On February 5, 2017, I celebrated my 1 year anniversary psychiatric drug free, after having been on psychiatric drugs from age 19 to 34. 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. I had struggles with anxiety, and emotionality, and I was prescribed drugs that gave me bipolar depression and manic psychotic symptoms while I was on them and while I was trying to withdraw from them. 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. But I am moving forward. I am incredibly happy to have my body back- I’m 35 lbs lighter, my skin is great and has cleared up, and my hair is growing in full- it had been falling out in clumps. I am incredibly happy that my memories are returning to me- sometimes I am flooded with them. My skillset is returning. I can play piano again- I was classically trained from age 7 to 20 and had lost access to my ability to play. I can speak Spanish again – I had lost the capacity, even though I had completed Intermediate Spanish at Yale. I can paint again- I have fine arts training, and I had felt blocked for years because I was afraid of my creativity and associated it with mania.
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 and/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. It took me over 9 months after coming off psychiatric drugs to come back to stability, since my brain and body had been altered so much by the chemicals put in it without my informed consent and true choice. I am so glad for neuroplasticity and resilience of the body and spirit. Since I’m training to be a therapist, I have the unique lens of also being able to see potential directions for clinicians to help those who have come off psychiatric drugs after long term use. Since there are already detox programs for drug and alcohol addiction, I feel a lot of the knowledge and expertise for helping people come off is already there. Clinicians are needed to help deprogram people who have been diagnosed by the myth of biomedical psychiatry and deal with the grief and losses that resulted from the mistruth. Therapists, especially those with Jungian training, can help people who are interested integrate their fractured and dream like drug-induced material back into their lives. Many trauma issues – personal and intergenerational -surface in waking dream drug states. I feel therapists could also help people deal with “dry drunk”-like behaviors, that might show up after coming off the drugs- like i said, it took me that 9 plus months of recovery to return to emotional stability- I found myself acting like an unhinged teenager at times. Also during my long arduous, extended journey to come off psychiatric drugs, especially during periods of tapering (but really my brain was changing from chemical alteration the whole time), I feel I acted and behaved like a person in active addiction sometimes – risky behaviors, hypersexuality, selfishness, thoughtlessness, extreme emotionality, outbursts and impulsiveness. I benefited so much from AA in the past and talking and sharing with people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, but of course I wasn’t completely accepted or part of this community because I was dealing with psychiatric drugs, not street drugs or alcohol. I hope there is a push for funded and supported 12 step groups for people who are trying to come off psychiatric drugs, specifically.
There is so much potential for therapists to support people during tapering and the recovery process after getting of these drugs, but unfortunately it seems to me that graduate school education in counseling psychology- at least confirmed by my personal experience at graduate school- 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. When I was working in Philadelphia as the Certified Peer Specialist Trainer and Coordinator for the County ten years ago, and then continued as a Recovery Initiative Specialist, a big part of my role was to help integrate Peer Specialists, and peer or lived experience culture into the behavioral system. Honestly it began as an incredibly huge uphill battle against mental health and substance abuse stigma, discrimination and prejudice from service providers. I feel that so much has been accomplished with the Systems Transformation in Philadelphia because of it’s all voices inclusive approach and dedication to the value of client-led services and commitment to honoring the voices of people who receive services in the system. As a person who received a diagnosis and had to navigate the mental health system, I am overjoyed that Dr. Arthur Evans, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of the American Psychological Association.
It’s my one year anniversary month, as a person free from chemical dependency and mayhem, from drugs that were prescribed to me by doctors and couched as treatment. I am living proof that it can be done.