“How Did This Happen?” – Being Injured By Pharmaceuticals Once Again


“How did this happen? You’re the most resourced person I know.”

That was the response of one of my friends when they heard about what happened to me in December when I ended up in the ICU with the precipitous sodium drop (hyponatremia) that almost killed me. It happened after I took a pharmaceutical for three days — the first pharmaceutical I’ve taken since I came off a massive cocktail of psych drugs eight years ago.

The above quoted question from my friend keeps coming back to me since I too have had my own version of that inquiry within. For me the question comes with shame and a sense of failure. I also get a haunting feeling of having let down the folks who’ve counted on me to give them hope on this often very painful journey of healing our brains and nervous systems after being injured by psychiatric drugs.

Given that I’ve become pretty good at offering support to others going through this process, I’ve learned, at least to some extent, that I can offer myself the same sort of support. My writing, in fact, has always been about what I’m learning so that I come to understand it myself as I share it with others. My work has always been a practice that depends on reciprocity. It would not happen without the reader. Without you. We are learning together because no one knows. So as I’ve witnessed myself having these feelings of shame, failure and disappointment (as well as intermittent dismay and despair), I’ve not only allowed the feelings, I’ve also recognized them as profoundly human and natural, given what happened. Natural, and also feelings that can be let go of once felt, allowed and understood. It hasn’t really made it easier to have this understanding, but with acceptance there is some sense of connection with humanity and thus release too.

The disappointment and discouragement arises with the narrative that this *shouldn’t* have happened again. I’ve done my time. No one deserves this and how can I possibly do this all over again? 

All those thoughts are legitimate. And frankly I have no idea how I’m going to do it all over again. Most of all, that is, because it will not be the same thing all over again. It cannot be. I learned a lot the first time and as I watch and feel and allow I’m learning different things this time — even as it’s painful and awful in similar ways all over again, yes. It’s like a spiral. I’m on a different level covering the same ground. Oh well. Such is life. This sense of revisiting tough stuff also seems to be rather universal.

I never recovered completely the first time around. I still couldn’t make plans or rely on my energy from day to day. I was optimistic and happy in spite of a lot of ongoing pain and difficulty. I considered that a variety of thriving. I love life. I still do and it’s not easy for anyone.

Right now, however, I’ve largely lost that natural optimism I had and I hurt in ways I thought that perhaps I’d never have to hurt again. The pain of protracted psych drug withdrawal is ugly. And now I have some additional issues from the December stay in the intensive care unit. Issues I never had the first time around. I’m essentially dealing with two brain injuries at once since this second one seems to have also rekindled the first.

It’s pretty miserable. And you know what? I’m dealing with it and sometimes how I deal with it isn’t attractive or skillful. Still, I’m dealing with it in ways I wouldn’t be able to had I not done the work and come through what I’ve already come through. This is how an awakened life is… we learn as we go and sometimes shit happens. We pay attention and understand more and more and we see both the beautiful and the ugly because that is the way life is. Grieving is natural. When we die every one of us “loses” everything. Life is loss as much as it is anything else. It remains wondrous in my mind. What an incredible mystery we are able to participate in.

These days, I am finding my privacy and quiet time to be very important. I’ve largely stopped using social media. On occasion, I read my own work from the past for perspective and hope. I’m already a radically different person from the one who wrote earlier posts on this site. In many ways I’m far healthier than the first time around simply because of all the deep contemplation and meditation I’ve done by necessity. That is healing even while the body is still having problems. Healing happens in every area of life and not always in an even or clearly straightforward fashion. Healing has many detours most of the time.

When I read what I’ve written from the past I often have no recollection of it whatsoever, so it’s fresh and helpful. It’s a weird and kind of beautiful thing to be thankful for those words now. I can both see how I’ve grown and still use the wisdom that was coming through me via the muse (a process that never felt quite like it was coming from me)… sometimes in shocking ways.

And how did it happen to me? The most resourced person my friend knows?  It happened because none of us have enough resources for the sort of brain injury and impairment the psychopharmaceutical drugs impart upon us. No one knows what is really being done to our brains and some of us are clearly more sensitive than others. We all have different kaleidoscopic elements come into play that make our situations unique and some of us will always remain at high risk for reinjury, and that’s what happened to me.  I’m very sensitive and will likely always have to deal with being high risk for reinjury… not just from pharma which I will likely never take again, but from many things in our highly toxic environments.

The body remains a mystery for all of us. Anyone with chronic illness knows that the mystery is one we must surrender to… there is no one on the planet that understands everything about the body/mind/spirit. We do the best we can and I’ve found that doing that with as much humility as possible is to my benefit (and no, I’m not always good at that).

Also, none of us have all the resources we need because we need the village. We need the village and a community that no longer exists in most parts of the world. We are finding our way through and creating our own communities and we’re the first generation of people doing what we’re doing (coming off these neurotoxic, brain injuring psychopharmaceuticals). As we do this we are implicitly demanding better care for ourselves and others.  Some of us appear to be sacrificial lambs of sorts as we bring this awareness to the world. We are all amazing warriors and we’re all adding to the database of knowledge by communicating with one another about what we are learning as we come off psychiatric drugs and heal and suffer too.

I perhaps haven’t completely “recovered,” but I’ve offered information and inspiration to many who have recovered completely. How wonderful is that? It allows me to keep going and trust that I’m doing what I need to be doing and that younger folks perhaps won’t as often get as seriously injured as I was, so that they won’t carry the same high risk for reinjury that I do. I’m glad I can do that and I also hope that at some point before I die I will be able to move about in the world with some physical well-being. I miss human beings. I love you all.


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. So sorry Monica.

    My brain is recovering well. But my gut has paid a heavy price for 23 years of SSRIs. I take large amounts of supplements, iron infusions and have almost the energy I had before this digestive problem began–a year before my taper started.

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