The Beginning

First post of this blog:

My story begins at the tender age of 19 during the summer after my first year at UC Berkeley. I was an enthusiastic, adventurous young adult full of idealism and a burgeoning excitement for my future and what I might do with it. In my first year at university I became deeply involved in the on-campus fight against Apartheid in South Africa. UC Berkeley was heavily invested in South Africa and much of the student body at the time were opposed to this. A lively protest developed at my school, as it did at many of the colleges and universities in the United States.

With my keen sense of idealism and a nostalgia for the 60’s (during which, of course I was an infant and young child) I threw myself into the mire of protest. I was involved at the very heart of it, attending meetings daily and when the time came, camping out on the steps of the administration building to block business, the result being two arrests and a brief period in jail. (All charges were dropped—I am without a record) All this was done with a sense of righteousness, as well as being great fun. (I would not have said it was fun at the time–it was all very serious–but in hindsight, I see that I was having a great time)

During my political engagement I was introduced, through the people most deeply involved in the movement to the classic drugs of the 60’s. At the end of the school year, for summer, I moved into an infamous student coop. This was a student co-op, run and owned by students. It was part of a large group of co-ops, but it was known to be the wildest one….both for its’ political radicalism, as well as for it being the hub of all drug activity on campus. Not everyone living there was into the drug scene, but if you were interested in drugs it was an open gateway into that world.

With my romantic notions of the 60’s, I began experimenting with hallucinogenics. The classic LSD and mushrooms, as well as the new-comer on the scene, MDMA, better known as Ecstacy. I experimented with other drugs as well and smoked pot daily.

After about a month of heavy experimentation I took MDMA, got high and then didn’t “come down.” I was having my first manic episode. The wonders of the world opened up to me–all things were possible—I was one with the universe. I was charismatic and people were drawn to me. I was not, at first, out of control. Instead I had a confidence I had never experienced before. I associated with people from all walks of life and felt a deep love for all of humanity. In this altered state I had many exceptional experiences. I will share one with you.

I came out of my suite one day to the sounds of people yelling. I looked down the hall and saw a young man wielding a gun pointed at someone who had done him wrong in a drug deal. A veil of peace came upon me. I calmly walked up to the man who was still yelling at his customer with gun in hand. I gently put my hand on his shoulder. He turned to look at me seemingly disarmed. I said “you don’t want to hurt anyone…come on let’s go.” I took his arm and led him away to the stairwell. We walked down to the first landing and stopped. I spoke to him about love and peace, we hugged and he left. I don’t remember exactly what I said and I know if sounds terribly cheesy, but it worked. I felt a huge sense of power and oneness with humankind.

Okay…so that’s the romantic element. Things quickly went downhill from there. Without a break in my mania I took LSD. Everything becomes a blur at this point. I ended up in the psych ward and was immediately diagnosed bipolar. They wanted to hold me past the 72 hours they could hold me without a legal hearing. They strongly encouraged me to stay and not go to the hearing. I went to the hearing and appeared before the judge completely lucid in my presentation. I was released. I threw away the medications they had given me.

This repeated two more times that summer. All three times I was floridly psychotic. The last time I crashed into a delusional depression and had to return to my mothers house, as I was in no shape to go to school. I missed one semester and came to the conclusion I could not take illegal drugs anymore. I discontinued my medication and went back to school.

The story of my illicit drug taking should have ended there, but I had the delusional idea that I simply had to become “psychologically strong enough” to use hallucinogenics. I was convinced that they held the secrets of the universe. I waited a good year and a half before I decided I was “strong enough.” Rewind, repeat. Rewind, repeat. Yes, it took two more episodes to finally and completely say no to hallucinogenics and all other illicit drugs.

Okay I got it now. It was now 1988 and I was again med free. Much of these experiences were dramatically frightening, but I was convinced that the mania and then the ensuing depression were drug induced and I did not have a mental illness. A conclusion I am again revisiting.

In any case, that of course was not the end of the story. In 1992 I began to experience a fairly serious depression. I went to some sort of “holistic healer” who prescribed various herbs as well as an enema that was to be administered every other day. The enema had water and various other substances in it. Within a week I was manic. This time I was not psychotic as I had been on all other occasions, but I was very frightened. Was my conclusion that my previous episodes were only drug induced wrong? In my lucidity I ran to a psychiatrist fearing that I would fall into psychosis once again. This mania, however, was not, I repeat, psychotic at all. I was very lucid. No one had a clue that I was manic except me and my doctor who took me at my word. I was loaded up with drugs, this time willingly. 2500 mg Depakote, and 800 mg Thorazine. He kept increasing the Thorazine by 25 mg every night I did not sleep a full 8 hours. I believe I got up to 12oo mg. As I was often sleeping a solid 7 hours I think this was rather extreme.

At this point I changed doctors–this guy had me totally freaked out–I was willing to take drugs, but I’d heard about Thorazine and wasn’t comfortable being on so much when I didn’t even feel sick.

I changed doctors. He weaned me down to 100 mg Thorazine. I crashed. He added an anti-depressant. I got anxious, he added a benzo. And so began my kaleidoscope journey into multiple meds.

Now, 15 years after that final manic episode I am questioning everything again. I’ve been followed by a psychiatrist the whole 15 years to this day. In the course of time I tried 36 different psych meds. As of three years ago I began cutting down what ended up being 11 mg of Risperdal, 50 mg of Seroquel, 400 mg of Lamictal, 200 mg Zoloft and 3 mg Klonopin.

You might imagine I was terribly ill during all this time. That I tried so many drugs because I was so sick I couldn’t function. This was not the case. I was working full-time and I’ve come to believe that all I was treating was drug side-effects. The neuroleptics made me depressed, hence the anti-depressant. The anti-depressant made me anxious, hence the benzo’s. All the drugs made me tired, hence the trials with multiple stimulants. Finally in 2001 I had a minor manic episode. I came off the anti-depressant, got depressed, went back on the anti-depressant, got manic, went off the anti-depressant and started a therapy called neuro-feedback. My depression went away. I did not go back on anti-depressants and I’ve not had a manic episode since; all the while withdrawing from my meds. (I’m on less than half of what I was on before starting neuro-feedback)

My neuro-psychologist introduced me to the idea that I might not need meds for the rest of my life. He had successfully treated hundreds of bipolar patients who got off their drugs. They were not on as many as I was and he promised me a long journey. I started it 3 years ago. I will continue with that story in a future post.

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

6 Responses

  1. Rev.

    I don’t think your alone in your story, Hell i can relate to alot of it. I have never persued presciption drugs to treat any effects of my past heavy drug use. Dispite having several “Bad-trips” that i feel changed me forever. Yet with time, i feel great, remember the human brain is an amazing organ that is constantly so there is always hope.

    Have you ever heard of Cognative Behavior Treatment? i wrote an article on how to “re-wire your brain” it just illustrates how you can take control and fix some issues yourself. My article was originally posted a few years back, but i reposted it this year after time magazine came out with a whole issue regarding the subject.

    they gave it a new fancy title: “cognative Behavior Treatment” they say its just as effective as prescrition drugs, for treating OCD, bi-polar, manic depress’ might be worth a look if you havent heard of it, good luck.

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  2. Gianna

    Thanks Rev, for directing me to your article. I think it’s right on. Part of my plan to move on beyond drugs is to restructure my neuropathways as you put it. I don’t generally use that language, but my therapist has actually used that exact language.

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  3. Honey's mom

    Gianna, I am glad to know more of your history with regards to mental health.
    I love the “OOPS” that Marissa (depression introspection) talks of in her “The Black Dog” post. Sounds like you feel like you fit into the “OOPS” category(Overdiagnosed and Overmedicated Patient Syndrome – gotta love that acronym!) I look forward to reading your blog- have it listed on my fav. mental health blogs.
    love, honey’s mom

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  4. Marissa Miller

    Wow. What an unbelievable post.

    The “oneness” with the world example about the gun is pretty funny. I laughed out loud.

    The high mgs and the amount of meds you’ve been on all at once amaze me. I look forward to reading your next post about neurofeedback. I’m also glad that you’re tapering off many of these meds and can get to a point where you may not need them anymore.

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  5. Grainne Humphrys

    Your story resonates for me.
    I believe my descent into so-called madness was drug-induced but I also believe I took the drugs to numb my emotional pain and to help me run away from my issues.
    Throughout my late teens and early to mid-twenties, during my time at art college, my time working in London and my time in a band I experimented with drugs, on and off. Also I was always more interested in underground counter-cultures. As I headed towards 27 (and Saturn returns, or Satan returns, as I later dubbed it!) I was losing control, I barely ate and was skin and bone at 6 stone. It was cocaine and weed that finally pushed me over the edge (however in the past I had smoked weed, heroin, snorted speed, MDMA, taken LSD, magic mushrooms, ecstasy, all at various different times throughout this era of my life). I had been on very shakey ground on many terrifying halleucinations/ trips, narrowly escaping losing the plot altogether. I believe some people are more prone to experimenting… but I also believe it was my under-lying issues that caused me to be so self-destructive.

    I haven’t touched anything in years now… I can safely say my wild youth is behind me.
    Though, I am still more on the alternative side of life…

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