Made “Mad” in America

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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.

weight gain psychiatric drugsIn 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
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • 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.

weight lossSoon 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.

31 COMMENTS

  1. We need to be educating people in how to resist the mental health system, and of the importance in doing this.

    Seems that most victims of the mental health system were voluntarily induced into it.

    And all the more so now as CA Governor Gavin Newsom is setting up special Care Courts targeting the unhoused with coercive procedures.

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2022/04/saving-lives-cementing-stigma-review-just-like-you/#comment-196594

    Joshua

  2. Ryan you star!

    I love your story.

    Astronomers often thrill children by telling them in gory detail what they surmise happens to the human body when it enters a cosmos gobbling black hole. Your before and after photos could make a surreal poster for what happens to the human body when standing too near to the event horizon of Big Pharma’s lab coat white hole. You describe what it is like to survive in there in astonishing prose.

    I came off antipschotics a few years ago and it made a positive difference.

    When antidepressants grew in acceptability people were relieved that they no longer had to “work on” themselves and change. The pill would do that for them. Prior to then society felt people had a “weak character” if they did not “work on” and improve by themselves. We have come full circle it seems because more people now prefer to see drugs as a problem and our character as malleable as putty and easy to maintain. Or simple to care for like a veg patch. I believe this swing back to that is balancing.

  3. Dear Ryan, Bravo for you and your courageous journey. Your determination and fortitude got you out of the hell of turning to shrinks for help……and I do think anyone who would give someone over 100 ECT treatments is negligent. I’m glad that you’re writing and think you did a wonderful job chronicling your story. Here’s to finding your way out of the psychiatric hamster-wheel…….

    I have a story of overmedication and recovery that will be out in the fall. What I discovered in going through my mother’s records is that the drugs the docs gave her most likely kept her locked in depression and anxiety for over 40 years. This madness has gone on for far too long.

  4. I do hope Robert reads your story and discusses it with you Ryan. You deserve his praise. I have written to Robert Whitaker around eight times over the years. He must be exceedingly busy because he never once acknowledged my correspondence.

    I think it is understandable to want to doctor the poorly doctored. Heal them back to health. But what if someone does not feel they have been poorly doctored? All doctoring is a service. A service can be declined without repercussions or rejection. If rejection occurs one must wonder whose needs the doctor or anti-doctor is serving.

    I say this because I myself have been in a sulk with humans ever since I got to this planet. I put a moon map on my wall. I tore the square map from off around the roundness of Mother Moon and gave her pride of place on my wall. She is the size of a drum. But this morning I noticed that the moon picture is covered in place names. Few spots are devoid of writing. Every section is bedecked with the names of marvellous men. Thinkers all.

    As if they created her.

    I pondered a cave painting poster I also have on my wall, a riot of bison. What is it about the human’s impulse to scent mark everything with human hand prints and human art and human letters and human titles and human territorial signage and human walls and human cities? A giant way of saying….

    So and so woz here!!!!

    All over the moon grow the human signages, black letters like a haze of lice obscuring the lips of craters.

    Is not the moon allowed to be her own?

    The human cannot leave the environment unmolested by human “logical” thought.

    A crater shuffles into a doctor’s office and gets hollowed out with the secondary meteor impact of human letters. A diagnosis of schizophrenia. That diagnosis gets driven into the bedrock like a human signage that says…

    Doctor so and so woz here!!!

    But in good time another doctor arrives and says the signage needs dug out and a new one cemented into situ. A sign that reads….

    Doctor so and so woz here and pronounces a diagnosis of trauma.

    If the crater says she wants to choose her own simple signage none of the doctors speak to her. They conclude her mad. Ungovernable.

    Mad like a crater. Mad like a wasteland. Mad like a river. Mad like a mountain. Mad like a naked cave. Mad like a forest.

    None of the animals do signages. None.

    There are no signages can be given into the crater hands of the truly animalistically mad.

    Moons with no mens name pronouncing what they are.

    There are no letters on my moon. There are no letters on my doormat. There are no letters in my email inbox.

    Men think they are deities using nature as their saddle and plinth.

    But my moon is still Godless and barren and hopelessly beautiful.

    Yesterday I bought four boxes of little tylenol moons from the corner shop to swill myself to oblivion, to the lovely undisturbing accepting arms of the moon.

    Their spill litters my hall floor like shadow interrupted dropping stages of the lunar body.

    Humans are killing me.

    I am schizophrenic. It is my sign. I say this to all you humans. I now choose it. Who are you to kill me by repeatedly trying to rip it out to put your own pronouncement into me instead? Who do you think you are?

    Who?

    Leave me alone to like my schizophrenia sign now it is with me. Leave me alone to observe its moving sundial shade play across my crater. Stop smashing your flag of certainty into me.

    Get off my body.

    Leave me alone.

  5. So inspiring Ryan. It is very moving to read how you have overcome the awful discontinuation effects of multiple medication, alone! I hear how you missed out on education and of course many other aspects of life. Yet none of what you endured is holding you back; that is a message of hope to so many who desperately need to know that escape from toxic psychiatry is possible. Thankyou for sharing your story of survival.

  6. I absolutely loved reading your story Ryan! It was very well written and very helpful. I suffered alot of what you described. I was also way overprescribed many of the meds you were. Ryan you may inspire me to ✍ write and submit my story as well. So happy to see you doing so well both mentally and physically now. Sadly I have an old friend who is bipolar but looks like your before photos. Sadly his own mother wants him overmedicated. He is on nine medications. Including Haldol, Seroquel, Depakote, Klonopin etc. Its great to see that you were able to persevere and come to the point you are at today. It was very hard for me to watch my friend never recover due to being severely overmedicated. Keep up the great work you are doing Ryan, because today you have motivated and inspired me to help others more!! Thanks! Michael

    • I would not call that “overmedicated.” Of course, there is no way to determine the “proper” level of “medication” when the “disorders” they claim to see have no actual, objective definition. But being on 9 drugs is not “overmedication,” it is MALPRACTICE! And I’m willing to bet that despte (or because of) her massive “medication” load, he’s still doing poorly and has a crappy quality of life. That is not healthcare. It’s malpractice.

  7. Back when I was in grade school, I developed a minor nervous tick disorder. Because of that, I was taken to a neurologist. The neurologist declared that I must have Tourette’s syndrome, and in his warped reasoning, he said, “if you have Tourette’s syndrome, then you also have ADHD and need to take medicine.” But instead of putting me on the usual stimulants, he put me on an antidepressant, because he said that all the drugs basically do the same things. Well, he got that part sort of right, because its true that all the drugs do the same thing, a big nothing helpful! And as I learned from experience many years later, the drugs actually cause severe mental illness. The antidepressant made me socially withdrawn, and turned me into a basket case! It was only after they put me on antipsychotics that I then began to hear voices. Well now, I am almost 42, and my life has been thoroughly ruined by the professionals! On the bright side, I am also in the final stretch of tapering the last psychiatric drug, and I am doing better than ever before. I find your story inspiring and I realized I haven’t been exercising enough, so I have now begun to walk two hours every other day.

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