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.)
I’m alive. More than 30,000 veterans in the past decade alone are not. I was not warned of the risks of this drug. I was not told that once on it, I might never be able to get off it, or the nightmare that would ensue when I tried. I know millions of others were not told either.
Nobody told me what it would be like when I first stopped taking antidepressants. The worst is definitely over, but I’m still experiencing some lingering side effects. When the hyper-arousal to sights and sounds kicks in and my head starts buzzing, I’ve learned some ways to cope.
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.
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.
My heart goes out to anyone experiencing withdrawal, but especially those who are so ill they can’t work and are struggling to navigate a heartless and cynical ‘benefits’ system. Their only crime is to have experienced difficulty from a prescribed treatment, yet they are treated as medical pariahs.
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.
I remember clearly thinking, “I’m done. I’m not putting myself through this again.” I wasn’t going to settle for the side effects of a marginally better than placebo treatment again. Here is a brief look into my rollercoaster journey of recovery, returning to work, having my trauma re-triggered, finding a way through, and finally living well.
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.
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.
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.
How did I become someone who could barely function? I was a high-performing sales executive ranked in the top 2% of an international business communications company. But now, after using powerful psych meds for depression and anxiety for more than a decade, I couldn’t do basic things like go to the grocery store, plan a meal, make dinner, or get together with friends.
There is little doubt in my mind that many school shooters were in an antidepressant-induced state of psychosis, which is a loss of contact with reality that makes it difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not real. That's what happened to me. I started taking 60mg of Paxil a day. Three days later, I planned my suicide. Then I planned a murder.
I have nothing good to say about the psychiatric drugs prescribed to me or about the psychiatrists that prescribed them. I did not have a condition that needed to be medicated. There was no informed consent about the severe and indefinite damage that the drugs caused me, and I did not have the appropriate help withdrawing from them.
The minute you sit down in the chair in a mental health professional's office, you’re no longer seen as a person. The mental health system is incapable of seeing past the solid wall of your current label. Their only cure is drugs. "First Do No Harm" are powerful words. It’s unfortunate they don’t apply to psychiatry.
The party would continue for a time, but an inevitable crash ensued. I left my family, was fired from my job for uncontrollably screaming at my boss, and gambled away whatever money I had left in the stock market. A debilitating depression soon began, of a magnitude I could not previously have imagined. I had lost everyone and everything in my life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 hopes for the field of psychiatry. I hope the field will redeem itself, and redeem its practitioners, because they do have clinical skill and the opportunity to learn more and grow. Many of them, I believe, were just taught bad science, influenced and infiltrated by Big Pharma.
I am an award-winning singer/songwriter with a number one record to my credit. I also owned several small businesses and founded a 501c3 non-profit for women's health. I ate healthy, swam and cycled every day and had a very active lifestyle. This was before benzos came into my life.
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.
Healing mental health issues through correct supplements as well as nutrition is, I believe, the final factor for me in my journey. This is possibly what was missing in my first attempt at coming off, and why my brain and body couldn’t handle the extreme anxiety I felt in December 2013. I am ensuring that as I prepare to taper off the Lexapro in 2015, my brain and body are being supported in every way possible.
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