Snapshots of Spring: Journeying Off Psych Meds After 20 Years of Compliance

Graciela Pilar Signes
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5012

By spring of 2016, my ability to say “no” to suicide was holding on by a thread. I wanted to be well or I wanted to be dead. I couldn’t stand the in-between anymore. My inner world was growing increasingly dark. Hospitalizations had always felt like warped sanctuaries, where a sophisticated bulldozer demolished the little sense I had left while holding me, powerless, in a trance. I did not want to end up there again.

After my parent’s divorce and my first suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in the spring of 1998. Since then, I have been diagnosed with ADHD, borderline personality disorder, psychosis, etc… I have attempted suicide and been hospitalized many times. For about 20 years, I tried my best to adjust and comply with the diverse medication cocktails I was prescribed. They immediately sent me far away in and from my mind, and for the enormous cost of treatment, the system never taught or encouraged me to heal myself. Instead, I was told my condition was incurable. The term ‘recovery’ within the system was a confused and confusing concept. It didn’t mean I was going to recover my true self, but I kept falling for the bait, desperate for relief while remaining treatment resistant. Recovery meant I was integrating into society as a shadow self, my brain invaded by foreign, hardcore psychotropic drugs that supposedly knew how to run my life better than I did. A few scripts with lifelong refills provided ephemeral first aid, but rather than addressing my original problems, stifled and added to them.

I felt I had failed my mother, my rock, so many times in life, I could not fail her now that she needed me. Her Alzheimer’s was worsening rapidly and she had appointed me her health care proxy. Before, during and after work, I did things for my mom every day, but by spring 2016, I was showing up to my life with deadly scenes playing in my head. At every turn, a part of me ruminated about suicide uncontrollably. My brain enacted reruns of the darkest variety where I was both predator and prey. As weeks passed, it became increasingly difficult to resist the lure to act on them. Many times a recurring daydream (taking up too much of my headspace) was of me going to the convenience store next door, stealing a gun from a cop, and bringing it home to shoot my mom, then me, so neither of us would be a burden anymore.

Other times I envisioned renting a storage unit, parking my car inside and letting the CO2 end me. I would hold my mother close as if for the last time while simultaneously thinking of hiring a double to care for her and play the role of her only daughter — someone sweet and smart, not the damned mess I turned out to be, so I could kill myself in peace already. No matter how much I prayed, suicide was getting harder to fend off. I went on Amazon to buy Final Exit by Derek Humphry since I had failed at killing myself multiple times. Once online I was instead guided to buy A Promise of Hope by Autumn Stringam and Med Free Bipolar by Aspen Morrow. My mother and I owe a debt of gratitude to these women. The first story slowly restored my hope and the second gave me instruction on how to get off the medications which were likely contributors to, if not the causes of, my suicidal ideations and dark psychosis. With the help of Aspen Morrow’s book, I started addressing what I was putting into my gut and by January of 2017 I added micronutrients to my new treatment plan. I wanted to die and be someone else and little by little that is exactly what is happening. The necrotic parts of my life are slowly falling to the wayside or being restored back to health.

Through the years, the worst part was the ongoing blurring of the line between what a side effect was, what a response to a stimulus was, what a symptom of the so-called disorders was or even what my personality was. It was challenging to be myself, if that even existed anymore. I was no longer able to fully engage my prefrontal cortex — and everything connected to it. Some meds made it very hard to swallow. My body has fluctuated form like a blood pressure cuff. I’ve had terrible adult acne. At night, I have felt paralyzed, unable to move my body in bed with much difficulty breathing, consumed by fear, feeling things crawl on me and stalked by demons. Most days I believed I was being punished by God because I was such a disgrace to humanity.

I’ve been arrested. I’ve had to report to probation officers. I’ve done so many things that make no sense to me right now. I have left home to be homeless, I’ve slept on the subway or in the Port Authority, I’ve asked for money from strangers. I have been on disability. I’ve picked up cigarette butts off the sidewalk to smoke them. I have felt lower than the cigarette butt on the sidewalk that got trampled on all day. Most of me seemed to have checked out and whatever semblance of self and self-worth I had left was negative. Once a bright young girl, I had turned to trash. Like most folks, I have also had countless experiences of flying high through life followed by crash landings. I’ve lost good relationships with my unruly behavior. I’ve lost jobs and opportunities as if they were grains of sand slipping through my fingers without being able to adjust my grip. My college transcripts are filled with all sorts of letters and I remain without a degree.

I’ve hit “rock bottom” countless times to find that it is, in fact, a bottomless pit. As long as there’s a pulse, life can always get worse. I’ve endured akathisia and tardive dyskinesia as a result of my medication regimen, but the worst side effect of the medications and the system was the loss of my sense of agency. I never addressed the issue that catapulted me into the system in the first place. I never found meaning in my life experience. I just became a “mentally ill” person and I saw myself as an untrustworthy stranger who had to consult therapists and psychiatrists about every move I made regarding my life, which was worse than the brain damage, memory loss, cognitive malfunction, threat of developing diabetes and organ failure among all the other adverse effects from the medications I was prescribed.

In spring of 2017, I took a Narrative Healing class online with Teleosis Institute, taught by a coach, author and a high school English teacher of mine, Reggie Marra. The class helped me improve my footing on the track to a “new way of being.” The writing assignments were like physical therapy for my mind as I was working through mental scar tissue on lower doses of meds in a supportive environment. One of the assigned readings in the class was by Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D. Ph.D. who holds degrees from Stanford University and the Psychological Studies Institute. He is a prodigy, psychiatrist, geriatrician, author, etc. with decades of experience helping many heal from mental and physical illness. A lifelong student, he integrates indigenous, eastern and western medicine to help activate and assist each client’s system’s innate ability to heal itself.

When I was one month off meds, Dr. Mehl-Madrona agreed to doctor me, and in our sessions, he treated my mind, body, and spirit without partitions by using Narrative Medicine, Osteopathic myofascial release and ceremony within a community. Integrating the Native perspective into my recovery offered my starved intellect a potent dose of common sense that has resonated deeply and taken root. The First Nation healers’ way of acknowledging the environment as well as the individual who is afflicted makes more sense than the dissection of the afflicted (and affliction) from its environment and mistreating it independently from its context, which had mostly been the case for me in mainstream care. Everything is connected. Dr. Lewis also introduced me to The Red Road. Its profound simplicity makes it a practical way for me to get back in alignment with what is important when I feel myself getting off track. Even though my time as his client has been brief, I can testify that while his combination of practices is atypical, this ex-treatment-resistant consumer is more proof of the effectiveness of his methods. Recently, his partner and wife Barbara Mainguy, MFA, MA has agreed to become my therapist. A Canadian creative arts psychotherapist among other disciplines, she is well versed in Quantum Psychology and has implemented with me a variety of modalities that in my two-decades-plus of attending therapy I didn’t even know existed. A hard-working, forward-thinking professional, she is not alarmed when my supposed “psychosis” surfaces.

It is long overdue that the numerous longstanding and effective “unconventional” therapies be covered by insurance. They need to be brought into the mainstream so more people have the resources to recover from mental illness instead of continuing to perpetuate their dis-ease within the current system’s confined parameters. As I stand amid the ruins of my past, parts of me that I thought were dead somehow keep crawling out from the wreckage. My life has much room for improvement, but I could not be happier with this homecoming — that mainstream psychiatry overcharged me for and was unequipped to offer me. In spring 2018 I was even strong enough to go on a pilgrimage along The Camino de Santiago in my deceased mother’s name, nine months after her death and six months after quitting psych meds. This mission fortified me in many ways.

To be fair, I’ve had plenty of good times throughout my life, but they have felt like misunderstanding the rules of the game, trying to hide the cracks in my best poker face and holding a hand of cards I didn’t know how to read, while balancing on a high wire trying to shake the relentless fear of free-falling back into the abyss at the next misstep. It’s hard to have control over your life when you are ingesting prescribed mind-controlling substances which were not designed for long-term use for good reasons.

Now, in spring 2019, I am reconciling my past with my present with the intention of better tomorrows than my yesterdays. I’m 39 years old and have been living medication-free since my mother’s birthday, December 2nd, 2017. Off the meds, I do not recognize my life as my life. I feel like a survivor stumbling around her own ground zero, looking over her shoulder, unsure what just happened, how I’m still alive or how and if it’s safe to build a life worth living. No matter how much I would have preferred not waking from that hell and possibly reincarnating as something else, I managed to escape the system and here I am in the same lifetime, alive and well. My prayer to be taken out of my misery was answered, just not the way I used to envision. I feel out of my depth with my new lease on life. I’m slowly getting acquainted with this new setup and am eternally grateful for yet another opportunity at life, which I hope does not slip through my fingers.

I’m a non-smoker and live medication-free after 20 years of dependence. My life may not seem like much from the outside, but to me it’s everything. I’m so grateful to be regaining the use of my brain again! I live in a cozy little apartment by myself and have kept the same job for almost 10 years. I’m a psychiatric survivor making small changes towards a purposeful life. Yes, I sometimes have intense symptoms that I now reason through organically, unencumbered by psychotropics. As I remap my mind, my brain rewires itself. The practice of running new circuits in my brain allows for the possibility that perhaps the so-called symptoms are a good thing, making me human instead of a member of the walking dead.

The substance-free view is so different, at times dizzying with the wondrous vastness of life. As being med-free has blown my consciousness wide open, I struggle with the basic mechanics and maintenance of life. It is a challenge to find my place in society and not get lost in the shuffle. I get tripped up by mundane things that I take as reminders for me to stay slow and steady, which makes it a challenge to integrate more life changes more quickly. Time continues to slip away and I did not attain the goals I had in mind for my first-year-plus med-free, but I thank the Creator for this thoroughly frustrating yet humbling experience. I have so much to be grateful for. I can sleep without drugs and I can cry when I need to again! Each day I am becoming increasingly more able to use words to show someone the view from my perspective — which used to be a delicacy reserved for rare, special occasions. To connect to life this deeply feels so vulnerable, intense and embarrassing, yet awkwardly awesome.

I hope it’s not too much to ask that it never end. It feels like on some offhand merit, or perhaps my mother’s putting in a good word for me, I’ve been allowed back into the human race. In a way, I feel like an almost-forty-year-old teenager finally going through a kind of puberty. I hope the process won’t be interrupted again. As I cautiously navigate this beautifully patterned and infinite shared mind space within and among all of us, I pray to continue to thrive so that someday I may be of service to others who may find themselves at a dead end within traditional psych care and need a hand out of it. This new path may not have any markers or guarantees but makes more sense than the burning hell from which I have risen. I may have come a long way, but I’m just getting started.

In closing, I’d like to thank the people I mentioned above, and their like-minded peers, for not giving up when the mainstream offered them resistance for daring to think, practice medicine and build lives outside of the “black boxed” norm. If it were not for them, I would not be here. They are the pioneers and beacons of light that continue to illuminate the dark path towards a new dawn within our healthcare system.

86 COMMENTS

  1. wow…amazing. miraculous, even. I am–speaking as someone who has also been thru “the system,” and was completely destroyed by my own behavior and also by “treatment”– incredibly proud of you and the new life you’ve worked so hard to create for yourself. I hope that doesn’t come across as condescending…its The Internet, so all anyone has to go on is what’s typed out…I just mean that I’ve experienced much of the same, not quite as extreme, but similar themes, and…

    your story, your new life, your efforts…really made my day. I really enjoyed reading this, and your writing style is hi-quality, too.

    I wish you well in your new life, and as you journey on, take on new challenges, make a new way forward, day by day. We probably have different belief systems, but no matter…my prayers are with you. 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Graciela. I agree the “bipolar” drugs are the worst, because they basically include ALL the psych drugs. Glad you were able to get off the drugs safely, my journey getting off them was both less difficult and more difficult, in different ways.

    But I absolutely agree, being on those drugs is like living in hell, and the crimes the “mental health” workers go to keep people within their disempowering system are staggering, which makes escaping difficult. I’m glad you were finally able to break free. And I hope you live a long, happy, drug free, and stigmatization free life. God bless.

  3. Ms. Signes, I am familiar with the unsettling notion that when the last drug is gone, there may be no ‘there’ left.
    I allowed myself to feel & react to what came next: the PTSD thing was messy. After most of that had worked it’s way out like a splinter, I became open to tenatively feeling happiness. That became a mash-up of old and new memory-muscle and clear new choices.

    I found my brain was finally straining at the leash, rolling in the grass like a puppy.

    It was just waiting, healing, resting, & exuberant in it’s eagerness, firing on long-dormant cylinders.

    The relief was massive.

  4. Yes, thank you Graciela for sharing your story. Glad you decided to stop using lethal psychiatric poisons.

    As I see it, we all have to also completely reject Psychotherapy and Recovery Programs too. All of these things, with the mental health system, are just ways of creating and managing a huge underclass.

    We share our experiences with Comrades, and we find these fighting shoulder to shoulder with us on the barricades.

  5. You were NEVER “worthless”, Graciela. Not at your “sickest”. Not at your most pathologized. Not ever. And, those “opportunities”? All an illusion. I’ve enjoyed years off the psychiatric narcotics, and my liberty has allowed me to finally grasp the truth about potential: It’s NOT a bitter, and, inevitably, futile fight between you and the world. If *anyone* is waiting, fighting, obeying, and learning, and STILL falling further and further behind, they’re NOT “failing”. Rather, they’re BEING FAILED, MISERABLY! Even the biggest self-saboteur will pull back before they put themselves in the gutter. The instinct to survive is universal and unstoppable. And, it’s especially potent among victimized people, such as those who’ve been tortured by #FAKESCIENCE . For now and forever, LOOK AROUND when you’re plummeting into the abyss. Odds are, you’ll see a loud and prowling mob of sick f*cks. And, at your age, you’re bound to quickly recognize their lying, brutish, and manipulative antics. Despite the massive cost of your experience, it’s, nonetheless, a gift, at this point. Use it. When whack-jobs start to invade your life, run FROM them, not TO them. No psychiatry. No toxic family members. No dead-end schools or jobs. Restructure your life to lock them all out of it. Then, make your next move. No matter what you’ve been told or what your fears are, you CAN stay away from the #FAKESCIENCE clown world. Except for psychiatry’s “true believers”, there is NO ONE “too sick” or “too undeserving” of an un-quacked life. So, get it, hold onto it, and don’t let it go.

  6. Wow! I’m not sure which blows me away more, your courage to tell this story as you have, or the courage in your having lived it? But I’m pretty sure you’re living the hero’s life from here on out, from which a most fortuitous fate not possible before your first psychiatric encounter, will find you a most deserving representation. You Rock! And your story only grows in leaps and bounds from here.

  7. Loved reading this, thank you! I came off of Lithium (and several other neurotoxins) after 20 years also. I’ve now been 17 years psych drugs free and have been living by my own power and heart-felt guidance ever since. Life has a way of teaching us and seeing us through, if we are attuned to our nature. It most certainly gets better and I agree with Fiachra, that the best is yet to come. Congratulations on accomplishing such personal growth and finding your voice of truth. Beautiful!

  8. Graciela…you cease to amaze me…I have know and witnessed your inner conflict being stuck in a system that is broken and painful to endure. I believe in truth that there is nothing wrong with us, that we manifest into the “psych system” because of we endured in our lives which can be “crazy making.” Graciela you are a courageous warrior woman blessed with insight and massive determination!

    I remember the evening you came to my home and read me your submission to Mad in America; pained that your piece was rejected by MIA. As I heard you read your writing to me; I was personally struck by the constant tearing down of your truth almost as if discrediting yourself, your knowingness in almost an apologetic way. Graciela please don’t discount your truth and the ability to articulate your story, your truth in a very powerful and succinct way. All I can at this point is BRAVO and again you cease to amaze me by your profound and very powerful journey; escaping the trapped broken system. I applaud your tenacity.

    Graciela, you are the most beautiful blossoming flower that has been born out of your own raindrops, your tears and Graciela your inner knowing, are the sweet yet sometimes painful conflictuality that can emancipate and set “us” catapulting out of the darkness and painful truth that the existing system is broken dictating to us in their illusion “just take a pill or pull yourself out by your bootstraps, or the condescending I know what’s best for you.” I believe we all have within the power and tenacity to heal. Yet when drugged, I know from my own experience how painfully destructive numbing existed; feeling like a zombie, walking around life like the living dead. Our feelings need to be respected and respected tenderly…I believe all feelings are messengers saying pay attention to me…yes sometimes the journey out of “hell” can be terrifyingly painful yet are the keys that unlock our own personal prison. Again, whose definition of “normal” do we allow to dictate our lives; allowing doctors and other “well meaning people” in our lives to give our power away, maybe from that “hopeful child” position and ascribing others as “gods” in our lives. My denying my truth was for me the ultimate betrayal; allowing others to both define me and diminish my painful truth.

    Graciela I applaud you and your amazing journey out of the hellish existence; the dance with suicide…the utter blackness and despair and seemingly no hope of change, the hopelessness, WOW. All I can say Graciela is you have graced my life by your presence and your powerful story of your emancipation from psych drugs, smoking, suicide…yes, you Graciela are a beautiful flower of grace that can and already have touched others profoundly by your amazing story and eloquent portrayal, expressions through your gift of words! You are an abundant blessing to others and I wish for you continued blessings of grace wrapped in “LOVE” love for yourself and love for your precious existence.

  9. Graciela, what a beautifully written story. As a fellow survivor I get your story. I’ve been med free for almost 3 years, now. I was fortunate like you to find someone who could really help me. My story was published on this site too. Isn’t it wonderful to get a life, again??? I’m just sorry it took until my mid 60’s to get help. I wish you a wonder filled life. Congratulations!!!

  10. Graciela, Thank you for sharing your story. I am so happy you escaped the clutches of psychiatry and have your life back. It boggles the mind how people psychiatry routinely labels as disordered and hopeless are actually some of the most courageous and resilient people around.

    I noticed exactly what Alex did re your writing and beautiful responses to commenters and that “you are a bright shining light” and certainly have a beautiful spirit. I wish you all the best going forward.

  11. Ms. Signes, I applaud you in not only declaring succinctly how YOU feel regarding YOUR experience but ‘brushing back’ folks who attempt to disparage those views.

    My essay “Full Moral Status” Parts 1& 2 MIA/Feb & Comment section-may give u some insight on another perspective regarding this issue you have remarked on when publishing.

    Respecting any ‘veteran’s’ views on THEIR psychiatric experience & conclusions is essential on MIA…and everywhere else.

    Stand firm; your inherent graciousness should never be presumed as weakness or malleability waiting to be formed by another.

    Respect.

  12. Its not just the APA, its also Capitalism and the Middle-Class Family. They are two sides of the same coin and that coin is named “Self-Reliance Ethic”

    Its all a serious and potentially lethal source of denigration and toxic shame. Psychitary, Psychotherapy, and Recovery are just some of its enforcers.

  13. I’d very much like to support Graciela here. Her courage and authenticity are palpable, and I believe she is breaking ground with her story and how she is using her voice. This is the brightest and most transparent example of transformation in process I’ve ever seen, word for word and in present time.

    Sharing beliefs is one thing, and has value in how we become familiar with the diversity of humanity. But imposing beliefs on another in a double binding way, expecting everyone to think, believe, and perceive the same way or something is “wrong” with you (or just plain, “you are wrong about you”), is EXACTLY what psychiatry does that is most oppressive and violating, and which does great harm if it is constantly chipping away at our own personal truth and questioning our sense of self. That is maddening. Mimicking this is, to my mind, what would keep psychiatry alive, because it validates their tools for oppression.

    Graciela, thank you for your powerful voice of truth and inspiration, and allowing your humanness to shine along with your light, paradoxes and all. It is refreshing and real. And I’ll go ahead and call it “change.” We are on our way. Blessings to you ♥

    • Hey Alex and Grace, re: ..imposing beliefs…”. One would think that if anybody had experienced the absolutist dictates of psychiatry and the attendant damages, they would be particularly sensitive to imposing that ‘method’ on anyone else, ever. Clearly, that’s not the case.
      Everybody experiences life, religion, politics, love….and psychiatry differently. There are some commonalities but always unique, important details.

      Some insistent voices ‘re-interpret’ other’s words, thoughts and meanings, ‘correcting’ them to correspond with their own beliefs…..relentlessly. Many of us have had enough of that outside of MIA ; this should be a safe venue to speak. I somehow believe Mr. Whitaker shares that thought.

      It seems self-sabotaging to offend the people you are attempting to ‘recruit’ to your POV. Browbeating is not an effective tactic for success.

      Having experienced drugged recruitment and enforcement in the psychiatric system, it’s terrible…but as a free-person, RESPECT regarding everyone’s unique lens, yet feeling free and safe to disagree appropriately is rare and so valuable.

      Life’s a buffet; if I don’t like it, I don’t choose it. As an adult, I don’t want anyone telling me EVER AGAIN….what’s best for me to put on my plate.

  14. Thank you for sharing. I’m living in hell now. Along with my son who has been severely traumatized by psychiatric abuse and over drugging to point of almost death and time in ICU. I am his caregiver-advocate-payee-mother-and more. It seems I’m living from crisis to crisis with no break. I’m trying to taper off 23 years of meds. Klonopin being the most evil of meds to me. I’m suffering horribly. There seems to be no end- no meaning to my life. Please pray for me. I am where you described- I need to get better or die.