A physician once said, “The best medicine for humans is love.” Someone asked, “What if it doesn’t work?” The physician smiled and said, “Increase the dose.” –Anonymous
Many traditions and individuals speak of the power of love, some speaking directly about the power of love to heal. This makes sense; we are beings of love. But through our lives, we lose connection to this aspect of ourselves. This can happen for many reasons and manifests differently in each of us. But as the Dalai Lama has said, “The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence.” And when we are loved by others and able to return to the essence of love in ourselves, we heal.
I have found this to be true in my personal journey. Just over three years ago, I was close to death. And with love, I am healing.
My journey began in 1995. I was a senior in high school, celebrating my last day of classes. I was playing tennis with friends when the school counselor came and took me off the tennis court. Earlier that week, I had shared with two teachers that I had been feeling suicidal. And now I was being taken to a hospital.
Though not suicidal that day, seeking relief, acceptance, and love, I willingly entered the hospital, having no idea how my life was about to change. That day was the beginning of a deep journey into the depths of despair.
During my second hospitalization that summer I was medicated for the first time. Side effects were immediate, and medications and diagnoses were changed and added. And that was only the beginning. Over the next twenty years, one medication turned into trials of at least twenty medications, up to six at any one time. Over those twenty years I also made five serious suicide attempts, two near-fatal. I had between eight and twelve ECT treatments (ironically, I don’t recall the exact number). And I spent two years in a state hospital.
Today I am not only medication-free but also thriving. While many people in my life are delighted by my transformation, most did not think it possible. So how did I transition from being a chronic, “seriously mentally ill” psychiatric patient to a vibrant being? Truthfully, I am still trying to answer this question definitively, to understand the story of my life. But this is what I know:
My awakening and transformation began about sixteen years into my journey, during my state hospitalization. There I was introduced to the peer movement. Once discharged, I trained to become a peer specialist, though I did not stay in this role for long, opting instead to return to school with a goal of bridging my personal and professional worlds. Not long after I was back in hospitals, again fighting for my life.
Months later I was thrown out of a private treatment center and involuntarily admitted to an inpatient hospitalization. The discussion amongst my treatment team was for me to return to the state hospital where I had been once before. I knew this would not be helpful in the least and could possibly be life-threatening. Thankfully, it was just before Christmas and virtually every practitioner was away from their office. And somehow, without any confirmed follow-up treatment plan in place, I convinced the hospital to discharge me. And they did.
Though physically free, I was still emotionally and spiritually captive. Further, I had been disowned by many family and friends. I had nowhere to live and little money. I felt desperate in a way I had not before, and my life was again in my hands. This time I started living.
I booked a room in a local motel and searched the internet for area resources. Through the provider directory here on the Mad in America website, I found a handful of providers in my state. And by chance—or what I prefer to call synchronicity—one was a psychiatrist in the very town I was in.
I’ll always remember sitting in that psychiatrist’s office for the first time. Over the phone I had shared very little, fearful that she would not work with me given my “high risk” status as I had heard so many times before. After I shared my story and my desire to taper off my medication, she sat back in her chair and said, “Wow.” My heart was racing, feeling that she was my last hope. I’ll always remember the words that followed: “I can’t keep you alive, but I will work with you.” That was the beginning of my life as I know it today.
Now off medication for nearly two years, I know that I never needed those medications. And in all likelihood they made things worse, perhaps precipitating many years of unnecessary distress and most of the events that compose my life. I also know that it is only through good fortune, some intentional manipulation, and a series of synchronistic events that I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually free today. And unfortunately, as many of us know, my story is not unique. And not everyone is as fortunate.
Throughout my twenty years of medical treatment in psychiatry, my rights and wishes were frequently ignored, disregarded, and violated. I lost my inner compass guiding my way, and many other things as well. While I continue to release anger about, shed tears for, and heal from these experiences, I also feel deep gratitude. What I endured strengthened my spirit and moved me closer to my purpose. And, at the same time, it is my deepest wish that others do not have to endure the same painful experiences to realize their greatness.
So today, in my work as a professional in the same field in which I started my journey as a patient nearly twenty-two years ago, I continually seek to understand how things could have been different for me and how they can be different for others. In doing so, I reflect on what supported me—and continues to support me—on my journey. I’ve employed some of the best and most cutting edge treatments, both conventional and holistic, and I truly am stunned when I realize that of the vast array of techniques and approaches employed, those I credit with saving my life are human qualities. And if I had to name just one, it would be love. Unending and unconditional love.
In reflecting on my recent work, I am reminded of a poignant story illustrating the power of love. I work with an elderly woman who, according to her therapist, has some of the most entrenched and all-consuming thoughts and feelings he has experienced in over twenty years of practice. After sitting with this woman one day for over twice the allotted time of our appointment, working hard to collaborate with her on something that she might find helpful to ameliorate her intense emotions that are so uncomfortable and intolerable for her, she asked me for a hug. My hug appeared to calm her more than hours of collaboration, therapy, or any medication, herb, or alternative treatment she had tried. It is love that she sought. It is love that we all seek. And it is love that heals.
So now when I see this woman or others, love is the primary remedy. And if it is not enough, I increase the dose.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
Yes, I’d have to say that unconditional love to each of the girls in my wife’s d.i.d. system is one of the key things they have needed to heal and feel safe enough to begin connecting to each other…I’m sorry for all the years you had to suffer in the mental health system, but every time I read one of these stories, it makes me so happy, in spite of the incredible hardships and heartache, that I kept my wife completely out of the system so she could heal and so I could become a better person, the kind she needed to be her healing partner. Wishing you the best,
What a blessing you are for your wife. She is lucky to have your support, understanding, and love. Thank you for reading and for sharing.
All the best to both of you,
Unfortunately, in the state “hospital” where I work giving a “patient” a hug can get you fired for “breaking boundaries”. We have paragraph after paragraph describing what kind of physical contact we can and cannot have with “patients”. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t not believe that staff should be able to have just any kind of physical contact with “patients” since staff have power over those they are supposedly working for and with. You absolutely have no right to take advantage of this power with anyone else. My point is that once again, the system goes too far in the wrong direction when they remove all human physical contact from “patients” lives.
As a former hospital chaplain I know how important human touch can be for people who are struggling with emotional and psychological distress and dis-ease. All humans need some kind of human contact, especially when going through difficulties.
I often find it ironic how “patients” are regularly encouraged to move away from rigid, black and white thinking, and yet the system imposes strict black and white rules that, if broken, can result in loss of employment. It is wonderful that you instinctively know that human contact, especially in difficult times, is so important. And I am sure that even without being able to provide hugs or human contact, the energy of your compassion and love is palpable.
Thank you for writing,
So just your typical psychiatric “treatment/care” story. Unnecessary medication causing more distress resulting in toxic polypharmacy and ECT, themselves agents of injury and trauma and often the drivers of suicide attempts.
What did they believe they were treating you for?
You are one of the lucky ones. The drug and ECT damages to my brain mean no amount of love can help me to recover.
You said: “The drug and ECT damages to my brain mean no amount of love can help me to recover.”
I don’t know how you define “recovery,” but I just want you to know that over the past several years reading all your comments, especially your unrelenting exposures of ECT and on going challenges to Dr. Healy, you do a masterful job of exposing some of Biological Psychiatry’s biggest crimes. Carry on; we need you!!!
Thank-you, Richard. That is very kind of you to say. I function at a very diminished level, having lost 27 IQ points, and with severe deficits in memory, recall, attention, executive function, and concentration, but these dangerous lunatics must be exposed for what they are and stripped of their power to continue to sicken, disable, and kill the distressed and vulnerable who are seeking “healing”, something the shockers and neurotoxic poisoners have no clue about so I will continue to write the truth about those things.
Thank you for your honest comment about my story and for sharing about your own experiences. I was diagnosed with many things, including Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and PTSD. But the “treatment” appeared to be more symptom management and suppression, which as you suggest, may have resulted from the treatment itself. I empathize with the feeling that the treatments have damaged your brain in a way that feels like recovery is impossible. And I appreciated Richard’s question about what is meant by recovery. My brain and cognitive function are not the same as they were and may or may not return to their previous level of functioning. And this can be very challenging at times. But I also recognize that this has forced me to move out of my head, which was in some ways a safe and comfortable place to be at times, and into my heart which I believe is where the power lies. As Richard encouraged, please keep sharing and writing. We need to hear your story. I know sharing mine has been very healing.
Much love to you,
This is a great story; thanks for sharing. I really have nothing to add; what you say about the power of human connection and love being curative, and by implication the drugs/diagnoses/”treatments” often becoming deceptive, harmful diversions or impediments to following that path, is so true.
Thanks for your comment, Matt. Much appreciated.
This is a really uplifting story and man, do I need the lift!~ Thank you! Now for the shadow. When I think of how my daughter’s psychiatrists would react to your post, possibly, no, probably with contempt, then I go back to being withered. Is it possibly to have the same love for the very people who I believe have harmed and continue to harm my daughter? I absolutely wither in the company of my daughter’s treatment providers. They consider her to be seriously and chronically mentally ill and I cultivate the hope of her full recovery and her ability to live a drug free life.
I’m grateful that you found my story uplifting and I definitely hear the struggles you share about engaging with your daughter’s current providers. When reading your post, I felt drawn to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. I hope they are meaningful: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Best wishes to you and your daughter on your journey,
No, you should not feel love, but contempt or perhaps pity, for those that have ignored your opinion and your protests, worked against you rather than with you, used the law to bulldoze their way through your daughter’s life and carried on doing the wrong thing regardless of most evidence.
I am six years into a similar battle on behalf of my son, and the less contact he has with the traumatic ‘system’ and the less medication he takes (slowly, God, ever so slowly), and the more he engages with kind (non-services !) people his own age, and the more he believes he has some agency in his own life, the better he becomes. ‘Full recovery’ and ‘drug free’ is still a long way off but I no longer hope for it – I now believe it is achievable. As oppose to the ‘incurable disease’ and ‘lifetime of medication’ that the deluded / deceitful ‘treatment providers’ would have us sign up for. (I fully expect the medical explanation for his complete recovery and eventual drug free existence to be ‘his disease has run it’s course’, but f*ck ’em). I think the final piece of the recovery jigsaw will be for him to believe, like I do, that he does not have some mystery ‘illness’.
Keep going !! I’m guessing your daughter is late teens / early 20s. If it takes you another 5 years to win the battle, that means she might have another 60 left, with which to live the fulfilled, happy, independent existence you want for her.
Thank you Julie, for this beautiful article.
I can definitely identify with:- Years of disability and near fatal experiences within the Mental Health System; and Recovery from “Severe Mental Illness” as a result of very carefully stopping medication.
(I have also found that meditation, and the “talking treatments” work brilliantly).
I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. And it’s heartening that you have found modalities that work well for you.
So glad you escaped, Julie, and I do agree love heals all wounds. Personally, I was psychiatrically defamed and drugged to cover up some easily recognized iatrogenesis by my PCP’s incompetent husband and the sexual abuse of my son. Thankfully, some decent and disgusted nurses eventually handed over my families’ medical records with the medical evidence of the child abuse, and I picked up more records which pointed out the iatrogenesis by my PCP’s husband. So I finally understood everyone’s motives, and booked away from all the criminal doctors involved as fast as possible (easier said than done, however, thanks to that nasty little white wall of silence and doctors who break the HIPPA laws).
But I was able to close down a private school which may have been functioning as a child abuse/trafficking location. And I was, with love, able to help my child heal from the horrendous crime he had dealt with when just 4. My son went from remedial reading in first grade, after the abuse, to getting 100% on his state standardized tests by eighth grade. At which point the school social worker wanted to get her hands on him, thankfully I knew better by then, and sent my son off to a prep school. My son then went on to graduate as valedictorian of his high school class, and he will be graduating Phi Beta Kappa from college this spring. Love does heal all wounds, and I do so love my wonderful son (and daughter, too). Don’t believe anyone that says child abuse causes mental illnesses. The psychiatrists and psychologists have been intentionally targeting child abuse victims and their parents for decades, according to an ethical pastor of mine.
And love healed me, too. In my case it was my love and trust in God that saved me, since I had been so thoroughly defamed to my husband by the psychologist and psychiatrist. But in as much as it was a spiritual dream query that caused doctors to drug me up for belief in the Holy Spirit initially, according to their medical records, so no doubt my doctors believed belief in God is a delusion, despite fraudulently marketing themselves as a “holistic Christian talk therapist” and a “Jew.”
I personally never bought into the doctors’ “Christian”/”Jewish”/blasphemy of the Holy Spirit belief system, nor their delusional “genetic” DSM belief system. So I believe love from God and the Holy Spirit is every bit as healing for believers, as is love from another human being, and actually I’ve read there are doctors who’ve found this to be true, scientifically. Call me “delusional” for believing in God, oops, that was technically illegal in the USA, doctors. Grow up DSM deluded baby boomer doctors who are attacking everyone younger than you.
Pardon, I’m still disappointed in the now becoming the elderly, who are still acting like children in this country, both in the medical community and in our apparently pedophile filled government. I believe God saves the decent, thank you for sharing your story, Julie, it’s so important. But we do still need to get the “92% of borderline” and the 82% of “psychotic or affective disorder” labeled people, who are actually child abuse victims, weaned off the psychiatric drugs. Since the psychiatric treatment recommendations for these theorized DSM disorders are known to create both the negative symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome and the positive symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via anticholinergic toxidrome.
And the psychiatrists claim total ignorance of the fact that their drugs can cause their DSM disorder symptoms, since these psychiatric drug induced illnesses are not in their DSM “bible.” We do need to get rid of the DSM, as the head of the NIMH stated in 2013.
How long will this take?
Thank you for telling your story. It is so similar to mine that it brought me to tears. Indeed, love is the best medicine.
I have such mixed emotion when I hear that your story is similar to mine. I hope the tears my story elicited are ones that cleanse the heart. And if you have not already shared your story, I hope you will consider doing so one day. As I shared in response to another comment above, it has been very healing for me.
Thanks, Julie. That’s my name, too.
hi julie. it is a crazy, way-too-common story. so awesome to hear you are at the” good part”.
in my family, it was my husband who got tangled up in a similar nightmare. all along i knew nothing was any more or less wrong with him than anyone else, and that he was only hurting himself ( and my kids and me, horribly) running back to the psych/big pharma/big lies system and their drugs and diagnoses again and again. he still cannot pinpoint how the truths i and others had been telling and showing him finally sunk in, after over ten years. i was wondering if you can- what and how was your “aha moment”. but he has been system and drug free for two years now and owns his mind again and is living life again! continued healing and big hugs, all the best, -erin
I am so inspired and awed by individuals such as yourself who instinctively know the truth underlying the symptoms and the “treatment.” Thank you for sticking by your husband as he untangled this truth for himself. And it is wonderful that he now “owns his mind again and is living life again!”
I also so appreciate your question about my “aha moment.” As I shared in my writing, I still am trying to understand my story, so I welcome the opportunity to reflect and will share things as I currently understand them.
I think the first time I felt unsettled by the “treatment” was during an inpatient hospitalization. As I recall, my doctor told me that the only option available for me was ECT and I had to decide “now.” By this time, I had lost the ability to trust myself, but I clearly remember feeling very uncertain about this treatment and especially about the apparent imperativeness of making the decision immediately. I consulted my outpatient doctor who encouraged me to move forward with it and not trusting myself, desperate for some relief, and not knowing another way, I said, “yes” to the ECT. I experienced numerous side effects and minimal benefit. After this, my trust in the “treatment” greatly diminished. And as I reflect, it also was after this that my trust in myself began to revive.
I began speaking my truth as I understood it in each moment. And, with one exception that I recall, each time I was silenced or, worse, forced into additional involuntary “treatment.” While this was incredibly painful, it fueled my inner fire that I believe made it possible for me to finally break the cycle and reclaim my life.
Thank you again for sharing your story and asking more about mine.
With love and appreciation,
I have written a similar article in my blog mindkindmom.com,
Love-The only cure for mental illness.
As a survivor of C-PTSD, I can truly say that the thing that helped me recover was loving support of my 17 year old son. It is only when we feel we are cherished and understood that we are truly healed. I hope that people really understand what Jesus said “My greatest command is love one another as I have loved you.’
The hitch is that many were not lucky to have a loving parents and a caring home. So how does one know what love is?