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Where is the Frank Discussion of the Effects of Psych Meds?

Questioning psych meds and disease treatment

Questioning psych meds

If you believe the public education campaigns, the only problem facing people with “mental illness” is the “stigma” which stops them from seeking help.

The answer, apparently, is to get as many people as possible to believe the brain disease theory. Treatment “works”, we are told.

People Believe in Their Psych Meds

The people that are held up as examples, a shining light for everyone labeled with “mental illness,” all support this model. They proclaim that they “got sick,” found the right medications and psychotherapy, and are now in “recovery.” And the system – the various mental illness organizations – holds them up as “Faces of Mental Health.”

Any problems with the medications, or an authoritarian system that forced them into “treatment,” are conveniently missing from this narrative of psych meds and disease.

Sometimes, you hear someone saying, “I was scared for a long time,” or “I was confused,” but then they finish by saying. “But now I’ve found the right meds and feel just fine. And I’ve found really supportive workers”, etc. etc.

This has almost become a script. The people vaguely describe how they went through a really hard time when they didn’t believe they were sick, and then says how they’re much better now because of the drugs they were forced to take.

Force no longer seems to matter. It is a complete non-issue. The bottom line is always, “But I’m better now.  I’ve accepted my psych meds and disease.”

I’ve heard this numerous times. And then when I ask these people what ambitions they have, they kind of look at me blankly. Or they just sit there through our discussion, no real spark in their eyes. They may say, “Oh, my family keeps me really busy”, or they may volunteer at a mental health related organization, or go to a leisure group of some kind.

Sometimes people even mention the side effects of their medications. Though often even then they attribute these to their “disease”. For example, they may attribute apathy and emotional flatness to “schizophrenia” when antipsychotic drugs cause these problems.

Even physical problems such as diabetes and heart disease are widely attributed to lifestyle factors among the “mentally ill,” despite the clear knowledge that second generation antipsychotic drugs cause metabolic syndrome and early death.

I had a friend who died in his 40′s due to a massive heart attack. At the funeral, they said he had the heart of an 80-year old man. I believe it was caused by the decades of drugs he was on. No one else even hinted at the possibility that psych meds treatment were at fault.

Psych meds lobotomized me

Psych meds lobotomized me

Ninety-nine percent of the people I’ve met who self-identify as “mental health consumers” seem to have accepted the brain disease model. They won’t speak up about harm, because they are in a coercive system that has made them docile and compliant. They are so medicated that they can’t think straight. They can’t find their own voices. They don’t own their own lives.

To speak for those who can’t speak, I want to share my bad experiences with psych meds and the disease model.

And then I want to share how I’ve been earning freedom by accepting the reality of suffering, of oppression within an authoritarian mental health system.

 Psych Meds and Disease Thinking Lobotomized Me

The meds felt like torture when I was imprisoned, and forcibly drugged, in the hospital, even though I was a danger to no one. They sucked me down into unconsciousness, gave me akathisia and extreme dysphoria,  insomnia, and various other issues. I felt lobotomized.

I’ve also felt physically sluggish, and demotivated from the neuroleptic (a.k.a. “antipsychotic”).  It’s killed my joy. For the longest time, I had periods where I couldn’t get into anything. No interests. No hobbies. Just a feeling of being trapped inside.

I’ve had to reduce my meds just to be capable of functioning at work, and giving a damn in relationships. Just in order to have a hunger for life, instead of a constant inner emptiness.

I Gained Far Too Much Weight

The life expectancy of people on psych meds is measurably below the general population.  One reason is the obesity psych meds cause, and all the life-shortening medical issues connected with it.  I don’t want to die young, or end up diabetic. I am frightened because heart disease and diabetes run in my family.

As it is, even though I don’t eat badly, I am now an unhealthy weight, and that destroys my self-esteem. I never used to have weight problems like this before psych meds.

I weigh over 190 lbs, but am only five-feet-six. For a woman my size who isn’t athletic, 155 would be the high end of the healthy range.  I’m not fighting to be a Size 8.  At 130 pounds, I was too skinny.  I spent most of my life being an average-sized woman. Now, my waist is something like 37-38?, which is very unhealthy.

I can’t adjust to being 40 pounds overweight, no longer fitting into many clothes they sell at “normal” stores. Last summer I had to order an XXL jacket. That was humiliating.

I Didn’t Face My Problems

By the time I’d been on drugs long enough, and endured enough trauma in the hospital, I was thoroughly convinced I had defective biology, would never have a life, and had to rely on finding the “right meds,” which never were found.

Diagnosed and medicated over and over

Diagnosed and medicated over and over

This meant that even when I tried to “help” myself, “help” meant finding some substance to fix me. The search for the biological fix came to consume my attention.

I lost my ability to think critically about society and the possible larger causes of my distress. I lost the ability to see myself as an emotional being with a spirit that was broken.

And so I made no progress.

When I reached a point of desperation from being so numbed and slowed, I would stop the drugs abruptly, triggering withdrawal symptoms and rehospitalization. Then I was imprisoned, put back on drugs, and the cycle of meds and disease repeated itself.

To the world, this was validation that I was indeed “sick” and needed “my meds” for life.

It was an on or off thing. On and miserable. Off and crazy.

Fighting For A Life

In order to end the cycle, I had to make a life while impaired.

In the early years, I would be thrown in the hospital for three weeks, leave, and get off drugs.  Since 2006 I’ve been on drugs more or less steadily. I’ve been forced to be on them. And so my body has adjusted, meaning that I need to wean off the medications. No more cold turkey for me.

And so, in order to dig myself out, I had to accept that I was feeling awful. I had to accept that I hated the way the drugs made me feel.

I had to get a job when I could hardly think.  I had to hold down a job when I felt lobotomized.  I had to do it to get the chance to reduce my drugs.

I’m forced into a relationship with the system, and its medication, while I work on my emotional problems, demonstrate that I can behave well, live my life, and earn my freedom.

I’ve had to negotiate from within an abusive relationship with the mental health system that I didn’t choose to enter.

And now I’ve been out of the hospital for 18 months, the longest in years. I’ve held down this job for over a year. I have friendships. I’m writing again. I’m learning and growing. And in the past year, I have come off one drug completely, reduced another by 50 percent, and reduced the neuroleptic by about 20 percent. Enough to take the edge off.

From an intolerable state, my life has become bearable, because I harnessed my own inner resources, as impossible as that seemed at first.

Accepting My Suffering Was Essential

When you accept that you are suffering, it doesn’t mean that you abdicate hope for the future. It means that you recognize that, for now, your suffering is unavoidable, and must be borne with dignity.

One of the worst aspects of being on psych  meds was that I often felt that I wasn’t mentally “there,” that I couldn’t even contemplate my own suffering. Through the drugged fog, I could hardly muster the words to describe my tremendous torment.

Yet within me was a will to live. Primitive, unable to put into words, but a core vitality. On some level, I was looking out for myself as best I could under those circumstances.  As the expression goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

Where is our anger?

Channeling our anger

Channeling our anger

I wonder if those people I met at so-called “mental health” organizations were really as satisfied as they seemed with their psych meds. There was a peculiar absence of anger. No one would engage in any critical discussions. Yes, they would complain about how a drug might make them feel, but they would also be quick to point out that they needed meds because of their “disease”.

I want to know what happened in the “confused” times that they vaguely alluded to.  Were those the times when they fought back?

Was distress, outrage, their fight-or-flight response, all concentrated in those periods that they later called “sick?”  Were they abdicating ownership of their own dissent?

Was it only present in memories, of being forced into the back of police cars, of being held down and injected with drugs, of being locked in rooms all night?  Was it something that fled as soon as the doctors and nurses told them over and over again that they had broken brains?

Where is the honest discussion of psych meds?

 

 

Wordworks Blog Author: Hannah Cohen

Hannah Cohen writes under a pseudonym to avoid discrimination for her psychiatric history. She lives in Canada, where she was forcibly hospitalized and drugged for years, fighting against being labeled. In 2006, she was locked up so long and drugged so much that the system broke her will and convinced her she was disabled for life. After years on welfare and disability, she started working again and clawing her way back into a full and satisfying life. She is now weaning off psychiatric drugs and rediscovering her own mind and heart.

10 comments to Where is the Frank Discussion of the Effects of Psych Meds?

  • grahame

    Hannah,

    One of the best things I have ever seen about the crime that is medication based treatment.

    I grew up in a family where I was constantly emotionaly betrayed and subjected to various forms of physical abuse and bullying, I ended up useing pot to self medicate. I got a psychosis and presented to a doctor in a small country town. After one 40-minute consultation in a clinic with a young shrink i was put on 80% maximum dosage of **** and left to rot. Every side effect i was told was in my imagination or another mental llness and they must of tried every anti depressant and mood stabiliser that exists…I was told my metabolic change was bipolar…i was told that if i was angry i was sick. No doc in my area will treat me now, i am stuck in poverty and have not touched psyche drugs in over 5 years. side effects though are still debilitating as is the label.
    I never did anything wrong for 6 years on that drug, never hospitilised, no outbursts, no nothing.its scary how easliy a live can be wrecked.

    Recently i just lost a pet i have had for 11 years, while i was on ***** I lost a few pets and this time was much different, I actualy grieved, I actualy felt the numbness there is after losing a part of you. On ***** I never experienced these natural normal emotions.

    I still remember vividly the periods of extreme stress and how i was effected on ***** compared to now….

    can i implore you to keep fighting, keep advocating, getting the message out there? i find when i speak to everyday people about friends of mine in psych and what goes on, people have a remarkable understanding and emphathy , but when you speak about yourself it’s abit lesser.

    Thank you a hannah,

    Editor’s note: It is Wellness Wordworks’ policy not to mention specific drugs by name. Each individual reacts differently to each different drug. We do not want anyone to seek or avoid a drug based solely on someone else’s experience, good or bad.

  • Keep up the good work! However all behavior-control chemicals are neurotoxic so it doesn’t matter whether you use their names. They all work by destroying brain/body tissue. Some people get more disabled faster, which accounts for the different experiences we have. Yet, I believe all drugs must be available to all people. It’s not up to the sellers of the drugs (pharma companies, medical workers) to permit or deny access. Don’t give your power over to merchants who pretend to have authority over you in order to control you and take your money.

  • Maxine

    Keep up the great articles and posts, Hannah. Would like to see your articles published in Major Media.

  • Jon Swift

    Great article. Captures what I feel. I’ve had 20 years of my life stolen by psychosis and meds … feel very angry with the psychiatrists and the system.

    Keep writing, Hannah.

  • Bob

    Drugs are the easy answer that has been fostered on the american people for several decades. But these just help to mask the various problems which need to be addressed by each individual. While anger can have its benefits – such as providing the energy to seek solutions – it can also cloud judgement – and prevent individuals from taking the needed steps when opportunity presents itself. On my website http://www.approach2balance.org not only do I have my ideas on helping to make a first rate mental health system – but also a section on Buddhist Psychology & Anger – which I’ve used to help me past the rage I’ve experienced due to the indignities I’ve encountered in my journey through the mental health/ criminal justice system.

  • Bromiliad

    While I agree with some points of the article, most of it is based on anecdotal evidence, not hard data. I think most of it is irresponsible fear-mongering.
    I was hospitalised recently with acute depression and anxiety. I am being assessed for Aspergers, PTSD and Bi-polar Disorder. I am now using a low dose Diazepam to manage the anxiety and I have been asked to consider a long-term prescription of mood stabilizers for my mania. While I do enjoy my manic episodes, it’s hard to keep my shop open and serve my customers once I come crashing back to earth.
    I would prefer to manage my health through lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, stress avoidance and abstinence from recreational drugs such as alcohol, nicotine and THC.
    But I am considering augmenting my rehabilitation with a low dose of prescribed drugs, if the positive outcomes outweigh the inherent side effects.
    A lot of people use prescribed medication, without adjusting their lifestyles, then accuse the medication of not working. If you let yourself be sedentary and over-consume media, unhealthy food and drugs, of course you’re going to be depressed and/or go crazy.

  • As the mental healthcare system shrinks due to economics – our jails become filled with the chronically mentally ill who seem to share a common theme. They stopped their medications. True, meds have many side effects – but if it means living in an institution without dignity or worse – one must weigh all the options available.

  • I really liked this article. I could relate to so much of it! @PeteinNY that is what i think every day…that I would rather take meds now than be locked away in a home somewhere. But why is that the choice? Being in hospitals really scared me and left scars. even worse is the notion that they were trying to help me. Its complex. I think mental health is a very complex issue… and we need to be able to discuss these things openly and develop social networks for protecting those who experience illnesses.

  • Well said, Hannah. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone else say this with any clarity. All around excellent article. Please keep writing and don’t let anyone distract you by trying to prove you wrong or that “meds help some” because as you pointed out most often its the side effects and withdrawals that are being experienced but we are told it is “illness”.

    It is so very sad to me after losing 15 years of my own life to these lies , to see more people being drawn in when they ask for “help”.

  • Cheryl

    The honest discussion is being blocked by fear. An uninformed public fears that bizarre behavior is dangerous; they fear for their safety and so believe the psychiatric pronouncement of disease and medication. As for the medicated… thank you for putting my sentiments into words. It is so frustrating to be traumatized by forced injections and then have others/peers at health organizations respond to your pain with a simple nod and reassurance that a good doctor and the right meds are key. Or even tell their own story of abuse, rape or brutalization, but do it devoid of emotion as if the only thing one can really responsibly do is acquiesce. But again, I think it comes down to fear. Fear of losing their foothold in societal membership, their mental health org. position and the token meaning they derive from it, fear of losing housing, fear of losing the peace in familial relations, fear of worse torture by the psychiatrists for displaying “a lack of insight” into their illness.

    I do not know how you managed to hold a job…unfathomable to me. I could not. I chose a suicide attempt (and yes, it got me out of the forced treatment but only after I made clear that I was going to keep trying until I succeeded as long as I was forced to take drugs and my mother had a few private words with “Mengele”). I suspect that the benignly medicated ones are in their own way struggling to survive and preserve a shred of personhood and dignity. They cut the best deal available to them.

    Your strength is admirable. Thank God people like you exist. Thank you for being an example of endurance. Now if only there were a way to effectively network and educate the public, the psychiatrists and the mindlessly duped.

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