At my job with a NAMI affiliate, I heard daily from people who looked at family members with “mental illness” as non-people, non-human, the “other.” In the office, it was no different. If NAMI had a tagline, it would be “Please be normal like us.”
One needs no psychiatric or counseling degree to have the common sense of displaying some good manners in a profession that claims to be all about helping people. I’m glad I did not get further involved within a field that seems to be so hypocritical and moody.
After telling my psychotherapist about my medication-fueled suicidal ideation, he said, “You have two options. We can do this either voluntarily or involuntarily.” Aghast and shaken, but assuming everyone in the medical system had my best interests at heart, I reluctantly agreed to go to the hospital without any protest.
Once you walk through the door to the psychiatric system, all of the protections afforded criminal detainees go out the window. No due process, no speedy trial, no right to see or vet the evidence against you, and most importantly: NO RELEASE DATE!
Recovery is not a bridge we cross and never return to. Rather, it is more like crossing a stream we ford by side-stepping on different stones. Not all of the stones are as sturdy as some of the others. Yes, we slip at times, only to regain our footing and forge ahead.
Jean was never warned about Librium's potential to cause physical dependence or the subsequent withdrawal effects that can result from its long-term use, nor was she counseled on an exit plan. So when she decided to taper off the drug, her withdrawal symptoms were so severe that her life and health quickly spiraled out of control.
Lithium is a notoriously toxic substance, and if it isn’t managed carefully enough, can have some very nasty effects. I discovered this the hard way. It got to the point where I could barely eat or drink or walk around. Yet lithium never made a dent — not for a single moment — in what was going on in my head.
I had been an excellent combat medic — I had deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan totaling over 28 months of combat in Infantry and Cavalry units. Yet, after over six years on these psychiatric drugs, I felt reduced to a helpless being who would require assistance for the simplest of menial tasks.
I'd like to be peers with anyone struggling against persecution, anyone struggling toward the promise of dignity and respect for marginalized communities, for freaks and weirdos. To fit the diversity of our experiences, maybe our definitions need to be as flexible and individual as we are.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and not knowing which one to take, I stood straight, watching my life pass me by. But in therapy, I began to feel the knots of my life come alive inside me. The point is not just to talk, it is to feel your story inside, to hear your silences, and to realize who you are… and who you can be.
Darkness began to consume my life, both literally and metaphorically. My surroundings and even my own thoughts would become distorted into something terrifying. As the nights droned on, shadows in my dorm room would contort themselves into threatening figures. The whispers continued to grow, overcoming the thoughts in my head.
If the drugs I am prescribed did not benefit me overall, believe me, I would no more take them willingly than I would swallow rat poison. I went through many attempts to wean myself, but invariably the loss of my ability to do art brought me to the place where I went back on them. I remain on them and I want to remain on them.
Overall I learned a great deal during my hospital adventure. The whole experience seemed like a comedy of errors. For me the only people there who were truly out of touch with reality were staff members. All of the patients were very present, albeit in some distress. The reasons for their distress were not unreasonable.
Forty years after I had first been admitted to the hospital, I was ready to confront my past. So, I sent for my hospital records, and I read them. As an experienced clinician, I recognized immediately what the doctors hadn’t been able to see in 1960: my problem wasn’t ‘schizophrenia’ but PTSD, connected with incest.
Here and now, I am Ativan-free and slowly tapering off Wellbutrin after 25+ years. Unable to work due to the severity of iatrogenic injury, I sometimes think of myself as a healing journeywoman. When the terrain is especially rough, I reflect on the words: "The best revenge is living a happy, healthy life." When circumstances and symptoms permit, I’m doing just that.
Dear Doctor, I wonder if you remember my son... you only spent about ten minutes with him, exactly four days after his first suicide attempt. I asked you if his medication, Zoloft, had anything to do with what was happening. You looked at me and said, "There's no way of knowing; there are too many factors involved."
Around me in the room I could see the different faces lit up by the big whiteboard raised above us. “There are these symptoms...” The psychiatrist would talk for long periods of time, while the nurses would sit quiet, nodding. I became skeptical and thought: “You are trying to talk me into something.”
I was told that I had only two choices: Do not have children, or take lithium while I was pregnant—the drug that posed the least amount of birth defects, and the very medication that had killed the painter in me years ago. I refused both options and set out on my own, and luckily found a willing psychiatrist to help me taper off the meds.
A year after my twin’s death, I stood in a supermarket and felt my body disintegrating into a thousand pieces. My soul knew it needed the right teacher and helper. Fortunately, I found Open Dialogue. It helped me expose the real childhood trauma, and gradually rebuild my shattered, grief-stricken psyche.
In 1959, my mother suffered what people referred to as a nervous breakdown after my sister’s birth. I puzzled over why Mom never recovered, until I found Dad’s collection of medical records in my sister’s attic. How could anyone give a nursing mother with three small children so many drugs in such a short period of time?
My prayer to be taken out of my misery was answered, just not the way I used to envision. I managed to escape the system and here I am in the same lifetime, alive and well. I’m slowly getting acquainted with this new setup and am eternally grateful for yet another opportunity at life, which I hope does not slip through my fingers.
Through all the years that I was a mental patient, my parents were excellent advocates who constantly questioned what the docs were doing, even though my own faith in psychiatry was unwavering.... Amazingly, what cured me was not some type of “treatment,” but getting away from drugs and therapy.
During my periods in forced hospitalization, I did not feel that the psychiatrist understood how much I suffered. When I stayed in solitary, I felt that the earth would vanish. There I was, locked away from my loved ones. I thought I wasn’t allowed by the secret service to talk with anyone. But during my psychosis, I met God, and I found out that God is love.
They helped me function for a while, but the debilitating side effects of antidepressants held me prisoner. I'm still having a hard time understanding how this could have happened. It's been suggested to me by a therapist that what I'm going through now is another kind of PTSD: the ongoing trauma of realizing what antidepressants did to me for 30 years.
Watching my son be subjected to continuous harm by the drugs, how can I pretend that it's okay to maintain this abusive system of care? Who will push for accountability? As a mother, I want to share a meaningful connection with my son. I want to witness him happy, healthy and living the life he chooses.