We’re not dysfunctional or bad just because there are two of us in here. What’s more important than being a socially acceptable single person is that we know how to get along and manage our trauma and our life together. We just need to be accepted as we are.
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.
My sincere message to those whose vitality and lives have been sapped and zapped by this iatrogenic dis-order: most of us DO recover! And even if it is not without some benzo remnants lodged in our cellular memory, what we learn about our own resilience will guide us to places in our lives we didn't expect to reach. HOPE was my key through the arduous path of withdrawal and recovery.
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.
How did I get here? What turned me from loyal acolyte into fearsome-clawed rebel, itching to take on the high priests of psychiatry? Well, there is nothing like being given a taste of psychiatry’s vile medicine for igniting the revolutionary furnace and getting it glowing white hot.
Today I am not only medication-free but also thriving. While many people in my life are delighted by my transformation, most did not think it possible. How did I transition from being a chronic, "seriously mentally ill" psychiatric patient to a vibrant being?
I began to have transient moments where I would feel oddly disconnected from my environment or wake up and feel like I was coming out of my skin. I did not know it at the time, but I was experiencing interdose benzodiazepine withdrawal and it would end up leading me down a path of polypharmacy.
I am a former Lieutenant in the US Navy, and on August 30, I sent a letter to the US Senate and House Committees on Armed Services, and their respective committees on Veterans' Affairs. I titled the letter "Concerning Mental Health Treatment and Suicide in the United States Armed Forces and the Veteran Community." Here is what I wrote:
I have been here at Western State Hospital for almost five years. While I’ve been told that I’ve met all the criteria for a conditional release, the hospital won’t grant me this because I can’t prove that I won’t be dangerous in the future. Can anyone prove this? Even convicts don’t have to prove they’re ‘safe’ before they are freed.
The problem with being a consumer is that we get consumed. I’ve been the bacon at far too many mental health picnics. Someone’s salary gets paid, someone’s program gets funded, someone’s career gets enhanced, someone gets accolades for being so altruistic and such a great savior — and me, what do I get? Exposed, laid bare, and isolated.
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?
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 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 life flashed before my eyes as my entire medical history over the last decade was rewritten from having a genetic brain disease to being a victim of a medical scam. It was bittersweet, for I realized that I was not sick and dying, but I had been robbed of so many years of my life due to the psychiatrist’s lies. Now I am suing my former psychiatrist for damages.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have grown a lot through my experiences, and would not have made the changes I have made, nor be the person I am today, had my madness not returned a second time. It returned because I did not pay enough attention to the wake-up call the first time around.
Like slavery took such a long time to be ‘officially’ forbidden, psychiatric hospitals will be with us for some time yet. Their masters, the doctors or administrators, no longer give beatings with their hands but with the far more treacherous chemicals that allow them to keep a good conscience and distribute what are beatings nevertheless.
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!
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.
Here I was, 15 years old and already in a long-term treatment facility. I was, on paper: crazy! This entire time, all the adults in my life had been speaking for me. I never felt like I was any of the things they said, but I went along with it. What else could I have done? Every time I rebelled, it only confirmed to my mother what she thought of me.
I still believe I was Anne Frank in my past life, and nothing is wrong with such a belief. I am no longer Buddha, though, because they crashed my spiritual awakening when it was happening. But I go on. I deserve to be happy. I have a family to think of, I want to contribute to society on some level. I want to live. They won’t crash me. Or so I hope.
If I had any legal rights, I knew nothing about them. And the hospital cared even less about them. As a law student, I would like to share the legal rights I did have in the state of California and how they were violated from the very start.