I have been off all psych meds for nine months. Life has been good.

(UPDATE 2016 — I am still in touch with this friend and he remains healthy and is thriving! That’s over 6 years that he’s been doing very well. He just got back from a business trip in which he had to travel half-way across the world) 

My friend from BipolarLife sent the below wonderful and beautiful recovery story. At this time when I am just fourteen days drug-free this account warms my heart more than he can know. Thank you, friend, for sending this to me when I need it so badly.

By the blogger at BipolarLife

Nine months. I have been off all psych meds for nine months. I took a Trazadone to sleep once in there but I think you’ll forgive me for not counting that. Life has been good since that last pill back in May of 2009. Things that were lost, like my memory, have been found. Creativity has been rediscovered. Insanity has gone away. The whole experience of life before then seems shrouded in fog. This is perhaps my mind’s way of dealing with the pain of those years or perhaps this is simply time pulling spider webs over the past.

Maybe it was fitting that I took that last Depakote in the springtime under the imagery of new life and rebirth. Many sacrifices were made in order to get the toxic medications out of my system and to remove the demons from my mind. It took two years to safely taper off the seven medications that I was taking for a bipolar diagnosis. It took a revaluation of a lifetime of choices and a determination to make better ones going forward. Quitting a high-paying but high stress and ultimately disastrous career choice. Accepting that we cannot go from being one thing right into being something else and allowing for a long period of healing. Forgiving myself for using up my retirement savings to live on to allow for that time of healing. Knowing that I will most likely never make that kind of money again.

Still, I am lucky. I had the money saved so that I could quit my job so that I could deal with the final period of withdrawal. I had a way out besides letting depression spiral out of control and doing something drastic, like killing myself. I have friends who tease me now about my “retirement”. They know that I had a difficult time and that I was taking psych meds but I did not burden them with the whole story. I never told them about the suicidal nights, the months long soul crushing depressions, the Russian roulette game of new medications, the hallucinations, the crippling anxiety, what amounted to chemical castration, and the deep shame of being labeled with bipolar disorder. I reserved all that for therapy and bipolar groups. For over 15 years from the time that I took that first Paxil until that last Depakote last spring I was essentially alone with my illness. Different doctors were involved during this time in 15 minute increments, therapists who listed to my revelations while remaining clinically removed, pharmacists who dispensed my prescriptions, emergency room personal who pumped me up with Ativan during my numerous panic attacks, family doctors who dealt with the physical fallout from taking psych meds long-term and a surgeon who cut into me to fix a rather nasty side effect. Sure the bipolar groups that I attended were nice and I liked the people but we only came together for that hour and then dispersed to our varied and unrelated lives. My primary connections were over the Internet with other bloggers who were going through what I was. Sensitive, anonymous writers who opened up and shared their lives with me and who I shared to in turn. My blog was my life line and what kept me sane during those years of anguish.

When I first approached my new psychiatrist about going off meds we had little information on how to do so safely. The drug manufacturers don’t publish any instructions because you are expected to stay on meds your entire life once you go on them. I was lucky to find Beyond Meds and Mind Freedom who’s instructions on what to expect and how to safely go about it were extremely helpful. Still, mistakes were made. Two years was too fast. Looking back I would have added an extra year on to the Depakote taper. In my experience Paxil and Depakote are extremely hard on the body to withdraw from. I have heard horror stories about benzos but the small amount that I was on was pretty easily tapered off. Well, except for the super fun panic attacks that I got from that. Yay! With every drop in Depakote I would reliably get extremely depressed and sometimes suicidal for up to two weeks. Then my mood would even out until the next taper. With each dosage decrease my moods got better and more stable. However, the withdrawal with each taper got more and more severe to where I was terrified of dropping the dosage because of the expected mood swings. Which is why I quit my job towards the end. I knew that there was no way that I could both work and allow myself to repeatedly fall to pieces at the same time.

Was it worth it? Sweet Jesus, yes. For years I lacked any form of creativity. I had thrown out all of my work from art school and didn’t have any interests outside of work. About halfway through the drug taper my creativity came back and I began exploring ways of creating art that I hadn’t thought of before. I felt alive and happy for the first time in years. Even with my irregular moods I was happy. But you know, not TOO happy.

It will never be known if I truly had or have bipolar disorder. Was it an anti-depressant that kicked me into a bipolar cycle? Each ensuing med definitely made me crazier. Why were the doctors so insistent that these new “symptoms” were signs of my “disease” getting worse and not created by the medications themselves? One doctor even told me with a straight face that psych meds had no side effects! He called me an alarmist. Not that I am anti-psychiatry nor am I anti-med. I believe that there is a time and a place for psych meds. They are fine for what they were created for, short-term crisis intervention. Talk therapy can be wonderful and I credit Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for helping me to see and change the negative patterns in my thinking. I was seriously depressed when I originally sought help, but I was appropriately depressed. My father had killed himself in a rather violent way and I was understandably upset. Everyone was so concerned about getting me back to work as quick as possible rather than allowing me to have the necessary time to grieve. I am partly to blame. I wanted the quick fix. I wanted the pain to go away. I filled that first prescription, no one held me down and administered it.

It was wrong of me to expect a quick fix and think that I wouldn’t have to change my life to promote well-being. Loss, shock and grief take time to heal and you can’t go from being one thing right into being something else. Maybe we should gnash our teeth and wail like some Middle Eastern people do when faced with loss. The rise in depression and the use of psychiatric medications in our society is the symptom of a social disease. In my opinion it is the manifestation of our fear of death and of pain. But pain and death happen to all of us daily. We have so many distractions so that we don’t have to think about it and now we have pills that try to numb us from our fear, but they don’t work and for many of us they lead to destructive labels being placed on us.

Mental illness does exist but it isn’t necessarily a lifetime sentence. Was I bipolar? The fact is you don’t know and I don’t know and medical science doesn’t know. People need varying amounts of support and love during their lifetimes. Some will need more than others. The majority however, need support and love and the ability to live with their fear. To allow themselves to be nothing and then experience rebirth. Life is a gift. It’s a big, ugly, painful, glorious, wonderful, shitty gift. And then you die. And that’s okay.

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