It was 1991, the year before Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. I was following a guru from India. Having spent my childhood reading books like Siddhartha I was always on the lookout for a teacher. And having found a real guru, I was never able to understand how so many people had amazing out-of-body experiences around this man yet his influence would lead me to the terrible experience of being locked in a psych ward for two years.
There was a rule of chastity in this yoga path. My husband wanted to follow the rule. It was impossible for me to follow, so I found a boyfriend outside our group. This destroyed my marriage and left me with three little boys that my boyfriend did not want after all.
I needed to get a job. But because of the way I was raised, without affection, encouragement or advice, I was ill prepared to deal with the social interactions of a working environment. I was the child who never had a birthday party, or even a birthday acknowledgment. My parents acted like it wasn’t even a special day. They did not celebrate my existence. So my core belief became: “I do not deserve to BE.” I give that one aspect of my childhood as an example of why I felt terrified to be around people whom I perceived to be better than me. There was invalidation on other levels too. I finally decided to run away when I was 15 because I was tired of being physically abused.
I was so anxious about having to raise three boys alone, having to get a job in the outer world away from the shelter of the yoga community, that I felt I was going insane. So I thought of going to see a psychiatrist. I was looking for Carl Jung. Instead I found a system where they give you pills, whether you need them or not.
Now I had been to a psychiatrist once before and he had diagnosed me as bipolar and prescribed lithium. But this time I was having a real spiritual crisis because I’d gotten divorced and was certain God was mad at me. The second time I went to a psychiatrist, they did not do a full intake. The psychiatrist simply asked if I wanted Tegretol or Prozac. I didn’t know anything about these drugs, but I knew that the governor of Florida was taking Prozac and it supposedly helped him. So that was how it was decided that I’d take Prozac. I was only in that doctor’s office for five minutes.
At first the Prozac made me delight in the universe; I felt astonishingly blissful. It was the happiest week of my life next to the day I met my yoga teacher. But at the end of this week my body turned into an enemy. It was an allergic response of systemic lupus erythematosus. Worst disease you can get next to cancer. My limbs were painfully frozen. My skin felt like someone had poured gasoline over me and lit a match. I stopped taking the Prozac.
I went to several kinds of specialists before being diagnosed with lupus. I was told I had to take prednisone 7.5mg and if I didn’t take that steroid, I would die. The steroid immediately made me paranoid and insomniac. So they gave me a tranquilizer, Tranxene. Everything calmed down for one year. No one in that year gave me vocational therapy, which is what I needed.
At the end of the year of forcing the steroid into me with a tranquilizer, the tranquilizer began to wear off. I stopped sleeping altogether. No one told me you shouldn’t stop such a drug suddenly, so I stopped taking it because it no longer worked. This put my brain into a black hole of despair and suicidal ideation. I didn’t know that all I had to do was go back on the Tranxene and taper it down slowly.
Afraid of the black hole, not yet aware that doctors were hurting me, I ran to the Daddy and Mommy Doctors at the mental hospital; the psych ward. They treated me as a drug addict and insisted I attend 12 Step meetings. They slowly reduced the tranquilizer but kept giving me the prednisone. The head psychiatrist said that 7.5mg of prednisone couldn’t possibly be hurting me. I wonder, where were the rheumatologist’s records of what had transpired?
On the steroid, I never slept. When I told them I wasn’t sleeping they didn’t believe me. I did not sleep for the two years I was at the psych ward. I was told that I slept and didn’t know it. I was told that I was an adrenaline junkie. I was told that I was faking lupus. I was told that I didn’t care about my kids. I was told I would end up in the state hospital. I was told they would send me to an old folk’s home.
They sent me for an MRI. I was already overwhelmed by sound. When I got back to my room I felt ready to sleep but it was impossible with all the noise and a door that could not be locked. Staff came in and told me that I should be grateful for modern technology. There was no quiet place to escape to.
I raced up and down the halls each day, ruining my legs. To this day my legs are compromised. All night I lay in bed listening to the endless noises in the psych unit. They made no effort to make it quiet because they were drugging everyone except me for some reason. I could hear the female staff’s high heels on the hard floors all night. Phones rang all night. Early in the morning it finally got quieter and I felt I might sleep, but then it was time for the whole circus routine to start over again. The night is very long. I began picking at my skin and hair all night. Scarification became my new hobby. I was conditioned not to sleep.
The US Army lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture.
I escaped from this private institution about six times. The last time I escaped — and it takes a lot of courage to pump yourself up for escape — the CEO of the hospital came to me. He was a massive man in a three-piece suit with loads of gold accessories. He said that I did not appreciate what they were trying to do for me and I would no longer be accepted there. I thought, “Allah Be Praised!” because my family members kept dragging me back there kicking and screaming.
I then went to a dermatologist because the lupus also caused skin rashes. I told the dermatologist everything and he switched me to Plaquenil, taking me off the prednisone. I tried to stay home but I was conditioned not to sleep. I got Baker Acted several times. I was taken to another mental health facility, a county facility.
This was a better place. They made the whole place QUIET at night. Yet I was very freaked out about being in yet another such place. Another patient took pity on me and climbed into bed with me. We slept like two blessed twins.
However, it was not a place compatible with my background. There were some very hungry grandmas and grandpas in the geriatric unit. They begged me for my food, so I gave it to them. In the yoga community, we feed everyone for free. So after I gave my food to them, I was quite upset that I had none for myself. The staff belittled me for doing this.
The nurse practitioner in charge there believed me when I told him I never slept at the other hospital. He didn’t treat me like I was an idiot. The other hospital had convened a meeting wherein they declared me incompetent. They said I had a continuously debilitating mental disease. But at this hospital the nurse practitioner listened to me. I had been doing inner child work before all these hospitalizations. They basically were dealing with a child — I had no adult persona at the time.
The first hospital had a psychiatrist who told me I had a defective personality. But the nurse practitioner at the second hospital told me I had to go out into the world and figure out what was wrong with me — that only I could do this. He believed I could do it.
From there I was sent to a group home. (My children had been shipped to Tennessee to live with their father. Losing my children is something I still can’t emotionally touch on without crying; sobbing, really.) I was told that the group home was by the ocean and I could meditate there in peace. It was, in fact, in the ghetto and a complete nightmare unto itself. I could not sleep there either, in a room full of people making noises.
My mother showed up and literally rescued me. She had been visiting at the hospitals all along and did apologize to me for the way she raised me, which may have led to all these troubles. For a short while I stayed in a rented room in a private house with two other women who had mental problems. I cooked for everyone there and even the anorexic girl ate my chicken soup.
Then my mother moved me into my own apartment. I found a place near an SLAA weekly meeting that I felt I needed to take seriously, like a college course. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous taught me a great deal about my programming. AA is a beginner’s course compared to SLAA. I earned my three year medallion.
I met a man who had several years sobriety in AA before he came to SLAA. You are not supposed to date anyone in the program. But we became friends. We weren’t having sex like rabbits. We were trying to figure out how to approach one another properly. We did end up moving in together as a one year contract, to see if our programming was too severe to overcome. We did Transactional Analysis, read co-dependency books and worked very hard at undoing the patterns and achieving a degree of awareness.
Around the time I met this man, I was doing photography. My ex husband sent me my Olympus OM1 35mm camera and my mother gave me $150 for used black and white darkroom equipment. I had been taking pictures since I was 16. When I came home after running away, my adult cousin told my mother to stop hitting me. Instead, she bought me a camera; a Minolta. She knew photography would help me. I used the kind of paper that can be colored by hand, and I used Prismacolor pencils and spread the color on the image with a Q-tip dipped in linseed oil and turpentine.
I photographed predominantly at the Morikami Japanese Gardens and downtown Delray Beach, Florida. I found Buddha statues to photograph and colorize and I began to feel that I was no longer destroyed. The Buddha nature is never destroyed. I wrote a poem about the Buddha nature, inspired by tapes of Alan Watts. And I spent some time in the company of a couple of Tibetan Buddhist monks. The only time I slept was a day I spent with them.
When I first met the man at SLAA, I was not sleeping. I was doing the photography but I was not able to sleep. I started to write a little children’s style book. I bought very large sheets of paper and drew boxes. I have no talent for drawing, so I wrote in words the kind of animal that I wanted in the box. I put down what the animal was doing and saying. It was the whole account of what had happened to me in the psych ward. And as I filled up the boxes I started to realize I needed help with this project.
I regressed during this process and would become terrorized all over again as if the events were current. So I put it aside for a few years. One day I found an old friend from high school on Facebook. We started exchanging information to catch up on each other’s lives. I sent him some short stories as I had taken a short story writing course and had written some stories about my past. I did this because the therapists were all useless and about as deep as a pothole. I changed all the people in my life into new characters. My friend is a Library Specialist, so he loved my stories. Then I told him about the one I never finished: Little Porcupine Goes to the Psych Ward. He got all excited and said I MUST finish it.
So I did what he said. It was difficult at first to write. I didn’t want to get lost in the old memories of the psych ward. If someone, such as a psychiatrist, merely suggests I could go to such a place again, I become very agitated for a whole day. I’d truly rather die. But he encouraged me to finish what I’d started. He told me it is a graphic novel. And then he insisted I get an illustrator.
I found a young man with schizophrenia at a local drop-in art center for the mentally ill. He was a childlike young man with great skill at drawing. He was perfect for a childlike book. We worked on the book for a year but he was running out of steam. So I had to pay him for what he had done and find another illustrator to help finish the book.
Then I tried to find a literary agent, to no avail. I settled on self-publishing and am very gratified with the process of becoming unafraid of what happened. I am also very gratified that all my friends and family can now understand what happened to me — because I could never tell anyone in words, to their face. And it really is nice to read positive reviews from ‘strangers’ who have actually bought my book.
Obviously, I did learn to sleep again despite being hypersensitive to noises and being unable to sleep without my husband nearby. Little Porcupine learned to sleep with the security of Jack Rabbit being in the house. I turned all the people from the psych ward into animals for the Little Porcupine story. I can recall distinctly that I only doubted the project on two separate days. The rest of the time I was certain I’d succeed at finishing the book.
I have this silly idea that I want to take the book on the Dr. Phil Show and tell my story. But he doesn’t want to reveal the dark side of psychiatry. They gave me an endless stream of different drugs at that hospital where I didn’t sleep. And after I was released from the second place, I was still married to psychiatry! The nice nurse practitioner put me back on lithium.
The lithium affected my thyroid and I became very tired all the time. The outpatient shrinks said I was depressed because I’m bipolar. Two years went by before a family doctor finally said it was my thyroid. He gave me thyroid pills and I was better immediately. It had gotten to the point where I was crying all the time. And the doctors kept saying it was manic depression.
I became a fat moo cow on lithium. So I switched to Depakote. All my muscles hurt on this drug and the brilliant doctors said it was fibromyalgia. I took malic acid and that helped about 50%. But I kept the Depakote because I had lost 30 pounds and Little Porcupine wanted to stay thin for Jack Rabbit.
When I quit the Depakote, the fibromyalgia was gone in a week but I made the same mistake of doing it all at once. Suddenly, I was back in the land of high anxiety and total insomnia! And the doctors all scrambled to ‘fix’ me with More Drugs. They gave me every sleeping pill known to man. The drugs that I’m on now are drugs that were given to subdue the effects of other drugs that were given, and this all goes back to the original drug that caused lupus; all drugs since being an attempt to fix the effects of the prior drug. In that case, the practice of psychiatry has simply created a customer for psych meds.
They gave me lithium, AGAIN, because I must be on something as I’m bipolar. After a few years, the lithium made my GI tract very sick indeed. So my latest shrink, who is a truly nice guy, BELIEVED me when I said it’s the lithium making me sick. A gastroenterologist concurred. And we tapered down slowly, like Dr. Peter Breggin says to in his book, from 600mg step-by-step down to 450mg. The severe GI problem is gone. So now the doctor is very concerned that I stay on the 450mg despite it being way below the therapeutic level they are always talking about.
Currently I am slowly withdrawing the Buspar, which they gave me years ago thinking it would counteract the steroid. It did not. Plus, I am now on 2mg of Navane because when I quit the Depakote they gave me so many kinds of sleeping agents I became a bit crazy. The Navane is the pill they gave me to undo the damage from all the sleeping pills. The psychiatrist at the time said I could quit taking the Navane after a few weeks but we discovered that it altered my perception of pain; it helped with my sciatica. So he said to keep taking it.
I have recently gone to a medical marijuana doctor and applied for CBD cannabis oil. If it helps with the double sciatica, it is possible to consider stopping the Navane. But my entire sleep cycle is controlled by the Navane.
I am new to the notions of anti psychiatry. I was introduced to this thinking by a smart man I met on www.mentalhealthforum.net and Mad in America is another new step for me. I see articles written here by people with PhD’s and some are written so cleverly I cannot comprehend them. But I know these people are sincere and know what they are talking about.
I do not know if I am brave enough to face voluntary insomnia to become FREE of the iron grip of psychiatry. I know that every time people try to prove to me that my bipolar is genetic, I only see environmental factors. I know that instead of reaching my social potential, I have spent thirty years taking drugs and dealing with drug side effects. I am told I have small hypomanic spells, but I only see that I push myself past the sedation just to go for a long walk and then I lose some sleep. I never had troubles with sleep until I met a psychiatrist. They think they’re in charge of sleep.
Parallel to this, I have learned that time itself may not be what we think it is. And in this kind of time the whole misadventure of my life was prearranged; it exists simultaneously with all other events of time. Why the Consciousness That Is Everything wanted me to suffer this indignity, I cannot know from this level. Perhaps in the Astral, I will have my answers.
Thanks for reading.
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.