Back in 2013, I had a spiritual awakening of sorts. Being an atheist at that time made it an odd experience. My mind was a bit flustered, but by no means was I a threat to myself or others. Even so, my mother grew concerned at my newfound beliefs and asked me to get an evaluation. I went voluntarily and I was questioned by the attending physician. To be clear, I knew nothing about the Bible or religion at all at this time. I said I was God’s child, and then he asked if I was saying I was Jesus. I shrugged and said, “I guess?” He then proceeded to drug me, and I then woke up in a psych ward. How I found myself in this situation even though I didn’t express suicidal or homicidal tendencies still confuses me to this day.
I was then sent to a CSU (an involuntary psych hold) in Rome, Georgia, where I was then medicated for Bipolar Disorder Type 1. They gave me Latuda and lithium. I was there for six days, and the meds made me progressively worse than I was before. My delusions began to grow, as did insomnia and hostility. I left against medical advice and, after one day of being out, I was arrested for aggravated assault and armed robbery.
That morning, on June 1, 2013, I awoke and took my prescribed meds. Unfortunately, I took more than I was supposed to, and as a result, I ended up stripping down to my boxers and arming myself with a knife because I was under the impression the world was coming to an end and I was the Grim Reaper. I remember being terrified and had little control of my actions but still retained somewhat of rational thought. I ended up running out of cigarettes and needed a ride to the store. So I walked down the street and approached my neighbor, whom I’d never met before, and unsheathed the hunting knife from my boxer’s waistband. I was terrified, but I couldn’t stop. I approached from behind and I stated, “It’s either your truck or your life.” He turned around, saw me, and agreed to give me his truck. Seeing he wasn’t a threat, I sheathed my blade and asked for a ride to the store instead. He said the keys were inside. I then asked him to go get them. He then retreated into his home, locked the door, loaded a gun, and called the police.
Oblivious to my actions, I then proceeded to play basketball in this man’s driveway. Eventually, he came back out and handed me a dip pouch and we spoke. I can’t remember about what, but a little time passed before police arrived, guns drawn, and aimed them at me. I complied with their commands, thankfully, and was detained.
I was then escorted to Forsyth County Jail and thrown naked into the “turtle suit room,” a very, very cold room with no blankets available and where your only clothes are a green, padded sleeveless gown they make you wear. I’m sure that that room violates the 8th Amendment to the Constitution to the fullest extent. I then spent the next seven months freaking out because I was facing such hefty charges, despite that I’d never had a history of violence or crime. My lawyer suggested the “not guilty by reason of insanity” (NGRI) plea. I didn’t know what it was in-depth, but all I heard that day was that I could go home. On my hearing date, I was found NGRI within 10 minutes and was sentenced to a 30-day evaluation at a psychiatric facility. If I were found not to be a danger to myself or others, I could return home. I cannot express enough the relief I felt at that moment. The crisis had been averted, and my life could return to normal… oh, how far from the truth that idea was. This was simply the beginning of a long journey through hell.
I arrived at Georgia Regional Atlanta Hospital on February 16, 2014. After 30 days, I was evaluated and was found not to be dangerous in the slightest, but they determined I might have a cannabis-dependency issue. They were recommending to the court that I attend in-patient rehab. I was to remain in their custody until my departure for the rehab facility. When I told my family, they thought I was joking. I may have smoked weed, but I wasn’t a heavy user, and I was anti-every other drugs. I didn’t even take Advil because I hated pills so much. But being in this situation, a choice is something I didn’t have. By this point, I was medicated heavily and turned into a half-functioning potato.
I then spent eight months waiting for a bed to open in a rehab facility. It wasn’t pleasant in the slightest, that I can assure you. When I arrived at the rehab, they didn’t have me in their system, I had no form of ID, and they had no idea who I was. I convinced the receptionist to do whatever was necessary to intake me into their program. I talked to a counselor and they relayed that as far as they could tell, I wasn’t an addict. I explained that it didn’t matter; this was something I had to do regardless—and my alternative wasn’t an option worth choosing. They then took me in and I spent two months there without issue, receiving substance-abuse treatment I didn’t need.
One night, I felt as if I had almost died in my sleep. I then had blood work done and it turned out that the Depakote I’d been taking had almost shut down my liver, so I had to come off it immediately. There was a weird transition coming off it. I regained my emotions, which I hadn’t felt in over a year. Trying to regulate them wasn’t easy, though. Their response was to send me to another CSU and put me back on Depakote. I spent a week there and then, a day after returning to a halfway house, I was again returned to Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta. I hadn’t harmed anyone or myself, yet somehow I found myself back in the same hell I thought I had escaped.
I was then medicated with Haldol. This drug turned me into a monster. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t focus. My joints were locking up, tremors were a constant, and I drooled on myself. I expressed my concerns to my treating psychiatrist. He said I didn’t have affordable alternatives and that he “didn’t want to set me up for failure.” I endured this torture for two-and-a-half months. I begged for help, but with no response. I then tried to threaten harm upon others to get a shot so I could sleep. It didn’t work. I tried everything, but all they did was laugh at my attempts. I had had enough and ended up knocking out a Plexiglass window to instigate a code yellow (psychiatric emergency). I then sat down and awaited the arrival of the forensic staff technicians.
They got there, I willingly let them give me a shot, and I went to sleep for the first time in a long time. My doctor then returned from vacation and actually increased my Haldol dosage. This torment continued until I was transferred to their hospital campus in Savannah. Before my departure, I completely lost faith in medication and psychiatrists. I had expressed my concerns about Depakote and why they were still giving it to me. I then asked to see lab results of a healthy liver compared to my liver. I was told such a test would be non-therapeutic and was therefore denied a right that was clearly mine. I then refused to take their drugs, and that was when I was forcefully medicated via injection.
Once in Savannah, I immediately refused Haldol and requested an alternative. During my stay there, I acquired a campus job as a groundskeeper via a staffing company. I ran gas-powered hedge trimmers, chainsaws, leaf blowers, and the like. That really confused me, because why would they allow me to handle those dangerous tools but not consider me “sane” enough to release me? I also was trying to get off the meds. A doctor there agreed, and we proceeded to taper off the drugs. Turned out I was fine and didn’t require pharmaceutical intervention. Unfortunately, she got a job at the VA and was replaced.
The new doctor put me back on Haldol.
As I said, I’d expressed to my previous physicians my concerns about psychotropic meds and how they were affecting me. Fast forward to June 2019, when I filed a grievance telling them that it was a violation of my rights for them to medicate me without cause, and it was also against my religion to take such drugs. I expressed that the root of the word pharmaceuticals is pharmacy, and that word is derived from a Greek term, pharmakeia, which means witchcraft, sorcery, spells, or poison. Which I wasn’t interested in partaking in. They were also forcefully medicating me under threat of rehospitalization if I didn’t comply. I even got the advocacy office involved. They agreed I was right, but they couldn’t force Georgia Regional to stop violating my human rights. I even recorded my nurse practitioner having a conversation with me, which you can listen to in this YouTube video.
After seven years in the system, I felt I had no option but to seek refuge in another environment until this situation could be legally resolved. So in October 2020, I went AWOL from a forensic (semi-independent living) apartment program after my lawyer failed to do his job to free me from forced psychiatry. This meant going cold turkey off of all the prescription drugs I was on for my diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar Type: Risperidol Consta 50mg twice daily, Wellbutrin 400mg, Tegretol 400mg twice daily, and Klonopin 1mg twice daily. The withdrawals were absolutely dreadful, but I have finally seen what they didn’t want me to.
Today, I have zero symptoms of mental illness. I eat, sleep, and carry on with my life as if I were never diagnosed. I want to resolve my AWOL situation legally. Technically, I was under conditional release when I sought refuge. After this is resolved, I plan to continue learning computer code and refine my music. I am hoping to share what I’ve learned from this experience through melodic parables.
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.