and suffering brain zaps when I originally quit the drugs. 2 1/2 years later insomnia and fatigue are still quite debilitating for me even though I am much happier being off of the pills. I also had a absolutely horrific time in 1995-95 when I was committed and forced against my will to take a cocktail of drugs that gave me brain damage and severe akithisia for 6 months. I wrote a short memoir about those days that I am hoping to send to Mad in America if I ever have the energy to try and edit the memoir down from 7 pages to 3. I also have an idea for a spoof on the X-Men movie series, called the Rx-Men where a collection of people have become mutated from the psychiatric drugs they have been given. Instead of having superpowers they are more like superpowerless as they battle the effects of psych meds and withdrawal. One hero could be the Weeper who constantly cries all the time (I cry enough on some days to seemingly fill up a soup pot with my tears). One hero might have the power to vanquish enemies with projectile vomit, while another hero goes by the name Lethargy and is always so wiped out he/she can never get off the couch to join the battle. Just an idea for now. Anyways, I wish you the best of luck in your continued journey of recovery. Here is short poem I wrote about how I feel about the drugs and psychiatry in general.

    The Psychiatrist
    ==============
    His pills amount to fool’s gold
    His lab coat: starched and antiseptically white
    He professes to be a doctor
    But he’s a neuro-nazi in my sight.

  12. I am happy for you….. Psychiatry, believes that when it puts you on drugs.. That what they are doing is different, than being a drug addict, and living in the streets homeless, hustling daily to feed your jones…

    But that’s not true, what you describe, is what lots of addicts describe about what happens to them as addicts – Social isolation, depression, financial distress, loss of primary relationships… In your case, you had a psychiatrist as your drug dealer… someone who gave you addictive legal drugs.

    Vyvance in my opinion is a very dangerous drug, and highly likely to cause dependency, its really just a form of Dexedrine, that is combined with a chemical that changes where and how fast its absorbed once you take it. Stimulant addicts, have learned how to get rid of this chemical, and release Dexedrine, from the chemical compound and use it to get high. Adderall, is loved and adored by Stimulant users everywhere, for its availability and the ease by which it can be obtained. Many psychiatrists consider it harmless.

    Clearly, your psychiatrist did not know what she was doing, and if you had died from liver failure, nothing would have happened to her. Your death would have been considered as an unfortunate Side effect of your prescription medications. Something that happens everyday…. As witnessed by the fact that prescription drugs kill more people now in the U.S.A., each year than street drugs.

    People in this country are woefully un educated about the drugs they are prescribed, and those that profit from those prescriptions like it that way. Unfortunately, you had to learn the hard way, that psychiatry, can be very hazardous to your health.