I am off psychiatric drugs after fifteen years. I have been on Prozac, Lithium, Lamictal, Zyprexa, Paxil, Zoloft, Ativan, Seroquel, Depakote, Wellbutrin, Paxil, Klonopin, Geodon, Abilify, probably others.
When I was 18, I was prescribed Prozac by my GP. It was my freshman year at Yale during finals. I was parallelized with anxiety and couldn’t study. Prozac definitely freed me up from my anxiety and depressed feelings. I think I finished with As in all my classes that semester, except in my Freshman Organic Chemistry Class- I got a B. I was pretty crushed, because as a first generation US born Bangladeshi American intellectual girl with an immigrant father who is a professor at an elite liberal arts college, and a culture in which higher formal education is so highly valued and also means freedom, pursuing higher education and doing well in school was what I cared most about in my life at the time. My parents really did leave Bangladesh and settle in the US for a better life for their kids. When they were around the age of 18- their education was interrupted by genocide.
Prozac clearly changed my personality. But I didn’t mind. I loved it. I was always really shy, and with the new found confidence and loss of inhibitions from the drug, I learned to sparkle in ways I never could before, and also how to draw attention to myself and how to develop a big personality. But along with my newfound sparkle- there were unseen, unexpected effects. My memory is blurry around this time period, but during a period of withdrawal from Prozac in summer or fall of my sophomore year, I think I tried to come off, because my dad didn’t think it was wise for me be on this drug forever, I experienced the deepest feelings of numbing- cloud-over-my-head-that-wouldn’t-lift depression I had ever felt in my life, and feelings and thoughts of suicidality that overcame me with their persistent and intrusive nature. I now believe it was strongly a drug withdrawal response. Prozac withdrawal. It was compounded with my existential identity confusion that was going on as a 19 year old and a break up with my first “boyfriend”- a summer fling with another Yalie. When I sought help at student mental health services, after meeting with a therapist once, I was involuntarily hospitalized and forced to medically withdraw from school.
I have been involuntarily psychiatrically hospitalized four more times since- one more time at Yale. I went to the psychiatric hospital once at Yale voluntarily also. I was forced to medically withdraw from Yale University twice because of my psychiatric issues. I had to reapply five times to get back in and get my degree. At student mental health services I got severely drugged by my psychiatrist, despite desperate pleas of ‘these drugs are making me worse’. I felt dead inside, and the world became grey on Lithium. But Lithium was touted as the only thing that could ‘cure’ me, and I just learned to resign myself to that belief. And when I tried to come off without clinical support because I knew I could no longer live this way and not lose myself, things got worse. I started hearing voices, and I went into states of altered consciousness and lived on a plane of sleeplessness and madness and divinity and feelings of cosmic consciousness and nightmares that I had never experienced in my life before. After more meds and some tweaks here or there and the time off (in which I was required to take classes at an accredited university and earn Bs or better and also work to apply for readmission)- I started seeing private psychiatrists- I finally was able to graduate from Yale University in 2007 after 7 years.
I have taken Family Medical Leave twice from non-profit mental health jobs where I held leadership positions- at the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health, because of psychiatric issues, during periods of trying to withdraw from psychiatric drugs. I sought clinical support to come off- from psychiatrists in the community mental health system and from psychiatrists working at prestigious universities. They refused to give me clinical support. Instead they gave me more pills or discouraged me or half-heartedly agreed but had no idea what they were doing and it felt like they didn’t really care. I suffered through trying to come psychiatric drugs by myself- through working through waking nightmare states, through working with being unable to sleep, through working through headaches and flu-like symptoms. In 2012 I found a therapist over skype who believed me. He helped me deprogram from the message of psychiatry that I had a chronic illness and that I needed the drugs to survive. I also found an amazing mindfulness coach who also helped me. But I still could not find a psychiatrist to help me come off. I did develop a strong network of friends and professional support. When I tried to come off in 2012- again I had the sleeplessness and the nightmare visions and the altered states of reality, but I had more tools, information, and support and an important reframe- I was not sick. I experienced the world differently than ‘the norm’, but other people experienced the world this way too. I started thinking more and more about chemical withdrawal psychosis- the concept that I first discovered in Robert Whitaker’s book Anatomy of an Epidemic.
In fall of 2012 I came to study at a Masters in Counseling Psychology program at CIIS. In 2013, I found an integrative psychiatrist in San Francisco who helped me come off in two years. She heard me. She was hesitant too with the coming off process, but she always said to me ‘naas, I trust your intuition and I don’t worry about you’. Even though there were times she did worry about me, she treated me with the utmost compassion and respect. She offered her clinical perspective- and we figured it out together- what would be medically safe, what would be the right pace, how to process the feelings, insights, personality changes, and forgotten memories of my life- I had lost much of my long term memory She helped me understand those periods of altered consciousness with even greater depth and their significance to my deeper understanding of my personal life and my large life process with her Jungian training. I also found a therapist who helped me make sense of things- not only in my everyday life, but also in the context of my waking dream and nightmare periods and my fantasy and daydreaming life. It was not an easy process. In 2014, I managed graduate school and a coming off process with my psychiatrist, but I couldn’t come all the way off. It was too intense. I tried again in winter of 2015. I was on 900 mg of Lithium and 3 mg of Abilify. I got off everything completely in February of 2016. My parents didn’t believe I could come off, even though my dad wanted that so badly for me. My mom I think was too scared to see my come off, she had witnessed more of my periods of altered states than my dad. My parents, even though I lost connection with them in many ways, were ALWAYS spiritually and financially supportive. Many of my friends didn’t believe I could come off- they saw me struggle through too much trying to come off, and also had to bear the brunt of my personality changes and intensity and chaos. My partner of 3 years knew I could come off- And I am forever indebted to him for sticking with me though it.
Life is not easy now. But I am much happier, because I feel myself, I feel my feelings, I feel in touch with my deep spiritual creativity, I feel my body, and I am returning to myself while carving a new identity with all my experiences. I am still being flooded by memories, which is glorious, bittersweet, heart-warming, intensely sad, and sometimes traumatic. I have a lot of dental work that needs to be completed now- I think some psychiatric drugs rot your teeth like meth- I neglected by body health for a long time because I stopped caring. For me, it was too hard to take care of my body on drugs that took it over- I gained 60 pounds on psychiatric drugs, developed acne when I had really clear skin before, and lost a lot of hair. I tried to maintain a really healthy diet and regimen, but it was too big a fight for me. I know it’s not impossible, but it was too hard for me. I had stopped looking in the mirror at my face for a long, long time.
A HUGE part of coming off psychiatric drugs was believing that I could do it. There were so many messages that I was fed from clinicians and society and even peers that said I couldn’t. I had to dismiss all of that.
I don’t think I ever had bipolar disorder. I think psychiatry gave it to me. I am in Recovery from forced psychiatric drugging and psychiatric chemical withdrawal and psychiatric abuse. Life is still sometimes hard- I recognize certain aspects of myself- I am moody and have a generous heart so I get really upset by harshness and violence in the world. I observe a lot, so I witness a lot of harshness and violence in the world. As a therapist (I don’t have my License yet, but have completed my graduate level training and a year as a student therapist at my practicum site), mental health advocate, academic, I have a lot of hope for people to come off psychiatric drugs. Not everyone needs a supportive psychiatrist to come off. I did. I have hopes for the field of psychiatry- I hope the field will redeem itself and redeem its practitioners- because they do have clinical skill and opportunity to learn more and grow more. Many of them, I believe, were just taught bad science, influenced and infiltrated by Big Pharma.