I am now a few months off of Gabapentin, and my withdrawal problems have not passed. I still deal daily with internal tremors throughout my head and back.
After suffering PTSD in the late 1980s, I reluctantly accepted antidepressants. In time, I had resolved the trauma, but when I tried to stop the antidepressants (Prozac, and later Zoloft), I assumed my desperate feelings and “return” of depression were an indication I had an imbalance and needed those drugs. I didn’t understand I was experiencing withdrawal. (I was never told that for most people, psychiatric medications need to be tapered.)
Despite the majority of the individuals being sent to DBT having histories of severe childhood trauma, little about DBT treatment is “trauma-informed.”
What my doctor had told me would be a two-week withdrawal from Seroquel turned into a 14-month nightmare with lasting repercussions: the movement disorder tardive dyskinesia.
I was desperate to get off the medication. I wanted to be in control of myself again; independent and capable. The label of Bipolar Disorder made me feel like I was seen as a crazy person who did not fit into society. I wanted my dignity back!
I’d like to share a bit about what happened to me after being placed on these medications, and how I successfully got off. Until recently, I was embarrassed to talk about my personal experiences publicly, as I’m a professional who specializes in anxiety and depression. Today, medication free, I feel better than ever before, and I am now on a mission to help my current clients get off medications, and to inform others through my writing about the dangers and pitfalls of starting antidepressants.
My therapist and I jointly made the decision to wean me off of the drugs. In the beginning, it was a very scary process for me. Since I had twice gone off medications on my own, I knew how bad it could get. The good news is, I am alive. I feel alive, and I now have emotions, both good and bad. I am very grateful to have all of them.
Take every horrific feeling you’ve ever had in your life, all at once. Now, times them by 200, right in your gut. That is how akathisia pain feels. When I tell doctors I have drug-induced akathisia, and that it's incredibly painful, they do not believe me. They say my pain is a mental health issue, and they have all methodically undermined my credibility in my permanent record.
While our daughter was growing up, my ex-wife treated our daughter’s body like a temple. She was the only kid among her friends not allowed to drink soda or cow’s milk as they might negatively affect her health. But Prozac for mild anxiety? Sure, no problem. I was honestly and genuinely shocked.
The healing journey is less about being free from medication and psychiatry and more about connecting with myself now. I am grateful for the freedom to feel.
The amount of anxiety I felt on these medications — and for a couple of years after — was unfathomable. I felt as though I was trapped in an air-tight vat, constantly gasping for breath. And my thoughts were guided by my state of constant worry and panic.
Many have asked: “Why doesn’t my doctor/provider know what is happening to me?” Benzodiazepine tolerance and withdrawal are not new. So, why isn’t it simple to diagnose and treat? As both a health care provider and a withdrawal sufferer, I’d like to offer an inside and outside perspective on this question.
My childhood was stolen by systems focused on labeling and medicating me instead of healing the effects of abuse and neglect.
Suddenly I had an insight into why my dad decided to end his life in 1976. I learned that, like me, he was on antidepressant medication. It seems highly likely that his illness could have been entirely caused by side effects of medication, just like it was with me.
After a failed suicide attempt following my son's death, New York State incarcerated me in a mental institution for 21 days. The environment was degrading, stultifying, and downright depressing.
What I have learned is that benzos don’t discriminate. They don’t care that you have a master’s degree or that you are a good person in the community or that you were just doing what the doctors told you to do and you were woefully ignorant and misinformed of their dangers.
When the nurses tried to give him other medications, my father refused. They accused him of being “combative” and “uncooperative,” and they injected him with the highly toxic, incredibly dangerous, mind-bending antipsychotic HALDOL.
Ketamine treatment, which was being hailed as a ‘miracle cure’, backfired so spectacularly that it very nearly cost me my life.
Why did I have to go on a personal investigation to finally figure out that I was having migraines?
Somatic therapy helped me process the trauma of my psychosis: the two days of my brain telling me the world was ending and awful things were being done to my family.
My doctor insisted that my symptoms could not be associated with withdrawal – they had to be symptoms of an underlying condition. I have since learned from legitimate sources that protracted withdrawal syndrome from benzodiazepines can intensify long before it abates, with some symptoms lasting for years.
I often think about how the situation could have played out, had that nurse and the doctor chosen kindness rather than aggression and impatience.
I watched my son’s life change almost overnight. He developed akathisia from antidepressants, taken as prescribed for just a few weeks for garden-variety anxiety.
A simple, one-time visit to an unfamiliar counselor resulted in my diagnosis of ADHD. That same visit started my avalanche of drug abuse. I was 19 years old when I was falsely diagnosed with ADHD, and it forever changed my life.