From withdrawal to awakening

I am continuing my break from the net but thought I would repost an old piece that has substance. This piece was published first in ICSPPs journal last year, but it was  rewrite of something even eariler. In many ways I’ve grown since this was written. I’ve updated it very slightly but not much.

Practicing the art of acceptance and mindfulness in the midst of all this crap:

Before I went out on disability due to acute psychiatric drug toxicity I was a social worker. I worked first in hospice and HIV and then for many years I worked in mental health with the so-called “severe and persistently mentally ill.” During this time I was on more medication than any client I ever met. My cocktail at its height, when I was driven out of the work force, was 11 mg of Risperdal, 400 mg of Lamictal, 200 mg of Zoloft, 50 mg of Seroquel, 3 mg of Klonopin and at the end I was put on a round of trials with multiple stimulants since I could hardly function on the sedating cocktail I was on. When I had my conversion and figured out, with the help of  Peter Breggin that “my drugs were my problem,” I was on 7 medications. I’ve been withdrawing from them for four years now. What follows is an essay I wrote on the symptoms I deal with, mostly directly associated with the process of withdrawal and not really any underlying problem, since basically there was no real substantial underlying problem.

When I was 19 I took LSD and became psychotic and manic. On this basis alone I was diagnosed bipolar. It’s pretty clear to me now that had I simply had a supervised washout period at that time, the next 20 years didn’t have to be what they were: life heavily drugged and lived in a stupor. I now, as my mind clears as a result of the withdrawal, find myself awaking to feelings that have been numbed for twenty years. It’s a challenge, but one I seem to be rising to.

I have been on medication for approximately 20 years and I’ve been doing my withdrawal essentially as Peter Breggin recommends in Your Drug May Be Your Problem, Revised Edition: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications . I also include a rigorously healthy diet and nutrients to support my ravaged body. Lately, changes I’ve made to my nutritional regime seem to have been key in allowing for some very noticeable improvements in my physical well-being. Meditation and exercise play a role as well. I believe that healthy living all around is what helps us heal. I try to address, as the cliche puts it: the body, mind and spirit.

It’s now been 5 years and I’m off all the drugs except the Klonopin. I remain on 1.5 mg of Klonopin, I’ve managed to get off another 1.5 mg of it and am currently continuing the withdrawal with the intention and commitment of coming off of it completely. (drug amounts edited 4/09)

The symptoms I am having as a result of withdrawal are first and foremost physical. I’ve been rendered physically disabled by the drugs — specifically a crushing fatigue has struck me. I am often bedridden and I am no longer able to drive. This is a result of my particular body and history on medications. Certainly not everyone who deals with withdrawal will get physically sick like I have. Lately, as I’ve said, with the help of intensive nutritional counseling I have been improving markedly. I sleep well for example. A rarity among those who have withdrawn from all that I have withdrawn from.

The psychological symptoms or psychiatric symptoms I deal with are no worse than what I’ve dealt with at various times on a large cocktail of medications. In fact some of my symptoms have improved greatly–like anxiety and other symptoms that were actually drug induced.

I am experiencing feelings that are sometimes overwhelming but quite welcome after years of being numbed out. These feelings include pain from an abusive childhood and love for my husband that could never be deeply felt prior to the great reduction in medications. In other words, flooding me now is a smorgasbord of emotion I should have been experiencing and processing my whole life. Instead they were muted and numbed for the last 20 years.

As I refuse to medicate away the uncomfortable feelings they become easier and easier to deal with. I am forced to accept them and therefore I learn to cope with them naturally. Once I stopped searching for the quick fix in a pill — which ironically led to more pain — I started simply accepting my reality. This makes living with pain much easier and is the first step to healing in my mind. I believe the symptoms I have now are primarily caused by the withdrawal itself and the recovery of lost emotions associated with coming off the numbing medications.

I suffer at different times with anxiety, irritability, and depression and despair—mania is not in the picture and actually has not been for at least 15 years—some bipolar I am. The symptoms I do have are much worse when I’m premenstrual. That’s when despair can kick in if I’m unable to get out of bed for any length of time—again a reaction to my physical disability, not a clinical issue in a psychiatric sense. I simply feel like I’m missing out on life much of the time and I mourn the life I might have had had I not been caught in the psychiatric trap of lies and iatrogenic illness.

I am up now after midnight. When I laid down to bed tonight I was struck with anxiety. Oddly enough I hardly deal with anxiety anymore. In any case, in the past I would have panicked and popped a Klonopin and been to sleep within an hour. Now I don’t panic. The anxiety is manageable and it still passes within the hour. Panicking as a result of feeling anxious is worse than the anxiety itself. I can’t tell exactly how I’ve come to this point where I generally don’t panic anymore. I’ve read a lot about mindfulness and acceptance and I meditate so when I became determined to get off the drugs I had no choice but to face my demons. Still, this is a process and I’m slowly learning how to deal with them gracefully.

My meditation involves really feeling and experiencing difficult emotions and sensations without judgment. We are usually told instead to ignore our feelings and force ourselves to do things in spite of feeling miserable. I do the opposite. I embrace the feelings, sit with them and truly experience them and they pass much faster. Resisting our strong feelings causes them to worsen. Taking drugs was a way for me to resist my feelings. And then to add insult to injury the medications made me feel worse in a myriad of ways—I was often medicating side-effects of drugs, as I’ve come to realize.

Depression and despair are harder to deal with when they strike, but they too pass relatively quickly within hours or sometimes a few days. They seem almost always linked to my severe physical disability. When my physical energy picks up, I feel better. I also spend a lot of time physically ill in a fine mood. I just get tired of the physical illness sometimes and I’m basically mourning at the loss of being able to do all my favorite things including hiking in the mountains where I live. Seems like a pretty normal response to me. Though I believe a deeper acceptance of my situation can conceivably get me to a place where this despair will also pass.

I’ve been up writing this for the last hour or so. The anxiety that got me out of bed is gone. No extra Klonopin. Just a bit of writing and contemplation. We are built to deal with our angst naturally.

To be clear, I’m still withdrawing from Klonopin but I have long since reached tolerance and the amount I’m on does nothing but keep me from entering deeper drug withdrawal. Before long, I’ll gradually withdraw from Klonopin as well. Perhaps I’ll face more anxiety then. I don’t know. It was prescribed for sleep. The anxiety came when I became tolerant to it, a common adverse reaction to long-term use.

I will mention some other symptoms specific to my experience of withdrawal. I am extremely sensitive to light and noise. This seems to happen to many people (though not all) withdrawing from any psych med, from antidepressants to neuroleptics as I’ve seen in the online withdrawal groups I participate in. From this communal resource I have been able to collect hundreds of anecdotal accounts of withdrawal. The light and noise sensitivity seem to be a physical symptom—a distraught central nervous system. I can watch very little TV and almost no movies. Loud noises of any kind are hard to bear. My dog’s high-pitched bark is hard to bear. The vacuum cleaner has a piercing sound and is difficult. If I’m walking close to traffic that noise is vexing. Sometimes noises feel like an assault on my body. Light is similar. I sometimes need to wear sunglasses indoors and sometimes I have to shut myself in a dark room. Severity of both these symptoms vary. The noise sensitivity never goes away completely.

And lastly I’m acutely emotionally sensitive—especially when premenstrual, but this intensity comes with the withdrawals as well. My feelings are hurt very easily. And I’m sensitive to stress of any kind. I have to be careful about when I take phone calls for example—they amount to stimulation that can aggravate. Things people wouldn’t consider stress are stress for me. But these sensitivities come and go, so sometimes I can get out and about and see people and chat, and so forth. Sometimes I need to control all stimulus whatsoever. The light, noise and general sensitivity can trigger sometimes severe irritability. This is difficult for my husband and anyone living with me for any length of time.

In any case, as I practice acceptance all these symptoms are diminishing. Perhaps not the light and noise sensitivity—hopefully time will heal those symptoms too. All the other stuff—anxiety, depression, irritability etc are getting better as I practice acceptance, mindfulness and meditation. I may still feel them but they don’t have the same power over me as they once did. I do, however, still have a long way to go in freeing myself from the distress they can cause

I have a few other “symptoms.” I cry easily, I can be mildly paranoid and sometimes I have issues of envy. In essence I guess I am pitying myself when I am envious.  These I see as purely imperfections in my being that can be healed through acceptance too or not—I’m human after all. I often see crying as a great plus—I couldn’t cry for years and I missed it so!  I really believe all these feeling are profoundly human and are simply pronounced in some of us that are sensitive. Again, all these feelings come more frequently when I’m premenstrual so clearly, my hormones play a major role in how I feel. But all feelings are chemistry—joy and love too. That does not suggest a chemical disorder or imbalance of any kind.

In my mind some of these feelings come from not loving myself. And in practicing acceptance the goal is to love myself. Sometimes now when I meditate I am flooded with love for a brief while. All the negative goes away.

In any case, what I want to share here is that through acceptance and loving oneself during the process of psychiatric drug withdrawal, healing is possible. I trust that I am on that journey and thankfully have many role models to look to.

We will never stop being human and with our humanness we will always feel good and bad, but how we interpret, deal and cope with those feelings can be profoundly altered by how we choose to interpret and experience our feelings and difficulties.

15 thoughts on “From withdrawal to awakening

Add yours

  1. I am really surprised to read such a candid and eye opening description of what your withdrawal process has been like for you. It is so great that you are recording this and allowing for others to read about your journey.

    Keep up the hardwork and don’t ever give up! You know deep down you are doing the right thing. It is clear from everything that you are going through.

    I happen to be on meds right now and I feel that someday maybe down the road, I could slowly come off. I feel now is not the time, but your message has been insightful for me.

    Thank You

  2. Thank you Daphne,
    I’m familiar with Aron’s work…The Highly Sensitive Person…and yes, you’re right, I fit nicely and most of us who relate to this blog probably would.

    I will look at your other links…I use energy and body work of various kinds and various times.


  3. Gianna,
    This post is so honest and true — and helpful — that I will be sending many of my clients to it (especially those considering getting on “therapeutic” low levels of SSRIs). I’ll also be linking to this post once I get my blog up and running (

    I did want to add a couple of suggestions, in case they are helpful to you or any of your readers. First, your post made me think of a book called “The Highly Sensitive Person:” you will probably recognize yourself in this book, and not feel so alone. Some people are sensitive due to birth trauma, perhaps, or some kind of abuse or trauma in their childhood; perhaps some people are genetically more sensitive than others. Your post made me realize that drug toxicities can also be a cause for this kind of sensitivity. Reading the book will help you understand this kind of hyper-sensitivity better, and the author also suggests ways of coping with a highly sensitive nervous system.

    Also, you might consider (if you haven’t yet) seeking out a Healing Touch and/or Somatic Experiencing practitioner. Both modalities work to balance and calm the nervous system. The anxiety and other symptoms you describe are manifestations of the trauma and toxicity your body, mind and spirit have been subjected to. Both these modalities can slowly, with time and gentleness, relieve your nervous system of the accumulated tension and stress that’s been built up over the years.

    You can learn more about Healing Touch at, and you can also put in your zip code and look for practitioners in your area.

    The Somatic Experiencing website will be revamped in the next week or two. It’s not very user-friendly at the moment, but will be soon: you can also find practitioners there. Check back at If you want the short and sweet version on both modalities, you can check my website:

    Hope this is helpful, and thanks again so much for sharing your amazing and awe-inspiring story with the wonderful community you have built up!

  4. It’s been a year since I began the detox process. Books like Mad In America: The Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, by Robert Whitaker & blogs such as this one gave me the intellectual grounding to begin this emotionally wrenching work. At the beginning of this process I was taking 2 mg. of klonopin, 80 mg. of paxil, 400. mg. of seroquel, 180 mg. of neurontin and drugs to fix my high cholesterol, diabetes, and bladder & duodenal spasm.

    The only drugs I take now are 50 mg, of seroquel & 600 of neurontin, which I am still slowly tapering. The diabetes and high cholesterol are gone, even tho the docs tried to blame my “lifestyle” for these problems. The seroquel caused cataracts. I still have cognitive and memory problems but they are improving with nutrition and exercise.

    I grapple with the issue of my complicity in this pharmacaust. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for thinking child rape could be fixed with pills. I had no choice but to keep returning to my abusive father for relief from abuse since it was never forthcoming from my family or culture. What was crazy about my behavior was that I returned again and again to the authorities who used my body as a chemical proving ground. Once I was sedated and addicted I lost my free will. It never occurred to me that I had a choice because I believed that I was a victim of my congenitally defective brain.

    The leftover, unaddressed emotions from 16 years of imprisonment, rape, slavery and torture at the hands of my father can be overwhelming at times, but the energy that is being released can also be invigorating if I can keep still and hear the wisdom that is at the care of the emotion.

    1. I grapple with the issue of my complicity in this pharmacaust

      me too! I mention this in my Madness Radio interview and also here:

      None of it is our fault and we have woken up to the truth!! We can accept some responsibility, but that does not inherently mean we blame ourselves…

      It’s pretty clear to me you have dealt with severe PTSD…that means you deserve love and healing compassion from yourself.

      Congrats on freeing yourself from so many meds! Keep on keeping on. You give me strength.

  5. I thought there was something really wrong with me that I was so noise sensitive-I never attributed it to stopping some of my medications although that is when it became so apparant.. An ambulance siren can throw me into a full blown panic attack as well as that siren for severe weather or the “Amber Alert” beep on television or the beep from a microwave. I HATE firecrackers, and loud pop noises. I get an instant headache and feel my blood pressure rising and my sense of well being trickle away. The hum of the ref. or furnace can gradully bring me to a source of irritation that I can’t talk myself down from and so i try to cover it with light classical music, tapes of the wind blowing. My grandson and I play the “whisper game” and that can almost amuse me back into being “myself” This is the fist article I’ve read on this site. I have alot to think about now…hopefully the hum of my own thinking won’t throw me over the edge LOL Codi

  6. Gianna, you are on this earth to teach hope..Just as the potter spins the clay, it must transform, scrape pieces, fire in the kiln, so as we are as souls, we must transform as the object into beauty..You speak the language that many understand the sufferings…You bring a light to my journey..Thank you and there is a better life showing the world we won’t be used as subjects for the pharm industry..For every disease there is a plant that has cure..JoAnne Cromp

  7. Hi there what inspiring words you write, and an incredible insight you have, so much this male can relate to.

    Accepting my whole situation was my defining moment, and to learn to live with it not fight it.

    Might I just add, I was takinf Coedine and other painkillers along with various Anti Depressants a dangerous path to tread. now it’sthe painkillers I need to deal with better.



  8. Congrats, Gianna, you are getting stronger and stronger. I can feel your strength in your words and deeds.
    You are amazing in the work you do on your blog in the middle of all this. I take my hat off to you! You are the driving force in encouraging others ‘ to feel the fear and do it anyway’. We love you and wish you all the happiness and fulfillment denied to you by toxic, psychotropic drugs.

    You are discovering mindfulness. Through this powerful process you are learning to love yourself. Peace, love, understanding, relaxation, calmness and compassion are becoming part of your new drug free life. Way to go!!!!!


    I have a friend who has schizophrenia and was treated by Hoffer, she has been free, by free I mean absolutely symptom free for almost ten years.
    She is very unique, certainly not mainstream but she takes beautiful care of her children and is able to work parttime.
    Most people do not seem to get her and her crazy spriritual beliefs but I think I do, she seems to get me too.
    Hoffer put her back in the drivers seat.
    I can get the shit drugged right out of me and feel like I am of the dead yet I am still “crazy Jake”, I just move and think a little slower.
    I cannot continue on psyche meds much longer, I don’t want to be contained anymore. I am not ready to be dead, it is not the way to experience life. I reject living my life dying, I am chooosing to live my life by living.
    It gives me great hope reading your blogs and is providing me with incentive to “dry out”.
    I will keep in touch.

  10. absolutely…it reminds me of Pema Chodron and i don’t remember the exact example but how she talks about when you feel fear, picture it in form and talk to it one on one….thats broad but that has helped me through some horrific times of my panic disorder (especially when just reading a book to my son would send me in a panic attack last year….ridiculous..but i feel the drugs brought me to that level of panic).

    It is interesting hearing of others stories of how a drug or alcohol induced ‘mental illness’. When i was 13 and 14 i experimented with acid and that is about when i started dealing with depressions and shingles (i got this after acid one night and the dr looked at me and said are you stressed out? you are 13 and have shingles) and then skip a few years when i was 26 and drank enough margaritas totaling a large bottle of jose cuervo, i went into a chemically induced clinical depression VERY quickly w/ lots of anxiety/insomnia and was labeled bipolar after the 1st antidepressant they tried.

    And as i have been decreasing the lamictal at a more comfortable rate my horrible anxiety (paired w/ lots of breathing techniques..although i’ve always practiced these since i’ve had anxiety for years off/on, etc.) has diminished…knock on wood, lol….but i think its a sign that this drug may have been inducing symptoms in me, when they tried to put me up to 150 mg i had non-stop panic attacks and went back down to 100.

    Anyways………good stuff Gianna..being with the moment and knowing the certain feelings WILL indeed pass. Thanks for posting. Have a good day.

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑