This week, we interview Laura Delano. Laura is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project, which aim to create safe spaces for people to connect and the opportunity to learn about and be guided through the process of getting beyond the mental health system and off psychiatric drugs.
The passion she feels for the mission and vision of ICI arises from the fourteen years she spent lost in the mental health system and the journey that she’s been on since 2010, when she chose to leave behind a “mentally ill” identity and the various treatments that came with it, and gradually began to rediscover and reconnect with who she really was and what it means to suffer, struggle, and be human in this world.
Since becoming an “ex-patient,” Laura has been writing and speaking about her personal experiences and about the broader social and political issues sitting at the heart of “mental illness” and “mental health.” Since 2011, she has worked both within and beyond the mental health system.
In the Boston area, she worked for nearly two years for a large community mental health organization, providing support to and advocating for the rights of individuals in emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, and institutional “group home” settings. After leaving the “inside” of the mental health system, she began consulting with individuals and families seeking help during the psychiatric drug withdrawal process. Laura has also given talks and workshops in Europe and across North America, facilitated mutual-aid groups for people in withdrawal, and organized various conferences and public events such as the Mad in America International Film Festival.
In this interview, we got time to talk about Laura’s personal experiences of the mental health system and what led her to co-found the Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project.
In this episode we discuss:
- Laura’s experiences as a patient in the mental health system, starting treatment at age thirteen and leaving the system behind at age 27.
- How she spent much of that time as a compliant patient, taking the medications and following the advice of her doctors.
- That, by 2010, she was on 5 medications (Lithium, Abilify, Lamictal, Effexor and Ativan) and had spent the last decade becoming worse and unable to properly engage with life.
- How she came to read Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker and that it was a profound moment of realisation.
- That Laura decided to take control of her life and became determined to get off the drugs as quickly as possible.
- How traumatic it was to come to the realisation that almost everything she had been told during treatment was overly simplistic or incorrect.
- That Laura did experience feelings of being a victim of psychiatry but realised that this increased her emotional dependency on psychiatry and that it was necessary to move beyond that to feel free.
- That these experiences made Laura passionate about her own process of healing and rediscovering herself and helping others to find their way back to themselves after being psychiatrized.
- That as she healed she moved into a space of acceptance and gratitude and felt that the period around three years off the drugs was when she came to feel really alive and motivated again.
- That Laura feels that if we are going to move beyond the mental health system, it is about helping people to realise they don’t need the mainstream system and point them to alternatives at a local level and creating physical spaces where people can come together.
- How Laura came to co-found The Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project which aim to create safe spaces for people to connect and the opportunity to learn about and be guided through the process of getting beyond the mental health system and off psychiatric drugs.
- That The Withdrawal Project was highlighted in a recent New York Times article discussing antidepressant withdrawal.
- How ICI and TWP present information on many aspects of psychiatric drugs and withdrawal to help guide and inform people who do want to start the journey off their psychiatric drugs and away from the mental health system.
- That TWP connect is a free peer-to-peer networking platform that allows people to connect one on one with others who have similar experiences.
- How a similar peer-to-peer system is available on ICI to enable conversations about moving beyond the mental health system.
- That Laura wants to encourage people not to give up because we do heal from psychiatric drugs and that we need to spread that message far and wide.
- The need to both learn and unlearn when approaching how we take back our power and control of our lives after psychiatric treatment.
- How important it is to properly prepare before starting to taper from psychiatric drugs and how the Withdrawal Project can enable that preparation.
- The ‘speed paradox’ when coming off psychiatric drugs.
- How people can find out more about The Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project.
- That Laura is keen to support local community initiatives to get underway.
Learn about psychiatric drug withdrawal
Inner Compass Initiative’s The Withdrawal Project Gets Mention in The New York Times—Is the Tide Finally Turning?
The New York Times – Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit
Read more about Laura’s journey into and out of the mental health system
Laura’s presentation in Alaska, 2015
Congratulations to you both (Laura and James) on this fine work.
Thank you so much for listening Eric.
Thanks for your support, Eric!
Congratulations on the successful launch of the ICI internet support system and educational website. And glad to see your internet writing presence so prominently displayed again.
The growth and success of ICI will surely strengthen our movement to end all forms of psychiatric abuse and advance the cause of all human rights struggles.
Carry on! Comradely, Richard
It’s great to connect here– like the old times :). Your support of ICI and ICI’s The Withdrawal Project means a lot to me, and I look forward to opportunities for collaboration on the path ahead of us.
Thank You Laura +James,
People used to believe that psychiatric drugs were medicine and problems with drug withdrawal was “relapse” – but people like you are helping people get Completely Well by (carefully) coming off the Psychiatric drugs. Keep up the good work!
Thanks so much for the support, Fiachra!
Will your project offer any networking opportunities for family members and allies? I am a mom and I don’t feel that NAMI is a good networking place for me to support my loved one who wants to reduce/come off psychiatric meds. In NAMI, it’s a taboo subject.
Yes, there is definitely space for family members and allies! We’ve built ICI Connect for anyone asking questions or thinking critically about the mental health system, including folks with loved ones struggling with psychiatrization. To find more about ICI Connect, you can head here: https://www.theinnercompass.org/connect. I hope you’ll join!
laura and james…I just want to cry…both of you are doing such a wonderful thing…
it renews my faith in people who are loving and not hating…I want to be part of this..
I am sending you a virtual hug :). Thank you for this message! I hope you’ll get involved by joining our two Connect platforms (click on the ‘Connect’ tab at the ICI website, http://www.theinnercompass.org to join ICI Connect, or the ‘Connect’ tab at TWP’s website, withdrawal.theinnercompass.org to join TWP Connect). You can also check out our ‘Get Involved’ page at ICI for volunteer opportunities. There is so much hope for our collective future and I really believe that change starts at the local level. I am full of that same faith you’re carrying, too.
Love and solidarity,
Laura, you do great work. I’m wondering where you stand with regards to antipsychiatry and the abolition of psychiatry? Thank you.
I just want to say how wonderful it is to see your name back on MIA again! It sounds like you have really created a sustainable way of supporting people in thinking and acting in an empowered way when dealing with the pressure to label and drug. WELL DONE!
Thanks a bunch, Steve! I really appreciate your supportive words.
Laura, it sounds like you’re doing something incredibly valuable. I hope you reach many people giving them the knowledge and support they need.
Do you have any articles (of your own, or of others) that address the specific issue of the decision to take control of your own life and not simply see yourself as a victim?
On MIA, most if not all articles are by/about people who already reached that stage – but what about people still stuck in the “I’m a helpless victim” mindset? What about people who are too afraid to take responsibility and prefer to hide behind a diagnosis?
It seems to me that taking this step is already about 80% if not more, of the path to healing.
Gabi, sorry to answer you on this thread, on the other one I couldn’t quickly find the ‘reply’ button. I do less know from my own relationship about those things but from history lessons I know a lot, very very huge massive things, about the roles of persecurer and victims and the difficulties that arise around the topic of forgiveness. I was further educated I think by Richard Lewis about how to forgive without nobody loosing face. I don’t know if its just a male thing really, but Richard mentioned something about cancelled debts… Maybe behave more like a business woman in that respect with your husband. In Chinese culture, wome traditionally cope with finances. My half-brother is married to a Chinese women he met at this work, he was working on construction sites there. Best wishes to you, may you receive the kismet you rightly deserve, and please, that was meant with greatest sincerity and no humour meant.
I appreciate your thoughtful message. I made a video a number of years back in which I talk about this process for myself (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlGEopFOWD4), which might be helpful. I’ve also touched on this process over the years on my blog (www.recoveringfrompsychiatry.com), though you’ll have to dig around there to find those posts! In a nutshell, I believe that each person is on their own path in terms of making sense of self and identity in the wake of psychiatrization, and that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to go about it. This letting go of victimhood was essential for me, but I wouldn’t ever say that it’s what all people “should” do. I can also say that it was a process that unfolded slowly for me, and that needed to unfold completely in my own way, on my own time (i.e. if outside people had tried to “help me stop feeling like a victim” it would have probably backfired).
Thank you so much for replying so quickly and clearly. I will check out your blog – I’m sure there’s a lot to learn there.
Wishing you all the best, gabi
Gabi: I’m slow to forgive and quick to anger, not the best person to advice you in this matter but my two cents worth:
Maybe forgiveness is a muscle that needs to be used on a regular basis or it becomes ‘atrophied.’ Why don’t you practice forgiveness on a small scale like forgiving the person in front of you in the express line who has fifty grocery items in his cart instead of fifteen? Or the person who cuts you off in traffic?
It stands to reason that when you forgive people frequently for smaller things, one could work one’s way up to forgiving people and institutions for larger things. I have always found it difficult to forgive people who are oblivious to the pain they caused others. Perhaps, if one waits long enough karma catches up to one’s abuser in one’s lifetime in which case one has to decide whether or not to feel pleasure or pity for one’s abuser. Maybe I’m naive. Best of luck. Thanks for sharing
Since ICI is already asking for feedback from participants, I will direct most of my comments there. But there’s one thing I think I need to mention, which has to do with the notion of “moving beyond” the “mental health” system.
Before I do, I want to make clear that Laura, back when she was Bob Whitaker’s main sidekick at MIA, was the person who first inspired me to jump back into this stuff. Her speech outside the 2014 APA convention in New York City was the most brilliant and passionate anti-psychiatry address I’ve ever seen; I hope Laura will post it on Inner Compass, as I’m not the only one who gets goosebumps just watching it. She has been a key “mover and shaker” on our behalf, even though she hasn’t been publicly visible over the past few years she has been working on ICI.
So, as a cautionary note, I hope Laura still understands when she speaks of “moving beyond” the system that for many people this is not an option, as their involvement with psychiatry is by no means voluntary. Also that it is possible to recognize one’s victimization by psychiatry for what it is without becoming trapped in a self-defeating “victim mentality.” Our anger at psychiatry is a key part to becoming whole again.
In the same vein — and it seems we may have a disagreement developing here — it is extremely important for those who understand what psychiatry is to FIGHT IT! Overcoming the personal harm one has been done via the psych system is vital, but the ultimate purpose of that shouldn’t be simply to sit back and savor how good we feel — it should be to use what we know to help others trapped in the same system. This is of course part of the stated purpose of ICI, but what seems to be missing is a recognition that exposing and fighting psychiatry — which ultimately means stripping it of its legal power to coerce people into “treatment” — is an important part of “support,” often led by those who are feeling the strongest at any given time.
Psychiatry will not go away simply because it has been exposed as morally and logically bankrupt, otherwise it would already be gone. Those who have the option to do so may be able to “move beyond” psychiatry, or bypass it altogether in the future. But psychiatry would not exist to begin with if not for its power to forcibly incarcerate and “treat” people, and to use this power to coerce others into “voluntary” cooperation. This power is oppressive and real, and must be fought and defeated; it is not enough to simply recognize it as “unhelpful.”
I will continue to repeat — psychiatry is part of the prison system. It is not a failed or rogue branch of medicine or any other “helping profession.” For many people it is as impossible to move beyond the “mental health” system as it is for a sentenced prisoner to move beyond his or her cell.
Anyway, I’m hoping that I may be overreacting to a phrase or two of what Laura says here; in any case I hope she will rejoin some of these conversations on MIA. I think she might find that the anti-psychiatry analyses on MIA have gained a good deal of sophistication since she was last here, and are more current and relevant than she may realize. She would have a lot to contribute. Finally, as all this has been 3rd person, Hi Laura!
Since I’m not personally withdrawing from any psych drugs I haven’t paid much attention to the Withdrawal Project, which is the most groundbreaking and important aspect of Inner Compass, and will be a lifesaving tool for many I’m sure. As for ICI Connect, I find it a little frustrating that all conversations and “connections” are taking place off site and on-on-one, and that there is no group interface for public, real time discussion. But these are things that can be worked out in time. For now what’s important to me is to establish the principle that there is and should be no conflict between personal support projects and those with political goals. Otherwise we’ll be constantly patching one another up with emotional band-aids (if people can handle the metaphor) and heading back out to get shot up again. (Take that on any level you choose.)
Great points, oldhead – particularly about the unwilling victims trapped in psychiatry, which includes those who may not be on the drugs anymore, but have lost confidence in their own ability to self-regulate their moods, emotions etc. (Of course they may actually have impaired ability after years of being on psych drugs as these intentionally damage the frontal cortex.)
Do you know of any research re: neuroplasticity and the ability of a person to rebuild their brains after psych drug damage? Or not just research, but concrete things that really help to give back a person the sensation that “This is who I am, and I am not a straw blowing in the wind, subject to outside forces – I can hold myself to my center and be strong.”
Because of course the whole psych brainwashing is “You are weak, you can’t, you are liable to do the most dangerous, craziest things if you aren’t drugged up.” Which often becomes self-fulfilling prophecy – believe me, i’ve seen it happen, it can also be like an escape valve after years of trapped feelings that explode like an uncoiling spring and whoosh – nobody saw that coming…
While all your insights here are valid, in this case when I speak of those without the option to move beyond psychiatry I refer not to people who have “lost confidence in their own ability to self-regulate their moods, emotions etc.,” but those who are physically coerced into “treatment” by courts, or by facilities backed up by courts.
Btw your questions about regaining one’s sense of self and self-determination I can only respond to with a general sense of positivity that these things are possible — but I think communicating this stuff at a personal level is something Laura can do much better than I, and I encourage you to maintain contact with Inner Compass.
Hi Laura and James…It’s always a pleasure to listen to and feel your passion for what you do Laura, and thank you James for this interview as well. The ICI and TWP site and resources came to my attention when I was in need of help and on a ‘wing and a prayer’ that an organization like ICI was in existence. So I’m sooo grateful for your help, and the opportunity to connect with others, and will support all you’re doing in as many ways as I can. And I simply encourage you both, and the whole MIA ‘crew’ to keep doing this ‘above and beyond’ great and very essential work. All the best to you both, and everyone that is doing so much in this arena and helping so many! Sincerely, with gratitude! Evan 🙂
Thank you James & Laura for this remarkable interview. Laura’s telling my story, she’s articulating many of our stories exceedingly beautiful, as horrific as our stories are. After being drugged for thirty-five years including ECT’s to treat the drug induced depressions and the final cold-turkey withdrawals left me feeling very angry that took years to gear toward another direction (realizing it was further hindering my healing process. In fact, it was killing me.) So I wrote a book detailing it pouring all my emotions out on paper when I had no where else to vent.
I don’t like the word ‘victim’ and never use it. I’m not a victim, I am a survivor. We’re all survivors. Following my my c/t Klonopin withdrawal my motto is: Benzo withdrawal doesn’t have any hero’s, it only leaves survivors. I don’t have any cute sayings following my homicidal rages during my SSRI c/t withdrawals other than I’m fortunate no one was murdered although it was well planned. It’s why I admitted myself into yet another psychiatric hospital where the word ‘care’ was replaced with forced psychiatric drugs throwing me into more turmoil.
But we do heal. And I couldn’t have healed if not for all the other’s suffering the exact same thing from around the world since ‘help’ was unavailable from my mental healthcare system, my family doctor, my neurologist where I sought it out. Not one of them believed a word I was telling them as I struggled to live just one more day from withdrawal symptoms so horrendous I couldn’t even put them into words.
Whereas I was given a new lease on life since my multiple withdrawals, it’s heartbreaking having to watch the drugs destroying everyone in my family being prescribed psychiatric drugs.
Thank you James & Laura