Learning From Each Other As Psychiatric Survivors

Chaya Grossberg
35
2016

There are common themes among the thousands of psychiatric survivors I’ve known, worked alongside and consulted with over the past 15 years. We all want to use the hard lessons we’ve learned from falling prey to psychiatry to help others.

Every single one of us has a dream to spare someone else the harm we went through ourselves.

The process of emancipating oneself from psychiatry teaches people a lot. There are almost universal lessons about the nature of reality, conformism, and living healthfully by one’s own rules.

This is why many psychiatric survivors feel an unspoken bond with one another. Anyone who’s been through med withdrawal knows it has a death and rebirth quality. There’s a sense of coming back to life with renewed vigor and optimism.

There’s also a resentment and anger that a system supposedly there to help and heal can often do exactly the opposite.

It’s been 15 years since I went through psychiatric drug withdrawal after being bedridden for two years while on a drug cocktail. I’ve gone through many phases, from being so acutely aware of what psychiatric meds do to the mind that I didn’t want to be in the same room with anyone on them, to speaking up immediately and without reservation in opposition to anyone who even mentioned a psychiatric diagnosis.

There were phases where I wanted to move on with my life and forget the whole thing. Along the way I’ve worked in childcare, sales, food demoing, modeling, theater, tea packing, and other things.

After six years of consulting with others coming off meds and almost 15 years leading support groups and trainings and speaking and writing publicly, what I feel most called to now is to share what I’ve learned with those who have come off psych meds more recently.

The psychiatric survivor movement, as incohesive as it might have become, has deep roots (and history) in learning from and liberating one another.

People who’ve been around the movement for a long time have deep wisdom, and those who are newer have fire, passion and rage. Sometimes we all have all of it, of course. Yet, over the years, my fire and passion for talking about psychiatry has dampened.

In fact, I’ll be totally honest: I’m sick of it. When you’ve had the same conversations over and over and heard the same stories again and again with a few changed details, you want to move on to something different (or at least bring new life to it).

I still care as much as ever about helping people become liberated from psychiatric harm. Yet the process of talking to people about the same exact topics in the same way gets tedious. I once blurted out that I was “bored of it” on a speaker’s panel about someone who had been force-drugged and killed by police. I immediately wished I hadn’t spoken my mind, but I couldn’t unsay those words, and I knew regardless of how shameful anyone might say they were, they were my truth.

Drained would be a better word than bored though. It’s not that I’m bored of hearing people talk about police force-drugging a young woman, leading to her death. It’s that I’m drained by talking about it in the same way and not seeing the conversation evolve. I’m drained by talking to people who might be first discovering basic truths about the mental health system that I’ve been aware of for over 15 years.

When we hear about the exact same type of injustice and suffering that we know so intimately again and again for that many years, it is human nature to start to numb out about it a bit. It’s like how school shootings and all mass shootings were such a shock when they began, but now that they are happening every week, it seems, many of us tend to only feel acute emotions about the ones we are somehow more connected to.

Call me a sociopath if you want, but I think there is only so much of looking at the same type of suffering that one person can take before putting up a buffer to it. It becomes too much. We become desensitized to the very thing that used to be our most tender button.

I notice, though, that my excitement comes alive when I consult with people recently off of psychiatric meds who are interested in doing work similar to me. Almost all of the people I have worked with have told me they want to either create art and writing about their process, or do some kind of direct helping with others who are getting off psychiatric drugs, or both.

When I talk to people who feel ready to move into reaching out to others in these ways, I feel certain that I am the right person for them to consult with. On the other hand, when I talk with people who are early in the process of psych drug withdrawal or early in discovering that psychiatry is dishonest and harmful, I do not.

There are people who would be much better than me to counsel/consult and talk to those in early withdrawal phases, and those who are first starting to see that they have been harmed by psychiatry.

Whenever anyone reaches out to me for a consultation, I want to do everything possible to help them. Yet, sometimes I am not sure I am the right fit. There aren’t many people working in this way to refer them to, who have both the experience and passion and are in the phase of psychiatric survivorhood that would be a better match.

Yet there are thousands of people who could work in this way and be good referrals with a bit of practice and awareness of what those in psych drug withdrawal most need. For most psychiatric survivors, it is somewhat instinctive, yet the passion that drives us to want to help others can sometimes be (rightly) so strong that it scares people. This can be an obstacle to creating space for the actual experience someone is going through.

Sometimes newly liberated psychiatric survivors can be headstrong and talk more than we listen after being silenced for so long. This is understandable. Once we move into the phase where we are ready to help others, we need to listen though. We need to be willing to learn and keep an open mind, while holding strong to our own truth. It can be a delicate balance, but I think it’s the exact calling some of us have.

I want to share what I have learned about what it has actually been like to support people in psych med withdrawal, with those who have the passion and intensity I had when I was more newly free from psychiatric drugs.

This helps me keep my passion and sense of purpose for something I’ve been writing, teaching and learning about for nearly my whole adult life.

We like to say in this movement that we are “experts by experience.” This is true. Many of us are experts by knowledge and research as well, and the combination of these facets brings the wisdom to connect with, inspire and mentor one another.

Though therapy might not be a popular example among readers here, it fits. Therapists ideally learn knowledge about healing from trauma, yet no matter how much they know, they can only be beneficial to people if they listen with humility and compassion.

It’s similar to what I do when I consult with people in psych drug withdrawal. Much of what I do is listening and expressing understanding. Much of it is about connection, empathy, and dare I say love, for our fellow humans.

Listening to people’s suffering is not always easy no matter how much knowledge one has. As a trauma survivor myself, I have learned skills that make it doable, though (with support from many others).

In my consulting work, I’ve made up a lot of my own rules, set my own boundaries, and learned things (sometimes the hard way) as I’ve gone along. I can be rebellious and desiring to do things my own way and reinvent the wheel.

Some of the hardest lessons I have learned in my work with people in withdrawal has been around boundaries. It’s been important for me to only work with clients who respect me, and to have clear policies, which I list on my website, so that I can point to them if someone does something that would be harmful to me.

We are all different as well, and what works for me might not work for you. Behavior that is unacceptable to me might be fine for you. I’ve had to continuously refine my policies to reflect what I could actually manage as a human being. I had to let go of other people’s expectations, and set my own standards in order to be most effective (and stay sane, healthy and balanced myself).

I have had clients harass me both sexually and emotionally/mentally. Supporting people who have had a lot of trauma to begin with, AND are being affected by severely mind-altering substances and withdrawal from them, is not always romantic. People can fly off the handle and be aggressive, hypersexual, or lacking in compassion, and as a psychiatric survivor, you know they aren’t entirely in control of their own behavior.

For those who tend to be empathic and sensitive, like myself, this can be deeply hard. We can start to feel like the therapists and professionals we resented ourselves, when we set boundaries to protect ourselves. The difference, for me, has been that I set boundaries without pathologizing, and I am often transparent about my own needs. This feels vulnerable, but the right fitting people appreciate it. I built my business with vulnerability, authenticity and honesty, so hopefully those who are drawn to me want that.

Oftentimes, though, simple boundaries need to be set up, and expressed in a straightforward way. As trauma survivors ourselves, allowing abusive behavior is never a good move and can lead to resentment as well as overwhelm.

I’d like to share what I’ve learned about how to have boundaries and how to do this work in a way that is effective over the long term. A big part of it is non-attachment and letting go of the savior complex. Frequently people reach out to me in hopes that I can save them or their adult child from psychiatry. They might see me as a beacon of hope on the other side of psychiatry’s darkness.

It can be tempting for me to want to fill that role for someone, since of course I DO want to be a beacon of hope for people. Yet, I alone can’t rescue someone from the throes of psychiatric abuse. I have come to see myself as a stepping stone on someone’s journey. I’m one person along the way who can provide some knowledge, healing reflection and a supportive message.

There have been times where I’ve had to level with people and say directly, “I can only do my best. I can’t guarantee anything.”

Besides my desire to teach people what I’ve learned about helping people in psych drug withdrawal, I’d like to mentor those who are interested in a creative and mostly online business similar to the one I created.

The way we learn, communicate and exchange information has changed since I started this work. When I started out, I did mostly live speaking events and self-published print books at the local copy store in my small town. I started a blog on a site called “gather,” which no longer exists, and even then, no one I knew had heard of it and I didn’t have any social media accounts.

Things have since evolved to personal blogs, Facebook groups, guest blogs, videos, teleclasses and now an online course I’m teaching. And of course they will keep changing. Someday we’ll be communicating through the voices we hear in our heads and psychiatrists who thought we were crazy will be sooooo outdated (okay, that’s already been happening in my world all along).

My hope is that anyone who is starting out consulting with or mentoring others has the knowledge, skills and confidence to go for it. None of us are perfect and there’s no one right way to help people or engage in mutual liberation.

Due to the reflections I’ve shared here about what inspires me currently, I’m starting a course to share what I’ve learned as a way to contribute to a growing field of knowledge, experience and solidarity. We as psychiatric survivors are needed more than ever.

I see us creating larger and more reinforced safety nets in the years to come and hope my course can be a part of that. You can learn more about it here.

35 COMMENTS

  1. On survivor activism, learn this !

    If you survived an abusive inpatient psych facility be sure to write what they did to you on every review site you can find AND use the consumer complaint sites.

    https://www.pissedconsumer.com/post-complaint.html
    https://www.complaintsboard.com/new_complaint/

    Whats interesting is when you do this other victims find the complaints when they search the name of the facility and then write what happened to them adding more and more credibility to the original testimonial.

    I know that alot of survivors leave psychiatric hellholes with that nauseating sense of injustice getting abused and no way get back at them.Think about the fact that every time your testimonial leads to the facility loosing a costumer it cost them thousands of dollars in lost revenue so you certainly have hurt them back. You may not feel it when you press the post button but the facility does.

    This also helps the survivor movement as a whole when what goes on behind the locked doors of these atrocities posing as help is posted for the world to see.

  2. Hi Chaya,
    what a great idea to teach practical skills to those who have been there and can help others! It is very very hard to come off the psychiatric drugs, and some of them are so addictive that it becomes almost impossible, especially if you depend on them to sleep. Do you have any advice for very strong natural remedy for sleep?
    I enrolled into your course, when does it start? I am glad that you launched this!

  3. @the_cat, thank you so much for your advice and the link. They put me on seroquel years ago (without saying, of course, how damaging but also addictive it is), I know my organism is now addicted to it, as sleep just goes if i stop it. I am on minimal dose as a result (and I read that seroquel is prescribed as a sleeping aid), but before I go off it completely I need to find a really good natural alternative which works. I think that people who are on seroquel experience the same problem.

    • I quit that seroquel too. That was the last one. Actually no seroquel to Vistaril to melotonin to falling asleep natural again. I wasn’t in that deep with the seroquel though, it only took 25mg for a knockout and I would usually take only half that by biting tablet in half.

      I have a long story, including benzos ADHD amphetamines, that doctor had me full addict swiping my credit card for more scripts then inflicts zyprexa poisoning but in the end the final path out, seroquel to Vistaril to melotonin to falling asleep natural again. And there is no reason not to keep a stash of Vistaril or melotonin to get sleep if wicked insomnia strikes.

      I am no angel I will do a benzo or an adderal for recreation but never again full on “doctors orders” daily dosing of that addictive S. I was a dumb ass I no idea what hell I was getting into when I stepped in that guys office.

      I think you have ADD, how did those high powered Amphetamines I just prescribed make you feel ??? Wish I never met that SOB. There was no pill scene back then like now warnings all over the news. I did not know what I was getting into.

      I never complained of “ADD” I didn’t even know what the hell that was. Never had an adderal or ritalin in my life. My life was about my friends , my girlfriend, dirtbike riding, boats 4x4s parties and beer. I no knowledge of or interest in psychiatric bullshit. I just wanted a pill to fall asleep early and met that quack that ruined a decade of my life.

      “Insomnia is a sympotom of depression” the first poison I got was an anti depressant now off the market called Serzone, it causes liver damage. My serotonin was low, ya I fell for there damn scam.

      2 years later I see the inside of a F psych ward, and like most none of us were there until AFTER getting drugged by these quacks. Who then give you more pills for the damage they inflicted in the first place.

  4. There is a lot to what you’ve written, Chaya. so many different aspects that we could all respond to from our experience.

    It’s probably quite a little thing that first comes to my mind though, and that is what I see as the problem of people coming out of the system to start a new life from a very disadvantaged position as far as work, relationships and community are concerned. It can seem that our predominant wisdom, skills and talents are directly related to our experience of first withstanding, and then emerging and recovering our selves, our lives and maybe even a little joy and meaning from severe and often long-term abuse and oppression.

    There are many arenas in which these particular skills would be extremely valuable, yet the only one in which they can be acknowledged, let alone validated, is in the general area of professional psych survivordom. As said at the outset, I see this as being a real problem.

  5. All I can advise for sleep is the melotonin, not having a clock in your living space as a constant reminder of “oh no its getting late” and lowering the lights hours before intended sleep time.

    My ability to sleep natural was totally fried from psychiatric drug exposure, it took a long time but I did recover from it. I was a Zyprexa victim, up until the lawsuits began 2007 they were big time pushing that diabolical soul crushing insidious brain poison hard off label for insomnia and anxiety. It took 8 mg atavan a day just to stay out of anxiety attacks and to sleep coming off that evil S . Then I had benzo habit to kick.

    Surviving psychiatry is no joke. IMO that sleep thing is the hardest part.

      • Also, valerian root is the herb from which they derive valium. Brewing some valerian root tea can help insomnia, and anxiety, and I believe it poses less risks than the refined drug. Be warned- it is very stinky! The taste is somewhat bitter. I used to combine it with catnip and chamomile for a sleep tea. The valerian root should be boiled several minutes (a decoction, since it is roots), then the catnip and chamomile steeped in the still-hot-but-no-longer-boiling tea (an infusion). Then strain it and let it cool enough to sip. I was on SSRI and SNRI before but never ‘antipsychotics’ so I can’t say how the herbs fare in the face of that drug-induced insomnia.

          • And cats like it. I opened that Valerian root bottle and the cat would come running.

            And why am I the_cat ? I created the screen name copy_cat for like truth in advertising cause I wanted to fight back and I realized the most effective way I could do it was copy pasting quotes links to anti psychiatry and the truth about psychiatry anywhere and everywhere online people would read it click on it. I was copying so much I was was a copy cat. Everything that needed to be written already was it just needed to be spread.

            So many screen names kicked off censored off every mental health “support” forums, new IP proxies… Sign up again and and again post some more.

            They tried hard to keep the truth out of those forums when I started back in 2011. Lots of people were doing it. We overwhelmed them.

            You Tube video comments, any text box online paste and post fast and move to the next one. Get the links out.

            Like that Alex Jones guy says this is an information war. Psychiatry is lies people just need to know.

          • More on Valerian — I started taking it four years ago to help get off of ambien, which I did, but have been taking valerian ever since, which I recently decided was probably a good thing to taper from, so far with no sleep issues. I hear it uses the same receptors as benzos, or more accurately, vice versa.

            In addition to chamomile and catnip, passionflower works well for sleep in combination with valerian, and also by itself.

            Probably regular sleep patterns are just as important though.

  6. “When we hear about the exact same type of injustice and suffering that we know so intimately again and again for that many years, it is human nature to start to numb out about it a bit. It’s like how school shootings and all mass shootings were such a shock when they began, but now that they are happening every week, it seems, many of us tend to only feel acute emotions about the ones we are somehow more connected to.

    Call me a sociopath if you want…”

    A sociopath wouldn’t openly admit to the numbing. Quite the reverse, they’d most likely have spent 15 years becoming highly skilled at appearing genuinely empathic and inexhaustibly compassionate.

    So I hold my hand up for a high five coz I always appreciate bold honesty.

    One thing which may be slightly taboo to point out here is how maybe that numbing is not only a process of desensitising, but also an understandable defence mechanism… that is going to be experienced by mental health professionals too, people that are daily encountering high levels of stress and emotional pain, confusion and bewilderments… but which all boil down to the same essential dramas repeating themselves. That they willingly go back, day after day, for more, says a lot. I don’t know how they do it. And I don’t know how they can do it and not switch off to some degree.

    Personally, I try and keep away from it all as much as possible. Other mad people can drive me insane. So another high five for your personal qualities that mean you can handle it, even with setting boundaries, its more than I could handle, and more than many people could typically handle, especially helping people through withdrawals, which can be particularly harrowing.

    Best of luck and health.

  7. oldhead, valerian is not good for everyone.

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/11/learning-from-each-other-as-psychiatric-survivors/#comment-143141

    Why?

    Because it blocks metabolising CYP450 enzyems contributing and leading to toxicity…. toxic psychosis/akathisia suicide and toxic violence.

    Ofcourse not everyone will be affected… it depends on the expression of an individuals CYP450 system and other foods, herbs and spices that also inhibit/block.

    Suggest you and anyone thinking to use valerian watch the whole of this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEoSs6Yo0DA

  8. All this pill talk please GET EXERCISE !

    Its such generic advice but it works. I kick ass in the gym, I just do what feels right I never count sets or reps or take any supplements. I sort of split it up upper body one day legs the next but again I can just feel what I have to do. And I never bother with gym outfits I always go in ‘street cloths’ my muscles don’t give a crap if I do bench press in jeans or if I changed into some stupid baggy NIKE shorts. My gym is cool with flip flops they don’t care.

    If you watch the people in the gym that are strong and in good shape its not so much their routine or the one rip off supplement they picked out of 1000 choices on the shelves at GNC its that they push harder. Alot of advice that rhymes is complete bull but ‘no pain no gain’ is true. Watch them, they push out a few more reps before quitting. That’s the only difference.

    Anyway it doesn’t matter what you do for exercise, cardio or weight lifting riding a bike or climbing a tree the effect on so called mental health is the same. Less anxiety depression better mood and better sleep.

    I believe most people don’t exercise because there is so much BS advice from the diet and fitness industry that they get overwhelmed and think unless they “do it right” they wont benefit and that’s my rant on that.

  9. Lots of profound truths here. I especially appreciate this direct and simple statement–

    “None of us are perfect and there’s no one right way to help people or engage in mutual liberation.”

    I’m sure there are many ways yet to be discovered in these groundbreaking pursuits. Personally, I have found that effective boundary-setting is always a work in progress, and inherently relevant to creating mutually healing and harmonious relationship, based on authenticity. Keep up the awesome work, Chaya, you’re expanding the universe!

  10. See, this is the difference between a COMPETENT caregiver and a total quack. Chaya consistently and carefully balances her needs with the needs of those she’s helping. A quack, on the other hand, will immediately sink to aggressive means of dodging even the slightest inconvenience. If there was a professional like Chaya in every town, psychiatry would never rise again.

  11. I don’t know where to ask this question, so I am asking it here. The question: Do psychiatric drugs blunt one’s emotions to the point where the person experiences an inability to grieve?

    Here is why I ask: I was on a plethora of psych drugs for 30 years. I refer to those years (when I was effectively disabled) as the years I was “numbed and dumbed.” You may know what I am talking about… During that time I struggled to feel.

    Then my Father died. I felt no emotion and never grieved for him. Nine months later my Mother died. I had a hard time dealing with her loss. Five years later I discontinued all psych meds. My daughter warned me to be prepared for an onslaught of emotions.

    O, boy!! I had no idea!!! So many emotions and so intense!!! Having felt little with any intensity for decades, this was hard to deal with. I didn’t know what to do with all the emotions. The worst for everyone around me was my intense irritability and anger.

    Six months after quitting the psych meds, I was forced out of my job. A month later my husband was diagnosed with leukemia. A week later Paradise (California) burned. I am overcome.

    Paradise was my parents’ town. Their home was incinerated. The town is destroyed. I am taking it very, very hard. This was the only place I felt comfortable. Memories of my parents and my siblings are all couched in Paradise. I am overcome with grief, not just grief for my town, but for my parents, the lost times with my siblings, the years I lost to drug-induced disability. (I have autism. I did not have a mental illness, but because of the distress I experienced from being different, I was medicated and provided with a psychiatric diagnosis.)

    So I am grieving and I wonder if I can bear it. And I cannot help but think that being drugged for decades prevented me from being able to effectively grieve. Is this something to which others can relate?

    • yes, anti-psychotics damp your emotions as well as who you are as a person.
      When you come off them, you can experience terrifying withdrawal symptoms (especially if you were on them for years). You need to make sure you sleep (really, really make sure of that, including asking for melotonin), take vitamins (B especially), and take warm baths to calm yourself down. Breathing exercise also helps.
      Follow the link to Chaya blog and download her free book, it really helps to know that some people really care and been there as well: https://chayagrossberg.com/free-ebook/

    • You’re not alone Anna. They numbed my pain AND my empathy too. A trade off many of us would not have considered worth it if we had known.

      You have my condolences. I hope things get better for you soon. They will improve but it takes time.

      Remember you have a right to grieve. Sorrow is not a brain disease, but part of being human.

    • I do believe that the main purpose and effect of psychiatric drugs is to suppress emotional reactions to things. Consider that the drugs are categorized that way – anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressant drugs, anti-psychotic drugs… they are categorized based on their purpose, to STOP emotional reactions, rather than deal with or process them. Very similar to why many people get drunk or use other drugs to numb their emotions. When you stop using, whether legal or illegal drugs, all the stuff you were working to suppress is still there, in addition to withdrawal reactions and potentially damaged processing ability. Life presents extremely painful situations for us all to deal with, and the urge to escape from that pain is understandable, but calling it “treatment” would be laughable if it didn’t do so much damage.

      Is it possible you can connect with other people who have had similar experiences to process? Maybe some who experience the world similarly to how you do?

  12. “We like to say in this movement that we are ‘experts by experience.’ This is true. Many of us are experts by knowledge and research as well, and the combination of these facets brings the wisdom to connect with, inspire and mentor one another.”

    This is one of the best things ever written on Mad in America. Well done. For those who may be interested, here is a compilation of reviews of some of the best books ever written to expose the truth about psychiatry:

    https://psychiatricsurvivors.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/the-truth-about-psychiatry/