A Felt Sense of Safety – From Disassociation to Embodiment

21
2652

Iarrived at my 18th birthday 20 pounds overweight, insecure, and foggy, thanks to Depakote and Zyprexa. It was the perfect way to start my senior year of high school. My lovely psychiatrist, Dr. Volls, advised me on the concept of “mood management.” I depended on her expertise to keep me out of crisis, while the medication kept me grounded, sleeping, and helped me forget. My first experience with psychosis had occurred just four months prior, and I was not about to go through that again.

With every pill I swallowed, I drifted further and further from my authentic self. A nutrition geek and nature fanatic who loved learning about the healing power of food, I could not wrap my mind around how I needed prescriptions to balance my brain. Little did I know how much damage they were causing. These medications helped my family feel safe, which made me feel safe from ever experiencing a psychotic episode again. Diagnosed bipolar at 17 meant that I had no rights. I was considered a child. No one respected my opinion, and even though I intuitively knew that enforcing medication was not the solution, there was no alternative.

I grew up in a chaotic household where we each took turns experiencing a crisis. Everyone participated in some way. In theory we were all safe within our dysfunctional family structure, playing roles and adapting as needed. I played the victim role most of the time. When my sisters went to college, I shifted into a caregiver role with my brothers, promising myself I would be the older sister to them that I never had. I wanted them to feel safe, nurtured, and loved.

When my sister attempted suicide by overdosing on Benadryl, I remember feeling frozen in shock upon hearing the news. This was sometime after she had been treated for her eating disorder at a facility in Arizona.

Years later, my youngest brother was hospitalized for type 1 diabetes.

My other sister eventually became pregnant out of wedlock in college.

As my brothers entered high school, they started dabbling with drugs and alcohol. Both were eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Both got on medication. One brother got off of all of it over the course of 10 years. He was the pioneer in my family. After two years of lithium, he got off completely, holding down a job and supporting himself through the entire experience of withdrawal.

Don’t ask. Don’t tell. That was my family motto. I always seemed to tune in on what was going on behind closed doors, at least with my closest brother. We shared a bond from being treated for bipolar with lithium, and I learned so much from his healing journey, before I even attempted to get off medications.

During family gatherings, we never talked about anything of substance. I operated out of an anxious, disassociated state, while other members of my family quoted movies and laughed about our bad genes. I pretended to feel safe. It was an expectation to show up to every family gathering, every holiday and birthday. As a good daughter, I showed up, I observed, and dodged criticism by inserting the occasional funny comment as I deemed appropriate.

When it was my turn to create a crisis, mine was a big one.

Paxil-induced psychosis, on an airplane, just moments after takeoff. The antidepressant, prescribed by a neurologist, had unearthed my “predisposition for bipolar,” the psychiatrists would later claim.

Thrust into the welcoming arms of the mental health system, “safety” was a portion of my care plan completed by a social worker before I was discharged from my first emergency week-long hold at the psychiatric ward of Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas.

My safety plan started with the question,“What are you going to do to make sure you don’t have another episode?”

Take medication. Go see my psychiatrist. Maintain my sleep schedule,” I dutifully wrote down on a worksheet. At the time, I was foggy and slightly delusional after a week of enduring abusive psych techs who threatened and terrified me into taking medication.

I spent the summer listening to Dashboard Confessional, frozen, in my room making collages and jewelry. Trapped in a childlike state, traumatized, and without a voice. I felt helpless and controlled, like an injured bird who would never fly again.

Safety was an unfamiliar concept, even before my bipolar diagnosis. The only time I felt a sense of safety was in the woods. I missed the creek behind our old backyard where I wandered for hours among the cedars and the oaks. When I spent time in the forest, I felt peace.

I felt connected.

I felt safe.

Inside the home was a feeling of chaos and fear. While there were moments of calm, my mother operated under constant low-level anxiety, fearful of what would go wrong next. My father was working most of the time. They both showed up in times of crisis, and they followed doctor’s orders, encouraging us to take our medications.

My senior year of high school was the year my heart stopped speaking to me. There were no more dreams or desires. I told myself that my dreams no longer mattered. Stability was more important. I finished high school, graduated from college, and got a job. My heart continued to long for travel and adventure, but I ignored it.

When I discovered power yoga, I was 24 years old, working for a leasing company, and living in an apartment in Dallas. Lying on the floor in our final resting pose after sweating and bending for 45 minutes, I relaxed every muscle and felt my body fully supported and held. The teacher’s soft voice soothed my restless soul. For the first time since my explorations in the woods, I felt safe.

I felt safe enough to let go.

After that class, I was hooked. I started practicing yoga twice a week and within a year, I practiced every other day to balance my long-distance runs. Yoga felt like a miracle drug. All I had to do was move through a sequence, push myself to the edge and then, just when I felt I would collapse, I was given permission to relax. Lying in stillness, I listened to the hum of gentle music and the calming presence of the teacher, who often quoted authors like Pema Chodron or Rumi at the end of the class.

I practiced sometimes six days a week, even twice a day at times. I felt safe inside the walls of the studio. It became my safe space. Here, I learned about self-love, acceptance, and the concept of mindfulness. Inhabiting my body and paying attention to how each pose felt was also a different way of being. Nurtured by the words of my teachers, I carried their message inside my heart where it began to blossom.

Unfortunately, after feeling so good and experiencing a period of happiness, I consulted with a psychiatrist. She encouraged me to consider that I did not have bipolar, and I got off lithium too quickly. The bliss of discovering these new tools and living with fierce independence was gone the instant I found myself waking up on a bed in the emergency room, listening to the sound of my pulse on the monitor. This episode was once again another extreme crisis that I created, induced by alcohol, drugs and psych drug withdrawal. The anxiety I experienced after this episode was so intense, even practicing yoga daily could not ease my fear.

A therapist gently encouraged me to consider that I might have PTSD. I had no idea what that meant, because I was convinced that I was a terrible person with bipolar who simply could not handle her life. The therapist explained that my behaviors were self-sabotaging in nature. This was another new concept for me, which I chose not to explore, because I decided I was bad and I needed to be more disciplined.

Four years later, I became a yoga instructor. Although I remained relatively disassociated from my body and emotions, I loved how I felt physically.

At the time, I did not know what disassociation meant, although I lived and breathed it every day. I made sure to exercise at least five days a week because it was the only way I could relax. The sensations of freeze and anxiety came in waves, but I thought they were just part of what was wrong with me.

Yoga was a way to connect with myself and other people, and to focus on something life-giving where I could help other people and myself. Teaching classes was meditative and kept me centered in the present moment. It became a way for me to travel. While in Colombia, I learned how to teach in Spanish. I taught travelers from Spain at a rock-climbing hostel, and later taught refugee women from Mexico.

At age 32, I was introduced to a concept called “a felt sense of safety.” I began to perceive my experiences within the mental health system and my family unit as trauma. My somatic therapist taught me how to observe my body and my surroundings to come back to the present moment before and after a session. I began to learn how to respond to the messages of my physical body and grow more curious about my heart’s longings.

Listening and responding to my yearnings has helped me cultivate a deeper sense of self-trust. I recently took a long-awaited trip back to Central America where I reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and explored beaches, jungles, and towns I had never visited before. I followed my curiosity, with mindfulness and presence. I changed plans and shifted gears when I needed to, and I experienced the joy of connecting in community.

As I reflect back on these seasons of my life, I feel a deep sense of serenity. I feel whole. I feel grounded, and I feel connected to my true self, deep within my body.

I know now that I can trust myself and listen to my intuition. Within the mental health system, I trusted everyone but myself. My bipolar diagnosis meant I needed to submit to the authority of a doctor, reporting to her what I felt, and I needed to rigidly manage my life. My life was not meant to be lived. Instead, it was contained and controlled.

Living without medication, psychiatrists, and the mental health system has forced me to learn how to check in with myself and discern between feelings, needs, and the daily actions necessary to maintain the freedom and independence I have gained. When I went through a period of intense sadness, I cried a lot. I wrote and I danced to discharge the feelings of grief and move through it.

I created a safe space for myself to feel what I needed to feel. There was no shame about it or fear that there was something wrong with me to be ‘fixed’ or suppressed.

When I feel off or become too busy, I have learned to pause and ask myself:

Am I getting enough exercise, food, water and sleep?”

Am I spending time with friends and reaching out for connection?”

How is my heart?”

Am I feeding my soul?”

The shift from suppressing ‘symptoms’ to seeing them as messages has given me a greater sense of safety and stability than any medication or system could provide. I don’t look for what’s wrong with me anymore. There will always be something I can change or improve, but I choose not to place all of my attention there. The safety and stability I feel within my body is rooted in my self-trust. It takes practice, but I’m getting better at trusting my intuition and listening to the messages my body expresses. Doing the work is harder than taking a pill, but for me it’s worth it. Feeling alive and aligned with myself is worth it.

***

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.

***

Mad in America has made some changes to the commenting process. You no longer need to login or create an account on our site to comment. The only information needed is your name, email and comment text. Comments made with an account prior to this change will remain visible on the site.

21 COMMENTS

  1. ❤️You’re such a good writer and I’m happy you’re doing so well! Since you’re into natural healing, I hope you’ll watch my 3 videos on Youtube at “Linda Van Zandt’s Mental Health Recovery Channel.” They’re about restoring mental health with “nutraceuticals.” I used the ortho-m approach to restore my loved one’s mental health when the shrinks had him on 3 different, daily antipsychotics. Ortho-m has no side effects, only side benefits. My relative was well and 100% free of psychiatrists and their awful drugs in 4 months. Ten years later, he was not well and I didn’t know if it was mental illness or drugs. Someone introduced me to homeopathy which cured him permanently. I realized he had Toxoplasmosis gondii which, according to the Nat’l Institute of Health, is the real diagnosis in about 21% of all cases of schizophrenia (that’s 1 out of every 5 cases!). My loved one’s diagnosis wasn’t schizophrenia — it was “bipolar with psychosis” but, still, homeopathic remedies for Toxoplasmosis is what cured him. I wrote 2 books about my family’s experiences with mental illness. The first is about orthomolecular treatment, the second is about homeopathy, “Goodbye, Quacks – Hello, Homeopathy!” I think you would LOVE homeopathy. I sure do. In my family alone it has cured anxiety, depression, psychosis, irritability, insomnia, food poisoning, allergies, warts, pains in teeth, pain in fingertips caused by injury, itchy skin, G.I. probs, rashes, lack of self-confidence, and more. Homeopathy cures us on every level: physical, emotional and mental, gently and permanently. The World Health Organization (WHO) says homeopathy is the second most widely used system of medicine in the world. I’m 72 years old and typically only see my family doctor once a year—for my annual check-up— because homeopathy cures everything as I go along in life. Thank you for writing your interesting and inspiring story and I wish you all the best. – Linda

    Report comment

  2. Also, Elisabeth:
    Title: Valproic Acid [Depakote] Inhibits Chronic Toxoplasma Infection and …

    National Institutes of Health (NIH) (.gov)
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov › articles › PMC8448128
    by M Enshaeieh · 2021 · Cited by 8 — Our results provide direct evidence for the efficacy of valproic acid, a mood-stabilizing and antipsychotic drug, against chronic Toxoplasma infection. These …

    Now Linda speaking: The drug company scientists have designed drugs that work by killing some of the protozoa that cause Toxoplasmosis. But the drugs don’t kill all the protozoa so that if a patient stops taking Depakote, the infection comes roaring back, convincing the patient he or she needs the Depakote. In reality, according to the Nat’l Institute of Health (NIH), the herbal extract, artemisinin, kills the protozoa. Artemisinin is a natural extract of the plant Artemisia vulgaris or Artemisia annua (they’e almost identical). Artemisinin can be purchased from some health food stores or Amazon, maybe Whole Foods. You can also buy homeopathic Artemisia vulgaris. Please read my book about homeopathy.
    American psychiatry is basically smoke and mirrors, designed to fool people into believing their “mental illness” is incurable and that the only “experts” are psychiatrists. Trust me, they are clueless. They have cured 0 people since their association (corporation) came into being because their intention is not to cure anyone. It’s to make the most profits. I’d say that’s true of most medical “care,” too. I hope you’ll read “The Flexner Report” on Wikipedia. You’ll see why medical care is all about using patented chemicals and surgery instead of curing people, gently and permanently, with homeopathy.

    Report comment

    • Hi Linda! Thank you so much for sharing! I am geeking out about homeopathy and western herbs these days. I recently took Coffee Cruda for about a week and a half before the Eclipse when the shift into Spring started. My mind gets busy and I can sense the change. I likely could benefit from some flower essences as well. Walnut is great for change.

      I’m making my own Motherwort tincture to help me with sleep. I’m excited to check out your resources! Considering doing more training in homeopathy and herbalism when the time is right, but for now I just research and learn from my friends. It seems us herbal/somatic/homeopathic people find each other! 🙂

      Report comment

      • The explanation you just shared about Depakote is extremely helpful because you pretty much shared how these medications create gut imbalances and create a greater need for more healthy bacteria. I personally experienced this over the 20+ years of being medicated. Severe gut issues to the point of leaky gut when I got off.

        This also explains why the Keto Diet can be so effective for individuals when they decide to taper. Cutting out excess sugar from your diet supports brain and gut health. Focusing on more veggies and fiber support the gut and brain.

        Report comment

  3. Thank you so much for this — really appreciate your words here and had moments while reading that really resonated with me personally as a person who was, in my case, (mis)diagnosed with many things, including bipolar, but has found support and regained grounding in my life (that I am finally excited to live again, not just surviving through it or planning to end it). I similarly found trauma-related and trauma-informed support, from therapy with an anti-carceral feminist provider to exercise, pelvic PT, and somatic activities to be critical in reconnecting with my body and own personhood. I’d love to ask, if you don’t mind — do psychiatric medicines currently play a role in your life and wellbeing? I was pressured into trialing 13 different drugs in 7 years in various inpatient and outpatient settings and was so happy to reduce my regimen to 2 different things (lamictil and Zoloft) at very low doses. I tried to go off of lamictil entirely with a really slow taper down, but struggled hard and ended up going back on (at lowest dose possible). Sometimes I’ve felt frustration in still feeling like I need psychiatric meds and the resulting ongoing relationship I then have to have with a psychiatrist. I’m always curious what others have experienced — if you’re willing to share!

    Also, as a public health professional working for a small primary care clinic and community outreach worker — thank you for the always welcome reminder about how you “trusted everyone [all medical professionals] but yourself.” This is quite relatable but easy to forget when you get onto the other side — anyone in healthcare and the periphery are in monumental positions of power in many ways!

    Report comment

    • Hi Maggie! Check out my other article:

      https://www.madinamerica.com/2023/11/letting-go-of-lithium/

      I don’t take any psychiatric medications, but I can relate. I was prescribed a variety of cocktails at different times, but the last combo I tapered off from was Lithium and Trazadone. I still have some Trazadone handy, but typically go to benedryl or Gaia – Sound Sleep if my sleep gets disrupted. I’m learning more about herbs and homeopathy, and currently take Motherwort for sleep. My body doesn’t seem to need as much of the hardcore stuff that it use to.

      Happy to chat with you sometime. My email is [email protected].

      Report comment

      • Also, lithium is a natural and necessary part of human biochemistry. I buy it at our local health food store. Each capsule is 1 mg, much smaller than the enormous doses prescribed by psychiatrists. A hair mineral analysis, ordered by a naturopathic doc, shows a person’s level of lithium and I like to make sure mine stays in the correct range. I’ve also bought homeopathic lithium but haven’t gotten around to taking it yet.

        Report comment

  4. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story! I’m a “recovered (rehabilitated) psychiatrist” and I prescribe drugs only during the taper process. Agree with you also on the fact that I find trauma as a root cause in 99% of patients with serious mental illnesses. I offer a program, Psychiatry 2.0 (www.Psychiatry2.com) where in I have helped people heal from root causes in 6 to 12 months. I am also committed to educating people about root cause psychiatry and also about harms of psych meds. You (and others like you) are a game changer. Please continue to speak your truth!

    Report comment

    • Dear Dr. Aruna,
      I’m so very happy to hear you’re a “recovered” psychiatrist! We need more who are open-minded like you.
      Conventional psychiatry cures no one because it’s designed to only manage illness, not cure anyone. That makes it it quackery, in my opinion.
      There are excellent homeopathic remedies for trauma (and everything else). For example, homeopathic Aconite is often used for PTSD, panic attacks and other results of trauma. I’ve given it to 2 of my family members. One had not just taken meth a few hours earlier, but had injected it. About 4 hours after getting the Aconite he was released from the psych ward at our local hospital and well enough that we went to a restaurant for dinner. Over time, other homeopathic medicines also helped him.
      Like many other plants that are extremely toxic in their natural form, Aconite becomes a powerful healer once it’s turned into a homeopathic medicine—and there’s no original substance in the medicines! All that’s left is its “energetic signature.”
      The WHO says homeopathy is the second most widely used system of medicine in the world. It’s truly amazing.
      -Linda, author of “Goodbye, Quacks – Hello, Homeopathy!”

      Report comment

  5. Dr Aruna, thank you for fascinating comments!

    3 minutes before news of your comment hit my inbox, my “Insight of the Day” did.

    It was an excerpt from a John Maynard Keynes quote:

    “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds. The power to become habituated to his surroundings is a marked characteristic of mankind.”

    I know of no satisfactory definition of “mental health,” of “mental illness,” or of any so-called “mental disorder” or personality disorder” – none that stands up to scrutiny linguistic, scientific or magic.

    Do you, please?

    Our dear, dear professor of large animal veterinary surgery, John Patrick O’Connor told us that

    1. If we heard the clip-clop of hooves, to think first Horse! rather than Zebra!

    2. The reason God gave horses pairs of limbs was so that veterinary surgeons could tell if one was injured, deformed…

    3. That the bovine peritoneal could be likened to a marriage (long but excellent story)…

    4. That intending vets should never get too proud – “As you’ll be treating animals for antibiotic- deficiency for the rest of your lives”…

    5. And that the very worst animal diseases we could expect to encounter were the veterinary diseases – those inflicted on animals by veterinarians.

    I have since often reflected that all these first principles of his applied equally to the practice of medicine and of psychiatry, where one might substitute so-called antidepressants and so-called antipsychotics (and Bob Whitaker has, I believe, pointed out that such terms [like “mental disorders” etc , I reckon], once uncritically accepted, radically mislead).

    The short version is that the bovine peritoneum, like a marriage, may bounce back spectacularly following major insult/trauma if appropriate remedial action is taken, but that constant, low-grade niggling, nagging assaults (e.g. a leaking rumen) may prove fatal.

    I suggest that “mental illness,” like “sinfulness” before it, us a false human misconception and that most of our emotional suffering and much of our physical suffering, too, results from not realizing that we are our minds but that our minds – our thoughts and emotions – are just a tiny part of our (presUMably infinite and eternal) Awareness – that thing into which, among its other functions, is allowing the last big bang (or OM!) to expand.

    I try to speak humbly, as befits a guy who practiced the art and science of veterinary medicine for 26 years, without knowing the first thing about it and who, when then told it, took abortion or so years to realize that THAT was it…and, obviously, I fail.

    I may never be able to make atonement to all the animals who were hurt to bring you this, but try I must.

    Thank you very much indeed for your amazing, and amazingly humble comments.

    Comfort and joy!

    Tom.

    Report comment

  6. Linda Yost (former professor of nursing)
    Thank you for your inspiring article. I am currently struggling with withdrawal from benzodiazepines and Parnate. The withdrawal process has taken years and I am still not finished. Decades of my life have been stollen by psychiatric drugs. I was grossly over-medicated and therefore did not realize the harm these drugs were causing, far more harm and no good. You give me hope that one day I will get better and realize who I truly am without these dangerous medications.

    Report comment

    • Hi Linda, I’m sorry about the withdrawal. Been there. You might not be able to go back and change anything or get those years back, but you can enjoy today and the rest of your life. You can make the most of what you have and find more joy in the present. I don’t want to disregard your losses. You are not alone in that. The damage these drugs do to our nervous systems can also prohibit enjoyment and empowerment to create the life you want. However, it’s still possible! If I can be drug free after 20+ years, I believe it’s possible for anyone.

      Feel free to email me if you’d like to connect: [email protected].

      Report comment

  7. Turning your benzo into a homeopathic medicine might help you withdraw from it. Homeopath Elaine Lewis knows how to do that, how often to take it, etc. You can find her on hpathy.com where she has written many articles and has been a contributor for many, many years. Nine years ago I hired her to cure my family member of “incurable” “bipolar with psychosis.” Out of over 8,000 homeopathic medicines available, Elaine figured out exactly which one he needed. He was cured. It was truly amazing to witness.

    Report comment

LEAVE A REPLY