Imagine going to the airport to travel to London, only to find yourself locked in a high-security psychiatric ward a few hours later, paralyzed by psychoactive drugs and deprived of all your belongings. This happened to me, and you will be shocked to learn how easily it could happen to you.
In my case, an uninformed diagnosis resulted in a near lifetime of mistreatment and misunderstanding. How does one account for such a significant error? Having my diagnosis changed has felt very liberating, but it hasn’t much reduced the effect of the stigma I’ve internalized.
I may be psychotic but I am not the next headline in the news. I am thoughtful and questioning. I am different and unique, but I am not violent and my life will never be anyone's tragedy. Would you like to stand with me?
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.
To test the theory that a lack of sleep would trigger mania and resumption of sleep would restore health, I conducted what I thought would be a straightforward experiment: while still on lithium and a low dose of antipsychotics, I suppressed sleep for a few days.
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?
In searching for answers as to what went wrong with my treatment, my family and I discovered that there is already much scientific evidence demonstrating the dangers of antipsychotic medications and why they should not be used to treat illnesses such as Tourette Syndrome.
Once your body enters a police car or an ambulance, it doesn’t matter what labels you carry or what the apparent “symptoms” are. It doesn’t matter if you even have any label at all. The moment you acquire a mental illness is when someone who doesn’t like you decides that you have one.
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.
Imagine my excitement, the hope that relief from the sucking tar of misery that dogged too many of my days was within my reach. From that moment and for thirty years to follow, I was the willing guinea pig for any number of drugs. Nothing helped for long.
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.
I have wanted to go public with my story ever since I started getting so dramatically better via holistic means, but I consistently chickened out. It wasn’t until I hopped on a plane to Boston to meet other psychiatric survivors at the Mad in America Film Festival in 2014 that I found the community and forum to do so.
Without doubt, Extended Leave profoundly curtails one's freedoms and rights, and the threshold for what is deemed “unacceptable” behaviour is invariably lowered. My only crime was being offensive towards an ACT team member. It seems that the goal I am now reduced to fighting for is merely the right to be rude in my own home.
I’ve seen people put more research into how to cook a turkey at Christmas time than previous psychiatrists did for my health. From the DSM to the prescription pad, if it wasn’t there, it didn’t exist. It’s a very cut-and-dry, mix-and-match method to modern medicine that has harmed millions of people, and it nearly killed me.
“You need to realise that what we see and hear in our madness might be very real!” I tell the psychiatrist. “It isn’t just delusions, hallucinations or nonexistent voices! What if it is indeed all real? And magic does exist?”
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.
Only two hours after we got home, Dan fearlessly told me of the suicide plan that he'd devised while in the hospital. He had all that time to think about it while nobody was listening. He'd lost his dignity, his identity and his place in society. He had lost the will to live.
After working in the field, I have found that the majority of people in the mental health system are not getting adequate care like I received during my first psychotic episode. I was lucky enough to have a doctor who took a nontraditional approach to schizophrenia and worked with me on coming off of medications.
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 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.
Self-acceptance is a very human experience, and a necessary one in the pursuit of personal happiness. In my experience, the mental health field does an abysmal job of addressing this truth.
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.
I wanted to spare you, my son, from suffering like I did. I wanted to give you every opportunity I could. You have grown into a good man, a caring and successful man, yet you still have to fear for your life in this country. You still feel pain when you see what is happening.
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:
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.