My long and complicated lifelong relationship with mental health issues and mainstream psychiatry takes place across three different countries.
It all started quite early in my life. I experienced severe emotional neglect and abuse by my parents while growing up. They were respected people; they both had successful careers. They were also both amateur photographers. As a child, I was mainly a prop for their many different projects. And after their divorce, just something to use for expressing their hatred towards each other. During this period, as an unprotected and physically below-average-sized child, I was an easy target for bullying at school, as well as sexual abuse by an older cousin. Then later, around the time of my parents’ divorce, I was sexually abused by the older son of a family friend. Naturally, I developed an eating disorder and OCD at an early age. This wasn’t really taken seriously by the family. I was simply told that I was a spoilt, naughty child who wanted too much attention. I tried really hard to do well at school and be a good enough child for my family, to keep the accusations at bay.
Around age 11, I had a classmate commit suicide. He used to sit next to me, and some other children blamed me for his death, because he had left a letter for me. I didn’t know what to make of it, since we weren’t close friends. But after this event, I started visiting the school counsellor frequently. She caused me to blame myself more, but I didn’t see it at the time.
The first time I saw a psychiatrist was around age 12. My mother was worried about some sexualised jokes she heard when I was on the phone. Because we didn’t have a close and honest relationship, she just took me to see a professional to put her mind at ease. She was worried I was being promiscuous. The session with the psychiatrist must have worked well for my mother because I only saw this professional once. I assume my mother received positive feedback from the professional and was told not to worry, since I didn’t tell this person anything of importance.
Later on, as a teenager, I was subject to more violent and scary sexual abuse, and was forced to use drugs and alcohol by my abuser. I got trapped in a “relationship” and I was unable to escape him. Over time, a severe dissociation took over me. I had to split from my body to cope with what was being done to it. It didn’t feel like my body belonged to me anymore. I started self-harming, just to feel my skin and keep the emotional pain at bay. I was disgusted by my body. At age 15, I was sent to a psychiatrist when I was unable to stay awake for more than a couple of hours, or eat proper food for several days, and my self-harming with sharp objects and cigarettes got too visible and out of control. I tried to open up to the psychiatrist, but he decided that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain and told me the only treatment was medication. I believe he told my parents that I was just seeking attention from them, since my father had recently had a new son from his second marriage and I was expected to react badly to this. An attention-seeking spoilt teenager was the label I had accepted.
Despite all the issues, I was still doing very well at school and never getting in trouble with teachers, so this made me look healthy. In reality, I was still being groomed and raped, but now I had the medications to cope with it better. Sadly I had nobody safe in my life who would not react to this information with something like: “How could you be so stupid and allow this to happen to you?” Or “You are lying/exaggerating.” Or “This is all your fault.” So I told no one. The anxiety disorder eventually made me afraid of ever leaving the house alone, or staying at home alone. Thanks to this, the abuser couldn’t have access to me anymore and left me alone. I stayed away from boys after this for over two years.
Looking back, I clearly see that my poor body did what it could to protect me under these circumstances, since nobody in my life who had the power to protect me was interested in doing so. I hated the “anxiety disorder” back then, but now I see that it saved my life at the time.
I survived to the end of high school. By then my anxiety attacks had morphed into severe agoraphobia, so I was put on antidepressants by the psychiatrist because my agoraphobia was inconvenient for my parents who were busy people. With sufficient antidepressants, my “mental illness symptoms” went away, and so did the negative feelings attached to most of my childhood memories. I didn’t feel my skin or my body much, but I wasn’t aware of this dissociation at that time. The SSRIs also gave me a lot of side effects such as digestive problems, appetite and weight loss, excessive sleepiness, unexplained bruising… But I was told I had to take these long term because apparently the only options I had were either being locked up in a psychiatric unit or taking the medication.
At age 17, with enough medication in my system, I wasn’t scared of boys anymore. Thanks to not having the protective emotions I needed (because SSRIs!), I got into a horrific relationship with a drug addict. I stopped worrying about anything, and I stopped going to university. I got pregnant soon after my 18th birthday, and had a secret abortion and paid for it with what I saved from my pocket money. My “boyfriend” contributed to the payment, but he was very shaken by my abortion, so I had to be extra nice to him for a long while. A year or so later, his parents sent him away to another country. I then decided to go to Germany to study at university there, since I had two uncles there who I could stay with. Despite medication, I didn’t feel safe anymore, so I was desperate to leave the country.
Germany was good to me until some of my childhood memories started catching up with me again. I tried to quit the SSRIs but the withdrawal symptoms were very severe, so I phoned up the psychiatrist who had put me on them and asked for help. He said it was my original condition coming back and that I wasn’t his patient anymore anyway and not to call him anymore. I searched for a psychotherapist, but could afford none of the ones who had space. The only available therapist that my insurance paid for was a vegan Buddhist. I tried Zen meditation with him for many months but was not getting any better with my anxiety. He was adamant it was because I was not meditating enough.
I powered through all this, went to university, worked two jobs, went to the gym, tried to take care of my health. Didn’t help. At age 21, my energy levels were only getting lower and my body weaker. My brain wasn’t functioning the way it used to, which made studying very difficult.
I wanted to be safe, and with somebody who would never leave me. I got married. As a result of my issues, my husband was a very controlling and possessive man. I didn’t see how abusive the relationship was, and ignored the violent incidents in his past. I thought if I could control him by behaving however he wanted me to, he would not hurt me. For years, I put all my energy into keeping him happy and his anger under control. He wanted me to give all my attention to him. I quit university again, since he always wanted to do things together and I didn’t have any time and energy left for anything else. I didn’t have any more friends. I rarely saw my relatives who lived in Germany.
Eventually, with the referral of a psychiatrist, I voluntarily went into a psychiatric unit, hoping it would be a safe enough place for me to quit the SSRIs and ride out the withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately they gave me random antipsychotic drugs, which turned me into a panicky mess, since I was not psychotic at all. I managed to get myself out of there, and even the psychiatrist who referred me to the clinic was surprised by their incompetence but he could not offer me therapy and suggested I increase the dose of the SSRIs. I refused and stuck to my usual dose, where I was at least semi-functional. A while later, I found a psychotherapist who did something called Primal Therapy, and had some sessions with him. This was the first time someone was interested in my childhood. This was also the first time I opened up slightly about some of my childhood abuse. However, around this time, due to my husband’s job, we had to move again. This time to England, UK. As a result, I was unable to continue therapy with him. So I went back on full-dose medication and buried the memories one more time.
A huge culture shock expected me in England. This time, I didn’t have any relatives or friends. I was all alone. The only person I had was my husband. I tried to distract myself with two part-time jobs. I still wanted to go back to university, but I didn’t have enough money for the fees here.
The longer I went without trying to quit SSRIs, the more numb I got, and the less I could remember memories of abuse. The antidepressants also helped me tolerate and normalise mistreatment in my daily life. I wasn’t aware of this at time, of course, but I still didn’t want to use them because the side effects were unbearable. I hardly felt anything, I was like a zombie. I slept too much, found it difficult to communicate with people, and just went along with life.
Years went by, the doctors kept prescribing the SSRIs every month, and nobody questioned this very long-term use. I tried to talk to some doctors about quitting, but they discouraged me since I had a ‘chemical imbalance’ in my brain that needed correcting with medication. So I gave up too. Until my late twenties. By then, I was a mother. I knew in my head that I loved my children, but I didn’t feel it in my body. I also realised around this time that I hadn’t cried for years. Realising this level of numbness was too unbearable for me. I could not accept giving my children this kind of mother who did not feel. For over a decade, I had been relying purely on my intellect to live, and had no emotions.
Then at age 31, I was lucky enough to come across a kind doctor who genuinely wanted to help me. He suggested that I try quitting my SSRIs extremely slowly, over a period of a year, maybe. He tried to find the medication in small doses or a liquid form to make the tapering easier, but it wasn’t available. So I started tapering by taking half a tablet one day a week, and made a plan to eventually take half two days a week, then three days and so on. After five months I was taking half a tablet every day. And at that point the withdrawal symptoms hit me. All the information I got from the doctor and the internet was that I should not be having these symptoms from simply reducing my dose over such a long period of time. I was on the brink of going back to full dose again when I discovered an American website, a peer support internet forum called “Surviving Antidepressants.” This was a godsend. I had finally found people who could help me quit SSRIs. I adjusted my tapering speed and method according to their recommendations, which was 10% reduction a month, and everything was bearable for a little while.
Unfortunately the relief didn’t last long, because the speed of tapering was still too fast for me, due to the fact that I had been on psychotropic medications since age 15, had a huge amount of unprocessed trauma, was stuck in an abusive relationship in a foreign country with no family or friends, as well as having two little children to look after. I sought help from a psychotherapist, who was actually helpful for the first time in my life. I opened up again, purely about the frustrations of SSRI withdrawals, because by this time I had completely forgotten about all my childhood abuse. But I was listened to for the first time, and I was hopeful.
However, about a year in, my husband lost his job. We sold our house. We weren’t happy in the new house, and my family were all asking us to move back to my home country. They said that they missed me too much and wanted to have a relationship with my children too. So, we moved back to my home country.
In the new country, I wanted to continue therapy with someone local. Because some of my memories were returning due to the reduced dose of SSRIs, or due to being back in the same country and around the same people who abused me. Unfortunately, each psychotherapist or psychiatrist I tried had some method that they were insistent upon using, such as CBT, EMDR, parts work, somatic experiencing… I didn’t feel comfortable with any of those, I just really needed someone to talk to and be understood by. I tried opening up to one of them (a psychiatrist) about early childhood sexual abuse, and she kind of insinuated that sexual experiences are normal in childhood, so I put that idea to bed and decided I was exaggerating it. To be fair to her, a few sessions later, she was the only person who told me that if someone locks you in a room and they have a knife in their hand, and they try to convince the 15-year-old you that they only want to have sex with you because they love you, and when you run away they chase you and in the end you give up fighting and let them do whatever they want, this is still classed as rape. At the time I genuinely thought this experience was all my fault and classed as consensual, since he hadn’t actually stabbed me. Sadly, this psychiatrist also became unavailable, and I eventually gave up on finding someone to talk to face-to-face.
Then came 2020 and my living situation became extremely stressful. Family issues were crushing me. I started becoming physically unwell. Then eventually, I developed a very severe chronic illness. Every medical treatment the doctors and hospitals tried on me made me worse. Until my nervous system became so hyper-sensitised that I could not tolerate any medications without dangerous allergic reactions. This slowly spread to different foods, chemicals, materials, temperature changes, even to tap water. I became allergic to life. This stopped me from eating, moving or living as normal people do.
At that point I got very depressed and hopeless. My family blamed me as usual, and they assumed that my illness was all in my head. I repeated the mistake of seeking help from psychiatrists, since I was still tapering from a low dose of SSRIs. When I tried to explain my issues, I was told that I had no choice but to go back on a full dose of some kind of psychotropic medication if I ever wanted to get well. The last psychiatrist I saw told me that I was wrong about the side effects of SSRIs and withdrawal symptoms. He did not believe that I never took any other, non-prescribed drugs or used alcohol in over a decade. He said that any other doctors or therapists who ever agreed with me must have been manipulated by me. I had to pay a significant sum of money for the privilege of being insulted and gaslighted, so I will never forget the regret, despair and humiliation I felt after these accusations…
Understandably, that was the last time I sought help from mainstream psychiatry. After all these disgusting experiences I had with the mental health system, in three different countries over 20 years, I am not in favour of seeking help from them unless one is at the brink of death.
I am now in a place where life seems more hassle than it’s worth. My physical health is in a worse state than my mental health. The medical system broke me completely. The pieces of my shattered soul are waiting to be retrieved from each and every memory of abuse and exploitation. I don’t have the strength to do that alone… So today I am just surviving. I only hold on to life for my children, and nothing else.
When I look back at my life, it seems that nobody was interested in actually supporting me. They just wanted me to take the drugs and keep quiet. My family and my rapists, abusers and psychiatrists all had it in common that they wanted me to “take something” to become more obedient and quiet. It is as if they were working together without even knowing each other.
The worst part is, I was completely unable to see this pattern until I had a medication-free, clear mind to realise what was being done to me. It is a miracle that we, the victims of psychiatry, ever make it out alive. The system is broken beyond repair… And I hope that the same doesn’t apply to my beaten body and soul.
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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