updated: July 2014
Tool box for coping with psychiatric drug withdrawal syndromes (and some chronic pain and/or illness too)
This is my tool box, where there are many tools that help support wellness. It’s not an exhaustive list, but at this point it’s a very long post! It’s a good collection of what I use most frequently and often daily. We all come up with different combinations of things to weather the journey through chronic illness. Perhaps some of my tools will be helpful for you too. If this post is helpful please feel free to copy it and share it broadly.
Someone reached me via a friend (as I no longer am able to regularly correspond with all my readers) and so I put this together initially in a simpler format for her. This person was looking for help with the severe nervous system chaos that is often part of our experience after drug withdrawal. This sort of chaos seems to happen most frequently with benzo withdrawal and then with antidepressant withdrawal, though it’s likely it occurs often with other drugs as well. I’ve seen it in all populations of psychotropic drug users. People like me who’ve been on a large combination of sometimes ALL classes of psych drugs, of course also commonly acquire such illness.
Along with a variety of intense autonomic nervous system problems, some of us also become bed bound and many of our symptoms are similar to other chronic illnesses that include pain and debilitation of many kinds.
Most people, I might add, do not get severely ill, but there are still many thousands of us who become seriously and chronically ill for some time. The reason many people choose to come off meds because they can begin making people very ill while still on them. A good number of other people don’t know why they’re sick and stay on the meds because no one tells them it’s the drugs doing it. The fact is these drugs cause chronic serious illness and many people don’t know it’s the drugs doing it. Coming off is often an additional nightmare but in the long run it’s coming off them that can give us our lives back. I know hundreds of such folks who have gone before me and therefore offer me inspiration that I too will get well again. I am already in better spiritual shape than while I was on drugs. Still the physical ramifications and limitations are very difficult and healing can be a glacial process.
So I put together a list of links with lots of commentary that I thought might be helpful to others too as coping strategies while sick as well as methods I’ve used during my rehab. It’s important to note that at the worst of my debilitation I could do no more than walk to the bathroom and sometimes the kitchen. I was effectively bed ridden for a couple of years. I did try to move about in my bed lifting limbs and stretching, etc. I could not have done more. During that time we must simply have patience and trust that we will in time regain strength. I did and pretty much everyone I have been in touch with through this process has too. I still have days where I end up in bed again and I respect my body’s need on those days, but overall, slowly, surely my body is getting stronger.
In some regards there is little to be done while we are sick…most of what those of us with severe withdrawal syndrome do is let time heal. But while time is healing us, we can actually do many things to support our bodies, minds and spirits–what those healing things might be in combination is going to be different for every person. For me learning what is helpful has taken years and lots of experimentation. I hope more than a little of the below might be appropriate for you too that you might not have to hunt as hard as I have.
I learned massive amounts from withdrawal support forums. I no longer frequent them, but they are a rich source of information and I would not know all I know today without having spent a lot of time in them. The trick is that as often as there is good information there is also not-so-good information. The below is the one I can most highly recommend at this time.
Right now this is the one I’m most familiar with – I’d say that it is the best one with the most grounded advice that I’ve been familiar with since I started using boards. That said, I don’t use the boards anymore and there may be other options that I’m not completely familiar with.
Most of the boards concentrate on some particular class of drug which is unfortunate for those of us on multiple drugs. This, perhaps was the biggest reason I frequented so many different boards.
Others boards and forums and organizations to help withdraw are mentioned in the link below and I still think it’s good to get information from different sources as each group tends to have its own dogma and/or blinders about certain things and you should find a place where you feel most comfortable:
● Online support in withdrawal — This post includes a list of many different places to get support and comments about how to best use groups and forums to get the best information for your particular needs…
My toolbox includes many things to do for well-being…the key ones are yoga:
- More YOGA links here
I started yoga while I was still bed-bound and I still do yoga from my bed at times. It’s ideal for rehabilitation. The above yoga post has links to other posts where I make suggestions about how to start very slowly.
Epsom salt baths help calm and reduce even severe pain. It may be subtle but it’s often a bit of relief when there is little other means of finding any:
A list of a few coping strategies for pain:
Below I share some ways of thinking about the illness that have helped me. You might consider some of them metaphors. I don’t imagine they will speak to everyone, but there are several different ways of thinking about it all included here.
● Reality is the full spectrum — good and bad, positive and negative
● Living well while being sick — my one year anniversary post in which I talk about learning to appreciate life even while being sick. This is the only life we’ve got. It’s worth finding out how to enjoy it always.
And some dietary and nutritional methods of helping heal:
Even if you don’t have recognizable gut issues, it’s likely that changing your diet will help support your healing process.
Gut / intestinal health is foundational to all health including mental well-being. It’s the first thing I attended to when I chose to come off psychiatric drugs. In healing my gut I needed to alter my diet. I’ve collected articles below that speak to these changes I made.
People who have taken psychiatric drugs often have gut issues. Sometimes these issues predate the psych drug use (as it did for me) and sometimes the psych drugs destabilize the gut and body in general and so the drugs are the cause of such issues. In either case it’s common that the use of psych drugs in time will further exacerbate the problem.
Meditation, too, has been totally important…though what it means at the height of these symptoms is rather an excruciating reality. Practicing with being with the sheer torture of iatrogenesis is something that can only be done in seconds at first. Distraction is often a more successful and necessary means of coping at such times, though I believe my persistence with seconds of meditation at a time paid off…and now my life is meditation essentially. There is a collection of some books that might get you started on meditation here if it’s an unfamiliar concept. Many links that include meditation on this blog are here.
If you’re a cat lover, I found a nice way to meditate when in a lot of pain is to hold my cat to my chest and meditate to her purring and/or her breathing. It’s very soothing. The purring and the cat become the object of meditation and it allows for a bit of distance from the pain in my body. My kitty is old and more than happy to spend hours with me in this manner. I’m blessed with a super medicine cat. My shaman cat I call her too, as well as my Zen Master Jezebel. Yes, I’m grateful to my cat.
I’ve also more recently discovered that swimming is wonderful. I went to a nearby lake twice this summer. That is heaven and I highly recommend it. With the weather change it’s more complicated. I can’t tolerate chlorine and it’s probably not a good thing for a lot of us who become sensitive to environmental toxins, but I found a local salt water pool. It too is heavenly. I’ve only been able to go twice because I’m not well enough to leave the house most often. If it was in my back yard though, I’d get in every day and paddle about a bit. Water just feels inherently healing to me…but I’ve always been part fish and used to be a competitive swimmer, so this, like everything on this page is a suggestion to whomever it sounds good.
I walk, walk, walk, whenever I can. Sometimes that is not at all. Even now. I started with just a few minutes (really like 2) up and down the street. Then a block. Then two blocks. Now on occasion I go to the woods and walk in nature. I highly recommend getting into nature whenever possible. For me that includes just getting my bare feet on the ground in my backyard when I can do nothing more than that.
Early on I would “forest bathe” daily in my backyard. I would go out barefooted and walk on the earth. I often laid on the ground and meditated as well. I also use the trees in our yard to do stretches. I felt drawn to do this and it’s become part of my practice. Feeling the earth just feels good. As I’ve gained more strength I leave my home when I am able and go into more wild nature whenever I can:
Tricycle — “Forest bathing” keeps you healthy — Tricycle — Studies show that spending more time in natural settings—forests, parks, and places with trees—improves the immune system. According an article in the New York Times, this is due to both stress reduction and chemicals that plants emit to protect them from rotting and insects called phytoncides. Exposure to phytoncides appears to lower blood pressure, pulse rate, and cortisol (a stress hormone), among other things. read the rest
Before I could walk or stand much I did yoga in bed and I also got little 1 and 3 lb dumbbell weights and moved them about with my arms while in bed. I also got a stationary bicycle. (via freecycle — I made a request and got about 4 offered to me, so I imagine there are a lot of free stationary bikes out there for the asking. I got my dumbbell weights from freecycle too and a mini trampoline!) I would sit on the stationary bike and peddle for 15 seconds when I first started and it was like that for months actually. That was all I could do. And the bike is great if your startle response etc is too big to be around people. I am lucky in that I live in a very quiet neighborhood and rarely have to see anyone at all when I walk. Standing in place exercise like lunges can make up for that to some extent. I did lunges along with my yoga once I started to be able to stand more. (Lunges don’t have to be deep, you do what you can and if it’s hardly “nothing” at first that’s okay. It’s SOMETHING to you!)
I’ve taken various supplements throughout the process of withdrawal and recovery. I cannot take many supplements that are considered benign and harmless for most people because of my weakened blood/brain barrier and the extreme sensitivity that has been created:
This is a fairly common problem among those of us who come iatrogenically ill from psychiatric drugs. One must be very careful about anything they ingest, supplements and drugs especially.
That said there are a couple of supplements that help with some of the nervous system chaos that I’ve found safe for me. The most significant perhaps is magnesium which I sip in water all day and night long. It helps with muscle cramping and sometimes general relaxation too. It can calm heart palpitations. I use this product which dissolves in water very easily and it doesn’t taste bad either. There are flavors by the same brand that taste better too, but they include stevia which I stay away from. It’s celebrated as a natural sweetener, but it’s processed to the hilt so I don’t buy that claim. I stick with whole foods pretty much always.
There are other things that, if tolerated, may be a good idea as well. Fish oil is generally a good idea for most people. Other things really depend, again, on each individuals needs. I find the best way to get nutrients is from a whole food, nutrient dense diet. Supplements should not be the main source of nutrients.
The other supplement that has helped me most greatly is Lactium. Lactium is a brand name but it’s in lots of different supplements. It helps ease me into sleep these days. It’s a milk peptide but doesn’t cause problems in most people who do not tolerate milk. (I don’t tolerate cow’s milk and I’m fine with it.) Swanson Vitamins carries the cheapest source I’ve been able to locate. You can ignore that it’s called a women’s product. The active ingredient is the exact same as any Lactium product. They’re simply marketing it to women in this instance. It works equally well for men for sleep. It’s a gentle and subtle help to get me to sleep and has been an important part of my toolbox in the last few months.
Another good resource for coping with the inevitable emotional upheaval involved in coming off psychiatric drugs is the article by John Breeding:
And finally as much as I sometimes hate the isolation that this illness has brought and I do talk about it as the very difficult issue it can be in this link, learning to embrace that time alone is also very necessary — alone time has been deeply healing for me:
Oh, I should also direct people to safer withdrawal info if one has not completed withdrawal. For many a slow and careful withdrawal can help avoid getting very sick. I was not so lucky, but it does often make a difference and coming off drugs too quickly increases the risks involved:
This may feel like an overload of information but you can take what is helpful and ignore the rest….or read a tiny bit each day. It took me years to collect all this and learn via trial what worked best for me.
And lastly, some links with some more recent information:
- My healing protocol detailed
- My growing herb list: healing with plants (be aware that I would not have tolerated these herbs the first several years I was healing. Please listen to your body and proceed with caution)
If this post is helpful please feel free to copy it and share it broadly.