On Triumph: One year after coming off of 14 (well maybe it’s 15) years of psychiatric drugging

On February 5, 2017 I celebrate my 1 year anniversary psychiatric drug free.

I’ve been caught up in wanting to make this article really good. But what I’m realizing is that I’m tired of proving things. I know for myself that I am free of bipolar symptoms- because those symptoms were caused by the psychiatric drugs and the withdrawal and the harmful mythology.

I do have to negotiate with a deep grief and bitterness because of everything that happened in my life as a result of psychiatric drugging, including long term memory loss.

I am incredibly happy to have my body back- I’m 35 lbs lighter, my skin is great, and my hair is growing in full. I am incredibly happy to have memories continually return, and my skillset return. I can play piano again (I’m classically trained). I can speak Spanish again (I forgot that I could- I completed Intermediate Spanish at Yale). I can paint again (I have fine arts training- I had felt blocked for years). Etc, etc, etc.  Essentially I feel I received a chemical lobotomy, had my self esteem destroyed by a myth, and got forced addicted to psychiatric drugs for sleep, and had to deal with an LSD or cocaine-like trip with the flu every time I tried to withdraw from whatever I was on- Lithium, Abilify, Klonopin etc. And I got a label that made me a pariah in society.

I have a lot of grief and fear and anger because this ‘treatment’ has harmed me and harmed so many people I know, and many others I don’t know.

What’s also sad is that graduate school education in psychology- at least my experience teaches the same pathology as the mainstream psychiatrists- although it may look at it with more flexibility and more emphasis on trauma and social factors.

Since I’m an activist as well as a mental health and substance abuse professional- I’ll add some political commentary too. (I’ve posted a version of this part previously). Racism, profit over people, and other-ing and stigmatizing, so sadly are foundational and a huge part of the fabric of the United States of America we call home. The biomedical psychiatry industry sustains itself on racism, other-ing stigma, and profit over people.

When I think about my capacity, organizing strategies and behaviors, and determination for the ICC CHANGE Campaign- Diversity and Recognition in CIIS Integral Counseling Psychology- a successful campaign to expose and help unroot institutional racism that deeply harmed people of color therapists in training at mygraduate school of counseling psychology – see CIIS ICC CHANGE petition https://www.change.org/p/ciis-community-icc-change-diversity-and-recognition-in-the-ciis-icp-program – I’m realizing that a lot of the unrelenting fuel that powered me, came from reserves- really high momentum that had been stopped in its tracks. In 2003-2004 I was a lead student organizer and researcher at Yale for a transparency campaign on university investments, and an investigation of one of our university investors- a hedge fund called Farallon Capital Management, which was investing the school’s money in a very lucrative way, that had deep harmful environmental and social impact in the United States and globally. The campaign got big and extended to other schools, and got national attention and coverage. I, along with my fellow student organizers, interviewed with the Wall Street Journal and other really big papers. During the campaign- I tried to come off Lithium- which I feel had been very haphazardly prescribed to me by my psychiatrist Dr. Adam Spivack at Yale University Student Mental Health- which was then called Mental Hygiene, long before the campaign. He wouldn’t listen to my complaints that the drug had started to slow me down significantly and made me feel dead inside, and had started really effecting my schoolwork. He would not let me come off. Trying to come off Lithium cold turkey threw me into a world of altered states, not sleeping, being really sped up, hearing voices, paranoia, deep emotional instability and erratic behavior- this had never happened ever in my life before – I’m sure it has parallels to chemical withdrawal from street drugs. I was removed as a lead organizer from the campaign, which made sense. But as I eventually got put on heavy antipsychotics by Yale mental health services and psychiatrists in my treatment path, I lost access to much of my long term memory, and honestly, eventually forget much of my involvement in the campaign, -and eventually with long term usage, forget much of my life. The myth at the time of American psychiatry then and unfortunately still present now as we are learning- was that my bipolar illness was coming back, off the drug. But I had never had these symptoms before. I had gone, what’s known as, psychotic. I was thrown out of school in 2004- but because of tenacity- I was re-admitted after a few tries, and was able to complete at Yale. The UnFarallon investment transparency campaign I feel, fizzled, partially, I feel, from the loss of one of its main organizers.

After I was recently finally able to get free of psychiatric drugs, after 15 years, just last February, with an integrative psychiatrist, who like no other psychiatrist, put effort into helping me come off, I had so much frozen momentum. I was able to use that momentum towards a good cause though- The ICC CHANGE campaign- Diversity and Recognition in CIIS Integral Counseling Psychology.

My organizing momentum that had been shut down got put into good use too in 2008-2009 as well on another activist spirit initiative, during another time I was trying to come off psychiatric drugs to return to myself and release the momentum.

This time it was putting tons of energy and fight into integrating Peer Specialists into the Philadelphia Community Behavioral Health system as the Certified Peer Specialist Trainer and Coordinator for Philadelphia and liaison to the Philadelphia Department of a Behavioral Health in 2007-2009. I also continued this type of work as a Recovery Initiative Specialist and Storytelling Trainer with DBH in Philadelphia for another 2.5 years. It began as an incredibly huge uphill battle against mental health and substance abuse stigma from service providers. I feel that so much has been accomplished with the Systems Transformation in Philadelphia in terms of recognizing and honoring the value and voices of people who receive services in the system and their huge capacity to give back and mentor and work in the field. I’m so happy that the Commissioner at the Department of Behavioral Health, Dr. Arthur Evans has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of the American Psychological Association. But during this time of hard change work,  my psychiatrist, Dr. Claudia Baldassano at the University of Pennsylvania, refused to provide clinical support with the tapering process even though I informed her that is what I wanted to do was trying to do. She was an incredibly negligent clinician, and I struggled with deep harmful side effects of withdrawal while I continued my work. Professionally I was ok for a long time- but in my private life I was developing hoarding behaviors, loss of consensus reality, hypersexuality and risky behaviors. This eventually led to an involuntary hospitalization by my workplace- it was so interesting- I was on the credentialing and monitoring team at DBH- and my team was sent to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital while I was there as a patient, and my team member saw me on the floor, and said, ‘Naas, I didn’t realize you were assigned to help with the audits of the hospital today, and I shrugged and said, ‘Nope, I’m a patient today’.

I have to say now I feel I have used up the unfinished momentum from the 2004 Unfarallon campaign. But I have lots of wisdom from my experience. One of Farallon’s investments – this hedge fund that was investing billions of Yale’s money and other school’s money- was a water privatization venture in Colorado at Baca Ranch- which involved taking and destroying the land and water resources of indigenous community who lived there. We continue to see many big money repeats of plundering behavior. And we saw it happen again with Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline. For any of you interested in the the Unfarallon campaign’s work- here is the campaign’s web archive- https://web.archive.org/web/20060208124208/http://www.unfarallon.info/intro.asp

I feel transparency and divestment of big university money can still be a very effective way in the fight to save our planet (especially since climate change doesn’t exist now according to our President of the USA). Also if you’re interested in reading about how the Unfarallon campaign had big impact years after it was over- this is an interesting article- Tom Steyer, the former manager is now known as the green billionaire. Before the Unfarallon campaign it was oil and dirty energy http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/tom-steyer-an-inconvenient-billionaire-20140218

It is very much a time now both of hypocrisy and uncovering with our new President, with race and other intersectional identity issues very much in the spotlight  (I believe the ancient Indian texts- the Vedas – predicted this, but I haven’t closely studied the texts- a close friend told me at my graduate school). I choose to continue to uncover the hypocrisy even though it has and will continue to make me a target of those who don’t want it exposed- those who believe in and/or are entrenched in with the value systems of racism, -isms, profit over people, other-ing and stigma.