The last installment of Keener’s story. Read for the delight of healing and recovery. For all chapters of this story go here.
So for the first time since I had entered hospital I was consenting to an ongoing medication regime, my old foe effexor. That first night I slept like a baby, something which I had not experienced for many weeks. I was woken up by an unknown woman opening up the flap in the door and yelling at me “MEDICATION”. No gentleness or good morning, animals to be herded. She promptly slammed the shutter and went on her way to complete her task, crashing down the corridor ordering us all to shuffle down, stand in line and wait for our cure. We were in boot camp. Whilst I was disgruntled at being treated like a prisoner, I happily queued up to take my tablet, so very pleased to be back on the right wave-length. Knowing that I just had to play the game for a little longer and then this bad dream would all be over.
My friend came to see me later that day. He came into my room and he looked at me, sussing me out. I had nothing else to say to him but to gasp at him – “I went insane”. I sobbed and hung on to him for dear life. The shock that I felt was mind-blowing, I could not breathe and I could not put any of it into words – it was all just so bloody unbelievable. I struggled to understand what this all meant for me. He urged me to cooperate with the staff, that they were trying to help me. I said to him “come off it, you know as well as I do that they are a bunch of arse-holes, you wouldn’t cooperate with them either, no way”. He laughed and told me that he knew I was back. Everything about me told him that – my tone of voice, my facial expressions, my body language – the crazy woman had gone.
For a while I sought out staff to talk to, I wanted to tell the world how very unhinged I had been. I was desperately trying to make sense of all that had gone on and I just wanted to reconnect with people. I explained to one guy how I had thought for a long time that the hospital wasn’t real and that it was all a set up. He looked at me and said mournfully “oh this place is real alright, I have worked here for ten years”. Jaded and self-absorbed he had no empathy or soothing words for me. He did not realise what a colossal realisation it had been for me. I was actively discouraged from talking about the delusions and the hallucinations, as if somehow this would make them come back or perhaps I would contaminate others. I was given no support whatsoever with coming to terms with the shock and trauma of it all, I was being pushed straight into getting on with things. No time to regroup the troops. The hardest thing to take in was the realisation that none of the delusions were true and that the world had gone on regardless. I went into a deep and secret mourning for some months, trying to adjust to the fact that the world had not ended. Britain had continued on without me, wrapped and sodden in greed, with people disconnected from one another and unsure how to be happy. I cried many a time for my loss. Unable to explain how empty I felt about the future. The magic that had been all around me had gone.
Most of the staff were extremely sceptical about the effexor bringing me round, despite my friends and families feed-back that I had returned to being the person that they knew. My key-nurse said to me a few days in to taking it “Keener, can I be honest with you”. I smiled at her and grinned, telling her of course, honesty is the best policy. She looked quite happy for a change. Then she looked at me with her familiar cold eyes and said “its gonna take more than a little bit of Effexor to make you well”. So I deflated right in front of her, trying to hold back tears, but unsuccessfully so. I found her to be so very, very cruel. I told her in hushed tones, imploring her to believe me – “I know my own body and I know my own mind”. She looked upon me with cold, calculating pity, and I just rushed out of the room, desperate to get away from her.
I was so scared to be on that ward, with the mania gone, there was no bravado left in me and I did as I was told. I was constantly being advised to quit my job as team leader of a mental health service. So I meekly agreed with them when they told me that I could not handle the work. Living with a mental illness and working in the field was an impossible task for me and so on and so forth. I wrote my resignation letter and went with my mum to post it one day. I agreed I could not go back to my job not for the reasons they gave, but because I could not bear to be part of such a disgusting, soul-destroying industry, I could not be complicit in it anymore. So I cast myself adrift from my career, education and training. I would feel lost and ungrounded without my vocation ticking solidly in my life for some time. I had made what I had thought was a life-long commitment to the caring profession, I thought it was essential to being me. So I resolved to myself to take some time out, but that I would return to reinvigorated and eventually get work as a mental health advocate. This eventually proved not to be.
I was discharged after a week of being back on the effexor, a week earlier than I had been told would be possible. This is because I was so clearly mentally well, or at least in terms of the original presenting symptoms. Physically, I was very frail and exhausted, but my body was making great efforts to mend itself. I had stopped bleeding down below, I no longer felt like I had the flu and my appetite was returning. I could not walk for longer than twenty minutes without becoming exhausted, but my strength was beginning to return. I was able to read and hold a conversation. I was taking an interest in other people’s welfare, Beener told me that this had been a sure sign to her that I had returned to my old self.
Yet, still the nursing staff could not accept that I had been experiencing effexor withdrawal. How they denied the evidence before their eyes is incredible, but there you have it. On the day I left the hospital once and for all, I went and had a chat with one of the more appealing nurses. She empathized with me that no wonder you were so angry, I would have been if I was you, knowing that I needed to take effexor. I felt pleased and vindicated. Then I observed the land shifting beneath my feet. She looked at me and said with great conviction and earnestness, you are well now but I cant guarantee that you wont need to come into hospital at times throughout your life. I sat there in disbelief, even now, they cling to their dogma. I did not argue, I did not try to educate her on the dangers of psychiatric drug withdrawal. I did not point out to her that the effexor was not curing me of anything, rather I needed to get back on to it to stabilse and that I would be getting off it again as soon as I was able. It is pointless to talk to people who cannot hear. I was just thankful to be getting away from them and their twisted logic.
So, after my third and final discharge, I spent a few weeks at my parents who live 200 miles away, both of them desperate for me to move back to them. I struggled and mused about this issue for a while. Seeing the pain in their eyes. I would wander around their house when they were at work, often screaming and crying, thankfully they don’t have immediate neighbours, with massive waves of panic attacks crashing into my mind, still trying to comprehend what had happened. Days of going from feeling sickeningly alone and scared to feeling intense waves of anger at how I had been treated and brutely disbelieved. This was not mental illness or bi-polar or any other abnormality. This was the effects of being traumatised. To heal from this takes time and my parents urged me to take it easy on myself. They encouraged me to eat and took me to have massages and aromatherapy. I had to play a waiting game. I didn’t want to, I just wanted everything back to how it was. But this was never, ever gonna happen and it took me many months to accept this without grieving bitterly over my loss. Time is the primary cure, there are no short-cuts, believe you me, I looked for them.
Little by little, I came to the conclusion that I could not return to living with my parents. I simply could not bare to lose everything, to become child-like and dependent again – I must continue to fight and to find myself. So bit by bit I began to spend time back at my own house and to try to accept the advise that I should try to just relax and enjoy life. Whilst I would experience hideous flash-backs and waves of remorse and bitterness, I also felt periods of joy as I sat in my garden, or basked in the hot sun – it was a glorious summer. I would laugh and grin from ear to ear, deeply grateful that I had managed to ‘beat the system’. Night after long night I would lie in bed for hours, arguing in my mind with the various foes that had tried to crush me. I lamented during the day that I was becoming a bitter and angry person and I was desperate to not let this consume me. I knew I had no choice but to forgive them, I did not want to hold hatred in my heart because it would destroy me and then they would truly have beaten me. I repeatedly reminded myself that you can bet they’re not laying in bed thinking about you, I was not significant in their life. So I meditated on the fact that they were not intentionally cruel and barbaric, they did think that they were helping me, although it was deeply misguided. Forgiveness with a selfish motivation, to release myself.
I began to live back at my house on a permanent basis and felt myself slipping into the old exhausted routine of needing at least 12-14 hours of sleep every night to feel able to function. I couldn’t bare the thought of being on this drug, I contemplated with great horror what it was doing to me. I felt sick to my stomach and would whinge to myself and others that I am a state sponsored drug addict. So I phoned up the psychiatrist after my friend encouraged me to do so and told him that I was unhappy with the sleepiness that the Effexor was causing. He told me that he had never heard of effexor doing that but suggested that I come in to see him. I accepted the appointment and thanked him, but when I got off the phone I flew into a rage-filled rant telling my friend exactly how angry I felt with Dr Wally and resisting with all my might the urge to pick up the phone and quote the list of side effects verbatim to him from the packet. Instead I cussed and spat out the fury that I felt toward him, as this abated it became clear to me that there was only one course of action – to withdraw from the effexor once and for all. No more waiting, I wanted to do it right now.
I saw Dr Wally and as I spoke to him softly and politely, he immediately noted to me how I seemed to be a completely different person to the one that he met on the ward. He apologised for not seeing that I had been suffering from withdrawal. However, this was never mentioned or even hinted at again and is certainly not written in my notes. It took two years for me to be taken off the register for those suffering from serious mental illness. Mud sticks and one must choose one’s battle carefully. The only thing I was interested in was having a successful withdrawal. He suggested that perhaps I should not rock the boat, as things were clearly going so well for me. So I explained that I could not abide the side-effects and that I did not believe that I needed to take them as I did not suffer from depression. So, he agreed to it, perhaps finally realising that I am not easily swayed when I have made my mind up. His advice on a withdrawal schedule was both ill-informed and unrealistic so I set about making my own plan.
I scoured the internet and knew that I had to go very slowly indeed. One evening I calculated how long it would take me to finish the withdrawal – two years. I was horrified at the prospect, I wanted it over now, I hated the fact that I had no choice but to continue taking it. It seemed like to find peace there were only two options, to resolve to take the poison for ever or to take a deep breathe and go for it.
As time went on, the end of summer was faintly visible and I began to tentatively think about what I should do with myself. Beener had signed up for a horticulture course at a local college and I decided to tag along. Looking for something normal to cling to. It was supposed to be for one evening a week, but various events meant that I ended signing up for a full-time course with a placement in a lovely 18th century garden to boot. Things just snowballed and fell into place, after a few months of this I was offered paid employment and Beener and I decided to take on an allotment. Everything was ticking along nicely … but I was withdrawing from Effexor and it would not let me have sustained joy and peace just yet.
I withdrew painfully slowly, crushing up the tablets into ever decreasing crumbs, carefully weighing them out and waiting to see what would happen to me. Ever vigilant for any sign of ‘losing it’. It ended up taking me two years and four months to complete my quest. I thought that going so slow would mean that I would not experience any withdrawal at all. However, for the last 4 or five months, I slipped into hell once more, albeit much more diluted. I was agitated, paranoid and had endless racing thoughts. Similar to the failed withdrawal attempt, but not overwhelming. I knew what was going on and why, and so I continued to try and force myself into functioning – going to work as a gardener, keeping the house clean, eating well and so on. For weeks and weeks on end I fought off disgustingly strong thoughts of killing myself. The image of my parents anguish when I was withdrawing before, meant that I did not entertain carrying out these urges, despite their relentless attack on my mind. When I wasn’t invaded by these thoughts I would be thinking about my loved ones dying, their funerals and how I would be left alone, rotting in my poky, dark house. I carried on, my judgement impaired about so many things, again I wasn’t the person my friends knew, but it was subtle enough of an outward change that peripheral friends and acquaintances were oblivious to what was going on. I put up a mask again and pushed my friends away. Once again alone. A pattern developed where I would wake up and immediately start crying, sometimes not really stopping all day. I had no techniques to prevent it, it, no comforting thoughts to tell myself. This was withdrawal, it took its own route and it hurt. At times I thought, maybe they’re right, maybe I do have Bi-polar and I need medication. However the light was beginning to glow at the end of the tunnel, I could vaguely make out its flickering flames. So I carried on, fighting for a happy future, with a smattering of bloody-mindedness thrown in, to help me achieve my goal. The most important dynamic involved was time, I had to learn to be patient.
So here I am three years on, tapping away at this keyboard. It is some 8 months that I have been clean of effexor and you know what – for the most part I am happy and content. I have days and days on end of it and I often sit and revel in this fact. I have gained so much in the last few months – I need much less sleep and I have a libido, a loss that had set me apart from others and left me apart from essential human experiences. So many people have said to me that the difference is tangible, for so very, very long my eyes looked dead and now they sparkle once more. I have to be careful, to not fall back into old routines and ways of thinking, to eat well, to get enough sleep, to remember that there really is nothing to worry about. In short, to continue to deal with the issues that brought me to the antidepressant path. But I feel on top of the game and so I venture forth, feeling re-born.
When I ask myself if I would change what happened if I could, I give myself a little grin and say most definitely and proudly that I would not. I actually feel lucky, for I truly appreciate the small things in life and I know where happiness can be found, and perhaps more importantly where it is not. So many dead ends and dark lonely corners to be avoided. Happiness and peace is inside of me and it was all along, I just didn’t know it. As Spike Milligan, so wisely put it “Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light”.
Links to the first several chapters are here if you’ve missed them pick them up here: Part 1 and 2 here and part 3 here, and part 4 here, and part 5 here and part 6 here and part 7 here and part 8 here and 9 here and part 10 here and part 11 here and part 12 here.