Waking Up is Hard to Do


Editor’s note: for personal and professional reasons the author has chosen to use an abbreviated version of his name.

It was a two-weekend, sixty-hour intensive designed to improve the quality of one’s life—a “consciousness raising course,” known as “The EST Training.” It seemed like everyone was doing it: everyday people, men and women of all ages, many of my friends—celebs, politicians, professionals. It was the thing to do if you wanted to merge onto the expressway to improve the quality of your life.

The year was 1981 and EST had reached its peak. Werner Erhard, the creator and frontman, was a 40ish charismatic man, very suave, rugged, influential and handsome.

A lot of my New York City cronies who graduated from the two-weekend, seventeen hour per day intensive were urging me to take the course. They said it was “mind-blowing” and transformative. “It will radically change your life” is what I constantly heard from them. “It will make it so your life will become easier, just in the process of living it,” was Werner’s mantra.

Beyond that, the seminar was something that really couldn’t be explained, much like taking a ride on a roller coaster can’t be explained. It’s something that had to be experienced.

January 1981, at the age of 24, I signed up and attended the course. And boy was it intense. And powerful. Very powerful. I sat in a large room for the most mind-provoking hours of my life, joined with over 200 other souls. And you only break for meals and the bathroom.

You got to look at yourself up close, and break through emotional and behavioral barriers. You got to hear other people’s stories and realize that we’re all the same. We all have drama. We all have pain. We all hide. We all buy into our warped version of our life stories.

It was a lot of time to be introspective. A lot of time to reach a sort of altered state of consciousness. And toward the end of the last day, I began to feel high, really high. Not a drug high—sort of a freeing feeling. Like I was lifted from all worry and concern. I felt godlike, revved up.

For the next two months, I was invincible. Slept for an hour and a half a night, maybe. At every party I attended (and there were many) I was the center of attention, telling jokes, clowning around. At one party, I noticed a few guys flirting with a very attractive woman. I interrupted, walked right up to her and said: “You’re going to be my girlfriend.” She looked at me as if I was nuts, and at the same time she seemed intrigued by my nerve. Her name was Lisa, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital. We left the party and were inseparable for the next two months.

Just a Hop to the Hospital

Sitting alone in her nurse’s dorm room, a short distance from the hospital, I sat waiting for Lisa to return after her shift. It was early evening. I put a Jackson Browne album on her stereo, turned the volume to the max. I went to her kitchen, pulled out plates from the cupboard and started tossing them like Frisbees. I was having a blast watching them smash into pieces as they hit the walls. Then I tossed glasses like baseballs, jacked up the music and laughed hysterically.

According to psychiatrists, you could say I was psychotic. According to a Shaman, they’d say it was something altogether different but nothing they would deem abnormal.

Unfortunately for me, there was no Shaman or anyone who really understood what was going on with me to greet me.

Instead, this incredibly intrusive (to say the least) event got the attention of every nurse living on the floor. Suddenly there was a loud banging on the door. Keys rattled, the door opened, and what looked like fifty women (nurses) peered into the room with their collective jaws dropped to the floor. Then I saw Lisa machete her way through the crowd, accompanied by four security guards.

Lisa and the guards escorted me to the hospital emergency room, just an alleyway away from the dorm. I was incorrigible, resisting, running around. Eventually the guards and doctors caught up with me, put me in a straitjacket and sedated me. I felt so claustrophobic that I screamed, so they sedated me more. I was petrified and stupefied.

A Magical Misery Tour

I woke up the next morning in a hospital room. My family was there. A man in a white coat walked into the room as my mother and sisters sat sobbing, and then I heard that haunting label for the first time as the doctor turned to my family and uttered with certainty: “Your son is manic depressive.” They accepted this diagnosis to be absolute fact. Who were they to argue? I had just wigged out like a crazy man! It couldn’t have been massive stress release from the trauma of years of physical and verbal abuse from my alcoholic father. It couldn’t have been a “spiritual experience.”

No, this was Dr. God, and I was labeled for life: it became part of my identity.

When I Thought it was Cool to be Bipolar

And as I researched and learned that many high profile successful people were supposedly bipolar—Jean Claude Van Damme, Carrie Fisher, Linda Hamilton, the iconic painter Van Gogh, Ludwig von Beethoven—I thought: wow, it’s really cool to be bipolar! Yes, for a long while I thought it was in vogue to be bipolar, a way to impress my dates. “By the way, I have something sexy-cool to tell you, I’m bipolar.” Some women were intrigued. Some never returned my calls. Still, many agreed with my assessment that if so many famous artist types had it too, it must be cool. I must be super creative. So I popped my lithium, and everything was, well, cool. “I’m bipolar, and I rock.”

I Was Living in a Dreamworld

I was living a lie. I hadn’t been given the choice of the blue or the red pill. I just naively thought the white pill was the thing to do.

Over the next thirty years, I would have obsessive dreams in the wee hours of the morning—like cortisol attacks, the anxiety would rush in, and I would leap out of bed as if someone had stabbed me in the butt with a sizzling hot branding iron. I would call my pharmacologist, who was on-call, and you could tell I just woke him up from deep sleep. He would exclaim, without a milligram of compassion, “JUST TAKE A DAMN RISPERDAL.”

I complied. Never thought that the lithium could be the culprit behind these frequent (two to three times per week) painful, anxiety-provoking awakenings.

Career Pharmatastrophy

I was an advertising copywriter by profession, and I loved it. I particularly loved presenting my concepts to clients. That is, until one day in 1984 when I was presenting the storyboard for a toy commercial, “the cat really got my tongue,” and I sounded like the room temperature had reached down to thirty below zero. “Ca-ca-ca-ca-da-da,” I stammered. My art director partner immediately stepped in and finished the presentation. I was mortified.

Leaving the room, I noticed my hand shaking as I turned the doorknob. These symptoms would haunt me for years to come. I would be deathly afraid to present to clients, even to my boss. This dynamic, gutsy adman turned into a scared little boy. For thirty years, yes thirty years, I tried to brave presentations by popping Klonopin (which my psychiatrist prescribed), as well as beta blockers, beer, wine, anything that would calm me down enough to present my work.

Not to mention the periods of depression I went through over the years, which would last many months at a time. My psychiatrist (whom I stayed with until I was 50 years old; I’m now 59) told me, “You just need therapy.” So I went through a lot of therapy, mostly cognitive, Erickson Hypnosis, other modalities. It still didn’t stop the depression.

The Alarm Clock Finally Goes Off

I finally decided it was time to switch doctors and go to another psychiatrist for a “cocktail.” I figured the more, the better. That’s what I had been told by this new doctor, that more meds would make me feel better, more grounded. And I did feel better, sort of, for about nine months. I felt high all the time. Never in a bad mood, the world was wonderful. But giving presentations never got better. After all these years, I still needed something, anything to calm me down for presentations—my biggest nightmare.

Then my emotions began to go in the other direction. I was scared, depressed, and afraid to go to work. My doctor tinkered with my cocktail, and I felt worse. Went back to see him days later, more tinkering, felt even worse. After I went back for a third time for a third session, my doctor wanted to put me on even more meds. I refused and left his office.

That’s when the bells went off. I realized it wasn’t me with all these problems. It was the drugs. I was a drug addict. I should have never been on this stuff. Or maybe I should have been on them for just a few months. Instead it’s been a life of hell.

September of 2013, I tried going off the drugs on my own—went down a little too fast and had a bad breakdown.

Then I bounced from psychiatrist to psychiatrist (10 to be exact) for several years, trying to get help. All to no avail. Finally, last year I actually found one who put me on a regimen of micronutrients. I’ve slowly been reducing my current cocktail with the aid of specific healing modalities—Reiki, cranial sacral therapy, transcendental meditation, EFT, and social therapy.

All of these modalities have really helped me to process and heal the unacknowledged traumas that caused my breakdown in the first place. Collectively, they’ve been the catalysts helping me to slowly and steadily regulate my nervous system—habitually incorporating transcendental meditation to minimize troubling thoughts, using Reiki to connect with cosmic energy to restore my body to its authentic state, working with a master practitioner at correcting and redirecting the flow of my body’s cranial fluids, and participating in a social therapy group where everyone is committed to helping each other grow and develop more fulfilling lives.

All told, for more than a year, I’ve been on a path that has allowed me to purge the severe, emotionally encrusted pain put there by the paternal tantrums I was subjected to early on.

Finally, and thankfully, I’m moving in the right direction, rescuing myself from the pernicious grip of psychotropic drugs. It’s been exceptionally challenging, dealing with the adverse physiological reactions my body’s been going through.

Waking up may be the toughest thing to do. Ultimately, the way I see it, it’s the only thing to do.


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.


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  1. Sounds like EST really stirred up deeply rooted programs and catapulted you into quite a state.
    I am sorry you went through so many doctors and drugs, being labeled manic depressive/bipolar. The same thing happened to me. My personal story is Little Porcupine Goes to the Psych Ward. We spent so many years of our lives dealing with drugs and drug side effects. And dealing with people labeling us. If I sneeze, certain family members immediately say that I’m manic. How far down off the medications have you been able to go?

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    • I feel it is too late for me. I was a 65 yo professional male who is now on disability. I was mislabeled as a schizophrenic when a young person from a family that physically emotionally and sexually abused me and then treated me as the sick one. I was heavily drugged as a young boy to treat my illness and believed I was irreparably damaged. I ended up fighting back from serious depression and anxiety several times in my life usually from issues associated with relationship breakups or sexual issues given many drugs and allowed myself to become the victim in many many situation including at the hands of a psychiatrist who was my boss. I’ve now been hospitalized 6 times all with police involved. I am an extremely introverted sensitive person and was extremely frightened by being in a psych ward. The first time against my will where I was not a danger to myself or others but raised my voice out of frustration that the many drugs I had tried did not help my depression. The others for being suicidal or because I was not functioning. In the hospital I was taunted by staff and patients and heavily drugged. Taunted Especially by staff who seemed to bring up my professional background. Patients who followed me around 24/7 told me this was a safe place but could stick a pencil in my ear and many other stories that upset me too much to tell. I was told by a psychiatrist recently there was nothing wrong with me and just needed to have an epiphany and later asked by the same pdoc what drugs I thought I should be on because ironically I have a PhD in biological Psychiatry and insisted I get treatment because I had been hospitalized. Another Psychiatrist told me I just needed to get a part time job and not be angry. I have lost everything I worked my whole life for. I have managed to work for the majority of my life despite many “breakdowns” It is only recently reading the many pieces on MIA that I realize I was fed psychological and psychiatric lies most of my life. When I tried to reject them or displayed my sense of agony I was ridiculed or rejected. I now trust no one and hide from the world afraid of my own shadow. Sorry I am not one of the success stories on MIA.

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    • I went down on Stelazine (the worst crap in the world) exactly three weeks ago….was on two milligrams, went down to 1mg about a year ago. A year ago, it was a struggle going down one milligram. (But these little pills are too small to cut in half). Hence the suffering. However, going down now is not so bad— down another mg, so I’m completely off the nasty crap. I owe this to the modalities I’ve been incorporating as of the past several months: Bio-Circuits: silk cloth pads you wear on your hands and your feet, that conduct “cosmic energy,” normalizing the physiology, restoring the homeostasis. Plus, Reiki, TM, Yoga, and Mineral Salt Baths……I’m now still on 325mg of Lamicdal (down from 400mg). And 2mg of Klonopin. (I hope to get a prescription for “Tapering Strips” that I heard about in an article in MIA…they allow you too go down incrementally. Each strip contains packs that say, cover two months, and allow you to go down….1.0,, next day 0.9, then 0.9, 0.8, 0.8, 0.7, .06 and so on. Easy does it!

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      • It’s uncanny how your drug protocol and your modalities are pretty much identical to mine. I too was on 2mg of Stelazine, rough getting off the first milligram, so now I’m on .5 ( had it compounded to that dosage through a compounding pharmacy. I too went down on Lamicdal from 400mg to 325mg, and I’m on 2mg of Clonopin! Hoping to get off all of this crap within 2 years!
        And I incorporate the same modalities – Bio Circuits, Reiki, TM, Yoga…would love to connect with you. Is that possible? I just can’t believe how exactly alike our stories and modalities mirror

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      • I am on the same drug protocol! Was on 2mg of Stelazine, now down to .5 ( dosage created by a compounding pharmacy). Was on 400 mg of Lamicdal, now on 325 – and I even use Bio-Circuits! We should discuss this phenomenon! Could I get your email possibly?

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  2. hi, jl.

    i think the root of it all is what you wrote early on- we all have pain, drama , a story. labels are evil. i say, we are all on the spectrum of humanity, with our struggles and our backgrounds, our fears and our weaknesses.
    and the drugs, of course, cure nothing and cause massive brain dysfunction.

    kudos to going down on the drugs, learning the truth about how you have been duped for years and finding your tools to live! how wonderful it will be to own your brain once more!

    i would just say- be careful not to replace one “professional method” with another. just go with your life, know there’s nothing wrong with you- and know the strength to succeed at anything is and always has been inside of you.

    all the best,


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  3. Thanks for sharing your story, I too was mislabeled as “bipolar.” In my case it was to cover up the abuse of my child, as opposed to covering up abuse I had dealt with personally. According to the medical literature it does appear almost all people labeled as “bipolar” are child abuse victims.

    An ethical pastor was eventually kind enough to confess to me that the psychological and psychiatric industries have historically been in the business of profiteering off of covering up abuse and rape of children and women for the religions and their wealthy. He called this “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.”

    It’s a shame the “mental health” industry has turned itself into one gigantic, multi billion dollar, pedophile empowering, child abuse victim poisoning machine. But I do agree with you waking up is the best thing.

    I was actually relieved when the medical evidence of the abuse of my child was handed over, not because I was glad my child actually was abused, of course, but because it was proof my concerns were valid from day one. One can not heal until one wakes up to the truth, and addresses the root cause of one’s distress.

    It’s shameful the psychological and psychiatric professions believe the opposite. And it’s shameful our country has a multi billion dollar, primarily child abuse profiteering, industry. What does that say about how sick our society truly is?

    “A society will be judge based upon how it treats its weakest members.” No doubt, our society will be judged harshly. Best wishes on your healing journey, J.

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  4. Ah, some incredibly cathartic dish-throwing while alone in my then-boyfriend’s dwelling, half of a duplex that I owned most of, did me in, too. I lost about 5 years to the subsequent misdiagnosis and mis-prescribed drugs, which is trivial in comparison with what was taken from J. I might have discovered the remedy for akathisa in my throwing spell. It met every need I had at the time and I was very ready for the nap I commenced afterwards, only to discover three cops had entered the house without the usual formalities and were in fact in the bedroom before I knew what was going on.

    J, I’m glad you got away from it and glad you’re writing. I hate that you suffered and probably doubted yourself and that everyone around you apparently bought into the original misdiagnosis. I hope the (m)ad man in you can blow your story up to a size that cannot be ignored.

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  5. Est was a great program. I did it and got a ton out of it. I heard a million people did it over the years and they were pretty explicit in saying to us that it was not a replacement for professional mental health treatment. I have never read anything that says conclusively what triggers manic episodes. IMHO- I think it is a genetic or chemical predisposition and for most who have them, it was always just a matter of time.

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    • There has been a frantic (dare I say “manic?”) search for “genetic or chemical predispositions” to “bipolar disorder” and any other “mental illness” you care to name. The success has, to put it mildly, been “disappointing.” The BEST correlation they’ve come up with is about a 15% correlation of people having SOME of a range of about 100 genetic markers being diagnosed with a RANGE of “mental illnesses,” including ADHD, depression, and schizophrenia.

      Meanwhile, correlations with early life traumatic events such as abuse and neglect or loss of parental figures, etc., reaches well over 80%. PHYSICAL illnesses are also correlated highly with early childhood traumatic experiences. Epigenetic changes have been proven to occur when people are traumatized, especially in childhood. So 15% AT MOST correlation with genetics, 80+% correlation with environmental trauma, not even considering larger scale social stresses like bad jobs, racism, poverty, etc…. So what exactly makes you believe that “genetic or chemical predispositions” are the main cause of “bipolar disorder?”

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  6. The Ancient Eastern wisdom on which awareness-cultivating techniques like EST and TM are based also includes a component of moral teaching. When the student becomes aware, he or she will become aware of the culture of rapaciousness and greed in the unawakened world. Eastern moral wisdom teaches how to cope with the immorality of the unawakened world, in particular it offers the wisdom of radical refusal of evil by radical withdrawal from the culture of rapaciousness and greed. Training like EST, which produces a preliminary form of awareness and then merely deposits students back into the unawakened world without instructing them how to cope with its immorality, is profoundly dangerous.

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