Twenty-five years ago, I was unwittingly indoctrinated into a mental health system that I later discovered was artificial, grim, and broken. “They” said everything would be okay—promises of peace by way of lies and deceit. Life exposed a shadow; blackened, bruised, embattled. What used to be fun turned into boredom and glum. Unaware of the bottomless pit I had fallen into, I awoke one day questioning who or what am I? Then, like an epiphany, it hit me: ’twas a nightmare I endured at the onset of my fifteenth year of existence. Now, soon to be 40, the world is opening up, revealing a destiny I never dreamt possible.
Prior to being at the mercy of pharmaceuticals, I was an intelligent, happy, confident, and regular kinda guy. I didn’t possess a single psychological intricacy—until my introduction to what developed into an ongoing affair with a staggering amount of debilitating treatments.
After one typically misconstrued bad day, which occurred in my late adolescence, Mom and Dad committed me to the first of many psych wards—to which I became accustomed, spending more time there than at home. Unfortunately, that event ushered in an ever-expanding list of poisonous cocktails—which gave rise to seasons of mind-bending delirium, followed by a psychedelic trip that lasted nearly three decades. This led to my insulation and isolation in multiple loony bins; the preeminent catalyst that locked my brain inside a prison-like hell.
After undergoing upwards of 100 bilateral ECT treatments, none of it ever nurtured me back to some form of sanity; it made matters entirely worse. For that reason, I was compelled to travel to clinics across the country, spending tens of thousands of dollars in search of miracle cures.
In the intervening time, my weight skyrocketed to over 300 pounds from the antipsychotics. I was perilously close to developing diabetes and sustaining a heart attack. Fortunately, there was a more positive fate in store for me.
During my inaugural trip into bedlam, they labeled me with major depression. Once transfixed by antidepressants, I manifested an intricate mix of intrusive, blatant imagery. These so-called authorities of medicine later conjured a diagnosis of bipolar disorder—whether that be bipolar 1 or 2, mixed or rapid cycling, or attributes of schizoaffective disorder. One doctor even claimed I displayed traits of ADD. He treated me with stimulants, which bestowed in me a Superman-like persona, and within 24 hours transformed me into a real-life Jekyll & Hyde. The scariest occurrence was when they insisted I had borderline personality disorder and maintained there was no purpose to my way of life. Clearly, they could never confirm what had truly gone awry.
It turns out I’m susceptible to everything administered into my system. Chemicals like caffeine, Omega-3, and the slightest amounts of sugar would alter my disposition dramatically. “Mood stabilizers” such as Depakote, Trileptal, Tegretol and Lamictal brought forth indescribable chaos. Swallowing large quantities of first, second, and third-generation antipsychotics yielded intense full-blown hysteria, combined with auditory and visual hallucinations. For unknown reasons, every synthetic substance I consumed back then produced exactly the inverse effect of what we presume is required to help.
Until now, I’ve adhered to every recipe for disaster there is. I suppose everybody claims that, although I have definitively swallowed, chewed, and disintegrated a plethora of meds. I was spaced out and thoroughly befuddled on rare old-fashioned neuroleptics such as Haldol and Thorazine. Throw in drugs du jour like Clozaril, Risperdal, Geodon, Latuda, Invega, Abilify, Zyprexa, and Saphris, and you have the perfect ingredients for a life lived lost.
Manipulative white-coat frauds played me like a guinea pig by prescribing the most potent doses of those pills. Hence, while I received Geodon, they’d ‘fix me’ on over 320 mg, rendering an aftereffect that caused my eyes to roll back into my head—requiring Cogentin to force it to stop. Adding insult to injury, they mixed Lithium into my pill regimen. On account of that, besides being prone to urinating in bed and fighting with a humiliating dry mouth, my hands would tremble uncontrollably whilst attempting to hold a fork or pencil. Their goodie bag included a tablet for every side effect I exhibited.
“But WAIT! If you ORDER NOW, as a BONUS, these drugs will also have you devouring massive portions of pizza, soda pop, and candy—causing you to gain an apocalyptic amount of weight.
“But… THAT’S NOT ALL! If you order RIGHT NOW, the offer will also include (but not be limited to) these incredible side effects:
- Persistent muscle spasms
- Hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- Loss of coordination
- Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs!”
WE NOW RETURN TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING:
Increasing amounts of mayhem contributed to my never receiving a proper education. I had been super-productive, advancing beyond most of my peers when I was a kid. Nonetheless, while attending middle school, everything changed with my first list of Rx scripts. From there, my intelligence and mood barreled rapidly downhill. If I wasn’t falling asleep in class or drooling on my desk, I remained at home, battling self-destructive thoughts. Day after day, I would scream and cry, throwing objects at my parents while kicking holes in their walls. My dad often called the cops, who’d haul me away with my wrists zip-tied behind my back. Not only that, I lost every friend I’d ever had and was incapable of building a stable relationship offering love or affection.
On top of an already altered state, I smoked weed excessively, which triggered wildly distorted visions of reality. Getting too high would induce seizures, blackouts, and panic attacks that had me behaving like a childish buffoon. As a result, men and women appeared afraid of me. Some even suspected I was created from sin; spawned, then borne out of one individual purpose—to strike fear in those who see me wrong.
I did not purposely abuse any pharmaceuticals back then, even though I admittedly consumed many sedatives and sleeping aids. Naturally, they were implemented within my daily lifestyle—because the physicians advised me to accept them. I never craved more or less, although, when intoxicated on marijuana, there were unforeseen moments where I took more benzos to tranquilize the psychosis and hallucinations.
Reality has become my new obsession, whereas hanging out with my former companion, Mary Jane, pulled me down into a rabbit hole twenty feet deep. Never will I succumb to that gray, dysphoric wonderland again.
As part of my online quest for a wonder pill, in early 2019, I conducted the following web search: “What are some of the new and improved antipsychotics on the market?” After hours of investigation, nothing personally transformational was forthcoming. Exhausted chasing after a remedy, that magic bullet to release me from my decades-long psychosis, in a moment of despair and by a stroke of good luck I stumbled upon something remarkably more real.
The initial link near the top of the page I was on contained a narrative referring to Laura Delano. I began reading it, and my attention was instantly piqued. I couldn’t draw my rare sense of concentration away from the column long enough to go back to my research. Upon completion of the article, I found myself repeating these words out loud: “There’s not a single thing wrong with me!” Belatedly, it all made sense.
What could have distracted me from not recognizing my true identity throughout all the madness and delusion that lingered in my bleak and shattered self?
IT WAS THE PILLS!
Speaking of pills: I was on 2000 mg of Depakote ER, 2 mg of Risperdal, 6 mg of Klonopin, and 160 mg of Inderal LA. Not to mention the 100 mg of Benadryl I was also scarfing down every night, plus ample doses of melatonin. I didn’t want to be looked down upon as a freak or abnormality anymore. Something needed to be done.
My immediate approach was to check myself into detox to eliminate the benzodiazepine Klonopin. However, I soon learned that idea was impulsive and based on me being uneducated regarding withdrawal and tapering meds. The accompanying physicians at that facility took me off all 6 mg of Klonopin cold turkey. Phenobarbital was accordingly selected and decreased over the course of five days. Within those five days, I was besieged by bewildering cries of misery. Seizures came and went while I lay shaking like a leaf, tumbling out of bed. Time appeared as if it stood still; I watched the pendulum swing as I drifted in and out of a hibernated state. I soon felt smothered, clawing at the walls, longing to escape.
Following my discharge from what seemed like hell on earth, I plunged into a panic-stricken frenzy all over again. Sleep was non-existent, resulting in four or five days of being wide awake—which provoked me to hear and see things that couldn’t conceivably appear. Paranoia kicked in as I stood on my couch, sticking tape on the announcement speakers in my apartment, assuming they were microphones listening to me as I often talked to myself. I developed arachnophobia at night, believing spiders were crawling all over my sheets. My heartbeat started thumping at the underside of my ribs in a quick-driving rhythm. I rocked back and forth in a pool of sweat, naked for two months straight, peeing all over myself without being able to muster the strength to walk to the toilet. I spent endless hours taking ice-cold showers while lying on the floor in a rising puddle, longing for some kind of peace. Whenever I tried leaving this watery hole, I proceeded to go right back in, desperate to cool the scorching sweats.
Nobody would accept my calls or emails; even my former best buddy didn’t want to be near me. I wished more than anything for the agony to end and made plans to surrender to a slow and painful death. However, a redeeming voice inside my head assured me that I was meant for so much more. Despite recurring suicide attempts when I was younger, I couldn’t go through with them—because deep within my soul burns a desire to express and create. Hopefully, I’ve only just begun.
During that post-disengagement, I began reducing my Risperdal, but I tapered it exceedingly fast, delivering me into excessive withdrawal. Still uneducated about the process, I met with a new psychiatrist. He instantly put me on 600 mg of Seroquel XR, 400 mg of immediate-release Seroquel, 1800 mg of Neurontin, and 1998 mg of Campral while I was still under the seduction of Depakote and Inderal. Glancing down at a prescription in hand, I began losing faith in what I once believed was the only way out.
It was then that I caught sight of a website called The Inner Compass and developed my Plan of Action. I designed charts and Word documents to assess how to systematically dispose of every medication, and began reducing the Depakote ER by 250 mg once a month until it was done away with. Shortly after that, I quit the Campral with no problematic effects. Cutting back the Seroquel a little quicker than I should have was ill-advised on my part. When I got below 400 mg I had an acute psychotic break, returning to the psych ward once again, where I was drugged up with 6 mg of Vraylar. With a divided uncertainty and lack of incentive, I let them have their way with me one final, fleeting time.
Boy, was that a BIG mistake!
They forced me inside a padded room, sedated, then laced, white jacket in place—only to lie against a diminutive bed of springs above a filthy, frigid floor. To no avail, I repeatedly tried to free my hands as they bled from the tight, noose-like band around my wrists. Finally, I looked up and observed a small windowpane, through which I felt the sun’s warmth and witnessed a tree branch tapping on the ceiling—a glimmer of hope I hold onto as I look past sorrow and dream of tomorrow.
Before I flew out of that cuckoo’s nest, the attending psychiatrist sat me down and said, “Ryan, this does not imply you are a damaged human being. It means you were born in a manner that you will never be like anybody else.” That remains the only plausible thing a doctor has ever disclosed to me. I am not like everyone else. I notice the light in the dismal, darkened shadows, and the delicacy in what others perceive as grave and displeasing.
After returning home, I became even more dedicated to my Plan of Action. I started moving gradually, monitoring my mind and body. First I lowered my Seroquel by 25 mg, cutting and shaving it until it was merely dust. That process took an unrelenting 12 months, or in plainer terms—an entire fucking year of my life I’ll never get back. Pardon my use of profanity; I shouldn’t have said unrelenting.
Soon after, I tapered off the Inderal LA, converting it into immediate form—scaling it down via tiny amounts until it was gone. As I got off the Seroquel, the next stage was devoting myself to an exercise routine, which included walking up to ten miles a day. A Weight Watchers membership ensued, through which I lost over 130 pounds in less than a year. I don’t eat or drink caffeine, consume minimal sugar and carbs, and maintain consistent sleep and wake cycles.
After removing all traces of Inderal and Seroquel, I retired the 100 mg of Benadryl and melatonin I’d been ingesting for more than half my history. It was no big deal to withdraw from, but the outcome of leaving them behind was, in fact, a pivotal step in my recovery. Next nixed: Neurontin, by 100 mg a week, never to return, until my pill container was empty for the first time in a quarter-century. The litmus test was coming off the Vraylar, a second-generation antipsychotic. Because they were capsules containing powder, I had to work out a technique to rid myself of it entirely. First, I would open, prepare, and reduce them by 0.125 mg weekly. Then, straight out of a scene from Scarface, I meticulously arranged the powder with a razor on a mirror and licked it up once every morning. Officially being down to 0.50 mg from 6 mg, I am 91.6% free from my drug-riddled burden.
I never give up when times get rough, not even when I think I’ve suffered enough.
It will take me over three years to remove all this medication from my body—yet that represents barely a fraction of the time they’ve been invading my system. Still, it will take countless months to recover from the harmful effects these drugs had on my mind. Be that as it may, I’m presently comfortable thinking that those within my close circle find me to be an entirely different person. I now see eye-to-eye with my family, and I’m making new friends and developing some meaningful relationships along the way.
In the wake of dealing with this epic insanity, I recognized an innate yearning to express myself through writing. Despite my lack of formal education and in the process of trying to cope with an onslaught of medicinal matters, I managed to publish my first collection of poetry, Euphoric Wonderland.
It fills me with pride and joy to be on my way to achieving a positively productive future that was inconceivable not too long ago. I’m traveling to author events, and by sharing my story, I am making a concerted effort to inspire individuals who are seeking to improve their lives—one struggle at a time. People no longer perceive me as a monster, and neither do I. Life is good, and I feel the destiny I once dreamt of is well within my grasp.
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.
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