Monday, September 24, 2018

Comments by Robert Pfaff

Showing 35 of 35 comments.

  • I will attempt to respond to the questions and criticisms above in a civil manner, and then I need to bow out. The major reason I deactivated my Face Book account back in October and never went back is the falsely impersonal barrier online that allows perfect strangers to trade insults like playground bullies.

    It literally rots the brain, producing stress hormones associated with hippocampus damage, one major precursor to dementia. And I am convinced that social media drove the sheer lunacy behind the past election cycle. I guess I needed to learn this lesson twice. This experience quickly became an unhealthy one. I am once again reminded how easily people misinterpret each other online, and it always degenerates into into a nasty contest about whose right….and no one ever wins he debate.

    Now I know this is not a safe space, and I accept responsibility for going off topic and sometimes not articulating what I mean in the clearest terms. I do not see where we disagree with each other to an extent that justifies the vitriol. I honestly cannot tell where some of your criticism is coming from – but I don’t attribute that to ignorance on your part. It’s yet another online communication hurdle. In particular, the comment about liberals focusing on free market theory is lost on me. Not because you are wrong or ignorant – I just don’t see the context. An example would help.

    1. I think my 25 year track-record working on behalf of the poor and social justice issues speaks volumes. I have raised tens of millions of dollars for related causes and often as a volunteer. The idea that I am elitist in any way belies that you just do not know me, so I do take umbrage on that point. I do not blame poor people for our nation’s problems – it blows my mind that anyone would say that.

    I spend my career improving the lives of people with HIV/AIDS, the homeless, food banks, abused children, unwanted animals, the environment, public education, etc…with a brief and unfortunate stint in the financial sector. I was not a good fit in that industry, because I am not driven by greed. I am driven by values. My only problem with the “poor” – is that they rarely vote and when they do, they often vote against their own economic interests – this is especially true in the south, where conservative religious values often override economic self interests.

    Rather, I believe the American myopia referenced above stems from our geographic isolation relative to European countries, our historical status as the world’s superpower, meaning there is a tradition in our culture that every other country must follow our lead. I used to say that the rest of the world is obsessed with Americans, while Americans are obsessed with themselves. This issue is reflected in our educational system, which has failed to emphasize the importance of world history, cultural diversity and yes – second languages, depending on the state. I believe that an enhanced understanding of other cultural perspectives by immersing myself in that cultural and language enriched my mind more than any other academic undertaking.

    I saw this dynamic in France where I WORKED there – not on scholarship or because I am affluent…that’s laughable. I busted my behind for that opportunity, and I immersed myself in a second language. I am on disability with a crippled nervous system thanks to Klonopin. Still, I have coordinated two major FR events that support LGBT rights especially those affecting youth in the south and I have written to damn good novels. Though I find the French very civil, they were frustrated that they had to learn American English to climb the corporate ladder – that was my frame of reference.

    It had nothing to do with the poor in this country.

    2. On the second point. For the most part, I think I agree with you? I only meant that in its simplest form, trading goods and services for an honest profit is not inherently evil or corrupt and even if it is – it’s here to stay, especially on the global stage. And we did that – we as Americans promoted capitalism and global free trade, beggars to our demise. I do not see a global communist revolution on the horizon, and I don’t think it would change human nature. To quote John Kenneth Galbraith:

    “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.”

    There is no system where some people will not exploit others. George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is an excellent allegory that makes the same point. The best solution is compromise – and if that means democratic socialism, I have long recognized my affinity for such a system. But it’s harder to achieve in the U.S. because we are not a small, homogeneous population, but an unwieldy association of 50 diverse states, with a weak federal government. I am fine with revamping the Constitution to expand the federal government, so that we can implement a more equitable system of wealth distribution, but I do not think it will happen….ever.

    So perhaps that makes me a cynic, but it hardly makes me an asshole.

    3. The relationship between employer and employee is inherently exploitative? Yes – some less than others, but the employer cannot profit, so the company cannot survive, unless the worker produces more value than he or she is paid in return, but it’s gotten out of hand. My sister was selling about $1 million in Hondas a year and making little better than minimum wage. That boggles my mind. It is usurious. You can better regulate compensation, but what do you propose to replace the employer-employee relationship? If you mean communism, it has not demonstrated a better track record for preserving civil rights and individual freedoms. It always turns into tyranny and it always fails as an economic model.

    4. I supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries! I must not have communicated well that I fully grasp the forty-year growth in economic disparity and how it will inevitably lead to crash after crash, until we drive off a precipice. Your point about pampered beneficiaries is well taken. When I worked at Harvard – I took free classes but I never a student – I had a friend who worked as a researcher in the business school. He compiled lists of the ridiculous, entitled things the B-school students said. It was very clear that those most likely to become major business leaders had little understanding of what it meant to struggle…at all. For the most part, the campus was populated by “legacy students” and not geniuses.

    But they were not evil people.

    In business school, I heard classmates say things like – “Well, so Exxon is refusing to make their legally binding payments to the environmental groups cleaning up Prince William Sound. It’s their job to protect shareholder value, so that’s justified, right? I mean, she went on to say, “that’s their priority not the environment, and if they can manipulate the judicial system to protect their bottom line, then kudos to them, even when they are court-mandated and agreed to do so!”

    I agree the mindset is beyond tragic.

    Another gem? Someone else stated that the children working in Nike sweatshops were better off because otherwise they would become child prostitutes. So I am well aware of how business school does not teach people to create anything of economic value. Much like law school teaches how to win a case, but does not teach justice. And B-school certainly does not teach students to think beyond the bottom line…at all. It teaches them the science of making money for money’s sake. Humanitarian values are dead even in philanthropy – and I mourn that.

    5. As for Obama, he is the one and only President whose policies had a direct, positive impact on my life. I love him for that, BUT I found his economic boasts disingenuous. Two immediate examples spring to mind. He boasted about creating more than 10,000,000 jobs – but what kind of jobs? In what sectors? What is the average salary? Creating 10,000,000 low-paying jobs in the retail and fast-food sectors is not an achievement. It only perpetuates economic disparity.

    The other sleight of hand was his tendency to correlate stock market growth with domestic prosperity. Its a classic example of mistaken correlation versus causality. From the American investor’s perspective, the “stock market” is a 110 trillion-dollar dimension, with a mind of its own. I once wrote a humorous short story about exotic derivatives, which are based in quantum physics, developing into sentient beings. Actually, they evolved into drag queens with six-foot bouffants and AK-47s, who returned to earth to save the “gods” who created them from their own destruction. But back to business: American companies comprise about 25% of investment opportunities from the investor’s perspective. So you cannot correlate stock-market growth with domestic prosperity.

    Even if the investor is buying Disney or Coke or Microsoft – these companies are American brands, but they not American companies. They are multinational conglomerates. Their chief interest is not the domestic economy or the American worker. They are their own nations and their chief interests are global free trade. If you but Coke stock, it probably does not benefit the domestic economy.

    Obama did take a lot of false credit when the stock market rebounded. At the time, most American investors were not investing in the domestic economy. They were investing in emerging economies where the yields were much higher. The so-called B.R.I.C. countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China.

    I could go on – but I think that’s enough and I have learned my lesson. I will not comment on the MIA or any other blog again. Yes, I write a lot because I am a writer. But these exchanges always degenerate – and this thread is full of examples that have nothing to do with me.

    It seems like the nature of the beast.

    Good night to you all and peace.

    Forever and out.

  • I agree. I would love to see a political revolution and there is no other kind – but I have lost hope after this election. I would emigrate in a heartbeat, but the poor and disabled cannot leave the country.

    I have not watched regular television since election night. American voters unfortunately have no world view. We are provincial. We do not travel or work outside the states. We never learn a second language, but we labor under the delusion of American exceptionalism, when most have no idea what’s happening on the global stage.

    Who recognizes that China has increased its consumption of natural resources 18 times over in the last 20 years? Yet too many blamed gas price hikes on Obama – stupid. Oil futures and international cartels control gas prices, not a single American President. Yet we cannot force Exxon to invest in renewable energy sources.

    Oh but wait! Exxon receives billions in government subsidies to develop fuel cells and renewable sources of energy, but what have they accomplished? Nothing and no politician is going to hold their feet to the fire.

    Moody’s Analytics, not a liberal institution, predicted a “flight to safety” among foreign investors if a certain candidate was elected. It also predicted a minimum two-year extension of the recession, which is really a depression, but no politician would use the d-word.

    These foreign investments equal about $4 trillion of our $14 trillion GDP – that’s roughly 30% of our economy – 30% of jobs, research, training, bonds and t-bills hanging in the balance.

    I am no fan of Wall Street – that’s an understatement – but if Wall Street fears a certain Republican candidate, we all have sound reasons to fear for our economic future. It will go bust again, sooner than later, so save your pennies folks. The best way to predict the future is to examine historical patterns, and we have entered another cycle.

    It happens roughly every ten years.

    The Clintons are not exempt. He spent seven years revising and repealing Glass-Steagall and other financial regulations that de-regulated the housing and financial markets. As a result, he received too much credit for generating a short-term surplus, destined to end with yet another economic crash.

    In the words of Arthur Stieglitz, the “roaring nineties” was just another crashing wave, fueled by Clinton de-regulation (worsened by Bush-Chaney) and the dot.com bubble, which also crashed right after Clinton left office. He was lucky – he caught a wave, when venture capitalists were throwing billions of dollars at doomed internet start ups. His policies were an economic sleight of hand.

    As far as capitalism is concerned, I side with the moderates, like Jack Klugman. We cannot abdicate capitalism entirely, or we lose our global competitive edge. People have traded goods and services for profit since the advent of civilization, since we started to specialize in certain professions, based on the law of competitive advantage.

    It does work to our mutual advantage. I have no problem with that, within given ethical constraints that tragically no longer exist.

    I know the daughter of the founder of a major grocery store chain. He recently passed away at 95 without ever exercising a stock option. He split his stock more than 14,000 times. He treated his employees with dignity. He succeeded by figuring out how to drive prices down through greater efficiencies – that’s the upside of capitalism.

    He also invested through strategic philanthropy in the communities in which they worked and lived. Regrettably, his passing marks the end of the “ethical capitalist,” but I worked in fundraising for 25 years. I knew too many millionaires and a couple of billionaires who were good people – on both sides of the political aisle.

    But they are the exception and not the rule. I like the way President Obama expressed the need for more regulation at the top and a stronger safety net at the bottom. He said it’s not about economic regulation labeled inherently good or bad. It’s about the right regulations that prevent corporations from exploiting the consumer, without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

    As for Klugman, he believes as I do – in a hybrid system. Capitalism does a good job of distributing luxury items, like smart phones and -to quote a ridiculous preacher – fancy Lincoln Continentals 🙂

    However, American capitalism cannot produce the right or humane outcomes in sectors like healthcare, education and prison reform.

    The French, Canadians, Germans, Swiss, Japanese, etc…these are capitalist societies, but they have not forfeited their social contract, because they have a common cultural bond and are not a loose association of 50 states with a weak federal government. In addition, they were never infected by Ayn Rand – that hack, third-rate novelist, turned “economist,” whose primary contribution was feeding Richard Nixon’s ego-maniacal and paranoid agenda, with no true grasp of economics.

    Now we are way out on a broken limb.

    It’s just a matter of time.

    If you made it this far, thanks for listening.

    Few people do. Good night to y’all.

    Sincerely,

    Treading Water in the Red Sea.

  • Thanks for your comments.

    Tragically, I cannot foresee democracy “trumping” (pardon another vulgar word) unbridled capitalism ever – not after this election. We flushed our manifest destiny right down the drain.

    In the absence of a political revolution, our best bet is a public relations strategy, similar to the one that brought big tobacco to its knees. Even so, tobacco companies continue to rake in billions in profits each year, but the public is much better educated about the risks, and fewer people smoke. It’s become socially unacceptable – that is our best hope right now. I hope we can convince fewer people to trust prescription medications, but where is the money?

    I just lost a cousin to smoking-related dementia (like my father and grandfather) who was hooked back when even doctors suggested smoking was healthy. I also recently read that my personal nemesis, Ayn Rand, who I believe is responsible for the current mindset that there is no social contract – vehemently denounced the link between smoking and lung disease, even after she came down with lung cancer.

    Guess what she did?

    The icon of Darwinian capitalism started to accept social security and Medicare as she lay dying from a disease she denied publicly for decades, suckling off the “socialist” government she also denounced for decades. In his memoir, Greenspan was a meditating hippie before he met her. And Paul “Its the law of the jungle” Ryan is also a big fan.

    As a nod to Darwin, he wrote a letter late in life lamenting that “survival of the fittest” had evolved into the false premise for corporate morality, much like Einstein lamented moral “relativism.”

    The one institution right now with enough money to launch a massive PR campaign against psychiatry and its medications is the Church of Scientology. I perceive that most people, myself included (after I watched a recent documentary) hold this institution with less respect than psychiatry. In fact, I see eerie parallels in the way they collect private information and turn it against you until you conform to their unique mindset, and sip the cool aid.

    Again, my apologies. I hope this makes sense. I am finishing the revisions on my second novel which is about a famous and perverse psychiatrist, confronted by the vengeful spirits of the patients he addicted and seduced, very very loosely based on the Paul Lazano case. I mean that I have researched these issues now for more than three years, and written a 190,000 word brain dump, so I am not manic. This information is entangled in my head. When I am in a hurry, it tends to unravel in my writing style.

    Take care.

  • Regarding capitalism and healthcare, I need to make this one quick, but my advanced degree is in international business, with a concentration in economics and finance.

    To understand how this mess started in modern terms, we have to return to the Emergency Room Care Act, which President Reagan signed in 1986. It required hospitals to provide medical care to anyone regardless of ability to pay or citizenship status. It was the closest system we ever had that compares to a single-payer system, but it was still a far cry from ones like Hawaii and those that work in European-style capitalist countries. Ironically, it was a very liberal position for this Republican icon to take.

    However, the long-term disaster stemmed from the fact that these services were not “free,” meaning low to moderate income people were still billed for medical services they could not afford in the first place or they would not have taken advantage of this law. That no one foresaw the catastrophic, inevitable consequences eludes me.

    As the debt mounted, with compounded interest and penalties, more and more people filed bankruptcy.

    It would have been so much better to fund more free clinics than to expect for-profit hospitals (and that includes state and nonprofit hospitals that still have to pay their bills) not to take a defensive action. Unfortunately, their bottom line is far more important to them than your health or longevity. And the mindset that drives these detached business decisions is rooted in the antiquated idea that untethered free-market forces will reach a “natural” balance and price point that produces the greatest net benefit to society. How many times do we have to learn that is not true? It does not work that way because of greed – a far more powerful driver than free-market forces. After 2008, even an abashed Alan Greenspan admitted this much in congressional testimony. He assumed that the banks would place their stakeholder interests above their own personal wealth.

    Not when your CEO has a $30 million golden parachute!

    In general, this cycle created by the Emergency Room Act resulted in two very serious problems from a macroeconomic perspective: 1) healthcare debt became a major driver of our national deficit, and 2) the hospitals and insurance companies passed this bad debt to clients who could pay, which resulted in escalated healthcare costs and insurance premiums, compounding and already escalating deficit.

    Hopefully, you can see how these two interconnected variables reinforced a disastrous cycle that further derailed the economics of our healthcare system over three plus decades.

    What we call Obamacare – originally an idea proposed by The Heritage Foundation (the most conservative think-tank in the nation) – and rolled out by a Republican governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts – was a macroeconomic attempt to slow down or reverse the INFLATION RATE of health care costs – not the amount that people spent on healthcare or medications – by creating a way for more people to purchase healthcare insurance, thus shouldering their share of the costs.

    From a capitalist perspective, more spending is not necessarily bad – the more people who invest in a particular market, the greater the demand for services, which in turn should generate greater competition. In theory, it should reach a price equilibrium – but healthcare is a basic need, not a fashionable accessory. It does not respond to the same economic dynamics as – say – personal electronics and designer clothing. This is not strictly my opinion. It is the opinion of MODERATE Nobel-Laureate economists.

    By its very nature, Obamacare was designed to increase the amount that the populace in general spent on healthcare, not an attempt to improve the quality of healthcare, nor reduced premiums per se. The more people with access to healthcare insurance, the more money people would spend on doctors and prescription medications – that one is a no-brainer. And it could not have passed the congress and received endorsements from the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies and the American Medical Association unless they expected it to increase net profits. To expect these major corporate influences, which have hijacked congress thanks to Citizens United, to sacrifice even 1% of their net profits for the greater good compares to asking a tiger to go vegetarian. Corporate trustees rarely behave as ethical or moral individuals. They exempt themselves from personal responsibility through group-think and complex statistical and business-decision-making paradigms under the guise of “objectivity.”

    They do not care who lives or dies. The healthcare system profits from disease. It feeds on the sick and the elderly, much like any apex predator. That is the bottom line….and their only concern is myopic quarterly earnings reports and stock price fluctuations – they don’t even care about the long-term stability of their companies and the healthcare sector in general. The average CEO is concerned with his next quarterly Board meeting and little else, with rare exception.

    I had very mixed feelings about the idea that Obamacare included access to mental healthcare. Great! More people with access to 15-minute med checks at prescriptions mills? Bad medications that enhance the chances of them ending up on disability?

    If you are not a subscriber to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, you may not be able to access this editorial about the current administration’s plans to further streamline FDA procedures and guidelines. As argued by the former President of Pfizer International – he makes it very clear these plans will benefit pharmaceutical companies but will impede longitudinal studies of the impact of new pharmaceuticals on the bio-markers of all medical illnesses on large populations.

    http://www.sciencemagazinedigital.org/sciencemagazine/24_february_2017_Main?sub_id=2cN5K8gDwYDY&u1=41599237&folio=777&pg=9#pg9

    With the exception of plagues, this approach is critical to understanding whether or not medications that demonstrate short-term promise stand the test of time and do not backfire. Specifically, he refers to recently introduced Alzheimer’s medications that showed short-term positive impact on amyloid deposits, but long-term have proven useless at best. We wasted tons of money on these new medications for my father that simply do not work. So I think a single-payer system is the solution, but not without more stringent regulations on how and when these drugs go to market.

    it’s called ethics – and it’s dead.

    As much as I admire Obama, his last appointment to head the FDA was indicted on $125 million dollars in racketeering charges. Her husband posed as an “artificial intelligence” engineer, while he secretly ran a hedge fund that invested in pharmaceutical companies.

    Their net worth increased from $10 million to $125 million in about three years. You really have to have your head up your ass (pardon the justified explicative) not to expect some prosecutor to see a flapping red flag when a federal appointee generates that much personal wealth in such a short period of time. It does not happen without insider trading, and she was uniquely positioned to violate those laws in a high-profile position. This link takes you to the article about the indictment:

    https://www.federalcharges.com/news/2016-04-25-former-fda-commissioner-named-in-massive-conspiracy-and-rackeetering-lawsuit/

    The last time I checked, Obamacare worked in the sense that it reduced the healthcare inflation rate (not the total amount spent or premiums) to its lowest rates in 50 years. But it was SCOTUS and not the President, or even a Republican Congress, that threw a huge monkey wrench into the original legislation by allowing governors to reject Medicare expansion, which would have covered those most in need.

    In doing so the poorest states – which also tend to be the most conservative (Hello from SC!) – not only threw the most vulnerable populations under the bus, but denied a guaranteed nine-fold return on the investment in the program, denying this state’s healthcare sector an infusion of tens of millions of dollars that would have otherwise generated competition and helped to drive down healthcare costs in theory. As with all major economic paradigm shifts, you never really know the impact until at least five years after the fact. I still consider it a step in the right direction, but hardly a perfect leap.

    The harbinger of turbulence was always healthcare premium spikes and that has happened as insurance companies that cannot profit in states where the governor rejected Medicaid expansion closed their doors and hiked rates to protect their net profits in other states. That is how major corporation behave – they cut their losses and try to protect shareholder value by making up the difference elsewhere.

    This is a non-partisan analysis. While I loved this last President for a variety of good reasons, we do not live in a democratic system where the President has that enough authority to implement sweeping reform without compromise. In this case, that comprise – thanks to SCOTUS – threw the original intent of the legislation out of balance. And the future does NOT look good, regardless of your political leanings. We live in a boom and bust culture, driven by greed – he United States economy has imploded 16 times in the last 150 years and four times during my 50 years on this planet.

    In comparison, how many times has the Canadian government gone bust?

    Never….not once.

  • Wow- no symptoms, then blood pressure medication, straight to Haldol and benzos?

    It does make me think you might have a malpractice case if you want to endure that gauntlet. I decided against it for various reasons. Regardless, the egregious error is that your father’s doctor could not connect the obvious dots. He could not make the common-sense association between his sudden decline and the potential effects of the blood pressure medication, so his assumption was that your father’s illness -despite being asymptomatic previous to this drug – indicated an underlying worsening condition and not an adverse reaction to a recent prescription.

    This is how the poly-drugging cycle starts. As the iatrogenic damage compounded, they simply misdiagnosed me with a worsening condition – and put me on even more pills. I was to stupidly naive to refute medical “science.”

    It never crosses their minds that the medications could be the problem and not the solution because they have no other solutions or training – not in nutrition, physical exercise, meditation or supplements. Its that corrupt and strictly allopathetic mindset that has shredded western medicine of its ethics and its competence.

    My story is far too long and complicated, but the following Boston Globe article from 2014 explains exactly what I mean. I went through (and continue to endure) the same experience to a lesser extent now. I would attach the link but it’s archived.

    This young woman out of college was too shy for her first job, so they put her on Ativan, to squeeze her personality into the wrong position when what she really needed was career counseling. She started to have horrible panic attacks…and her doctor’s response? He wanted to put her on more medications, but her father stepped in and said no.

    She spent two months in the previously inconceivable mental anguish of benzo withdrawal that I am all too familiar with, unfortunately. In her case, she had a wiser parental figure who stopped the cycle before it created too much damage. If only I had someone at that tender age who told the doctors they were downright wrong. And I was working at Harvard at the time! I received my services from supposedly the best medical school and training hospital in the nation – if not the world.

    BOSTON GLOBE ARTICLE
    When Withdrawal is The Hardest Part
    Boston Globe – Boston, Mass.
    Author: Fox, Jeremy C
    Date: Sep 8, 2014
    Section: Lifestyle

    John Zielin realized his daughter was in trouble when she called him unexpectedly, saying, “You’ve got to come and get me. Something’s wrong.”

    Alison Page was catering a Waltham wedding in the summer of 2012 when she began feeling ill. “At sunset, I just got really dizzy,” said Page, 29. “I go outside, and I’m sitting down, and everything’s spinning. I felt like a wild animal that was being preyed upon. It was petrifying.”

    Zielin, 66, arrived to find Page in a parking lot, her eyes filled with fear and confusion. In the car on the way to their Andover home, she experienced her first panic attack. “I’ve seen people like that, but they usually have a long history of it,” said Zielin, a retired social worker. “This stuff is showing up out of nowhere.”

    The family later learned that Page was experiencing withdrawal between doses of Ativan, a drug often prescribed for anxiety or insomnia. After taking a dose that night, Page felt fine – for the moment. But her struggle to recover continues more than two years later.

    While rampant abuse of heroin and prescription opiates dominates public attention, dependency on benzodiazepines — a group of tranquilizers that includes drugs such as Ativan, Klonopin, and Xanax — remains less widely acknowledged or understood.

    Doctors say benzodiazepines are effective for short-term stress, as in the days following the death of a loved one or another emotionally difficult event. But problems can arise when use continues for more than a few weeks.

    The federal Food and Drug Administration requires warning labels that describe dependency risks – the Ativan label lists 35 reported withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, and seizures. But doctors and patients say physicians often prescribe benzodiazepines with no discussion of the dangers and the drugs’ declining effectiveness over time.

    “People get used to prescribing these drugs and they forget what they’re dealing with,” said John Kelly, associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Representatives for the pharmaceutical companies Roche, maker of Klonopin, and Pfizer, maker of Xanax, issued statements saying that physicians prescribing the drugs should study the safety information provided in the drugs’ labels and discuss the benefits and risks with their patients.

    A spokeswoman for Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Ativan, did not respond to requests for comment. Kelly said patients can feel a false sense of security when taking any drugs prescribed by their doctors. “With benzos and stimulants and opiates, because they’re prescribed, people do have this perception that they’re safe, or much safer than illicit drugs you’d obtain on the street,” he said.

    Kelly said many abuse benzodiazepines in combination with substances like opiates, cocaine, and alcohol. But for Page and many others, dependency can develop under a doctor’s care. Page was prescribed Ativan by a psychiatrist in 2009, she said, as she adjusted to working as a receptionist after graduating from Northeastern University.

    As a shy person, she found the front-and-center role a tough fit, she said. Page moved on to work as a mental health counselor and entered nursing school, taking the drug periodically and sparingly, as her psychiatrist advised, she said, but her health began to decline.

    “My anxiety was getting worse; I was getting dizzy spells; I was getting sick more often, and my capacity to deal with stress was less,” Page said. “I thought I had a worsening anxiety disorder.”

    Over time, these symptoms worsened while new ones arose, and despite good grades, she had to leave nursing school, she said. When her psychiatrist suggested additional medications, her father said no.

    Page said she was switched to another benzodiazepine and tapered off the drug over three weeks, she said, but afterward her withdrawal symptoms seemed to worsen.

    “I didn’t sleep for two months,” she said. “I would be in fear states for maybe four, five, six hours a day. . . . It was almost like this primal feeling that you’re about to be attacked by a lion; you’re about to be killed.”

    Calls to Page’s psychiatrist were referred to a spokeswoman for Steward Health Care System, owner of the hospital where he practices, who said she could not comment because of federal patient privacy laws. But the spokeswoman said that the company’s medical personnel “are careful when prescribing medications to patients.”

    Dr. James Berry of the Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook, Maine, estimated that a third of those who are prescribed benzodiazepines experience dependency and painful withdrawal, but there is no sure way to predict who will have those reactions, though the dangers increase with prolonged use.

    “Generally, withdrawal symptoms . . . are the opposite of what a drug does,” he said. “If a drug relieves anxiety, the drug causes anxiety” during withdrawal.

    Berry recommends that those who have become dependent reduce their doses gradually over a six-month period before they cease using the medication, but some doctors advise patients to stop taking the drugs over just a few weeks, he said.

    Even a six-month tapering process isn’t sufficient for some, according to Berry. For a small percentage, it can take years for withdrawal symptoms to recede.

    Benzodiazepines have been used widely since the 1960s, and concerns about them are long established. Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy convened a congressional hearing in 1979 to raise awareness, saying benzodiazepines like Valium and Lithium had brought relief to many, but that, “For others, these drugs have produced a nightmare of dependence and addiction, both very difficult to treat and to recover from,” the Associated Press reported.

    The risks, though, remain little discussed, some patients say. Page finally understood her symptoms when she found the online support group Benzo Buddies, she said. Founded a decade ago, the group has about 16,000 members around the world. Cofounder Colin Moran said the online forum was created because there was almost no real-world support at the time.

    In Britain, where Moran lives, benzodiazepines have been discussed in Parliament, and the British Medical Association is reviewing use and prescribing habits, but there has been little movement toward reducing use or increasing warnings, he said.

    Moran and Berry both said doctors in the United States have been even slower to address concerns. “We still hear from members [in the United States] that their doctors claim there is no potential for dependency or addiction with this class of drug,” Moran said in an e-mail. “Some doctors even sometimes ‘cold turkey’ their patients off large doses of benzodiazepines, even after protracted use. This is extremely dangerous.”

    Zielin said Benzo Buddies saved his daughter’s life. “The importance of having a supportive network around people going through this is just critical,” he said. “I don’t know how people can go through this alone.” Medford resident Karen Psaledakis was prescribed Ativan to treat panic attacks after her father’s 2006 death. Her psychiatrist offered “zero” warnings, she said.

    “I never received one wary comment or anything that would suggest I should look into it more,” she said. Psaledakis, 44, said she took the drug as directed, but within three months began experiencing muscle and nerve pain, gastrointestinal problems, and other physical issues. After an unsuccessful stay in a holistic treatment center that tried to help her taper off the drug too quickly, and two stints in a psychiatric hospital, Psaledakis was able to stop taking the drug in early 2012, with support from Benzo Buddies, she said.

    Psaledakis’s physical symptoms disappeared last fall, but she said she still experiences depression and states of intense fear that she believes are withdrawal symptoms. “I have to make an effort to think about the things that have gotten better, but I know that they have,” she said. “Some things have gotten worse, but that is just sort of the nature of this beast.”

    For Page, recovery has been “like a roller coaster ride,” she said, with symptoms disappearing and recurring, usually less intense with each bout. She thinks total healing could take two or three years more. “It’s just back and forth, back and forth, but overall the trajectory is toward healing,” she said.

    Credit: By Jeremy C. Fox Globe Correspondent

  • The term was Death Panels – one of Palin’s favorite sound bytes.

    As for Obamacare, consider me the poster child. Before I could get on disability and Medicare, after twenty years of poly-drugging especially on Klonopin, I also suffered from two torn meniscus joints, misdiagnosed, when I worked and had insurance, as “plyca syndrome.” No one would operate, both Emory doctors said, on someone as physically active who could manage the pain.

    Fast forward two years and I had no job and no insurance. I operated a small business that allowed me to barely qualify for Obamacare in a state where the governor rejected Medicaid expansion. Thanks Governor Haley – I hope you’re having fun at the United Nations – we don’t miss you here. I understand you’re “taking names” for the -ugh – new administration. Good luck with that.

    Both knees were fixed in 2013, after I ballooned up to 240 pounds and could not walk my dog around the block, without someone on call. By 2015, I was down to 182 pounds – and running 8 to 10 miles every other day. Never would have happened without Obamacare. I understand it did not work for everyone, but for me? All that taxpaying for 35 years finally paid off – it saved my life.

  • I had a very similar – almost identical – experience last year; and my heart breaks for you.

    My father passed on 12/27/16 after a struggle with dementia. It bothered me, but I did not protest too much, when his doctor put him on Ativan. He was aggressive and delusional and had placed his own life in danger so many times. He was also terrified to death – in his lucid moments – and we were beyond the point of no return. The Ativan at least kept him from muttering “I don’t wanna die” repeatedly as his memories erased – everything he did never happened – everyone he knew became a stranger – and the house was always on fire or under attack. He was back in Korea.

    What’s your location? I am two clicks away.

    I discovered that shortly thereafter he was also placed on Haldol (with morphine as needed) – and I told my mother – you understand this is not treatment. It’s slow euthanasia. I predicted he would pass within three weeks…and he did. I do not blame my mom – she was following her doctor’s recommendations and had a very difficult, double-edge sword decision to make. It was an exhausting five-year ordeal for her as the primary caretaker. It is the doctor’s job to know better – that is why we hire any specialist, because they are supposed to have a level of expertise greater than ours. Yet the medical profession (and psychiatrists in particular) are beyond reproach in the judicial system.

    It’s very hard to violate a standard of care that does not exist.

    Legally, they cannot make mistakes. Not in these situations.

    If you do want a shred of justice, your best bet is to file a complaint with you state medical review board, but be prepared for a fight. In my situation, my hospital has so far declined to honor three legal subpoenas in one year for my complete medical records from the state regulatory agency, after my 40-page complaint passed the initial threshold and was assigned to an official investigator. I have now filed two HIPAA complaints with DHHS and they promise to handle the situation “unofficially” through “technical assistance.” I wrote grants for 25 years – I can read between the lines.

    But we must continue to fight.

    In my father’s case, what disturbs me is that the hospice staff did not put him even on a saline drip during his three last weeks. On the Haldol, he could not even eat a Popsicle without gagging on the drool. The complete loss of motor control did not help with basic needs either. Within three weeks, starved and dehydrated, he contracted pneumonia and passed two days after Christmas. His passing was inevitable at that point…but Haldol? And no attempt to hydrate him while dying of pneumonia?

    It’s been 26 years and at least 100 billion dollars in funding since the human genome project and the renaissance in neuroscience was supposed to lead to better treatments….and both our fathers were put one of the so-called “liquid lobotomies” (Haldol) developed during the nineteen-fifties to replace surgical lobotomies. Yes, that’s how far we have come. No better medications in – and thus no better options for our doctors – thus no greater responsibility on their part – in 60 years.

    In 2000, we were told that thanks to the genome project, the known etiologies of mental illness, neurological diseases and cancer – to name a few – would lead to much better treatments if not cures. My father’s decline was not as fast as your dear fathers, but it escalated dramatically with the combined benzos and Haldol, within weeks. It is legal euthanasia. In the end, I gave his doctor hell when his staff called one week after he died to schedule his follow-up appointment.

    Certainly, he knew that this “cocktail” would lead to a rapid demise. If he did not, then what does that say for the medical professional in general?

    P.S. You do not mention whether you father smoked. I am certain my father’s “Alzheimer’s” was caused by decades of smoking, though he quit less than two decades before he passed. We do an excellent job of communicating the risks of smoking on the lungs, but not to the brain. I did my homework on this topic. While it’s true that not everyone who smokes gets dementia, there is a definite and undeniable correlation, plus a common-sense medical rationale. It is also true that it takes the brain longer to heal from smoking than – to the extent of my personal research – psych drugs and alcohol. Of course it breaks down at the individual level – but I believe we need to promote this message.

    Thank you for allowing me to share, and my condolences to you and your family.

    Please forgive the times I digress into my personal troubles and soap boxes. Your story brought up a lot of emotions based on recent experiences.

  • As much as I despise that thug we elected, and cannot watch regular television since my “election depression” settled over me, when did we adopt a constitutional amendment prohibiting someone with “mental illness” – however one defines it – from serving in public office, even the Presidency?

    1. Did Richard Nixon have a Paranoid Personality Disorder? As Alan Greenspan (and I am not a big fan of him either) noted in his memoir “The Age of Turbulence,” Nixon was an unstable, paranoid alcoholic.

    For this reason, and because of his racist and anti-Semitic streak, Greenspan declined a position in Nixon’s administration. He then notes that Gerald Ford was the most “psychologically stable” President that he served under- and that includes Reagan, Bush I and Clinton.

    2. George Bush II was at least an “alcoholic in remission.”

    3. Did JFK and Bill Clinton suffer from the emergent Hypersexual Disorder? Its not in the DSM yet, but it will be. And sexual addiction is still considered an unofficial psychiatric diagnoses, with treatment centers and twelve-step programs.

    4. LBJ fits the criteria for a NPD. Reportedly, he “bullied his staff to the point of sadism,” exposed himself in mixed company. He named his private parts as “Jumbo.” In his memoirs, long-term Johnson aid George Reedy portrayed him as a “womanizing, perverted drunkard” – and a narcissistic of the highest order.

    3. Then there is the most disturbed President who ever served in Office, Andrew Jackson, who personally slaughtered thousands of Native-American men, woman and children with his own sword, and directed his troops to slaughter millions more. He enjoyed it. Largely because of Jackson, this nation has broken more than 400 treaties with Native Americans, often days after we signed them (Zinn, Harold). By psychiatric standards, he embodies the psychopath on a genocidal scale.

    4. As an aside, Jimmy Carter saw a UFO and believes in aliens. Yet he is probably the most sincere, most humanitarian and one of the finest statesmen this country has ever produced. Not the best fit for the Presidency during his era in office, but the man has a strong ethical backbone. I used to attend breakfasts at The Carter Center. What most impressed me is how they tackled issues (e.g. Guinea Worm) that flew under the philanthropic radar. He does not chose to pursue the “glamorous” cause, but tackles unpopular problems no one else registers.

    5. Abraham Lincoln suffered from Major Depressive Disorder and wrote poems about suicide. Though a skeptic, he also had visions, according to Doris Kearns Goodwin (Team of Rivals), dreaming three nights in a row about his assassination, recorded in his personal journals.

    6. Winston Churchill suffered from M.D.D. Though often retroactively diagnosed with manic depression, he combined copious amounts of booze with amphetamines, which explains the “mania” – but he helped to save England from the Nazis, won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and served as Prime Minister twice. And he lived to be 90-years-old. despite a mild stroke in 1949.

    7. Few people doubt that Reagan suffered from severe dementia during his second term.

    The point is more modern Presidents qualify as “mentally ill” – as the A.PA. defines it than do not. And as much as I loathe the current moron in office, I would not want the A.P.A. and its vestigial, arbitrary and fictitious criteria to qualify people who run for public office. My rationale should be obvious. Can you imagine Joseph Lieberman as President?

    Now that’s a twisted thought.

    This no defense of Trump. He sickens me- but so does this county and its culture.

    It sickens me that this nation flushed its destiny down the proverbial toilet. Those who voted for him sent a resounding message to the next generation of young people and politicians that its not just okay to prey on women, mock people with disabilities, race-bait, demonize an entire religion, manipulate bankruptcy laws, cheat your debtors, and flaunt federal tax laws with impunity – BUT IT MAKES YOU A WINNER BY AMERICAN STANDARDS. Special note: it takes an insane populace to elect an insane President.

    And everyone knows there are two classes of people in this corrupt culture – winners like Trump and Charlie Sheen…and losers, you know, people like me – who worked hard since the age of 15, through most of college and my entire graduate degree, volunteered for causes that promoted actual values, struggled against all odds to build a better life in a system that is designed to trip you unless you are rich, especially if you don’t conform to traditional norms.

    I have given up on this nation. Anyone who wants to write me a check for $100,000 (after taxes) so I can emigrate back to Paris? Please let me know. The quality of work/life balance, healthcare, retirement, low crimes rates…and the average lifespan is longer there. Its worth the bureaucratic hassles.

    American exceptionalism? Please….

    And don’t say – yeah but Hillary was worse…I had family members who worked at the DOS. Perhaps she is no saint – few people who accumulate that much power are saints, but she is a saint compared that…ugh. I cannot write the name again. It makes me cringe. I hear that fingernails on slate sound in his voice.

  • The following story is my long-winded way of saying that if you have the solution, I have been searching, struggling and striving for a very long time. I need your help.

    I am so sick and tired of being a slave, and I don’t have much fight left. I am a slave to doctors who define who and what I am, with ultimate control over my civil rights. I am a slave to medications that I cannot stop taking without relying on a doctor who has a vested interest in the false premise that I am better off on them while they slowly poison my brain. I am a slave to poverty – psychiatry has cost me an easy $170,000 out-of-pock i two decades. I am a slave to stigma and social isolation, and its left me crippled on disability, which does not pay you enough to heal. I continue to go broke trying to afford decent medical care on a disability check.

    My story is so long and complicated – but some of it appeared on the MIA blog here, following the link below. At one point, I was poly-drugged on eight medications in two weeks. In three weeks I entered into the hospital and was removed from all of these drugs (including Klonopin and Cymbalta which I was on for the better part of twenty years – and suicidal much of the time).

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/01/the-gauntlet-of-protracted-benzodiazepine-withdrawal/

    I have not had a suicidal thought since I survived sudden cessation fro SNRIs at the hands of the Medical University of SC in early 2014 – but the benzos? After three and one-half months of cerebral shock – I finally parted ways with M.U.S.C. and re-stabilized on 40 milligrams of Valium, but the same doctor kept me on 20 milligrams of zolipidem for more than a year. I successfully ceased talking the zolipidem in July under another doctor’s care- and have not touched one since. I do not know how or why but I came off it without increasing my Valium intake with few problems in about 90 days.

    The former doctor insisted that I stabilize for a year, before I tapered. When that year was up, my father was weeks away from a violent and delusional dementia-related death – the same week my doctor confirmed that the benzos and “non” benzos predisposed me to the demise. She knew my father was dying fro Alzheimer’s and she readily admitted that she knew the correlation between these drugs and dementia, but she never told me. I had to learn it second-hand and validate that correlation with her.

    She was not going to tell me unless I asked.

    After my father passed, I had an MRI done – and there was one negative finding – “global mild atrophy inconsistent with age.” The general practitioner I entrusted to interpret these results rendered them like a death sentence – a definite precursor to early onset dementia. She was ready to prescribe the meds my father was on. I ran screaming out of her office. A psycho-neurologist stated the finding was “too vague to clinical significance,” given that I showed no symptoms. My current psychiatrist called it “disconcerting ” but not a death sentence, since we don’t know what caused it.

    I know in my gut what caused it – a Harvard campus psychiatrist had me on seven concurrent prescriptions of Klonopin in the mid nineties. I asked if it was okay to drink and take these pills and he said yes in moderation. Its was not okay in moderation, and I am certain that the spiraled that followed and ended twelve years ago – doubled-whammied my brain. That explains why it literally shrank.

    In that state -at that time – concurrent prescriptions meant I could take as much as I wanted, until one day the campus pharmacist fussed at me. She filled the prescription, but she was mad. So I informed the campus psychologist. When she picked her jaw off the floor, she put me into the hospital right away. I was sent to the best teaching hospital in the world, I guess, but I was taken off the Klonopin with no taper and not a clue about long-term withdrawal – the creeping paranoia, the panic attacks, the wounded feelings – I chalked it up to culture shock. A polite southern boy trapped as a cultural outsider in the highest ivory tower in the world.

    But the damage was done. Leaving Harvard did not cure the symptoms. I had o idea what was happening to me and the only answers that western medicine provided was more pills and a worse diagnosis. This is where and when the cycle started – and despite 5-6 attempts to stop taking the benzos, following what my doctor in Atlanta always called the “rip the Band-Aid off approach” I was always “better off on them” I was told by countless shrinks because they always interpreted the withdrawal as “your underlying condition” returning – and typically the diagnoses got worse over time. According to my medical records at MUSC, I have five-six psychiatric diagnoses – including both unipolar and bipolar depression. But my favorite one is the “Personality Disorder, Unspecified” diagnosis I received when I became slightly agitated with the resident in charge of my care because he told me my symptoms were “neurologically impossible” and I as a baby whose bottle had been taken away.”

    I did not threaten the guy. I did not even use a bad word or call him a name.

    I was going through the hell of combined SNRI and benzo withdrawal.

    I have finally found an “integrated” and open-minded psychiatrist who accepted that I have developed my own treatment philosophy, constructed an entire lifestyle around brain health (nutrition, meditation, exercise, etc….) and he is willing to TOLERATE my goals to taper off these medications. But he does not take Medicare and its $185 an hour out of pocket. There is one “holistic” psychiatrist in town, but she does not take my insurance either. She wants $450 for an initial consultation, $175 fora hourly session and by the way she wants you to buy $300-month in nutritional supplements through her. I am not just a slave. I am trapped – there are just no better options.

    My current psychiatrist is a nice guy – and I do not question his intentions – but as they say the road to hell…. he still comes from the corrupt allopathic mindset. He still views me as defective and not the medications. We come to this amicable impasse that what he sees as the trajectory of neurological illness, I knew from my personal experience and my own research is the compounded, iatrogenic damage of benzos and other meds. In fact, he recently confided in me – and though its breach of medical etiquette – he was trying to assuage my fears – that he takes psychiatric medications himself. In fact, he became a psychiatrist because he had both good ad bad experiences as a patient.

    I recently tried to go to a different doctor in town. He diagnosed me bipolar in 20 minutes. So I chose the lesser of two evils and I currently pay $185 an hour out-of-pocket to see the doctor who does listen and is willing to support (but not encourage) my own treatment philosophy and goals. It has taken more than three years but I have whittled down – with a lot of setbacks – to 18 milligrams of Valium. My brain has proven SO sensitive over the years that going down one milligram every couple of week is a challenge. So back to square one…If you can help, I would love to hear or speak with you.

    I have been looking for – and practicing my own version – of this solution for years.

    But something is still not quite working.

    Thank you.

  • I was misdiagnosed Bipolar II in 2008 – though I failed the S.C.I.D. for this disorder in Spring 2012 – the only time any psychiatrist ever used any kind of “objective” diagnostic tool for any diagnosis in a 20-year period.

    Though I never had a “psychotic” experience, I believe my “bipolar” symptoms were related to a serious anxiety disorder compounded by 20 years on benzos, antidepressants and sleeping pills, which crippled my nervous system. Instead of recognizing that the medications caused the symptoms to worsen, my psychiatrist at the time simply diagnosed me with a worse “underlying condition” and placed on even more medications. When I questioned how can you tell the difference between the cure and the disease with this many medications, all the possible side effects and interactions…Wow! Did I get a lecture? I sure did. How dare you imply that I don’t know what I am talking about!

    He was incredulous and insulted. As it turns out, he had no idea what he was talking about, but I did not have the expertise or information to fight back at the time. After I was disabled, I took some online courses in the interpretation of clinical research data and bio-statistics, and performed my personal clinical literature view on this topic.

    The jury is in, folks.

    Brain-scanning technologies – despite their flaws – consistently demonstrate meditation improves and strengthen areas of brain previously thought inconceivable, including the amygdala, the prefontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex (Zeidan et al. 2013).

    Though some might counter that these benefits imply that people who meditate embrace healthier lifestyles in general, the evidence suggests there is so much more to it. In prospective studies, meditation apparently has induced neuorgenesis in regions of the brain previously considered impossible, within an eight-week period (Lazar et al. 2011).

    Below, I have provided a link to one article about one study on the Harvard Medical School website. I also suggest that you try pubmed.gov and type in the key words “meditation and neuroplasticity” – there are currently 45 hits from all over the world, covering a range of methodologies and examining the benefits of different meditative practices.

    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/

    As I unraveled my relationship with psychiatry, at the same time I lost my father to a violent and delusional battle with dementia – I started to absorb and write about all the information from psychiatry and medications to the neurosciences and even contemporary theories about human consciousnesses, including quantum physics.

    The more esoteric theories about the mind led me to take the course in Transcendental Meditation (TM) two years ago, which brought me full circle to prayer and deep relationship with the divine. I meditate now an hour a day (plus I exercise five days a week, combined with nutrition, water and good supplements). I have found it so much easier to taper from multiple medications than my peers in the same situations.

    My former practitioner had prescribed me 20 milligrams (four times the FDA maximum) of zolipidem. But I was able to stop taking it in less than three months. I was deeply concerned, given the horror stories I had read online. Now I am down to ten milligrams of Valium a day and counting….then I am done.

    It’s great to read a personal testimony from someone who has been through a similar experience and healed by adopting a commitment to meditation. I believe it’s part of an integrated, holistic approach (after all your brain cannot focus or function much less recover without proper hydration) Its way past time that we brought meditation out the shadows. I gives me such a deep sense of peace.

    I cannot imagine my day without it.

  • On Twitter, someone was asking “what do we most grieve today?” the day after the election.

    While I lean more to the left than the right, I consider myself a political pragmatist, with an advanced degree in Finance and Economics. I prefer solutions that work. I decline to embrace dogma or rigid ideologies. As to my credentials, I have a Master’s in International Business (Finance and Economics). I have lived and worked in other countries. My brother is a colonel with a doctorate in military strategies, recently retired from the Department of State. I speak a second language.

    So I have a world view, but I perceive most Americans do not.

    To the question above, I responded (as best as one can in 164 characters) that I grieved the “death of civility,” driving the sheer lunacy behind this election cycle. Though I labor under no false delusions about the Democratic candidate, the current President-Elect flung more monkey feces through his tiny brain cage on social media and chummed the waters of his fanatical base with the worst transparent lies and petty insults than any candidate/celebrity in modern history…and he won.

    But this point is the worst part about his win.

    He won not DESPITE of his mean-spirited lies and hateful rhetoric, but because of it.

    But that is not a kind of madness or mass hysteria?

    If the author agrees to my interpretation of her premise, and my definition of the the word “psychotic,: then I believe she has an important and substantive message about the nation’s state of mental health reflected in the results of this election cycle.

    To direct hatred against a common enemy (e.g. Latinos and Muslims or immigrants in general) was his primary political strategy. It whipped almost half the voting population into a senseless lynch mob – the proverbial “maddening crowd.”

    For goodness sake, this current President-Elect claimed he could “shoot a stranger on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters.” It was dangerous and delusional statement, but no one gasped at the mindset that led him to believe (or understand as it turns out) that such a statement borders on sadistic and not the sarcastic. In fact, tens of millions consider him not only sane, but a political genius.

    The evidence amassed over the last 18 months suggests he does represent a new brand of national insanity. If we define “psychotic” as “out of touch with reality,” then the author’s has made taken an interesting position, based on rational argument.

    He is psychotic, as I would define the term – delusional in a way that places others at heightened risk. He is delusional at least. There will be no wall. It is not possible to imprison, prosecute and deport 12-20 million undocumented people. And banning an entire religion from crossing our borders? Good luck with that. BTW, how much would it cost to make honor those core, campaign promises?

    Right. Other people’s money that he borrows but never returns.

    Other countries will pay for it.

    How can anyone defend statement like these, without defining him as out of touch with reality?

    It does speaks to a frightening level of societal “madness,” a culture in the death throes of losing it core values regarding human dignity, civil rights and reasonable compromise. I am a member of a demonized minority, and I have witnessed political hatred translated into policies that denigrate the most vulnerable, who paid their taxes and contributed to their communities.

    Did I say paying taxes? It’s more than our new president could claim.

    But he says that makes him smart.

    He says he’s a good businessman because he manipulated bankruptcy laws and cheated his contractors and deceived the IRS. A good businessman – and its a dying breed – produces something of economic value traded at a reasonable profit. As the economist Robert Reich noted, Trump could have invested the money his father gave him in the seventies in a standard index fund and his net worth would total around $20 billion today. So how smart is he now? How is he a good businessman?

    It does his sanity into question.

    If I interpreted her words correctly, the author rightfully suggests that the tenor that drove the results of this election threatens the already broken heart of a decent and democratic society.

    Another trend on Twitter this week, bearing in mind that I have sent six tweets in my life, was “thanking Obama in four words or less.”

    I could not stick to a four-words so I wrote that I ran eight miles out of sheer joy after the SCOTUS marriage equality decision. But I could only run those 8 miles because Obamacare saved my knees after two blown meniscus joints and two and one-half years without unemployment, disability or health insurance. I am proud of my athletic bent. During those years, I blew up to 245 pounds and could not walk my dog around the block without someone on call.

    Today, I weigh 180 pounds and I can run 8-10 miles every other day.

    I turned fifty in August. Health and civil rights? The freedom to marry?

    I never dared to dream of that.

    Then I glanced at the other responses to the same trend. I stopped after the first one.

    This person’s four-word thank you to Obama was “you are a c—t.”

    I stopped reading right there. It punched me in the gut. Its the perfectly worst example of what I mean about how social media, reality entertainment, and its fusion with the political process, has rendered the most vulgar and threatening statements acceptable, not matter who says them now. It’s a terrible example of how the falsely impersonal barrier on social media has driven our social and political discourse to a nadir, so that someone like Trump could exploit to the highest office in the land.

    In December, I ushered my father through a violent, delusional dementia-related demise.

    I began to consume all the research I could about brain health, after taking online courses in the interpretation of clinical trial data and bio-statics. As it turns out, the online vitriol that propelled Trump to the White House has so distorted how we interact with each other that the “death of civility,” as I coined the phrase, is highly associated with the release of stress hormones like cortisol and cholesterol that damage the hippo-campus, a major precursor to early onset dementia.

    In a nutshell, it literally rots the brain.

    When I mentioned this discovery on Facebook, someone pounced that I “better get off of Facebook for a while.” I wrote back that I refused to take her bait, but decided to take her advice. I said goodbye to Facebook, and I have not returned. I will do whatever it takes to heal from being poly-drugged by psychiatry three years ago for a condition I do not have and may not exist. But I cannot heal by engaging in that constant trash talk that now passes for social discourse and political debate.

    I have used the twitter account six times but I refuse to engage in the phantasm of hatred it engenders – and that now has become (and this is the most relevant point) – the primary medium through which we have dismantled a civil society – because it now determines how we communicate with each other, and how too many people chose to vote!

    At a minimum, and I am being polite, it has rendered us less intelligent, and diminished our impulse control, if not made us “insane” in a metaphorical sense. It is insane when a clown car drives the standards of political debate off the cliff of civility and substantive consideration. And that’s not a partisan statement. I know that Trump’s sixteen Republican rivals lost because they refused to stoop to conquer – but that’s how he won this election.

    He played to the lowest common denominator. And they showed up to vote for him. The polls were misaligned because too many of them would not admit to voting for him.

    To win in the future, other politicians must compete for the bottom.

    The cycles continues,. with another race to the bottom until it implodes.

    By manipulating the falsely impersonal barrier on social-media platforms that whipped a mean-spirited but disenfranchised fringe into a maddening lynch mob, hell-bent on overturning a “rigged system,” Trump did incite a mass hysteria.

    He did cry fire in a crowded theater. It is not acceptable to dispense hatred from a pulpit or political platform in the pursuit of power. It does represent a culture possessed by the symbolic demons of fear and hatred, projected against a common enemy, rooted in baseless stereotypes. The fastest way to accumulate power is to direct the worst of our natures and group think against a perceived common enemy, like those without a voice. Throughout history, it defines the very nature of tyranny.

    And all tyrants are “mad.”

    Trump represents a viral pathogen that with emerged on social media, but mutated into Twitter, ruinous to our cultural underpinnings and warping our capacity to distinguish between reality-show style combative entertainment and meaningful debate and political compromise – the heart and mind of a functional democracy. He is the ringmaster of social media, with Twitter as the primary weapon in his arsenal. Its insidious momentum propelled him straight to the White House.

    So is it psychotic? The short answer is yes, as I define the word. To endanger your brain and concede your conscience to a man who mocks the disabled, confesses to serial sexual predatory behaviors, and lies in the most transparent ways? To surrender your common sense to a man like that?

    It fits squarely within my definition of psychosis.

    I wish he were not real. I wish it never happened. I hope he understands the difference.

    But I know his campaign promises are delusional.

  • Thanks for the support. In reading the book, I discovered that the Lazzano family first filed a complaint with the medical review board. So I filed a complaint in this state against my last shrink. Just this morning, I received a call from the investigator assigned to my case. It looks like things might move forward – and I can not only have that diagnosis removed from my medical records, but address other egregious matters as well.

    But I very much appreciate your kind words.

  • My general point (and I perceive we are most on the same page) is that there are far more compelling variables that lead to violent crime than “mental illness,” however you define it – to scapegoat the mentally ill is an obvious red herring.

    Substance abuse is just one example I chose, but I am not trying to start an argument with anyone. Your right to drink or bear firearms should be based on patters of BEHAVIOR and not a fictitious diagnosis. I am not attacking your right to imbibe. I don’t care if you drink – just don’t drive for your sake and mine. Another cherished, personal anecdote:

    Long ago, I once made the mistake of telling a police officer that I had a psychiatric diagnosis and he detained me despite the fact that my BAC levels were three points under the legal limit. I found out much later that in this state, with a BAC level of .05 – the cops are required to release you. You are supposed to be presumed NOT under the influence at .05, according to state law, but I was not.

    Its very clearly worded, no margin of error.

    When the BAC tests came back that low, I looked at the police officer without saying a word (compliant as a choir boy through the whole process) and he said “Now that I have arrested you, I cannot UN-arrest you.” Both of my attorneys responded to that claim with the same one-word rebuttal:

    “Bull—t!”

    But I am pretty certain he kept me because I responded honestly when he asked me if I had a medical diagnosis. You can call me stupid to trust to the cops – because it was stupid. I will never do it again. I will plead my fifth amendment rights to that question if it ever happens again.

    He then contended that I was under the influence of multiple substances, but yet he did not ask me for a blood or urine test, which was not only his right, but the logical next step when my BAC levels came in that low.

    And I would have complied, because I had quietly complied with all his requests and I had nothing to hide. but I know better than to resist the cops in this state. I do not think its paranoid to conclude that he decided the absence of evidence was his best offense, so he skipped that part.

    It took a year, but the charges were dropped.

    I have good, pro bono attorney friends!

    In his last desperate effort, he contended that I failed the heel-to-toe test. Well I had two knee operations that year, because of two torn meniscus joints (being a long-distance runner for 30 years) so a letter from my orthopedic surgeon put that argument to rest…and he finally gave up. BTW, cops in this state also receive bonuses for making DUI charges stick. A corruption of justice? Sure, but no one cares.

    So I just don’t need lectures about the twisted and systemic complexities and prejudices against people with mental-health diagnoses. I am also proudly and openly a member of the LGBT community, and I know what its like to have that held against you by shrinks too. I have pretty much been through it all…and I wrote a 355-page memoir about the first 25 years.

    If the advocates of this law really cared about reducing rates in homicide, they should shift their focus on the true roots of the problem. Its easy to define all people who commit murder as “mentally ill,” unless its self defense. Its a false premise based in bad semantics, supported by an even more blatant abuse of statistics for purely political purposes.

    I have no desire to control your behavior or define what’s right or wrong for you. I just don’t think in judgemental terms about individuals, and it has led me to trust some of the wrong people. I am pointing to obvious flaws in their construction of their red-herring position on this topic, the abuse of statistics and language that belie their true intentions. I have also cited actual quotes and opposing statistics from more credible sources.

    Selah!

  • Interesting – so its not legally a mental illness if substance abuse is involved? Even stranger, it is not a mental illness if anti-social behavior is involved, when that is a criteria for everything from anti-social personality disorder to schizophrenia. There is also no mention in this definition of a tendency or proven pattern of violent behavior, which is supposed to be the core issue and thus should be included in any definition upon which the legislation derives its purpose. This definition is self-negating and – of course – insanely subjective as you noted, with its use of the word “significant.”

    It also means nothing when your psychiatrist only needs to wave his hand to render a diagnosis and he only needs to squeeze you into some of the criteria. There are ways to make the diagnostic procedures more accurate, but this profession would fight any reasonable restrictions or rules. For example, why can’t there be a simple requirement that the psychiatrist must administer a urine or blood test for cocaine or hallucinogenics, before he assigns someone a bipolar or psychotic diagnosis? It seems reasonable to me, but I have never heard of it happening outside of a hospital setting.

    There is also a catch-all diagnosis (Affluenza, anyone?) that allows a psychiatrist to extrapolate a new diagnosis by borrowing and combining criteria from various disorders. It is also meaningless when the patient has no right to challenge it, or access the “doctor’s” clinical notes.

    This definition is a perfect example of what I mean when I contend that there is no real, applicable definition of mental illness from which you can frame a debate, much less distill meaningful policies. Everyone I know has demonstrated an absence of good judgment, sans substance abuse, at some point in time. This abuse of language and statistics is about money and power. The more vague the definition of mental illness – the bigger the market for psychiatric care and its drugs. And the looser the criteria, the greater the margin for error, which negates the probability of malpractice suits too. Think about it. If you are a medical school student, prone to fraudulent activity, which residency are you most likely to pursue? The one where the doctor has the most leverage – the east accountability – and the patient has the least recourse for corrective action.

    Its transparently bogus and sours my stomach.

  • P.S. There is a far greater correlation between substance abuse and criminal violence. Alcohol alone is responsible for 40% of violent criminal offenses and 95% of campus rapes, and 37% of all convicted offenders admit to drinking when they were arrested. But are we talking about the evils of substance abuse, when there is a much stronger correlation and common-sense causality between those two variables? No – and do you know why? Because then those who wish to demonize and scapegoat the “mentally ill” would have to look in the mirror.

    https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol-drugs-and-crime

  • “The Boston Globe recognized and reported that the media’s performance in this case, INCLUDING ITS OWN, was less than exemplary. In a thoughtful analysis, prominently displayed in a Sunday edition, Globe reporter Thomas Palmer concluded that competitive pressures had placed hasty and imbalanced coverage by both newspapers.”

    – From “Breakdown: Sex, Suicide & The Harvard Psychiatrist” by former Globe reporter Eileen McNamara 1994, Edgar Award Nominee, pages 264-265) regarding the Paul Lazano case, when a Harvard campus psychiatrist was – eventually – stripped of her license for engaging in a sadomasochistic sex scandal with a Harvard Medical School student, which ended with the patient’s suicide in 1991. He injected himself with liquid cocaine, leaving 72 pinpricks in his forearm. This is not a defense of The Globe at all – by heaven – but one documented example of a feeble confession when confronted with its blatant complicity with the psychiatric establishment.

    In fact, it gets so much worse, but you’ll have to read the book.

    https://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Sex-Suicide-Harvard-Psychiatrist/dp/0671796216/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467250482&sr=8-1&keywords=breakdown+harvard

    This whole debate is a sinkhole that thrives and collapses on bad semantics, does anyone else see that? If we are going to engage in a fair debate, then let’s start by framing its basic parameters.

    Perhaps an actual definition of “mental illness,” is in order please?

    In my experience, that is too much to ask of a psychiatrist.

    So let’s talk semantics. The Boston Globe attempts to blame ten percent of “murders” on those with previous mental health symptoms. What the hell does that mean…really?

    Unless its self defense, one could argue that 100% of murderers are “mentally ill.” It is by definition the act of someone who is “mentally disturbed” in some way or the other, isn’t that obvious? It is obvious but its also the nut of the problem. So let’s turn it around on those who love to scapegoat the “mentally ill” in general. On the flip side, are they trying – as ridiculous as it sounds – to contend that 90% of murderers have no indicators for mental health issues? If that is true, then its the sane people in this world that are 9 times more likely to murder someone. I have an advanced degree in financial statistics and the author is spot on to criticize this from a correlation versus causality perspective.

    But I propose that another big problem is language. In addition to the abuse of statistics, the stigma of mental illness has compounded this issue ten times with emotional jargon.

    Again, what do you mean by mental illness?

    If you mean all diagnoses included in the DSM V, then everyone from caffeine addicts to those with restless leg syndrome to anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders and phobias should lay down their weapons, drop to the ground and surrender their civil rights to the nearest psychiatrist.

    These figures make a lot more sense to me:

    “In fact, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, “only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness” and “people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. The act “is trying to prevent gun violence by ignoring gun control and going after the the rights of mentally ill people,” Rodríguez-Roldán noted.

    https://rewire.news/article/2016/06/29/advocates-bill-address-gaps-mental-health-care-harm-good/

    Most people do not know the difference between a “psychologist” and a “psychiatrist,” “psychotherapist,” or a “psychoanalyst,” much less the difference between a “psychotic” person and a “psychopath,” where there is all the difference in the world. The psychotic is someone who is out of touch with reality – delusional perhaps. A psychopath is a serial killer. If we want to change public perception, and frame this debate fairly, we need to change the language.

    Why is this so passionate and personal? Please consider this cherished anecdote:

    It reminds me of the time a shrink slapped me with the diagnosis “Personality Disorder,” because I became slightly agitated with him when he refused to acknowledge the cerebral shock that he plunged me into when he dropped me off of Clonazepam and Cymblata in five days. I probably did raise my voice when he told me my symptoms were “neurologically impossible,” and “all in my head” and that I was a “baby whose bottle had been taken away,” but I did not threaten him. I did not even curse at the the guy, but he told me that I had a “personality disorder,” because I “could not control my emotions.” I was going through combined benzo and SNRI withdrawal and not small doses – the kind of withdrawal that drives many people to suicide, but that did not matter.

    It was not a factor in his mind, not a part of his training at all – and thus impossible.

    When I later reviewed my medical records, I wrote to remind him that there are four clusters and twelve types of personality disorders. If I have a personality disorder, could you at least tell me which one? I received a letter apologizing for not being able to answer my question. So here is another part of the problem. A shrink has the right to generalize to such a preposterous extent, the whole concept of “mental illness” is too obscure to have any real substance or lawful application…whatever. You cannot have a fair debate much less derive just laws and policies without a genuine definition of “mental illness.” And there is no such thing – some argue it does not even exist.

    His response to my request for a real diagnosis was tantamount to an oncologist saying, “Robert, you have cancer. We don’t know which kind. We cannot describe or isolate any symptoms. Its just our hunch because you once got flustered while going through the kind of withdrawal that drives some people to suicide….so you have cancer. Sorry – I am not required to justify it at all, and its not coming off your medical records because psychiatrists are the only medical professionals under federal HIPPA not required to share their clinical notes or correct their errors.”

    Most members of the public cannot make these distinctions, and I bet that includes unfortunately most lawyers, judges and jurors. As a profession, most psychiatrists prefer to blur those lines. In the absence of medical credibility, they have done a masterful job of infiltrating the judicial system and the court of public opinion. I have no criminal record whatsoever, and no history of violence. I have never applied to own a gun and I do not want to own a gun. I cannot imagine hunting anything personally. But I am a greater threat to society that someone on the FBI’s terrorist watch list?

  • “Those sick in the soul insist that humanity is sick and they are
    the surgeons who should operate on the rest of humanity.”

    – Eric Hoffer

    “Les malades dans l’âme insister qu’il est l’humanité
    qui est malade et ils sont les chirurgiens d’opérer sur elle.”

  • So Lieberman called Robert Whitaker a menace to society?!?

    One of my favorite (sarcasm intended) quotes from Lieberman’s 2015 history of psychiatry “Shrinks: The Untold History of Psychiatry” appears on the last seven pages. It reads as follows:

    “I believe we will soon have useful diagnostic tests for mental illness.” (1)

    Where do you get your medical authority if you diagnostic tools are admittedly useless?

    I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read that line because Lieberman – the recent former President of the A.P.A. – just admitted that as of 2015 – the existing diagnostic tools for “mental illness” were NOT useful. If the diagnostic tools are not useful, then 1) how can you determine whether or not the underlying illness exists? 2) how can you defame me by assigning MULTIPLE overlapping, false and generalized diagnoses to my medical records that have a real impact on my civil rights? 3) and how can you prescribe medications and design treatment plans?

    For an example, I am diagnosed as having a “Personality Disorder” in my medical records, because I got a little agitated with my psychiatrist when he simply would not listen that the benzo withdrawal was intolerable. I did not yell at him. I did not curse at him. I certainly did not threaten him, but I instantly had a personality disorder because “I cannot control my emotions.” This is what I have now come to call the “co-morbid version of the shame the patient game.”

    Frankly, given the intensity of the withdrawal, my emotional restraint was commendable under the circumstances, because I got impatient with a shrink so I have a personality disorder. Do you know how many psychiatrists have become impatient with me when I had reasonable questions? I have lost count but I bet none of them received diagnoses for personality disorders.

    So I wrote the hospital’s Patient’s Relations Department, reminding them that there are four clusters of “personality disorders” and 12-15 diagnoses, with a wide range of symptoms and implications – so could they be more specific please? How can I seek treatment if I don’t know which one I have?

    To make a long story short, I received a letter apologizing for not being able to answer my questions. My neuropsychologist defended them saying that a psychiatrist can assign you a generalized diagnosis – and I replied that with all due respect, that is tantamount to an oncologist telling me I have cancer, but sorry – we don’t know which kind of cancer or what organs it has effected, and we don’t have to – its not our problem. He thought that my analogy was funny. Its not funny. Bottom line, psychiatrists are the only medical professionals (and I use the term loosely) that just get to make stuff up – and it sticks. And it has consequences – lifetime consequences.

    No wonder I am now on disability after two decades of benzodiazepines prescriptions. In the mid-nineties, the on-campus psychiatrist at Harvard University had me on seven concurrent prescriptions for Clonazepam with early refills. I was very young and stupidly naive until the pharmacist (god bless her) fussed at me. I asked her – is this illegal? She said no, but highly inappropriate – and filled the prescription. I then broke down and told the campus psychologist.

    She put me in the hospital right away – but guess what? I left Boston’s most prestigious “mental hospital” without a taper or any information regarding protracted withdrawal and I almost lost my job over my “sensibilities,” which I now recognize were not “mental illness” but prolonged withdrawal symptoms denied by the medical establishment. So they just diagnosed me with something worse and put me on more medications. So the cycle began until it spiraled. The big problem is that these medications disable the very organ that enables you to recognize what is really happening.

    The rest is unfortunately my history….and I must own it.

    To quote Holly Hunter speaking to George Clooney in Brother Where Art Thou: “Lots of respectable people get it by trains.” Well I got rolled over by the freight train psychiatry and its bad medications. This same pill that people today are calling “America’s Deadliest Pill” and “worse than heroin” in terms of withdrawal. If you don’t believe me, there is a great video interview on youtube with Stevie Nicks talking about how her battle with Clonazepam was worse than her decade-long cocaine addiction: http://www.benzo.org.uk/nicks.htm

    In the quote above, Lieberman admits to everything wrong about psychiatry in writing – as part of the concluding chapter. But Lieberman is so blinded by utter hubris he could not see that he just belied the pseudoscience he has practiced his entire career, without a second thought. But wait…it gets so much worst – he then goes on to conclude this history by hoping that emerging brain-scanning technologies will lead to effective treatments. So he ends his book by not only admitting to the uselessness of existing diagnostic tools, but the non-existence of effective treatments.

    Boy, then he has the nerve to call Whitaker a menace to society?

    Ugh. Sorry – this struck a nerve.

    1) Lieberman, Jeffrey A. (2015-03-10). Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry (p. 307). Little, Brown and Company.

  • So this is how the University of Washington’s Social Work Graduate Program interpreted the original results by SAMSHA – and its not as simplistic as the NAMI quote and makes a little more sense.

    “The great majority of people who experience a mental illness do not die by suicide. However, of those who die from suicide, more than 90 percent have a diagnosable mental disorder. People who die by suicide are frequently experiencing undiagnosed, undertreated, or untreated depression.”

    I was a nonprofit fundraiser and grant-writer for 25 years, so I am accustomed to fundraising and advocacy organizations reducing statistics into alarming sound bytes for the purposes of promoting their agendas and raising money, whether for good or evil purposes. Its very rare that these organizations attempt to qualify these statements within a broader context, because the average donor does not respond to intellectual appeals – he responds to emotional appeals. I tried to get to SAMSHA website to look at the original source, but it would not load for some reason.

    http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/suicideprevention/suicidefacts.asp

    The NAMI quote is not a lie per se but it is dangerously reductionist. It makes it sound like all people with mental health diagnoses are prone to suicide, when the original study apparently concludes that the opposite is true. In fact, the original findings conclude those most prone to suicide have “undiagnosed and untreated” mental illnesses. Welcome to the world of marketing, political advocacy and fundraising, folks!

    Still, its dangerous to promote the idea that all people with mental-health diagnoses are prone to commit suicide, because it filters into mainstream reproach (social isolation) and the judicial system, where we become by definition second-class citizens because we are inherently incapable of making decisions in our own best interests. I believe the clinical word is ego-dystonic – e.g. as a gay person I was once once considered ego-dystonic because being gay had an adverse impact on my aptitude for personal happiness via social acceptance.

    I do need to qualify the statistical correlation between suicide and poverty. Again, this is first blush research but it comes from a short article in The Huntington Post. Apparently, suicide rates are highest at both extremes: the extremely wealthy commit suicide at more or less the same rates as the extremely poor. In particular, the major variable is your socioeconomic status relative to those around you. If you make significantly less than your neighbors, you are more prone to suicide than people who live among their socioeconomic peers. Interesting….

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/09/suicide-rate-rich-neighborhoods_n_2102777.html

    In a nutshell, the real troubling correlation is the suicide rates among people with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, according to the study. But that does not comport with personal experience.

    The further I get away from psychiatry and its medications, the better I feel – and the more likely I am to make healthier choices. Its a popular political opinion these days that the answer to our social problems (like gun violence) is more funding for mental health programs, instead of stronger background checks and other reasonable impositions. In my experience – and this is only my experience – in the world of mental health and psychiatry in particular – the cure has always been worse than the disease. I would not expect funding for mental health programs (psychiatry in particular) to reduce gun violence, suicide, etc…

    P.S. Not to parse words or get off topic. Circular reasoning is the use of something to justify its own existence. To paraphrase British philosopher David Hume in his critique of science: “You cannot use the empirical method to justify the empirical method.” – that is circular logic or reasoning.

    I chose the word “truism,” which is a self-evident or so obviously true statement that does not bear mentioning, like “He committed suicide because he was mentally ill.” Regardless, we are more or less on the same page, and I am just a word nerd.

  • Thanks, and its a great subject. I love (not) how the psychiatric establishment and its partners abuse statistics to blame the patient.

    It makes no more sense to me than the “insanity defense,” though I have much greater sympathy for a suicide attempt. “I murdered him because I am insane and therefore not responsible for my actions.”

    In a courtroom, that’s a legitimate legal defense in some murder cases. But again its a truism to me. From my point of view, it takes a “dangerously insane” person to commit murder. The insane part is inherent to the act of murder – it does not make you less culpable or less responsible for your actions.

    If I am a compulsive alcoholic – and I just can’t help but drink too much – and I kill a family of four in a traffic accident when I am out drinking and driving, I am still guilty of negligent homicide, despite my illness (provided you buy into the disease model for alcoholism – but let’s put that aside for argument’s sake).

    With that said, its very important to note that people with mental-health diagnoses are far more likely to become the victims of violent crimes than perpetrators.

    When I researched this subject, the only conclusions I could find stated that even paranoid schizophrenics were no more likely to hurt other people “unless they were on street drugs.” That last clause bugged me because anyone on certain street drugs – especially cocaine, crack and crystal meth – is far more likely to commit violent crimes, regardless of mental-health diagnosis.

    Yet, every time there is a mass murder the media labels the perpetrator a “paranoid schizophrenic” when there is zero (none whatsoever) correlation between schizophrenia and criminal violence (period).

  • To start, it’s a truism, even from their perspective: “he committed suicide because he was mentally ill.” If you define suicidal ideations and actions as part and parcel of mental illness, then 100% of people who commit suicide are mentally ill. It’s a disingenuous use of statistics at best and my graduate degree is in financial statistics, so I have some authority on the subject.

    But to your broader point, I attempted suicide in 2012 because I was on a cocktail of eight different psychiatric medications that left me overweight, stupid and useless, frankly. I was burden to everyone around me. I also had two torn meniscus joints and no health insurance. As an athletic person, I was cut off from the one outlet from anxiety/depression that I had always depended on.

    But what pushed me over the edge?

    A psychiatrist put me on amphetamines – though he knew about my severe issues with anxiety – and its was like throwing gasoline on a campfire. I lost impulse control and tried to swallow a bottle of Lithium – something I never, ever would have done otherwise. Fortunately, even my liver emerged unscathed, but I came very close to death that evening.

    In 2013, I acquired health insurance through Obamacare – had two knees surgeries – and started to hit the gym again. That was maybe 20 months ago and I stopped counting at 50 lost pounds – probably I have lost more like 60 by now. It’s one pillar of a holistic regimen that also includes nutrition and meditation. I average a 10-11 mile run every other day on average and I am 49 years-old.

    So as I said I agree that its disingenuous to blame “mental illness” as if someone’s mental condition remains unaffected by social ills and personal circumstances (economic collapse, homelessness, discrimination, illicit substance abuse).

    If there is such a thing as a mental illness, it is not a virus that exists largely independent of someone’s wealth or social status. Both a rich man and a poor man can get the flu, right? But the correlation between poverty/discrimination and “mental illness” (and I imagine suicide) is undeniable. In other words, it has a context beyond the physical body and its immune system, more so than a physical illness.

  • Thanks for your kind and sweet response.

    I have my good days and my bad days. I was always confused by the difference between z-drugs (hypnotics) and benzodiazpines. A long time ago, I read the Wikipedia page for zolipidem (Ambien) and it classified zolipidem as a nonbenzodiazipine, but Wikipedia is hardly first-class research so I asked my doctors (general practitioner and psychiatrist) and was told that it was indeed not a benzodiazepine, with a different molecular structure. Not being a doctor, I took their word for it – and I will never do that again. Technically, it might not be a benzodiazepine, but there is clearly enough overlap that the long-term comeuppance is the same, but the dangers of mixing the two at high dosages never entered the conversation. Bottom line, its their job to know better. I would be culpable only if I was buying them illicitly or being dishonest with my doctors or pharmacist.

    I do want to point out, not in disagreement, but out of sheer bewilderment…how could psychiatric practitioners NOT know about protracted withdrawal and its devastating effects?

    1) According to Toxic Psychiatry by Doctor Peter Breggin (1991) the correlation between extended withdrawal and Xanax extends back into the earliest studies on Xanax in the eighties. According to him, these studies showed that withdrawal could last from six months to one year, after only six-months of taking this medications. So they have known for decades but much like the tobacco industry, they are not going to admit it, given the risk of widespread civil litigation, and the significant amount of funding the A.P.A. receives from the pharmaceutical companies.

    Now, they are starting to admit it, but with a twist that provides them with the huge legal loophole required to escape a class-action lawsuit. The withdrawal and risk of cognitive impairment exists, they now admit, but the brain heals from this impairment over a period of time. Ethical psychiatrists, however, contend that the damage could be permanent, though no one really knows for certain. Without that certainty, the pharmaceutical companies and the A.P.A. will not face the consequences in the courtroom, like the tobacco industry did in the nineties, and they know that. Unfortunately, enough people will have to die too early to establish an undeniable statistical correlation before there is much chance of stopping them.

    2) I cannot be the first patient at M.U.S.C. to have gone through this gauntlet. (I met an eighteen year-old kid in the “detox” unit at the hospital when I finally decided to get off benzos and antidepressants…who told me he was on thirty “bars” of Xanax a day! I do not know drug-related street slang, so I thought he meant milligrams. And so I thought: Oh my God! How are you walking and talking? How are you not comatose or at least sleeping all the time?

    Later, I asked my psychiatrist, what is a “bar” of Xannax? He stated that a “bar” was 10-12 milligrams. So this poor child was on 300 milligrams of Xannax a day – if he was telling the truth – and still presented as a completely normal person. This anecdote demonstrates how tolerant your brain can become to these medications, and the more tolerant you become, without signs of immediate impairment, it’s easier to justify taking higher doses to achieve the same effects.

    3) The first responders I have spoken to (addiction specialists, psychiatric nurses, fireman, paramedics and even then police) were all aware of protracted benzo withdrawal, which makes it harder to believe that psychiatrists don’t know about it. While going through the peak of withdrawal, my only relief were these intense 8-10 mile runs on the elliptical. For the first time in thirty years, I passed out after a nine-mile run. I felt better in fifteen minutes, and a huge bottle of Gatorade, but understandably, its a liability issue for the gym, so they had to call out the whole three-ring circus: the fire department, the sheriff’s department, the paramedics. The fire department was the first to arrive and the first words out of the firemen’s mouth were “Have you been through any medication changes? I responded: “Oh boy have I ever!” His next question, with my prompting, without informing him that I was a psychiatric patient, was “Was one of those medications Clonapezpam?”

    When I replied yes, let me tell you, he had quite a soapbox prepared on the subject. He went off – and these are his words – about how can he know that you don’t taper people off these medications in less than one year, while these “jackass doctors” don’t know any better?

    When I shared that anecdote with my psychiatrist (omitting the word “jackass”) his snide response was, “If I wanted advice about fire prevention, I would speak to a fireman. If I wanted advice about medication, I would speak to a doctor?” I am baffled by the cognitive dissonance between first responders who deal with this issue – the seizures, the fainting spells, the freaking out, the suicidal ideations as opposed to everyone with an MD, unless there is just something that corrupt about their training.

    4) In my experience, many psychiatric medications have a way dumbing you down so that you cannot think straight enough to seeing that you are drowning in the side-effects and unpredictable permutations of interactions, happening inside the brain – or even worse, your psychiatrist misinterprets the side-effects and interactions of too many medications as symptoms of an underlying disorder, so they diagnose you with a disease you don’t have and prescribe yet another medication.

    Its part of a cycle that leads to a downward spiral with often lethal consequences. As one frank example, I did not have much of a libido for a decade. Because of the drugs, I did not care much either. I was too apathetic and oblivious. Its a catch twenty-two situation. The drugs crushed my sex drive but I did not care that much because I had no sex drive. I also rationalized that “I’m now in my forties and I was never driven by sex like a lot of men I know, so this is probably also part of a natural process.” I even had my testosterone levels checked and the results were “low normal” for someone my age. The psychiatrists RECOMMENDED testosterone injections in low dosage every two weeks on top of all the psychiatric medications I was taking. I took them for a couple of months, but did not notice much difference. By this point, I was so sick and tired of doctors and medications that I spoke to my general practitioner and we decided to discontinue them about three months later. Let’s just say – when I stopped taking antidepressant, that libido came roaring back, all dressed up with no place to go.

    I use this anecdote of an example of how they continue to solve drugs with more drugs with considering the root of the problem. Until recently, I had never heard of an “iatrogenic” condition, which is an illness – for lack of a better word – caused by medical intervention. Clearly, this is an example of how iatrogenic conditions arise and become compounded by a complicity of ignorance or apathy by all members of the medical profession. But they are the DOCTORS – they have not only taken an oath to do no harm, they are well paid to adhere to that oath, so there is no excuse. They should be able to recognize medication-related problems from the underlying condition.

    And I intend – somehow (legally) – to hold them responsible.

    I need to hear from more people like you!

    Thanks again for reaching out.

  • In my personal experience, the further I separate myself from psychiatry and its medications,the more stable I become – and the more likely I am to make healthier choices.

    ————————————————————————

    I received a thoughtful message from someone about using the language of addiction versus the language of an “iatrogenic,” condition, which refers to an illness caused or compounded by medical treatment. I did not know the word and I had to look it up.

    Its a valid point, and it resonates with me, because I know I did not truly struggle with ‘addiction issues’ until I started on psychotropic medications in my early thirties. I cannot claim to be an expert on this issue. I can only speak to my personal experience, and bottom line, that’s all that really matters. Statistics and research provides us with general insights, when properly formulated and without bias, but it all breaks down completely at the individual level. As someone with a graduate degree in financial analysis, I am qualified to say that.

    In the end, it’s all about what works for you.

    I did smoke cigarettes in college but when I graduated (26 years ago) i went to a hypnotherapist and…zap! in one session, I lost all desire to smoke. I tried to go back once or twice, but I could not stand it anymore. It was suddenly disgusting to me. The last time I even tried one? More than 20 years ago. Its one of the big reasons I have not been out to bars or nightclubs in over a decade. There was one exception, but I drank two soda waters and being the only non-drinking person in a rowdy crowd half my age, with all that smoke tearing up my contact lenses? It became so boring, so quickly – that I left within an hour.

    I did not drink much in college or even in my twenties, despite having moved the great party Southeastern epicenter.of midtown Atlanta in the early nineties. I actually mentioned this to my psychiatric nurse this morning. In those days, the depressive effects of alcohol kicked in so quickly that I after a couple of glasses of wine on the weekends, I went home by midnight or maybe one o’clock. And back then? People did even go out until eleven! The more I unwind my relationship with psychotropic medications, the less I even think about it.

    I was indoctrinated into the language of “addiction” by psychiatrists and subsequently by twelve-step programs who love to perpetuate the myth that once you have this problem, you can never get better, not without sacrificing your active, independent mind to a “Higher power,” which amounted to nothing in my opinion more than nosy group-think. It appears to work long-term for maybe 5% of the people who become seriously involved, but most people appear to get better after a few years and then move on, having unraveled the underlying issues.

    If psychiatry works for you. I urge you to approach it with great caution, but otherwise but so be it. If twelve-step programs work for you, who am I to pass judgement? If religion works for you, I completely support you, as long as you remain tolerant of others, So I will be more careful in the future about using the language of addiction to talk about people who have suffered greatly from psychiatry and its medications. No, we are not addicts – at least that’s what my recent, personal has taught me.

  • I went for a long run this morning and flashed back to the cherished anecdote, flooded with new insights. Some people might find it hard to believe, but I would swear in court to every detail.

    My journey into benzo addiction started to become a serious problem twenty years ago.

    In the mid-nineties, I worked for an ivy-league university in Boston. As part of my benefits, I had access to campus psychiatric and psychological care. To be frank, the psychiatrist was nearing retirement and befuddled much of the time; but it never crossed my mind to question his judgement. What can I say? I was raised to trust doctors blindly and other authority figures, coming from a small, southern town; and that includes my elders in particular. I also did not know much about the dangers of benzos and I had no reason to suspect that he was unqualified to treat me. He certainly did not caution me and he was obviously quite generous with a prescription pad. I mean, he was a revered professor of psychiatry at one of the most prestigious medical schools in the nation!

    So at one point, he had me on seven, concurrent prescriptions for Clonazepam.

    I do not remember the dosages, but my best guess is 2 milligrams daily. Either the laws have changed dramatically, or they vary state by state, or perhaps both; but I had legal access to those concurrent prescriptions, when I wanted them, whenever I wanted them, as I remember. The campus had a pharmacy and the psychiatrist called the prescriptions directly into that one pharmacy, so I could only use one pharmacy. At the time, I was able to get those refills whenever I wanted them, even when I wanted them much earlier than I was supposed to have them refilled.

    Then, I remember how the pharmacist fussed at me for having so many concurrent prescriptions, and my first response was…is this illegal? She said no and refilled the prescriptions, but she was not happy about it. She said I was not supposed to have concurrent prescriptions, but I could not imagine it was dangerous because I did blindly trust doctors and I was susceptible to addiction. I also assumed in retrospect that it could not be that dangerous, because it was legal. I could not imagine that my doctor would place me in harm’s way. Nor could I imagine that the laws would allow for the wanton dispersal of those medications if taking them was that dangerous.

    In my experience, people with a lot of anxiety problems also carry around a lot of guilt, so the pharmacist’s admonishments eventually started to bother me. I then went to my campus psychologist and confessed that I had seven concurrent prescriptions on file. She reacted with shock and horror, absolutely flabbergasted. She put me in the hospital right away and she also promised to have a serious conversation with the psychiatrist. I never saw him again. I vaguely remember that hearing that he retired shortly thereafter, but it probably did not have anything to do with my case.

    The hospital was hardly a vacation, but it was not quite the nightmare that I have experience other places. I was not not rich, but I worked for the wealthiest nonprofit in the world. Still, the doctors took me off the Clonazapam right away – no taper whatsoever, so I was set up for a relapse. I did not know that of course. I did what my doctors told me. I exited that hospital – as I recall – with a prescription for a low-dose of Remeron to help me sleep, but that was it.

    I then became so irritable, hypersensitive to criticism, and so wounded all the time. Now, I was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. This town has been ranked the most polite city in the nation for the past 25 years in a row by Conde Naste and other organizations that produce these rankings. In my memoir, I jokingly state that “I was born and raised in Charleston, so I was taught how to lie politely from the cradle.” Its so damn polite here that many people find us insincere, because many of us are disingenuous and deceptively civil to everyone, regardless of what we really think. I can joke about it because I am not that way…certainly not anymore.

    I have to consciously bite my tongue…a lot. But here’s what I realized during my run this morning: I am beginning to believe that perhaps benzos played a role in making me more temperamental than how I was raised and trained. I do have a severe underlying anxiety disorder, but I was coping on the job – making very some good things happen, until they dropped me off the benzos without a taper. Because of my upbringing, however, I blamed it on culture clash. I was not accustomed to how direct and aggressive Bostonians could be – that’s what I told myself. I thought I was just a fish out of water.

    Anyway, I almost lost my job there because of my “sensibilities.”

    I was constantly getting my feelings hurt and I could not help but become obsessed and paranoid. That level of paranoia was not rational, but it was not delusional either. As the national center of academia, it was a very competitive and pretentious place to work. And paranoia can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you start to act paranoid, people start to suspect you, which only compounds your paranoia…and so the spiral begins until you collapse, and your worst fears turn into realities.

    But this particular university has so much cash that they did not tend to fire people. Instead, they move you to another job as a primary strategy – they hated lawsuits and I did have grounds for one. I worked in a low-level fundraising position for the theater department and someone thought it would be cute to put a (gigantic) sex toy – I kid you not – under my desk. It was such a politically correct environment that I immediately reported it. Paranoia has it advantages and I was not going to be accused of having that thing anywhere near me, because it could have resulted in my termination.

    So that was the last straw. They offered to relocate me to another department. I vividly remember the meeting between my supervisor and the human resources representative. My immediate supervisor started to talk about some strange behaviors that he did not understand. In particular, I remember him describing how obsessive-compulsive I was about writing down every word he said in meetings. He mentioned some other odd behaviors, but I am struggling to remember the details – but given what I know now about benzo withdrawal – I think that’s what I was going through at the time, or it was at least become a major contributing factor. I have had other very successful career experiences, where I got along well with my colleagues. In that situation, after they dropped me off the benzos, a strange paranoia started to creep into my head and it was different, much worse than anything I have experienced before. But this is what hit me this morning: it was strangely familiar to the symptoms I experience detailed in the article above.

    I did not make that connection until just this morning.

    Did this doctor cram all those benzos down my throat? Absolutely not. Of course I enjoyed the effect, and of course I enjoyed having them at my disposal, within walking distance from my office, whenever I wanted them. They made me feel normal for the first time and I was not advised of the risks. If I recall correctly, there were no warning labels on the bottle in those days. Like everyone else, I am to some extent complicit in my problems, but that only makes me human – not insane.

    I will plead guilty to extreme naivete and placing undue trust in psychiatry. However, I also contend that at least one the multiple psychiatrists involved in this situation should have understood that the benzos were a big part of the problem, and that it only exacerbated the situation to drop me off the cliff, without any kind of taper – we pay them for that expertise, because we don’t have it. They went to medical school and had practiced psychiatry for decades. Since the prescriptions were all attained legally, and they were all aware of my history, it was primarily their job to know better.

    That’s how capitalism is supposed to work in a complex society. You hire a plumber to fix the sink because he is trained to do it better than you are. You hire a psychiatrist to fix your head because he is supposed to know the safest, best treatments and medications.

    That’s what I believed 20 years ago, but not anymore.

  • Thanks and I agree with you observation about how the brain compensates and works around the intrusion caused by psychotropic medications. I am not a doctor but many psychiatrists and one psychologist and my own research confirms that so many of the medication operate by blocking receptors on the brain, like the Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), thus elevating the “natural” levels of Serotonin in the brain.

    Unfortunately, the brain compensates by sprouting more receptors! It is like a barometer – it seeks stasis. Such is the nature of tolerance and addiction. You must continue to increase the dosage to plug the increased number of receptors and achieve the same effects. On the flip side, I was also told and I hope its true that when you stop taking the medications, the increased number of receptors diminishes. Intuitively, that makes sense to me. Though it was sheer agony – though it produced a level of mental anguish previously inconceivable to me – I did survive being dropped off the cliff of Cymbalta after 3-4 weeks – that withdrawal was came and went in a short amount of time, (compared to what I have gone through struggling to get off the benzos.

  • I have meant to get back to you regarding the Yahoo News link. I could not find it. So I asked the site administrator. She got back to me that she could not find it either, but the traffic spike was generated by Yahoo News servers. I am not a tech guy, but according to the site administrator, that means they have picked it up, but no one can find it. If anyone does find it, I would love to know. I am headed to the literary pitch conference in March and would love to look a publisher in the eye and say I had an audience a X thousands of people for my first (ever) blog post. If I do find the link, I will update this comment.

    Sorry – I wish I had a better answer.

  • Please understand that I wrote this post in a thirty-minute state of panic, and its has now occurred to me that I left out some good news.

    At my father’s funeral, people I had not seen in years came up to me and said: You’re glowing. the quality of your skin, the clarity of your eyes, you look content. I had also lost a bunch of weight. I had two torn meniscus joints and no health insurance for two years, until the exchanges opened up. I was not able to start running again until August, 2014 after two surgeries and lots of physical therapy.

    I stopped counting at 50 lost pounds, but its a lot more than that. I ushered my father through a neurological degenerative disease. I took a crash course in brain health. It evolved into a devoted, daily regimen that includes the meditation, the renewed focus on nutrition, the right supplements (from reputable manufacturers), buttloads of aerobic exercise…its all made a tremendous difference.

    I guess my point is…the person who wrote the article above is not the person I am all the time.

    I am 100 times better off than I was two years ago when I started to unwind my relationship with psychiatry, and the holistic regimen that evolved from my recent experiences and research is how it all started to get better. I still struggle under stressful circumstances, such as the loss of a parent; but I am so far better off now than I have been in a long time. It seems the farther I get away from psychiatry and its meds, the better off I am – and that’s not a coincidence.

  • Thank you for your supportive comments. I do feel so much better, given recent circumstances. It was productive and healthy day, including a ten-mile run and two great meditation sessions, writing 5-6 hours on the second book., lots of reading…all good brain stuff.

    I believe I will get through this because of success stories like yours, though I do share the same lingering concerns. The more I learn, the more frightened I become, which only makes me want to take medication. But I have a safety net in place that prevents that from happening.

    There is also the continuing concern about dementia. I just read that brain scans may not reveal the damage because it happens on the molecular level.

    Here’s what I believe, based mostly on personal experience and some research: aerobic exercise, healthy nutriti9o, and the right supplements (from a reputable manufacturer) should help to reduce that risk. In particular, exercise is supposed to be your front-line defense against the aging of the brain. I sincerely believe that and I also believe that the research supports that statement.

    That one of your children died on Zyprexa breaks my heart. I took a lose dose for maybe two weeks, as I mentioned in the original post. I made me stupid, useless. I ate everything i sight and it simply did not work. I cannot imagine putting a child on that medication.

    How can they get away with that?

    That always seems to be the trade-off in psychiatry. Yes, we can make you less anxious, fit in better with the rest of society. In exchange, we have to shave off about 20 IQ point and add 20 pounds to your waistline. I like my active, independent mind. Its the seat of my identity. And I am going to fight like hell to preserve it.

    My current prescriber has assured me that the brain will heal over time, but that is also the official line of the APA, so I don’t trust it, though I think you are right not to dwell. I had the conversation with my mother and sister yesterday. Is is healthy to angst over what might happen 20-30 years from now? I sincerely doubt it. Stress ages you for sure and I imagine that includes the brain.

    I am just going to continue to persist and use this new awareness to keep myself committed to holistic prevention. I cannot always control the anxiety (and the outrage) all the time, but I chose how I channel it.

    Thanks again for reaching out.

  • More than 8,000 views in about 48 hours – and it was picked up by Yahoo News?

    I want to express my profound appreciation from everyone who has responded to this story. It was written quickly and in a state of borderline panic, only days after my father passed. I apologized when I submitted it because I thought it was too long and I only reviewed it twice before I sent it in. Its not what I would call me most polished writing. With that said, I stand by the story. In rereading, I can see how the skipping timeline confuses some people – but it is an accurate account of the events described to the best of my recollection. It just needs a better structure, an improved narrative flow.

    I also stand by my facts and references and conclusions about psychiatry n general. I am so overwhelmed by the support I have received from across the nation -and even one psychologist from Spain. I feel so much better and I am not panicked anymore because dozens of people with similar stories contacted me here and on Face Book – people who have run the same gauntlet and emerged victoriously, mostly healed, but not perfectly. You have given me tremendous hope and I am very blessed. I was informed by the blog administrator that this story has gone viral, with more than 8,000 views in about 48 hours. It has also been picked up by Yahoo news and generated significant traffic, though I don’t know how to assess he impact on Yahoo.I would have never expected this to happen. I would have never expected people to care or understand.

    Clearly, I was still talking to the wrong people.

    I kind of want to cry right now – thank you so much!

    Robert

    I never expected this outpouring of support and compassion and it has restored my courage. I am still in mourning, of course, but I no longer feel doomed.

  • If you need me to provide references or links to validate any the numbers, quotes and other facts in my response to your post, please indicate where I have failed to do so, and I will cite my resources. In most cases, I think I already did. But, much like you, I don’t have all day either to spend on it, and I do not desire to foster any toxic drama. With that said, if you would like for me to verify information or conclusions that you find questionable, I will do my best. Of course, I cannot verify anecdotal evidence (my personal experiences) – but that’s inherently true.

  • Hello and thanks for your questions and comments. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the insights you have brought to my attention.

    1) Psychiatry is a pseudo-science when other branches of medical science are not for one simple reason: all psychological and psychiatric diagnosis are a matter of opinion and not a matter of fact.

    If your oncologist (God forbid) diagnosis you with melanoma, she has scraped off some skin cells, examined them under a microscope, and found malignant activity. Your psychiatrist renders your diagnosis in the same way that psychiatrists diagnosed patients one-hundred years ago. It is an completely subjective assessment. There is not a single DSM diagnosis with a truly objective, statistical or forensic evidence to support its existence. All psychiatric diagnoses are driven by a professional consensus based on an often arbitrary cluster of symptoms. This lack of objectivity often leads to a professional complicity that perpetuates the myth that psychiatry is somehow “scientific.” It has no etiology whatsoever, unless I am unaware of recent major breakthroughs.

    Please consider this quote from the last seven pages of “Shrinks: The Untold History of Psychiatry” (Copyright 2015) by Dr. Peter Lieberman, a former President of the A.P.A.

    “I believe that we will soon have useful diagnostic tests in place for mental illness.”

    I did not know whether to laugh or cry. He is admitting that as of 2015 the current diagnostic tests for psychiatric illnesses in place are not useful. And it gets worse. He continues (to paraphrase) that he hopes new breakthroughs in brain-scanning technologies will allow psychiatrists to identify the chemical imbalances and genetic origins of psychiatric illnesses. Yet, psychiatry has promoted the existence of these imbalances and genetic flaws for decades (on frequently seen television commercials) without conclusive proof of their existence, much less their etiology and how to correct them, so that makes psychiatry a pseudo science.

    In a nutshell, it does not adhere to the empirical standard that is the root of all legitimate sciences.

    2) I do not believe that all the psychiatrists I have seen are “bad” or “evil” people. I have reached the conclusion that the institutions that protect the psycho-pharmaceutical industry and set the standards of the psychiatric profession, as well as the subjective nature of psychiatric diagnoses in general, have corrupted their training and reinforced destructive and dangerous treatments and medications. I can think of tons of examples but the first one that comes to mind is the FDA trials on Prozac. Those trials lasted less than six weeks, involved an aggregate sample size of less than 2,000 people and were not even double-blinded studies. Even so, Prozac barely out-performed a placebo. Yet, Prozac not only went to market, it became the mother of all anti-depressants (with no understanding of its long-term impact on the brain). It was also hailed as a miracle antidepressant, featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine. Why? Because of a multi-million dollar marketing alliance between the A.P.A. and the pharmaceutical companies. It was clearly more about marketing than medicine.

    In congressional hearings in 2010, it was revealed that 28% of the A.P.A.’s budget was funded by large pharmaceutical companies.They used this money to…

    a) fund a political action committee to lobby or unprecedented legal powers over their patients;

    b) sponsor media training and public relations campaigns that created an inflated market for these new drugs;

    c) publish the DSM and other professional journals, giving them control over almost all of the information that reaches its 36,000 members.

    (By the way, there are roughly 26,000 psychiatrists practicing in the United States, so they clearly have a powerful influence over most psychiatrists in the United States and abroad). Its not the people that are “bad.” Its the system and not the people that do not have my best interests at heart; but the system unfortunately controls the people.

    3) I have finally found one – a psychiatric nurse with more than 35 years experience. I will not, however, trust another psychiatrist again. They have too much power over their patients, and a mental health diagnosis has a profound impact on your civil rights. I can give you two examples.

    a) In 2012, a female judge in Massachusetts court-ordered a schizophrenic woman to have an abortion followed by sterilization and stands by her decision to this day. While this decision was overturned by a higher court, someone without a mental health diagnosis would never have gone to court over having a baby – much less faced the expense and duress of an appeal.

    b) I live in South Carolina under the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. This court has decided that the American with Disabilities Act does not protect people with bipolar disorder. What’s truly disturbing about this decision is that the court apparently made no attempt to distinguish between Bipolar I and Bipolar II disorder. Two great reasons not to disclose you inner secrets to a psychiatrist. A psychiatric diagnoses can cost you your job – at least in this state – without legal recourse.

    4) Have you ever taken these drugs? They seem miraculous for a brief period. In the beginning, I felt rescued by Zoloft, but they backfire over time. When I reflect on the fleeting relief I received from taking anti-depressants, that relief also came with a sense of apathy. Yes, the burdens of the world had been taken from my shoulders, but I was also not very motivated and I was kind of oblivious.

    With that said, I have no problem with them being prescribed short-term, but they rarely are – and clearly there is a profit-driven impetus behind that tendency to hook people on these meds for life, regardless of their ignorance about the long-term damage. Your psychiatrist cannot continue to make an average $178,000 annually by making you well. His incentive is to keep you coming back to him.

    4) I met his clinical supervisor once several years ago. I remember that she introduced herself as a nurse. Perhaps I incorrectly assumed she was a psychiatric nurse, since it makes sense to me that only a psychiatric nurse would be on the staff of the out-patient psychiatric unit at M.U.S.C. But I conceded that I could have been mistaken on that point. It still seems to me that an M.D. should be under the clinical oversight of an M.D.

    5) I am well aware of the severity of my condition and I continue to check in with a psychiatric nurse with 25 years’ experience on a monthly basis. I actively involve my family members and my pharmacist into providing a safety net that ensures I take my remaining medications, as prescribed. Yet, I dream of the day when I never have to swallow another pill. I have adopted a strict, holistic regimen that involves rigorous aerobic exercise (ten-plus mile runs every other day on average), proper nutrition/supplements and Transcendental Mediation, which I practice devotedly twice a day. I am doing everything I know to mange my underlying issues in an authentic and mature way, and I remain open to suggestions.

    6) I have gone in-patient probably five times over the past 20 years for medication changes, not for behavioral problems or illegal detox. It is always a nightmarish experience. Its like being in a horror movie about being in a mental health hospital – its different if you are rich I guess.

    In my experience, the staff is always underpaid, apathetic and incompetent – and they downright bully patients considered obnoxious and its horrendous what they can get away with. I once overheard a psychiatrist put a patient on a powerful anti-psychotic because the patient called her a bad name. That’s exactly what she said to her staff: “You call me a b — I put you on Geodom!” I become very passive and go with the flow, trying to stay under the radar, so I am talking about how I have observed other patients being treated. I take a stack of books and keep a friendly distance. During one in-patient stay in 2007, I decided to account for amount of time that a real doctor spent with me: the amount of time that an actual psychiatrist spent before he diagnosed me and scribbled down some prescriptions.

    14 minutes in a four-day period.

    He wrote down that I had “Major Depressive Disorder with Psychotic Tendencies.”

    When I went to my personal psychiatrist and asked him how and why he would come to such a dramatic and unfounded conclusion in 14 minutes, I was told that he probably did it for insurance purposes…but otherwise that diagnosis did not apply to me. And I have detailed the catastrophic nightmarish experience that resulted from my last completely voluntarily (in fact enthusiastic) admission to a mental hospital in the post above. So thanks for the recommendation, but I don’t think its an appropriate one.

  • I don’t blame “everything”on benzos. I focused on benzos because of the mounting evidence that they place you at higher risk for early onset dementia, and I became aware of that information while I was literally watching my father die of a dementia-related illness. So it was on my mind at the time. It was the focus of my attention.

  • Lucinda –

    Your experience and observations do not comport with mine, nor with the experience of almost everyone else who has replied. They also do not comport with this statement from the Journal of the American Medical Association’s 2008 study: “approximately 5.2% of US adults aged 18 to 80 years used benzodiazepines.”

    With more than 5% of the general adult population on these medications, there is compelling evidence that benzos are NOT prescribed as a last resort, but as a de facto strategy against anxiety that people should look to holistic and authentic methods to manage.

    I was not that strong, unfortunately, not when I was first introduced and encouraged to take benzos, though I can honestly state that I never begged or malingered in order to get them. I have a vivid memory of going back to the first doctor who first prescribed me benzos and telling him “I feel like I am becoming pill popper. Help me get off this stuff.” He responded: “Tell me more. Tell me more about your symptoms.” I described to him what I now know was rebound anxiety – its a common side effect: the worsening of your anxiety after the Xanax leaves your system. He said “That’s your underlying condition coming back.” And then he increased my dosage. Should I have known better? I would argue that as the doctor he was the one who should have known better – that’s his area of expertise.

    I do not claim that I was 100% the victim in this situation. As in most cases like mine, I was so distressed because I did not understand what was so wrong with me: the irrational, obsessive-compulsive convictions (not fears, but convictions) that killer bees were coming for me (when I was seven years old), that I had AIDS when I was 15-25 years-old – even though every test came back negative and I was so terrified of HIV that I remained celibate most of my life; the unshakable conviction that the apocalypse was nigh, given my upbringing in a very southern, conservative religion, after Hurricane Hugo swept through my hometown. Unlike someone with a psychotic disorder, I knew those thoughts were a symptom of a bigger problem, but it did not stop the primitive part of brain from flooding my body with panic attacks and the looming, incessant certainty of my own personal demise.

    I guess I need to clarify that I was never “forced” to take benzos and I would need you to point to where in my story I make that claim. I do not see it. No one crammed benzos down my throat, but they were dispensed in high dosages in a perfunctory manner by most of the doctors I visited. If that claim is in my story somewhere, it needs to be edited out.

    Yes, I left out a lot of my history out of the blog post, which is why I made the statement above that “there is so much more the story.”

    After years of research and a 350 memoir on the subject (the rough draft was 436 pages, so the editing process required leaving out some important experiences and information) it is almost impossible to relate my entire two-decade relationship with these drugs in a 2500 word post.

    When you submit your story to this blog you have to comply with word-count limits and other constraints. If you have a specific question about “the general nonsense and holes in my story” I will be pleased to respond honestly and to the best of my recollection. Since you were not specific, since you did not cite a single example, I cannot respond adequately to that criticism. If you do respond, I will do my best to fill in any gaps.

    I also disagree with the statement that there is such a thing a “normal” use of benzos in combination with alcohol. There is mounting evidence that long-term use of alcohol in moderate amounts, with or without benzos, results in long-term cognitive impairment. I could point to so many studies on that subject, but a simple Google search reveals numerous, credible research studies and governmental “alerts” on the topic.

    To answer you question about Valium being the “weakest and oldest benzos,” I was given that information by Dr. Kelly Barth, Program Director of the Combined Internal Medicine & Psychiatry Residency Training Program at MUSC and supposedly an addiction specialist, as well as the resident in charge of my weekly follow-up session, Dr. El Sabbath at MUSC, when I asked to enter the hospital so I could get off of benzos. In fact, I was told that was the reason for switching me from Clonazepam to Valium – it was a core part of their strategy. My current prescriber also agrees with that assessment.

    Frankly, I don’t know who to trust – I don’t really trust any of them anymore – but I have to trust someone, because I cannot do this alone. I also continue to do my own research so that I can ask smarter questions that will lead to better treatment.

    Your post clearly lacks empathy and given that I just buried my father, and I am now concerned for my own well-being, I am stunned by the absence of compassion and intense, personal vitriol expressed in your response.

    Am I my own worst enemy? Yes, sometimes, especially when I was young and stupid and desperate and reckless and borderline suicidal because I did not understand what was happening to me, and so I placed a lot of blind faith in psychiatrists who were supposed to be the experts.

    But I have also made some good choices too. I have done some things right. I run 10 plus miles every other day now, and rigorous aerobic exercise is from what I understand, the front-line defense against early onset dementia. Last year, I took a course in Transcendental Meditation that has changed my life much for the better. The clinical literature is mixed, but I would point to a recent study out of Harvard Medical School that students who praticed TM for six weeks show a thickening or strengthening of frontal lobe tissue after six weeks using SPECT and other brain-scanning technologies. I am a devout practitioner, twice a day. In addition, I am committed to a regimen that includes very healthy diet. I have written two books and completed a Masters in Financial Analysis in 2005 – at one of the top three programs in the country – so I am not brain dead yet…thank you very much.

    Again, I would love to know what you consider “general nonsense,” so I can retract anything that I cannot substantiate, or defend what I can.