In recent days Gianna’s story took a turn too intense and painful for her to tell. It falls upon me, her husband, to explain what happened.
As regular readers here will already know, for some time now Gianna has been working with an orthomolecular doctor who through a combination of modalities was able to accelerate the process of withdrawal from Risperdal, Lamicatal, and Klonopin.
About three weeks ago Gianna came off Risperdal. That brought to an end 20 years of taking neuroleptics. The horizon of becoming completely psych-med free then seemed to be a matter of months away. But if the process had over the proceeding weeks been accelerated, it soon took on an unprecedented speed.
Under her doctor’s direction, Gianna’s discipline of careful tapering, withdrawing from one drug at a time, suddenly switched to one of giant leaps as in a matter of days — on the understanding that the indications were that her meds had become “toxic” — she cut back and then came off them completely. In the space of two weeks she cut down from 60mg of Lamictal and 3mg of Klonopin, to 20mg Lamictal and 0.5mg Klonopin and then in one step… nothing.
Gianna’s reaction was a mixture of elation and trepidation. How could this happen so fast and upturn virtually everything she thought she had learned over her intense research and the evidence from the reports of others?
It seemed too good to be true but we both watched and waited. In the last days before coming off meds altogether, the doctor’s analysis that a watershed had been crossed and that withdrawal symptoms had been replaced by symptoms of toxicity, seemed to have been borne out by the evidence. Distraught nights and mornings would give way to relief in the afternoon and evening as each round of medication wore off. The most difficult symptoms Gianna was experiencing did indeed correspond with the times when the highest concentrations of meds were in her bloodstream. It logically followed that there would be consistent improvement and healing, the longer she went drug-free.
But then came the sleeplessness. One and then two nights’ sleep lost seemed manageable if two or three hours one night could be followed by four or five the next. But by the forth night, time ran out. Gianna’s need for sleep was urgent. Without sleep, the prospect of mania and even psychosis were looming realities that couldn’t be wished away. The doctor — a loving, kind and extraordinarily responsive woman — didn’t seem to appreciate the risk. She told us the Gianna’s body would learn how to sleep naturally as the healing process progressed. Yet that process was on the point of being violently disrupted! It was like being told that you can expect a full recovery from your disease — just so long as you don’t die from it.
Heartbroken, Gianna felt that all her dreams would have to be cast aside because she now faced a stark choice between chemical intervention and madness. The doctor laid out the option of reinstating Klonopin and Lamictal, yet at doses that could do no more than moderately temper some of Gianna’s fear without bringing the relief of desperately needed sleep.
We had no choice but to seek help from Gianna’s local psychiatrist who while giving his blessing to the goal of becoming drug-free did not have the experience to closely guide that process. He did however know exactly how to intervene in the current crisis and he also encouraged Gianna to believe that she could still pursue her goal — that what had happened need be nothing more than a temporary setback.
I have always supported Gianna in her effort to get off meds. I believe in the intrinsic capacity of the human body to heal itself and of the human mind to transform itself. None of us is irreparably broken and from what might seem like meager resources, progress can be made. In a cosmic sense, nothing is missing.
As witness and participant in the trial that Gianna has just gone through, the most inspiring and heart-wrenching experience for me was to see her spirit unveiled only for it to quickly become enshrouded by a drug-induced torpor that turns consciousness into molasses.
I had always assumed that on becoming drug-free, the real psychological work would only then begin. What was a revelation was to see the immediacy with which Gianna was gaining insights, having perspective and revealing a maturity that up until then had merely been masked by the drugs.
In our conversations, a fog has often appeared between us so that the loop of exchange — listening and responding — was a broken circuit. Suddenly we were connecting.
Gianna’s armor — her defenses for protecting acute sensitivity — began to fall away, making her both more vulnerable and less sensitive. At one point she told me about some criticism she’d received through email and as she was telling me, I imagined that it wouldn’t be too long before she wouldn’t so easily be stung. I didn’t have to wait, that time had already come.
Her irritability — the ease with which she could rail against anything unwelcome — gave way to equanimity, as she started to live the meaning of that line from the Serenity Prayer: grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
While it might be true that psych meds can arrest someone’s development, it appears that even while under confinement, time well spent will suddenly bear fruit right from the first day of freedom.
Yesterday’s crisis has been displaced by today’s relief and all has not been lost. If the clock has to be wound back, it may not be too far. The goal of becoming drug-free still seems tantalizingly close and having been through the searing experience just recounted, we both have reason to think that Gianna’s story of recovery remains one of hope.
Thank you Daniel, my loving and awesome husband. (he now has a name!) I could not have done this without him. He stayed awake with me all night more than once while I processed all the stuff that was coming up with me and he held me while we both feared the worst. What an amazing partner I have. When I thought it was all over he explained to me that it was not. He single-handedly kept me out of the hospital and from the jaws of death, because truth be told I’d rather die than go to a hospital.
To my readers: I can of course flesh what Daniel has written out considerably, but I think for now I will leave it as it stands. Daniel’s writing style has always been more cryptic and less explanatory than mine—though I don’t say that as a criticism. I think Daniel is a great writer and much better than me actually. So while I think what he wrote is beautiful there are all sorts of things I want to explain more fully. I will either respond in comments in order to explain further or I will write a post soon.
The only thing I would like to make completely clear is that after four days of literally no sleep, I was having what I felt was psychosis. Because I hadn’t slept and it was continuing to get worse the idea of sleep coming was ludicrous, I needed to take a desperate measure. Had a psychosis been a spontaneous event while I was in good health and not physically debilitated I would have seen it through as a Spiritual Emergency. But that is not what was happening to me. It was induced by sleep deprivation and extreme withdrawal symptoms. I had no choice but to quell it chemically. I believe that had I not I would have died. Or worse, I would have been hospitalized where I would have died a spiritual death. I was so physically ill I could not get out of bed without assistance. Knowing what I know about hospitals they would have thought my physical condition was in my head and kicked me about (probably literally) and forced to sit and stand.
So I know some of you may think I’ve failed or I may have dashed the hopes of some. But I truly do see this as a simple set-back. My local doctor feels that this is emergency treatment and I can get off these emergency meds in a matter of a week and at most two weeks. Then I will be back to dealing with the remnants of meds I had been on when I got off the Risperdal. What remains is the 3 mg of Klonopin and the 25 mg of Lamictal. I am not increasing the Lamictal back to the 60 mg I was on 3 weeks ago, because right now….I feel damn good. I don’t need the mood-stabilizer and my doctor agreed. He did not see “bipolar disorder” here. He only saw sleep deprivation and drug withdrawal.
I’ve learned humility, moderation and I’ve let go of some dogma in this process. I say this is working out quite nicely. Lessons learned the hard way are really the best lessons. Having said that I don’t recommend this sort of adventure to anyone.