Meds vs. No Meds? My Search for Freedom of Mind

15
2013

My descent into the mental health system and psychiatric medication began at age 19 after my first year of college, first in the form of antidepressants, then evolving into mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. Now, my psychiatric history is so extensive that it is as if I am wrapped in an infinite bandage, like a mummy, medication continually covering my wounds, never allowing them to be exposed and heal.

I wonder how things got so intricate and intimate, how my initial sadness and urge to commit suicide conspired to transform my future from desirable to desolate. How—as I began to enter and exit counseling sessions, psychiatrists’ offices, and psychiatric wards on a routine and rotating basis— I became numb, and how, as my radiance diminished, so too did my curiosity, motivation, and sense of humor.

I feign confidence in the maintenance of my sanity with daily medication. But really, I am as anxious as ever as year five approaches. My pattern of insanity returns every few years. I experienced my first psychotic episode in 2003 (aged 21), the second in 2006, the third in 2011, and the fourth in 2017. The four years since my last episode have been marked by periods of productivity, peace, routine, stability, hypomania, energy, agitation, indolence, and boredom, an aggregate of good and bad habits, a conglomeration of positive and negative qualities, normal ups and downs. Nothing has been too triggering or stressful: nothing to send me over the edge. Nothing has made me want to forego my medication, and nothing has made me forget to take my medication.

My psychotic episodes are full of mania, never depression, and during an episode, action reigns supreme. I have hopped a train, hitchhiked, engaged in chronic walking and running away, purged my belongings, and destroyed my artwork. I have been homeless, I have been incarcerated, I have been hospitalized, and while I welcome certain aspects of madness, not one of these experiences, as a whole, was positive. I am an active contradiction: I have felt godlike, felt my life threatened, felt a kind of ultimate freedom, felt broken.

In the past, when I have gone off my medication and had an episode, I have always been put back on (sometimes immediately, but always eventually, and always against my will). For example, during my last episode, a psychiatrist at a hospital inpatient unit threatened to have the staff force medication (Haldol, maybe?) through injection if I continued to refuse the oral treatment. Despite the psychiatrist’s subhuman treatment of me, I surrendered and began taking the oral medication.

I am not necessarily uncomfortable on medication, more like ambivalent. Today, I continue this active contradiction, often professing an anti-medication stance. I harbor anger over the fact that it has never been my choice to take it. I am forever curious about my ability to function without medication. I am curious about my nature and personality, about the doors I imagine would open to endless possibilities and serial productivity, to unrelenting ecstasy, if I were to go off medication and avoid the antagonists and the agony.

My experience supports the euphoria theory, and I know that I would be emotionally happy off medication. But the suffering I have endured at the hands of authority (doctors and police officers) has been too traumatic to pretend that I could avoid what has always been inevitable, at least in the past. If I could maintain a semblance of sanity without my daily pill, I could quit pontificating and turn my dream into reality.

In all my glorious daydreaming, once I remember my rap sheet, the pain returns. My self-esteem is wrapped up in a criminal conviction from 2006, the consequences following me in my pursuit of utopia. Yes, I was unmedicated at the time of the offenses. Marked with a record that cannot be expunged (in accordance with Virginia law) because I pled guilty, I cannot recover my pride, my joy, my life. Too much stigma. Too much judgment. Too much from other people, imperfect like me. My life feels stolen, and I am lost, without a purpose.

My consolation is the ability to write, and though I may never be rich in money, I can be rich in a talent that no one can take away from me, and the words might just be the power I need to rebuild my self-esteem and make amends with everything and everyone I have lost from madness.

Despite my writing aptitude and aspirations, medication curtails action, curtails motivation, and I find myself in a perpetual state of procrastination. It is a chore to exercise, for example, and I rarely fly by the seat of my pants. It feels a lot like laziness. It feels a lot like settling. Nevertheless, I have stayed on the same daily, 10 mg dosage of Abilify for the last few years. It is the only medication I take, and although I am compliant, I am not satisfied: I do not feel whole. I do not feel authentic.

I would go so far as to hop a train while on medication, or doing something, anything, while composed just to prove that my impulses often have nothing to do with medication or composure. My actions off medication are rooted in desire and feeling great, they are of walking 10 miles nonstop every day until I find myself inside the walls and halls of an inpatient unit, the medicine beginning to flow, subduing my restless energy, stifling my ingenuity. I came out of my last psychotic break 25 pounds lighter. In some ways, I was thankful for the mania that had me restless and walking nonstop because I looked closer to an older, slimmer version of myself, a supreme version from my early 20s who was happy and full of confidence.

Figuring out my identity is the hardest part of the reckoning. I am someone I do not know when I am not medicated because I have, for most of my adult life, always been on medication. And when I am on medication, I am someone I do not like. On medication, I am numb. Off medication, I feel. Off medication, I sense truth. On medication, I sense forgery. I resent the subtle ways that medication filters my identity: the way it makes my vision foggy, shielding me from sensation and masking my woes, the way I cannot tell who I really am and what I really want. Although medication subverts identity, it propels reflection. On medication, I think. A lot. And not always the productive and healthy kind of thinking. It is the antithesis of my physically active nature sans medication.

I want to live life without medication, which would prompt me to take action: to leave, to run away, to start over, to just do it: with chutzpah, without fear, without looking back. I have done it before. I have done it more than once. I suspect I shall do it again. I cannot shun the (e)motions: the impulse that entices me, the comfort that thwarts me. I want an alternate experience, the kind that is illuminating, where I confront my issues, learn from them, and move forward in a healthy manner, with the tools to ensure safety and awareness, without all the haze, without the suffocating simulation of hospitalizations, without the impurities of psychiatry.

I get so caught up in my disdain for medication that I search for alternatives to psychiatry, feeling alone, feeling alienated by a pro-medication, pro-psychiatry support system. Then, I switch Google gears and, abandoning my quest for alternatives to psychiatry, focus my attention on the benefits of psychiatric medication. It seems worthwhile to consider both perspectives, particularly since I am fettered to medication. The top results appear in a pros-and-cons fashion. I recognize the reality of my situation in its current state and know that I will not forego medication management for the foreseeable future, even though I wrestle with consent and contentment on a daily basis.

At 20, the world was at my fingertips. At 39, I have nothing to show for it. All I ever do now is wonder what I would be doing and where I would be if I could crest and lull in rhythm, with equilibrium, enough to escape the cyclic system of medication and psychiatry. I falter in the moment, unsure of whether I want to extend my rap sheet. Mulling the possibilities is like gargling warm salt water:

Gargle. Garble. Gobble. Sounds purr in my throat like an active volcano ready to erupt.      I think about the what-ifs, about the future, not about the past, not about memory, that cunning signal of imagined versus real. As memories tease me, I regurgitate.

I spend more time thinking about how I don’t want to be on medication than I do establishing a writing habit or engaging in hobbies or fostering a more productive routine. I’m too distracted by the salty taste of nostalgia.

Writing is always on my mind (like my plots to run away or break the cycle of daily medication) but never becomes a reality. The stories I feel compelled to document for their sheer singularity are the hardest ones to tell because they take me from bright landscapes to dark interiors. You should write a book, more than one friend has spoken, but I struggle to tell and shape these stories that depress my mind and weaken my heart. Sometimes I win, but never for long. Fifty First Drafts forthcoming, I joke, but it’s true: Every time I sit down to write, I start over.

I continue to pop a pill every morning to tame the intangible. Fear gawks at me and freedom seduces me, and I dream about the real me, who I am (when I am not medicated and not suffering from medication withdrawal), my nature and personality. I want to embrace my kind of wild, whether it means leaning into the sun, bright as a sunflower, or blowing in the wind like a pappus of a dandelion. I am anticipating the day when my body becomes fluent in the language of my brain; when they cooperate—the physical and the mental, when I am no longer a stranger to myself. It is romantic, even a sort of fetish that I revert to, this ideal, always conscious of my ultimate goal: freedom of mind.

 

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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.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Rebekah. I agree with your friends, you should write a book, you’re a good writer. But, then again, so should I. Not so much because I’m a good writer, but because I have a story that should be told, since I found medical proof of the iatrogenic etiology of ‘the sacred symbol of psychiatry.’

    But I’ve been struggling to get my story written for a long time, too. I did work with a group of writers a few months ago. I found that helpful, but it was via Zoom, and I really prefer personal interaction with my fellow humans. So I may look into local writing groups.

    Similar to you, I had the common adverse and withdrawal effects of an antidepressant misdiagnosed as ‘bipolar.’ Resulting in the onslaught with the ‘mood stabilizers’ and ‘antipsychotics.’

    It sounds like you’ve suffered, several times, from a drug withdrawal induced ‘super sensitivity manic psychosis.’ I dealt with such twice. Thankfully, I’ve been drug free for almost 12 years now. So do know you, too, can withdrawal successfully, if you really want. Have hope, no fear, but do withdrawal very slowly.

    Again, thanks for sharing your creatively written story. God bless, on your healing journey, and with your writing.

  2. Thanks for this.

    I suffered from longterm withdrawal syndrome (compulsive anxiety) that could have driven me mad. So I was satisfied to reduce medications rather than stop. I took as long as I liked. But the medication did stop eventually, and I was amazed when it did.

  3. i found that very high dose supplementation (in my case, modified, DIY Orthomolecular) helped facilitate my path to freedom, with a surprising side benefit of improved overall physical health. others prefer herbs, amino acids, on and on and on…

    just a random suggestion. i enjoy your writing. 🙂

  4. It is always amazing for me to hear from people – often fluent writers – about what life is like in that world. I have never lived there this life.

    My argument against “mental health” drugs has always been stark and didactic: The mind is not part of the body, so how can you make the mind “healthy” by medicating the body? It is a scientific impossibility (assuming you agree with my science). The drugs are doing things to your body. They can make it feel better, or make it feel worse. And so you react mentally to how your body is changing. And that is all that is happening.

    But when someone who has actually been through this tells their story, the situation becomes more nuanced. Certain drugs can make the mind “feel better.” We are very familiar with many of them, as the most popular are legal for casual use. With psych meds, it is not always blatantly obvious that someone is addicted to them, although most who have attempted withdrawal know this is usually the case. And so, they become not only a route to a possible calmness, but also a trap.

    On top of this, there are many things that can happen in life that can separate a person from real mental health treatments, as well as from the feeling of being mentally healthy. I experienced both last year. Things could get so bad that no alternative treatments or teachings will be allowed (or affordable). And that would be full-blown slavery. We are closer to this than most of us think.

    In some ways I feel similar to this writer. I am in a mental, emotional and intellectual quandary. Though I know there is a way out of this quandary, I don’t know if I can succeed to do it. Thus I feel like I’m in a better place than many facing these challenges. But not by much! I am hoping that somehow our efforts will inspire more people to refuse the drugs. That would be a great first step! But it would only be a first step.

  5. You write really well and I hope you keep writing.
    I relate to how you felt at 20 with the whole world in front of you and how you feel now. Psychiatric patients are occupied people and you live and write under occupation. I don’t feel that the human species will ultimately survive (a good thing in my opinion as there is more bad than good in us and we are noxious for the planet).

    However on the off chance that we will, in another I feel 60 years time or maybe less, the period of forced drugging of millions of people for their entire adult lives will be looked back upon as a barbarity. Whether you were overjoyed or walked a 100 miles in a day or sang in the street or muttered to yourself in a supermarket as you had no one else to talk to – whatever other ‘extreme state’ you manifested might be looked upon differently – perhaps with humour or kindness or even admiration for your eccentricity.

    We have the misfortune to exist when drugging is in full and awful bloom and the ‘insane’ or ‘mad’ are stamped as ‘defective’ and allowed to walk the streets alone and aimless as long as they are compliant in taking their drugs. There won’t be an out from that in our lifetimes I think.

    If you weren’t forcibly drugged who knows what you could be?
    I would urge you to keep writing until you produce something and publish it. That would be enough.

  6. I am with @l_e_cox on this one to some extent.

    A beautiful mind writes this piece. A beautiful mind without a body. The body is there but the mind that is so beautiful to put this piece together has no attachment to the body. So the body seems really pissed off, hence, the mind in order not to harm the body, created the distraction of the meds. So all feelings are toward the meds because it is much easier than making peace with the body – the corporeal always demands and wins. The meds are metaphorical entity for the feelings toward the body. I feel this because you mentioned your age – that is the age of the body and its weight of all the decisions made on the body – the body wants freedom to connect with the mind so it can go places that solid things cant (that might be a way to avoid mania) but a fight against mania is fight against imagination and against freedom itself!

    You have extremely strong and resilient body to carry on regardless.

    The mind is still youthful, growing, expressing, and searching for freedom but in order to get there, minds need a body as vehicle!

    Freedom in the body without mind is addiction. Freedom in the mind without body is harmful/psychoticism. Using imagination/creativity without database is to engineer bringing both together. You entice me this way in my own recovery.

    Where I differ from @l_e_cox is that the mind is also in the environment like oxygen is but there is/are unknown parts – we do not have words yet that know the mind and the body – what is looking and talking about the mind is not the mind or even consciousness to me this is the end of language – maybe a music or piece of art can show but no articulation. That is a slight variation I have.

    • I have words that “know the mind and the body” as well as what is looking at and talking about the mind.

      The only reason “we” don’t have these words and concepts is because we have been told they don’t exist. But they do; we have simply been lied to.

      Some may not agree that those words and concepts are useful or helpful, but until we know that they exist, we can’t have that conversation.

  7. There are a lot of situations where presribing meds is pointless and only for profits. For example, if anyone has seen the PBS Frontline documentary “The Search For Satan” (on YouTube if curious) there were people being told by “professionals” who were actually quacks, that they were members of multi-generational satanic cults. It turns out the leader in the “field of dissociation” Dr. Bennett Braun, had basically created a conspiracy theory based on world war II hysteria, making it into a medical diagnosis. He was telling people the alleged illness (Multiple Personality Disorder, now called Dissociative Identity Disorder) was caused by satanic cults but also that it was genetic, which makes no sense. He was prescribing multitudes of heavy psychiatric medications to people who were normal. To this day, psychiatry still claims the leading cause of Dissociative Identity Disorder is “Satanic Ritual Abuse” though in the documentary the FBI says they have found no evidence of these alleged cults. Shows you where a lot of these new far right groups like QAnon probably got their narratives. But these people were prescribed so many medications that they became abnormal, which I think happens in most psychiatric cases. If psychiatry is saying there are satanic cults and spreads nonsense conspiracy theories like this, you really can’t trust anything coming out of psychiatry.

      • Bennett Braun is mentioned in the news from time to time because he lost high profile lawsuits in the late 90’s concerning the subject matter I mentioned. There’s a 2019 article in the Montana Standard about him, too, that you can google if you’re interested. He got banned from practicing medicine in Illinois in the late 1990’s, then recently got in trouble again in Montana.

        • Saying that Braun was inept (as are most psychiatrists) and saying that his ideas and findings were totally incorrect are two different things. There have been many many people who have looked into SRA or reported experiencing it. You can always expect some people will try to ride any bandwagon that comes along. But all of them? There are too many who have looked into this and found evidence for it. It is, however, not strongly supported as a real thing, and there are a lot of people trying to make some person or group look bad who throw around the term too carelessly.

          • I appreciate your thoughtful response, I_e. I disagree, though in some respect. From what research I’ve done, there’s no physical evidence of SRA and it’s likely that DID/MPD is iatrogenic. I think there’s a really dark possibility that this just shows the power of collective death anxiety, religion, society, moral panic, and scapegoats. Perhaps millenarianism.

          • We have always had difficulty finding physical evidence for things that people want to keep hidden from us!

            But I have looked at the accounts of Svali and many others, the early work of Pie and Mash Films in the UK, and references to studies done on the subject, and it seems pretty real to me.

            I am guessing you don’t believe in spiritual existence, reincarnation, ghosts or anything like that, either?

  8. Hi Rebekah,

    “feigning sanity”. It IS what your shrink does too.
    And so every few years you become insane?
    And then, would you stay stuck insane? Forever?

    What you do need is community of like minded, or at least people that get you and help you feel safer. That is a good alternative to the people who are in the mental health industry.

    Life is not perfect bodies that perform with ease and perfection according to someone’s definition, and those bodies are not ill, or sick.

    You are curious about why you can’t be like those normals.

    There are people who are curious why they can’t run like others.
    A doctor would simply tell them that is just how you are, that they are not sick.

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