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.
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.
I believed my doctor knew best about my health. I trusted that he knew it would be safe to switch me from an anti-anxiety drug that I had been taking for several years and put me on this new drug. It was only during the horror I went through afterward that I found out everything about this evil drug all on my own. To this day, I still get brain zaps in my sleep.
I used to think that the counseling center would help me to resolve my inner conflicts. That visiting the center would do some good for me. I have since realized that most mainstream “mental health” is more damaging than helpful. These days if student counselors see any problem with a student visiting the center, they send him or her to see a psychiatrist.
Although it’s taken me a while to acknowledge my right to be in this world, I know that I am not “mentally ill,” but rather have a dynamic spiritual and emotional sensitivity to this world. I am here for a reason, and having to go into the depths of a very dark cave in order to see the light is how I was able to grow and discover that I don't have to take medications for the rest of my life.
We have all become assembly line workers in the factory of mental health. At the facility, I put in at least 50 hours and live with a constant dread of not having clicked a button, of not having made another phone call, of overlooking the sadness in someone’s eyes. The risk of burnout or empathy fatigue is high, yet the machine hums along.
I was going to leave the 'mental health' system on my terms, with all the paperwork proving them wrong. Or I was going to run for my life with an open diagnosis, hoping I would survive withdrawal. As I surveyed the landscape for any other path, there was only institutionalization. There was no template for what I had to do... so I made it up.
My psychiatrist/therapist was able to give me a true understanding into what addiction and psychosis really are and how they can be treated with little or no medication. I still struggle, but I have been able to manage my symptoms with the help of ACT therapy, exercise, "forest bathing," storytelling, music and art. I am now able to feel a sense of peaceful fulfillment, and that is all anyone can really ask for.
I kept thinking, why was I the one to be labeled when my husband was doing all this unhealthy, violent stuff? I sought out doctors through health food stores and communities that didn’t believe in medications for a social and family problem. That way no controlling, pill-pushing medical doctor had authority over me.
At my job as an inpatient mental health counselor, I had to confront the reality of a hospitalization system with serious and devastating flaws. I felt immensely powerless and understood how my coworkers could end up so negligent, numb, and at times abusive. And I understood how patients could become violent or self-injurious after years in these dismal hospitals.
When the psychiatrist prescribed me Zoloft, he did not warn me that it could cause a manic episode. So my second hospitalization was a disaster. A mental hospital is like a deranged dystopian high school. The upstairs was chaotic, dangerous, and violent. Sometimes people were yelling and throwing things. But these weren’t the most harmful moments.
When we eliminated his last psychotropic prescription, it was as if my father came back from the dead. All of the monster-like qualities that we thought were severe symptoms of his dementia have practically disappeared. We’ve found ourselves questioning whether he has dementia at all.
I feel like I have been failed by the healthcare system over and over again. I expected to be able to rely on therapists, psychologists, and doctors to properly evaluate, diagnosis, and treat me… especially when chronic suicidality is in the picture. Instead, I have a lengthy list of ways I have been failed. These failures have often added to my hopelessness.
Although I have usually been the one suffering from side effects, with others watching on, the roles were reversed in this incident. Seeing my mother impaired caused me heartache, and I am now rethinking my treatment regimen. Is this stuff good for me for the long term? Is this the only stuff that can help me, or is there an alternative?
To be a parent of a suicidal child is to be in a terrible position, where you hold in your hands the life most valuable to you and know that any slip of your hands may end that life. In the 1970s, my suicidality was treated nonmedically and I lived. In the 2000s, my daughter Martha’s suicidality was treated medically and she died.
Dating someone when you have a history of “schizophrenia” is very hard. I figured that if people left me for something as common as depression, anyone hearing my story of psychosis would give me an immediate boot. My initial efforts were awkward and lacked discretion — into each date I’d burst, willing to commit for an eternity with unconditional love.
I had managed to get off the drugs again, this time with practically no withdrawal reactions other than some disturbances to my sleep which eventually settled down. I truly feel that I have been given a second chance because I am aware of how many people struggle terribly with these drugs just as I did.
It would take decades before I recognized the trauma caused by repeatedly being separated from my mom when she was hospitalized. I grieved almost exactly the way children did who had lost a parent to death. Yet it was grief without closure because my mom was not dead, just... gone.