Just as psychiatrist Kelly Brogan, MD1 and US presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson are rightly questioning the pharmaceutical gaslighting of US citizens’ political-economic and social despair, more and more conventional medical doctors seem to be turning renegade against their profession by finding non-pharmaceutical treatment options for their patients and themselves. Modern Western medicine has brought great benefit to humanity via curing disease in hundreds of millions of people. Yet there are valid challenges to pharmaceutical scientism in some medical fields, including biomedical psychiatry.
An example of such a challenge comes from a former practising member of the conventional Western medical profession, in the form of a small, self-published book: I (2016). Written by US radiologist Jeffrey Fidel, MD, I is Fidel’s account of his “awakening” recovery experience,2 when he defied a long-term psychiatric diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and quit a cocktail of prescribed psychiatric drugs cold-turkey. Quitting psychiatric drugs so suddenly triggered a year or so of intense mental anguish for Fidel, from what sounds like a series of psychoses caused first by the drugs he had taken for years, and then by the effects of withdrawing from them.3 While Fidel eventually triumphed over the sheer hell of taking his brain off psychiatric drugs without support, abruptly quitting them without such supervision and support is not something he (or I) recommend for anyone.
Fidel’s book starts with a brief account of the life events that led to his decision to defy his diagnosis and stop the drugs: the end of his marriage, the death of his beloved dog, and voluntarily leaving his medical practice. Instead of agreeing to yet more biomedical “mental health treatment” for his pain, Fidel rejected it entirely. I then details what happened to Fidel when he quit psychiatric drugs and embraced an alternative, non-medical healing approach. The latter, in his case, was not the gaslighting merry-go-round of secular, cognitive-behavioral “talk” therapy,4 but a set of philosophical and spiritual teachings known as the Tao Te Ching and Hua Hu Ching (credited to the ancient Eastern philosopher Lao Tzu). These teachings are somewhat similar to the mystical traditions of other mainstream religions, such as early Christianity and Buddhism, which are being revived by non-sectarian writers5 in stark contrast to today’s secular/capitalist, self-help-oriented “McMindfulness.”6
As I noted, Fidel experienced a year or so of severe mental anguish and hallucinations when he quit psychiatric drugs.7 He thus seems to have endured what author David Forbes (in his critique of secular Western mindfulness) has described as “…trying to cling to a self that lacks a permanent and separate identity; it’s something to face, not something from which to escape.”8 The title of Fidel’s book, I, thus symbolizes who he realized he really is — without the myriad false-self role identities (known in non-sectarian spirituality as “ego”)9 he was socialized to adopt to fit into his family of origin, education system, society, and the political economy at large. Fidel says, for example, that he:
“… ‘believed myself to be an intelligent and diligent physician,’ an ‘animal lover,’ a ‘piano player,’ a ‘snow skier,’ a ‘husband,’ and a ‘father,’ etc. I (my mind) believed that becoming better at these activities would ‘make me happy…’ .”
When Fidel abandoned conventional psychiatry, psychiatric drugs, and the psychiatric label identities that come with them, he realized that:
“…In the end, though, none of these activities, by themselves, would complete the Being that I am. I (my mind) thought that it had ‘made it’ on the outside by achieving high levels of expertise in these various activities…”
“…my mind acquired the belief that it was not acceptable to cry in public. This created a conflict within my mind every time I wanted to cry. In order to compensate for this conflict, my mind repressed the rest of my being from carrying out its once-natural response…”
A crucial part of Fidel’s book—which seems consistent with emerging knowledge about the impact of childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences (‘ACEs)10 on later teenage and adult psychiatric distress—is his discussion of a similar emotional-mental psychic crisis he experienced earlier when finishing his formal medical school training. At that time, Fidel had learned to switch his mind on and off at will. When his thinking mind was “on,” he was consumed by thoughts of worthlessness, depression, and suicide.
Fidel also writes that he forgave himself, others (his parents?), and his childhood trauma experiences11—from his heart (not his thinking intellectual mind):
“…I forgave myself for not being able to live up to the standards of perfection…”
At this point, Fidel’s book could perhaps have done more to clarify what type of forgiveness he actually experienced, because “forgiveness” has diverse religious interpretations12 as well as various spiritual and therapeutic meanings.13 What is perhaps most important to note, however, is that for Fidel, his act of forgiveness quieted all the suicidal voices in his head. This raises serious questions about whether negative suicidal voices in the heads of other people are not so-called biomedical brain disorders or chemical imbalances after all, but rather the unresolved memories of adverse childhood experiences/childhood trauma.14
Interestingly, Fidel also describes a hallucinatory experience of meeting a vengeful, perfectionistic, parent-like, religious/theological “God” that his mind invented when he was enduring psychiatric drug-withdrawal symptoms. This experience lead to what seems to be his turning point, as listed in a short paragraph under the heading “My Insight”: Here, he connects his hallucinatory experience of a vengeful, parental “God” with his own real childhood trauma experiences of needing to be perfect as a condition of his parents’ love.
Thus, when Fidel quieted his cognitive, thinking mind (without resorting to cognitive-behavioural “talk” therapy), a new, more loving “voice” suddenly emerged from what Fidel says was his heart. Fidel’s mind then surrendered all the other voices and concepts of false-self role identities. For a further time, though, the false identities in Fidel’s mind still fought for their own survival via more hallucinations, which he recognized as such.
Fidel’s initial application of the Eastern spiritual teachings he chose to practice (including abstinence from sex, pornography, alcohol, and meat consumption) temporarily became a new “enlightened” false-self role identity. This meant that for a time, Fidel thought he was more spiritually advanced than other people and so became intolerant of anyone he “felt could not understand me” because he “had unconsciously created a new mental/spiritual drug: the belief in spiritual advancement.” Fidel admits he created more months of suffering for himself by becoming even more “mind-identified” and describes states of disassociation in which his mind split from his physical body.
Fidel says that by listening to the voice of his “heart,” his “being,” as who he really is, he effectively disidentified from the thoughts and voices in his head. Fidel also realized that conventional society and how he (and most of us) are socialized to exist requires a duality, or split, in our psyche and our sense of self. When Fidel resolved the split between his “false self” (the socialized, mind-made labels and identities that helped him to fit into society) and his “true self” (a self that exists, but without any identity label), his intense suffering from psychiatric drug withdrawal symptoms resolved.
The rest of Fidel’s book reads like a meditation, reflecting practically, scientifically, and philosophically on the spiritual (but not religious) teachings he applied. Fidel today claims to be a fully fit and healthy human being who now gives talks and interviews about his experiences and offers his views on the current state of conventional biomedical psychiatry as a form of (scientized) intellectual defense against suffering.15 He also offers support services to others who are suffering and makes public YouTube videos that share what he has learned.
Patients who are dissatisfied with biomedical psychiatry, dissenting psychiatrists/ psychologists, and scholars of divinity-spirituality or medicine-science might all find Fidel’s short book an interesting case study on how to heal the human mind (heart) and soul— without psychiatric drugs. Mainstream journalists, whose field tends to defend mental-disorder labels and psychiatric drugs, might also consider reading Fidel’s book and then interviewing him to obtain the unique perspective of a conventionally trained physician-turned-patient who successfully healed his own bipolar diagnosis without psychiatry.
For those who are considering quitting the biomedical-model mental health system and pharma drugs, emulating Fidel’s example could be very difficult or outright dangerous without supervision and empathic support. Fidel has said in online interviews that when he decided to quit psychiatric drugs and reject his long-term bipolar diagnosis, he did seek assistance from a psychologist who apparently would not help him and, given the current psychiatric zeitgeist, others may face similar lack of support.
Fidel thus ended up totally isolated and alone during his ordeal of self-managed recovery from psychiatric drugs. This raises a legal/political question: Has a pharma-influenced mental health system become so pervasive that citizens are denied fully informed consent and freedom of choice to undertake alternative, non-drug-based approaches to recovery? There is also an ethical question: Is psychiatric drug withdrawal obstructed by conflicts of interest in mental health systems, the ‘psy’ professions, and society at large?
Fidel’s book does not say whether he had the financial means to survive independently without a conventional job while he endured the effects of psychiatric drug withdrawal. Fidel also has a young son, who was presumably cared for by other people (?) during Fidel’s recovery period. Other readers with dependent young children who lack the financial means and personal networks may find unsupported psychiatric drug withdrawal as Fidel did it to be unfeasible.
To some readers, the prose in I may seem abstract, as Fidel focuses on expressing the state of peaceful awareness he discovered and now experiences as normal. Fidel’s writing style thus has a poetic, almost loving energy and rhythm to it, perhaps because it is an unembellished self-portrait of his experience of applying original, spiritual mindfulness teachings to his psychic distress.
While I might benefit from a more detailed sequel or revised edition to reach a wider audience, in its current short form it shows that for Fidel, a bipolar diagnosis was not permanent and did not require psychiatric drugs to overcome. I may thus offer a balm of honest relief and real inspiration to anyone who is experiencing intense emotional pain, mental suffering and/or suicidal thoughts, and who is considering tapering off psychiatric drugs.
I also shows the possibility (or real probability) of healing that can happen when a human being relinquishes psychiatric drugs and mental-disorder labels and identities. For Fidel, there was (and still is) enduring peace and genuine lasting recovery at the end of the psychiatric tunnel.
- Kelly Brogan MD, Own Your Self: The Surprising Path beyond Depression, Anxiety, and Fatigue to Reclaiming Your Authenticity, Vitality, and Freedom (Hay House 2019). ↩
- See e.g. Steve Taylor Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening (New World Library 2017). ↩
- Consider Joanna Moncrieff The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Anti-psychotic Drugs (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Robert Whitaker Anatomy of An Epidemic Chapter 9 ‘The Bipolar Boom’ (Crown Publishers, 2010) 172-204. ↩
- Despite being considered the “gold standard” of psychotherapy, open online public forums show public skepticism of cognitive behavioral therapy as a form of gaslighting abuse. See https://www.reddit.com/r/CBT/comments/aedmjg/cbt_or_gaslighting_yourself/. ↩
- Consider Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now (Namaste 1997) and A New Earth (Penguin 2005), Steve Taylor Spiritual Science (Watkins, 2018), Fr Richard Rohr The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books, 2019). ↩
- Consider David Forbes, Mindfulness and Its Discontents (Fernwood Publishing 2019), Jeremy Carette and Richard King, Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion (Routledge 2004), Edgar Cabanas and Eva Illouz, Manufacturing Happy Citizens: How the Science and Industry of Happiness Control Our Lives (Polity 2019). ↩
- See Robert Whitaker, above n 2, 179-182. ↩
- David Forbes, above n 6, 23. ↩
- Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth Chapter 4. ↩
- See e.g. Nadine Burke Harris MD, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). ↩
- Dr Fidel MD, interview 1 March 2017 ‘Wisdom from Within – From Bipolar to Liberation’ Savvy Broadcasting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wfn-UXdbVxs ↩
- Consider Maria Mayo’s critical analysis of different interpretations of ‘forgiveness’ in The Limits of Forgiveness: Case Studies in Distortion of a Biblical Idea (Fortress Press 2015). ↩
- Julie Juloa Exline, ‘The Thorny Issue of Forgiveness: A Psychological Perspective’ (2013) 13(13) Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal ↩
- Consider Bessel Van Der Kolk’s Psychological Trauma (American Psychiatric Publishing, 2003), The Body Keeps The Score: Mind, Brain And Body In The Transformation Of Trauma (Penguin 2015) and Richard Benjamin, Joan Hailburn and Serena King, Humanising Mental Health Care in Australia (Routledge 2019). ↩
- Dr Fidel MD, above n 10. ↩