Back in the late 60's, women were quite often presecribed Valium for any emotional complaints or what used to be called "hysteria". It became the "new normal" and the Rolling Stones, in 1966, came out with their song "Mommy's Little Helper". I was prescribed Valium back then but I really don't remember why or what my complaint was. It does the trick to sedate and has a calming effect on anxieties and that was the goal; to help, mostly women, deal with life's frustrations. I was working for the local newspaper office at the time proofreading and collating a cookbook. I would take some Valium in the morning before going to work and a couple of hours later, I was snoozing and salivating with my head buried in the hamburger casserole recipe on page 20.
I needed the job and napping wasn't listed as a job perk, so I didn't take the Valium for any length of time and don't remember having any withdrawal effects. From what I know from studying these minor sedatives/anti-anxiety drugs is that Valium has the longest half-life of all of them so probably that helped with the withdrawal and that I wasn't yet "hooked" on it. Valium, being a benzodiazipine, can be quite addictive and very difficult to get off but much easier than those with a shorter half-life. Half-life meaning the time it takes for half of the drug to metabolize and be eliminated from the body.
Help! I'm Suicidal!
My second experience with psychiatry back in the early 90's was, admittedly, a cry for help. Without going into detail, I will just say that my life seemed to be falling apart. I felt suicidal and desperate. I picked up the phone book (yes, we used them back then) and found a psychiatrist's name and dialed the number. I nervously, in panic mode, explained to the receptionist why I was calling. She told me she would have the psychiatrist called me ASAP. I was very relieved when he returned my call but was completely baffled by his response and what he asked me was a blessing in disguise. He asked if I had health insurance. I said no and his reply was "Then I can't help you". I knew little about the ''system" back then and was very confused by his response to a suicidal person. What I realized years later is that no insurance meant no treatment. Money trumps suicide. The desperation and contemplating suicide faded and life went on without the help of the "compassionate" psychiatrist. I know now that if I had insurance at the time, I would have been a psychiatric unit on suicide watch with all my rights taken away and on a regimen of medications. I thank God to this day that the psychiatrist didn't care if I committed suicide or thought I wasn't worth the bother if I couldn't pay.
I did eventually see someone for a couple of therapy sessions at the local mental health clinic and of course, given a prescription for Prozac. A wondrous drug! Emotionality gone. Sleep is good. Sexual pleasure non-existent. I joined the Zombie Nation! I have never been good at following medication regimans, so I think I eventually would just forget to take them. Prozac also has a long half-life, so with not being on it very long didn't cause any issues with withdrawal that I can remember.
Then in 2001, my son was "caught' in the psychiatry web when he had a unusual experience when he abruptly stopped using marijuana and alcohol during his third year in college. He was prescribed Risperdal, an atypical antipsychotic and Wellbutrin, an antidepressant. This brought him into a lifetime of cycling in and out of hospitals resulting in not knowing who he is anymore. His experiences within the psychiatric system led me to my "official" diagnosis of mental illness.
During one of my son's hospitalizations, I was furious what the meds and psychiatry were doing to him. I spent many hours compiling a letter to the psychiatrist, the board of directors, state officials, and anyone else I could find that might listen. I explained how the meds were making him worse and went into detail after many hours of reserch about the meds. I knew I was right. I did get a response from one agency and a patient advocate that said they would investigate my claims, but I never heard from them again. My son was eventually released, and I sent for his medical records. I found my answer as to why the agency and advocate did not follow through. This is where I found out I was mentally ill; diagnosed by my son's psychiatrist whom I never met. It read "This patient's mother is as mentally ill as her son". Wow! Did I get angry? No. I shrunk to the size of a mushroom. I was literally sick to my stomach; afraid, humiliated, and scared. He went on to state that his staff were in full agreement with his assessment of me. I learned to shut up...to be silent...not to make waves. I was the neurotic mentally ill mother. I wondered what his diagnosis of me was. Schizophrenic? Bipolar? Delusional? Paranoid? When I think about it now, I know it was the psychiatrist's way of silencing me and to ward off the agenices I had contacted to protest his harsh treatment of my son. Of course they would believe a doctor over a neurotic mother. I found out later I could have sued him for his diagnosing me without me being present for a thorough assessment but fighting these guys in court is pointless. That's another story to tell. The Court of Sham. No, I did not misspell sham.
I fell into the trap again a couple of years later when life got overwhelming again. I was taking care of my aging mother at the time along with my son being hospitalized again. I had brought her to a doctor's appointment and as I sat in the patient room waiting for her to return from them running some tests on her heart, I felt an overwhelming sensation of exhaustion and emotionality that surrounded my entire being. I hastily went to the appointment desk to see if anyone was available to talk to. They sent me to a Nurse Practitoner who dismissed my story midsentence and calmly stated "Oh, your depressed". Within minutes, I was given a prescription for Lexapro, a newer antidepressant than Prozac. She also referred me to a counselor and I engaged in a couple of therapy sessions along with a prescription for Wellbutrin!
I had not started the Lexapro yet as I was having apprehensions as to be expected. I decided to try to the Wellbutrin first. If you want an upper, this is it! Can't sleep..restless legs...a bit of akathesia anyone? Akathesia is the worst. I couldn't sit still. You pace because your body feels like it's on fire from the inside. I chucked them in the garbage.
Now for the Lexapro. By now I knew that these drugs were a disaster, but I decided to see what exactly it would do. That was a big mistake because this one is a "Big Whopper" compared to the regular "Whopper". I was so numbed out that I lost every bit of what it is to be alive. I was taking college classes at the time and studying was impossible. I would sit at the table rereading the same page over and over; not comprehending a thing I had read. My oldest son was so alarmed by my robotic, non-emotional presentation, that he insisted I throw them away. The last straw came one night during dinner with my husband. He must have said something that made me angry and my reaction was shocking. I was holding a fork and I turned it into a weapon as if I were holding a knife. I held it up with the impulsive urge to stab my husband with it. I stopped myself before plunging it into his throat. It was a sensation I had never experienced before and was very disturbing to me and to my husband, to say the least, as he stood there with his mouth open in confusion. I knew at that moment that it was a result of the Lexapro and needed to get off it. Caution! Physician's Desk Reference of Psychiatric Drugs lists homocidal ideation as a side effect! I quit taking it cold turkey which was another bad decision. My legs jerked non-stop and the brain zaps were intense. I couldn't sleep. I knew I had to go back on the Lexapro and wean off slowly. I did just that and still endured withdrawal effects but I made it through and that was the last time I took any of their dangerous drugs.
I developed severe diverticulitis resulting in a very inflamed colon and needed very high doses of Prednisone after I was misdiagnosed with Crohn's Disease around 2014. I had lost so much weight from not being able to eat and had become anemic. Prednisone is quite an interesting steroid which affects the adrenal glands. I would lie in bed and never sleep. By 2 a.m., I was ready to go grocery shopping at Walmart. I cleaned my house from top to bottom, rearranged all the furniture, painted all the walls, redecorated the bathroom, and tremored constantly. I felt a bit manic and it rather scared me that maybe, just maybe, I was mentally ill until I mentioned by behaviors to several nurses. They described having the same experiences while on Prednisone! Ok, I wasn't crazy. Prednisone can be crazy-making! I had to be taken off the Prednisone prior to colon surgery. Coming off Prednisone is a process because of it's dysregulation of the adrenal glands and the doctors were very careful in tapering me off. I have experienced such a difference in medical doctors compared with psychiatrists in regards to tapering people off medications.
Morphine Psychosis Anyone?
I was finally off the Prednisone and in the hospital for colon surgey which quite a common procedure these days but does result in a lot of post-surgery pain. Trusting my surgeon and the medical staff to take care of me was not questioned...until the morphine drip made for a wild ride. It was like being awake and but not really awake. I would see the doctor and a nurse standing by my bed conversing and the next second actually waking up with no one there. This kept happening! Relatives came to see me that were never there. My husban built a wooden fence gate on my bed! After a couple of nights of these bizarre experiences, I explained what was happening to the night nurse and asked him if they could switch pain meds. He obliged and the hallucinations went away. Am I crazy? No. These drugs are teaching me how they can mess with the brain.
From my own experiences on different types of drugs, I know that I was right in defending my son. When Big Pharma can't tell me how they "work", what in God's name are we doing subjecting so many to drugs we have no idea how they are affecting, not only the mind, but the body!
Psychiatrists only see us as a walking chemically imbalanced brain as if separate from the rest of the body. Was the psychiatrist correct in declaring me mentally ill? Nope. It was a cop out. I have little respect for them and am no longer scared of them. They practice their own religion with their delusions of miracle pills and pseudo-science. I am okay. I have anxiety at times. Who doesn't? I feel depressed at times. You too? I get overwhelmed at times. Welcome to the club. That's life. That's being human. I learned that psychiatry is all about little blue pills, green pills, and pink pills. Colorful little things that remind me of candy at the local Widman's Store with the nostalgic soda fountain when I was a kid. Aren't those pills pretty? What harm can they do?
I learned not to trust psychiatrists from my own experiences and from others who should never have been subjected to psychiatry's paternalism, narcissism, and laziness. Their belief in a science that is questionable and has all but destroyed too many lives. I survived. Thank God I did my research. I read books like Mad in America and Anatomy of An Epidemic by Robert Whitaker and many other books. I read my textbooks. I went to University to study biological and clinical psychology. In Pharmacology classes, they teach only the minor side effects and not a hint of withdrawal problems. They don't teach about the brain changes that might become permanent; creating a community of chronic patients.
I taught myself to "question everything, assume nothing". A very wise Suzy Kassem wrote "Most of the time, we see only what we want to see, or what others tell us to see, instead of investigate to see what is really there. We embrace illusions only because we are presented with the illusion that they are embraced by the majority". I agree with her. Tomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, stated in one of his blogs "We lack cures, we lack vaccines, and we lack diagostic markers. Terms like 'depression' or 'schizophrenia' or 'autism' have achieved a reality that far outstrips their scientific value".
It's like looking at the forest through the trees. The real cause is right in front of you. Can't you see it?
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash The Monster in Our House How psychiatric medication brought my father to the brink of madness
Jan 2, 2019
My cell phone rings.
“Is this ‘Robik’?” someone asks.
“That’s my nickname,” I answer, confused. “Who’s this?” It’s a police officer.
“We think we have your father here. He says he’s trying to get into your house.”
“I’m in my house. Where are you?” They’re outside, down the block. My mother and I run out to the street and approach the unforgettable scene: my father, old, grey and stiff, arms bleeding in handcuffs, is sobbing and yelling, surrounded by officers.
“You hurt me!” my father yells. “Why do you hurt me?” My mother and I, mortified and scared (please don’t shoot him, I pray to myself), run up to them.
“Does he have dementia?” an officer asks.
“Yes, I apologize for this.” I’m relieved to have an explanation. They take him out of the handcuffs and allow us to walk him home. My father tells me that he’s sorry, that he decided to take a walk but coming back he couldn’t discern which house was ours. So he started entering neighbors’ houses. We cry as we hold each other.
We had already warned him not to leave our house. We had already taken his car away. We were making plans to take away his cell phone. We were battling with the million little details of dementia. So we thought.
My father’s transition from being an independent person to one who could no longer care for himself was messy and prolonged. It took years for us to truly recognize his decline. We knew he was on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications and that they didn’t seem to be successful. We supported his decision to sell his small business and go on disability because of debilitating stress and anxiety. He was nearing retirement age anyway. We agonized over his deteriorating driving skills and his increasing disorientation. We worried that he wasn’t taking his medications properly, or might even be over-medicating himself. But since he lived on his own — an hour away from family — we couldn’t be entirely sure what he was doing. To make matters worse, he was being sued by his downstairs neighbor for making excessive noise while walking in his home. We hired lawyers and acoustics experts and negotiated a settlement, but this is where my father seemed to spiral.
No one tells you when it’s time to take over for a parent’s care. You just realize that someone’s at the end of their rope, and they’re about to fall.
My realization came when my father’s housemate called us to let us know he had driven my father to his first electroshock treatment.
“Why is he getting electroshock treatments?”
“He says he’s depressed. He says he wants to die.”
When I called the clinic that was performing the “emergency” electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on the advice of my father’s newest psychiatrist, it was clear to me that they did not know what medications he was taking, were expecting him to get himself to and from the clinic without driving (he planned to drive himself until we intervened and paid people to drive), believed he would actually follow their instructions (you’re not supposed to drive for at least a week after your last treatment), and believed he was on the brink of committing suicide. But my father was almost 70 and had never attempted suicide. I was alarmed.
Another important note: an MRI later revealed that my father suffered a mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack) some time before his psychiatrist signed him up for ECT.
“Do you know that my father is showing signs of memory loss and confusion?” I asked the clinician. “Are you sure electroconvulsive therapy won’t exacerbate this?”
“Although there can be mild memory loss from the ECT, your father is suffering from treatment-resistant depression, and the ECT can help him.”
He was wrong. It didn’t help.
You may have already heard that the statistics behind short-term and long-term effectiveness of psychotropic drugs are dubious — that for many people they simply don’t work or are harmful. You may have heard that the shifting emphasis on prescription drugs for mental health has not necessarily improved mental health. You may have heard about the hidden evidence that some anti-depressants can increase a person’s risk of suicide. So consider this anecdote as a warning, with one important message: psychotropic drugs do not “balance” a person’s brain chemistry. They alter it, sometimes to an astonishingly harmful degree.
Disclaimer: There are people who have psychological/neurological impairments that require medications. But I believe that number is far smaller than the number of people actually being medicated for psychological/neurological conditions.
I never believed my father was clinically depressed. To the contrary, my father was gregarious, energetic and hard-working. He was a born performer, playing guitar, singing, performing as Santa Claus, emceeing wedding receptions, or reciting one of thousands of memorized poems and jokes. He had a witty, if caustic, sense of humor and he was always “on” in the company of others. The term “bi-polar” or “manic depressive” would more aptly describe him, though his highs well outweighed his lows. I featured some of my father’s antics and talents in a compilation of old home movies — an entertaining glimpse into his typical disposition.
As I grew up, I recognized my father’s personality in people like Robin Williams (I’ll return to this point later). Like him, and like so many creatives with “dangerous gifts”, my father had demons. His marriage to my mother was deeply dysfunctional. He was a serial adulterer. His drinking of alcohol was likely influenced by his Russian genetic and cultural heritage. (Alcohol, I should note, is one of the most potent depressants a human can ingest.) And, as someone who had a family to support after immigrating to America at almost 40 years old, he shouldered immense levels of stress. He worked constantly. And the career he fantasized about, one full of music, singing and poetry, never materialized.
My father’s first foray into psychiatric medications coincided, not surprisingly, with the collapse of his marriage. A therapist prescribed Zoloft for depression. This was twenty years ago, before the term “chemical imbalance” was in vogue.
Following the Zoloft, two strains of a pattern emerged. Either my father would feel better and stop the medication, or he would feel worse and a doctor would increase his dose or introduce new medications. Throughout this pattern, my father continued to drink and never went to any sort of therapy. This lasted for close to two decades. He altered his mental state with pills and alcohol, which resulted not only in no improvement to his mental or emotional well-being, but ended with him abandoning his business and feeling worse than he ever had.
For me, there are a few clues that my father was misdiagnosed and mistreated. Medical professionals were probably rarely, if ever, exposed to the reality of my father’s bi-polar personality, because when he was manically “happy” he was not making doctor’s appointments. It’s doubtful he confided in them about his level of drinking, partying and dysfunctional relationships with young women. Additionally, there was a language barrier. It was easier for my father to make simple statements, like “I’m depressed” and “I don’t want to live”, rather than try to find the appropriate English words to delve into his mental state and his manic lifestyle. He also probably became unable to differentiate between what might have been a side effect of one the multiple prescriptions he was on, and what was his own self-diagnosed mental health issue. Most people, including doctors, don’t really know what the behavior they are seeing indicates. Unhappiness, sadness, boredom, stress, these can all come across to a doctor or patient as “depression.”
When he signed himself up for the ECT because he “wanted to die” and could hardly move his limbs, I’m betting his doctors and nurses didn’t stop to consider that a recent stroke and his self-medicating with alcohol and multiple psychiatric drugs might be contributing to his psychosis, or at least to cognitive impairment that could have lead to the emotional devastation and anxiety he felt at the time.
One other thing I’m sure of: my father was a hedonistic pleasure-seeker. With his doctors, he found a high that could dull his senses and lift his mood. Although medical professionals may believe they are treating someone’s illness, my father, by ignoring things like therapy or sobriety, was enjoying the drug effect and sedation, the chemical fix for the unhappiness that came with the collision of his dreams and his reality. Meanwhile, the drugs wreaked continuous havoc to his brain.
Over the course of twenty years, my father was treated by or consulted with at least 16 different medical professionals who prescribed him a total of at least 21 psychotropic medications. He was frequently taking more than one medication at one time. Eventually, the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications were not strong enough for him. His prescriptions were increasingly for anti-psychotics, drugs that are used to treat schizophrenia and other psychoses, as well as anticonvulsants that are typically prescribed for mania.
Additionally, my father was taking medications for other maladies, like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood clots. It wasn’t until this year that someone pointed out to me that a statin can have neurological side effects, including depression, confusion and memory loss. My father had been on statins for years.
And, this is the hardest part for me to accept: It’s well-understood that SSRIs, along with several other drugs, increase the risk of a stroke. This is particularly true if a person has been on blood thinners, which my father had been. I’m still a bit enraged when I think about the fact that doctors didn’t warn my father that he could increase his chances of a stroke by being on blood thinners and anti-depressants, especially considering that his blood pressure and cholesterol levels already made him a stroke risk.
Upon completing a whopping 11 ECT treatments, my father only became more disoriented, more forgetful and less coherent. We could no longer let him drive, so we sold his car and asked his doctor to notify the DMV that his driving was impaired. Having evidence of my father‘s recent mini-stroke and memory loss, the doctor surmised that it looked like he was beginning to suffer the early stages of dementia.
From then on, my father was ping-ponging between my sister, my mother and me as his caregivers. We prepared every meal, eliminated his access to alcohol, supervised nearly everything he did and dutifully took him to his medical appointments. This included an almost monthly visit with a psychiatrist. By 2018, my father was taking Lithium for depression/bipolar disorder, Lamotrigine for bipolar disorder, Clonazepam for anxiety and sleep, Donepezil for dementia, plus his statin and other medications.
Meanwhile, I became more and more alarmed by my father’s mental and physical decline. After reading a well-known tome about caring for someone with dementia — “The 36 Hour Day” — and joining a 20,000-member Facebook group for caregivers of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, I was introduced to many symptoms that I recognized in my dad. He was emotionally volatile, frequently sobbing for no reason. His physical movements were impaired: he had trouble moving his limbs or bending his body in any way, which meant he never wanted to change his clothes, nor shower. His mental decline was staggering. He no longer understood basic facts, people’s names, ages and relation to him. He had no ability to read, play guitar, or even watch television. All technology became a frustration to him. He had hand tremors. His writing ability regressed to the point that he couldn’t spell basic words and would write painstakingly and slowly, like a child. He asked the same questions over and over, compulsively agonizing about small facts. He had trouble seeing. He did damaging things on accident, like pour liquid soap into a cup and drink it, or leave a faucet on.
Worst of all, he developed extreme combativeness and aggression, even physically lashing out, and yelling angrily at the top of his lungs, often in public. We began to fear him and the increasing frequency of “catastrophic reactions” that are well-known in the world of dementia.
One thing “The 36 Hour Day” and all medical professionals seemed to agree on was the obligation to treat a patient’s depression, even if (and maybe especially if) the patient has dementia. But this did not make sense to me. His treatment for depression had all but failed for 20 years, I couldn’t understand why medical professionals pursued this unicorn of a cure. While they were busy experimenting with his brain, my father was becoming a monster, and it agonized us that he was behaving so wildly and dangerously with everyone who cared for him (and in front of my small children — who hated being around him). The only reprieve we got was when he slept, which was often. After all, the majority of the drugs he was on had major sedating effects. But when he was awake, it was like dealing with an aggressive, 200-pound zombie. We were nearing the end of our ability to manage him. We considered two end-of-the-road options: a memory care facility and/or much heavier medications. We toured some facilities and asked the psychiatrist for Seroquel. Seroquel is a “black box” drug, which means it comes with the FDA’s most serious warning for serious or life-threatening risks. It also increases the mortality rate for dementia patients. Even though it’s specifically not approved for dementia, it’s well known as an off-label treatment. To my shock, after all the hand-wringing we did about the Seroquel, I found out that my father had already had a prescription for it several years earlier, before the dementia diagnosis.
Between all the appointments, medications and terror in our home, a thought continued to nag at me: how could this man suffer such a massive decline? He was barely 70 years old. The people at the memory care facilities were wheelchair-bound and decades older than him. There was no way he could sit alongside them. He never wanted to sit. He stood and paced frantically, he could walk for hours. If he went to a facility, they would only sedate him more, because he would be a combative nuisance.
When we took my father to a neurologist to see if there was anything new to report on his latest MRI, we learned that nothing had changed. There was nothing more going on in his brain than his original scan showed two years earlier.
“Can you at least test him? Find out how bad his dementia is? We don’t understand why he’s behaving this way,” I said. But the neurologist said my father seemed to be past the point of being capable of sitting through testing. He couldn’t sit at the appointment, he was complaining and yelling from the moment we entered the room, to the moment we exited.
“You know, the dose of Seroquel you have him on is not that high. You might consider increasing it,” the neurologist offered. I felt so defeated. Not a single drug was improving his condition.
“Ok, but can we at least take him off some of these other pills? They’re clearly not helping.”
“That’s a conversation you need to have with his psychiatrist.”
We’d already had that conversation. Her response was to replace Lamotrigine with Trileptal. She didn’t even know, and then was fairly unconcerned, about his dementia diagnosis. She asked him how he felt, he talked through his mental fog about how depressed he was and how it was the worst day of his life, and she typed on her tablet and tweaked his prescriptions. It was a textbook case of what I later learned is referred to as the “15 minute med check.” After a few of these appointments, it was clear to me that my father’s brain was a problem no one could solve and no pill had ever seemed to solve. Not only that, the fact that he was making life in our home impossible seemed not to register with anyone.
I came to the conclusion that because doctors are always going to aim for “treatment”, it’s very difficult for them to accept the concept that drugs are doing more harm than good and that abandoning them might be warranted. They are not thinking about discontinuation, tapering and the complicated nature of a body’s and brain’s withdrawal symptoms. When the medical professionals had seemingly no interest in my father’s completely “insane” behavior, I looked more closely at his medications. The side effects were staggering: blurred vision, tooth pain, memory loss, muscle stiffness, depression(!), suicidal thoughts, drowsiness, insomnia, aggression. I read about the tragic misuse of sedating medications on people with dementia and small efforts to end the practice. I read about the use of these incredibly strong psychotropic drugs on children in the foster care system, on prisoners, on migrants. I read in the caregiver-Facebook group how many caregivers were sedating their loved ones with hardcore drugs, and treating them for depression and anxiety, and yet still experiencing agitation and violence, just like we were. A study even shows that long-term use of benzodiazepines leads to a significantly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. “Unwarranted long term use of these drugs should be considered as a public health concern,” the study concludes.
I also read about “polypharmacy”, which is typically defined by a patient taking more than five medications at one time. Polypharmacy is associated with an increase in adverse drug events, reduced functional capacity and several geriatric syndromes.
What are we participating in, I wondered? Why aren’t the doctors who are seeing my father get worse and worse scrutinizing the medications more closely?
I’m going to cut to the chase here:
My father now uses Skype on his own to talk to friends. He has a tablet to watch YouTube. He reads. He plays guitar. He’s memorizing new poems. He recently transcribed, quickly and with perfect spelling, the song he sings in the YouTube video. He plays with my children almost daily and laughs uproariously. We got him a dog and he walks her and loves her. He rarely sobs. He almost never yells. He changes his clothes and can shower by himself. He can walk to the neighborhood pool by himself, swim, and walk himself back without getting lost. His memory has markedly improved. And his severe muscle stiffness is gone. Hand tremors, gone. He can hop, skip, even sprint. He does push-ups and sit-ups in his room every day without prompting.
How did this happen?
Well, three months ago— without any medical professional’s knowledge or assistance — we eliminated his last psychotropic prescription.* We have him on a healthy diet and a routine of physical activity. And no alcohol. And a little THC.
It was as if my father, the one I knew, came back from the dead. As the months go by and I watch him emerge from his chemical stupor, I am in disbelief that such a profound change can happen in a person simply by removing the side effects of medications (by removing the medications themselves). It occurs to me that for so long what we thought was his declining mental state could actually have been a state of disinhibition, the way one might feel when they’re high or drunk. His wild and impulsive behaviors, his disorientation, the loud and combative aggression — in hindsight they seem like that of a person who spent his waking hours inebriated. And now, in a matter of months, he’s sober.
Just imagine if we had let my father stay on the medications, as doctors prescribed. We would have assumed, for example, that his inability to write was a symptom of his dementia. If we had told his psychiatrist “he’s no longer able to write”, she would have chalked it up to the recent dementia diagnosis we told her about, and would have continued right on keeping him in the chemical cage that took away his fine motor skills. He would have spent years in the stupor, unable to write his poems and songs. How many other people, I wonder, are stuck in a chemical cage, not realizing that their mental and physical well-being has deteriorated because of side effects? A mere six months ago, we were considering memory care facilities for my father, and would have put him on more sedatives to manage him, which now seems truly absurd.
Now the flip side: He did have a mini-stroke and we do think there is some mental fallout from that. He is, and will always be, a drug-seeker, looking for the magic fix. He tells us often how terrible he feels, how depressed he is. The more coherent he becomes, the more aware he is of his loneliness, his sadness, and his boredom. A pill — I’m convinced — won’t fix that. It never did. As his voluntary caregivers, we do what we can to keep him active and stimulated, as well as safe and healthy. We’re not going to let him drive, and we still supervise him almost everywhere. But — and I’m not exaggerating — all of the monster-like qualities that we thought were severe symptoms of his dementia have practically disappeared. The spectrum of his emotional volatility narrowed substantially. We’ve found ourselves questioning whether he has dementia at all.
So a word about Robin Williams:
When Robin Williams committed suicide in August of 2014, within days the world began talking yet again about the need to treat depression. Everyone seemed to gloss over the fact that Williams was misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His wife wrote about “chemical warfare” in his brain, the symptoms of which went far beyond depression and into confusion, memory loss, paranoia, intense anxiety and insomnia. She was keen to pinpoint the final diagnosis — Lewy Body Dementia — as the culprit responsible for his suicide. Few talked about Williams’ multiple medications as a potential issue. Like the fact that he had taken two medications for Parkinson’s, which not only can lead to psychosis, but are specifically flagged as inappropriate for people with psychiatric disorders because they can lead to psychosis.
On top of the Parkinson’s drugs, Williams was also taking an anti-depressant called Mirtazapine, a “black box” drug with noted suicide risk. Additionally, Williams had taken out a prescription for Seroquel mere days before his suicide. Williams did indeed have “chemical warfare” in his brain. But we can never truly know how much of the culprit was his dementia, and how much was the number of psychosis-inducing, sedating, debilitating chemicals that the doctor who was “treating” him prescribed.
Susan Schneider, Williams’ wife, made clear that Robin Williams was being treated for depression. He was, after all, a star with the best medical resources and treatments available to him. It’s not like they weren’t going to treatment. Schneider described at least a year of doctor’s appointments, of trial and error with medications, of worsening symptoms, of a “terrorist” inside her husband’s brain. It was as if she was speaking about my father. But my father got better. He may still call himself depressed, but he’s sober, stable and coherent, the value of which he will probably never admit nor appreciate, because he doesn’t remember what the monster in him was like.
Having had this experience, the way I look at psychiatry and psychotropic medications has completely changed. Of course, I understand that they work for some people (though time and life changes also work.). I know stories of people who have had specific mental conditions and behaviors that certain medications helped alleviate, usually in combination with self-care, psychotherapy and eventual discontinuation. Anti-depressants might be an important tool in certain situations, though the benefits have repeatedly been shown to be small, especially when compared to a placebo.
However, I can say with certainty that doctors and psychiatrists often don’t really know if they’ve got the diagnosis, the treatment, or the symptoms right when it comes to mental health. They often aren’t taking time to understand the brain they are altering. They are often unaware of what other medications the patient might be taking. They don’t know if they’re treating the patient, or the patient’s side effects. And they can’t be sure that the cure isn’t worse than the disease.
If you are being treated with psychiatric medications, please consider my warning:
They are experimenting.
At the end of the day, the psychiatric drugs you or your loved one is on are sedatives and chemicals. Some go so far as to call them neurotoxins. The longer you use them, the weaker your brain gets at being able to regulate itself on its own. The higher your risk of deleterious effects. And the harder it is to get off them. But sometimes that’s exactly what needs to happen.
*If you’re interested in weaning yourself off or helping a loved one to wean themselves off psychiatric medication, please remember that the body’s and brain’s dependence on psychiatric drugs is a very real possibility. Temporary withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, tremors and depression. Abrupt discontinuation is not recommended.
Thank you to Laurel Martin-Harris, Ph.D, and to Charles Nelson, Ph.D, MFT, for their input and advice.
Hi. I’m a 25-year-old newlywed woman. I’ve been detained in mental hospitals ten times in the past three years and I survived two suicide attempts. Before I was 22, I had no mental health issues.
The first time I was in a mental hospital, I put myself there. I wanted to kill myself, but I didn’t want to kill my niece’s aunt. So, I put down the shotgun and picked up a phone.
The suicide hotline referred me to Seven Hills Hospital in Las Vegas, NV. I agreed to bring myself in for a consultation. I didn’t know then that had I refused to come in for the consult, there was a good chance the police would be sent to my house.
My main memory of the hospitalization was crying. A lot. Constantly. Now, I’ve become emotionless. I can’t imagine caring about something so much it would make me cry.
Now, I have almost nothing left to care about.
At the time, my forehead was swollen with acne. It was so intense it felt like a third-degree burn. That’s what happens when you’re only able to sleep a couple of times a week.
I found the other patients more relatable than any peer group I had ever been a part of. One of my closest friends was a young overweight man in a wheelchair. Eventually I asked why he was in the wheelchair. He was currently hallucinating so badly that he couldn’t stand. He told me he was schizophrenic, and I was fascinated.
“What’s it like?” I asked.
“I wish I could explain,” he responded.
“Well, what kind of things do you hallucinate?”
“You see that wall behind you?”
I looked over my shoulder.
He said, “It’s melting.”
Then he asked, “Why are you here?”
We had the freedom to say anything we wanted. Thanks to HIPAA laws, it was illegal for us to reveal the identity of anyone we had met there. I only got therapy talking to the other patients, I did not receive any meaningful therapy from the hospital. Even though I got therapy from some patients, other patients were dangerous for me to talk to. They would trick me, for amusement, into further believing in my delusions, for example.
I wasn’t embarrassed during that hospitalization: almost everyone was in the same boat. I wasn’t afraid of losing my reputation. I could finally just speak.
My friend understandably opted not to ask why I was suicidal and changed the subject.
“What do you do?”
“I own a business.”
I nodded my head and looked down.
“How well does it do?”
“I have five employees.”
He just stared at me for several seconds and smiled.
“I can’t say.”
“What do you do?”
“We manufacture patches for the police and stuff.”
“No way! Didn’t you say you were only 22?”
“What are you doing here? If I had a business, a way to make my own money, I wouldn’t be here.”
I felt ashamed. I had everything going for me. I had spent the last ten years of my life transforming from the destitute fat kid to a martial artist with impeccable health. I owned a house. I had a six-figure income.
But I knew exactly why I was there. The shame quickly melted into grief and I started crying again.
He didn’t say anything else. I cried all the time and he was used to it.
I received an incorrect perception of the mental hospital. I liked it and it was helping me — I didn’t realize how much it was hurting the people around me until much later.
I was diagnosed with psychotic depression. After five days, I finally felt stable enough to check myself out. I had never been there by force, as far as I knew.
When the psychiatrist prescribed me Zoloft, he did not warn me that it could cause a manic episode.
So my second hospitalization was a disaster.
There are two wards in a mental hospital: the psychotic ward (“upstairs”) and the suicidal/depressed ward (“downstairs”). My first time in a mental hospital we heard loud noises coming from the ceiling all the time.
I asked, “What is going on up there?”
They said, “Upstairs is for the truly crazy people.”
The second hospital was called Desert Parkway in Las Vegas. The rule about upstairs and downstairs was the same. I was upstairs. I would finally learn what it was really like.
Everything was different.
No one was there by choice (including me). Most had been brought in by the police (some even facing charges). A couple people were forcibly committed by their family.
My mom had committed me because a month after my first hospitalization, my Zoloft dose was doubled and I was sent into an incredibly intense manic episode. I had driven from my brother’s place in Utah to my house in Las Vegas. I was convinced that God was talking to me through everyone and everything. That I was the next prophet of Mormonism. I sped with my hands off the wheel of my car, “trusting God to keep me safe.”
I also believed that demons were following me and inserting thoughts into people nearby. I thought they were forcing people to try and kill, hurt, or kidnap me. Since I was later kidnapped (not that anyone believes me) maybe it was true, on some level.
Psychiatry is atheistic. Which makes it incredibly difficult for religious people to navigate. You are told that everything you have ever believed in is delusional, not just the parts that are negatively affecting your life.
Well thank God he really was looking out and I didn’t die driving back.
The manic episode was my first and it was induced by Zoloft. The doctors knew I might be bipolar and if so, the Zoloft could cause this. But they had not warned me or my family.
If they had, my family would have easily seen the warning signs for an incoming manic episode and had me see a psychiatrist on the outside to be weaned off and get emergency therapy — before it got that bad.
But they didn’t inform us. They do that on purpose because they want people sick.
This time I was in the psychotic ward. Everyone there was enraged.
Many had been held there for over two weeks against their will. There were only three phones and 25-35 adults were fighting over them during the few hours of the day we had access to them. Because people there were losing pets, cars, houses, jobs, personal property, airplane flights, and more. And everyone NEEDED the phone.
The majority of the patients — correction, detainees — were substance abusers being detoxed against their will. All patients in mental hospitals truly are detainees. What I have seen in hospital after hospital (and in statistics too) is that roughly 75% of all patients in mental hospitals are substance abusers, with only a quarter of that 75% diagnosed with just a mood disorder. That leaves the other 25% completely at the substance abusers’ mercy.
For the most part, people don’t check themselves themselves in to hospitals. Substance abusers forced into treatment generally aren’t nice people. They can be sadistic, manipulative, and violent. That doesn’t mean they are worse people or that they don’t deserve treatment. However, their treatment should be separated from people with just mood disorders as they are incredibly vulnerable. These are the worst two groups of people to house together for weeks at a time.
Often, that 25% is turned into substance abusers upon release. I was offered illegal drugs by at least one patient during each hospitalization: cocaine, meth, heroin, and more. In one hospitalization, two of the patients became my friends. I told them I was a web designer and they tried to convince me to create a website to sell drugs on. When I am psychotic, I am so easy to manipulate. Fortunately I didn’t try any illegal substances, but I know many people ended up doing so. Which is why a quarter of the substance abusers have a mood disorder as well. I fully believe that the drug epidemic is mostly caused by mental institutions.
Group therapy largely consisted of alcohol and substance abuse discussions. I had no issues with addiction, but there wasn’t an alternative group to attend. These discussions were also aimed toward personality disorder therapy rather than therapy for psychosis (each should be approached in complete opposite ways).
My largest qualm: we weren’t allowed pens. Which is understandable. They provided tiny wooden golf pencils as an alternative at every hospital I ever went to. Even that I could consent to (I did not want a psychotic person there to stab me with a pen or a long pencil).
Sometimes there was a big box of assorted washable Crayola markets. However, most of the thin-tip markers had been taken and hidden in other patients’ rooms because there wasn’t enough for everyone. It’s pretty impossible to write or draw anything with the big fat broadline markers. Anyway, most of the dark colors like purple, brown and black were either dried up or missing.
So we had pencils. They refused to sharpen the pencils. So, we had no way to write or do art. In desperation I sometimes picked out pieces of lead from the pencil and sharpened them by rubbing their sides against paper, until the pencil was finally somewhat usable.
I desperately need to write and draw while manic, or I can’t sleep and will even start tearing my hair out. This could be easily remedied — they have specially designed bendy pens for prisoners. Apparently, prisons are better equipped to give detainees more comfort than the hospitals are. Which is unacceptable when you consider that the hospitals are paid thousands of dollars a day for you to be there.
Thousands of dollars and they can’t afford to give you a $5 pen.
We only got one hour of recreational therapy a day. Some days it was an hour in the art room, other days it was an hour in the gym. Aside from the gym we were in cramped hallways and a small dayroom. We couldn’t get physical activity for days at a time.
When I was able to work out, it was difficult. I didn’t have any shoes because my shoes had had laces in them. Some patients wore laceless shoes and the rest wore socks. I can’t walk or run much without shoes — without the arch support I get very bad shin splints. I also slipped and fell many times playing basketball or jogging in a small circle.
Why, when it costs thousands of dollars a day to stay there, can they not provide laceless shoes to patients who don’t have any? Some of the hospitals did do something: they gave us socks with rubber patches on the bottom. But I can’t imagine that cheap shoes cost much more money. Other patients often stepped on top of my feet on purpose, since they were wearing shoes and I wasn’t.
For all the hours of the day, I had nothing to do except sit in the dayroom watching TV (but never having a choice of what we watched), playing cards with insane people, talking to insane people, and walking up and down the hall.
I did want to read, but if our families brought in hardcover books, we wouldn’t get them. My family didn’t bring in any, anyway. I usually desperately wanted the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Most of the time, they didn’t have any (which is against the law).
Also, when I was admitted I was usually wearing something I wouldn’t be allowed to wear in the hospital. So, they would give me AWFUL clothing to wear. Once I was in a hospital gown that wraps around you three times. Usually it was scrubs. In one hospital it was nice, we got plain grey sweatpants, a shirt, and a matching grey hoodie.
However, in most hospitals there wasn’t enough underwear. They give you the cheapest, thinnest pair of grandma underwear ever, but they can’t afford to have enough? I was only given one or two pairs of underwear.
We did our own laundry, but they didn’t have enough machines, so we fought over that as well. With only one outfit and two pairs of underwear, I had to wash my clothes at least once every three days. Some people had the luxury of only having to wash their clothes every five days or even longer. Sometimes I would go several days without being able to snag a washing machine and smelling bad was another huge embarrassment in the ward.
Families were able to bring in outside clothes deemed safe by the hospital. Most patients wore them. My family wouldn’t do this. This would signify to the other patients that your family didn’t care about you (which usually meant you must be a bad person). In a hospital gown or cheap scrubs, it was even more embarrassing. It was also cold, sometimes difficult to hide your private parts, and left you easily attacked for the amusement of other patients.
A mental hospital is like a deranged dystopian high school.
You had to attend every single group. Your attendance was marked and if you didn’t attend group you were absent. Absence of more than one group a day meant that you “weren’t complying with treatment” and they could use it to justify keeping you longer to your insurance company. Groups were six hours a day.
The upstairs was chaotic, dangerous, and emotionally and physically violent. Sometimes people were yelling and throwing things. But these weren’t the most harmful moments.
Even during the quiet, “calm” times there was still constant emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse from other patients and staff. A psychotic person is in a fragile state: they are easily manipulated, paranoid and incredibly vulnerable to emotional attacks. They are forced to live in this state with criminals and drug addicts who are bored, very bored, and angry.
When my mom admitted me, I was so manic that I had no problem with it. I thought it was a test (I had to prove to God that I was submissive and positive or he would stop helping me and demons would kill me), and if I passed all of the tests the leader of the Mormon church would come get me and take me to my life of painting for them.
I baptized myself in an intake room with a styrofoam cup of water while my mom watched. I then did cartwheels in the hallway (I hadn’t done a cartwheel since I was like six years old). I had period blood running down my pants, which the entire ward saw when I was first brought in to change in my room.
For the first two days I was convinced that at any moment the leader of the Mormon church would walk into my room to collect me. Everyone would stop acting like they didn’t know I was the prophet. I just had to stay committed to the act.
I made up my own sign language and took a vow of silence.
That night I had a delusion that I was being possessed by an African slave. I hallucinated being on a slave ship, including banging my arm on the bed to create a song in unison with the other slaves slamming their hands.
They put me on “one on one” — this is when one of the nurse practitioners always sits near you and watches you. She sat outside the door to my room while I acted out these hallucinations.
Eventually I became convinced that God could hide me if I snuck out under a sheet. Then I could wait, invisible, at the locked door at the end of the hallway until someone opened it and I could escape.
Remember, this manic episode was entirely induced by a high prescription of Zoloft. I had never had a manic episode before.
When I ignored my one-on-one nurse’s demand to go back to my room, things changed. Two other nurses grabbed me and threw me into the “quiet room” which is a closet-sized room with a bed with restraints on it in the middle. I wasn’t tied down to the bed this time, but they left me locked in the room.
I continued to act out hallucinations, stand on top of the table, etc. Eventually they decided to give me a shot. They came in, held me down, pulled down my pants in front of three men, and administered a shot to my butt. I don’t remember much after that.
I woke up the next day feeling too sick to do, say, or think anything. They had taken me off a medication cold turkey and I was going through immediate withdrawals. I was not warned that I would be going through withdrawals.
I was so sick the room never stopped spinning, I vomited several times, and it felt like I had the flu. I did not know I was going through withdrawals, so I assumed the new medications they had put me on were making me that sick.
I refused to take my medication. Anthony the nurse warned me that he would give me another shot if I didn’t take it. I had no choice. I took it and I felt even worse.
I became so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed. Any movement hurt. I was freezing cold, but they didn’t have any more blankets. To make it even worse, my roommate was completely out of her mind and was up talking to people that weren’t there all night, walking around in circles and turning the lights on and off. I desperately needed to sleep but she wouldn’t let me.
My roommate was also violent. She had multiple personality disorder and was completely psychotic at all times. I was terrified she would kill me in my sleep and she threatened me verbally and physically all the time. She should have been in her own room, alone. I had seen it done at other hospitals.
The ward didn’t have one single open bed. They were doing a good job of turning a profit by being full all the time.
I went to the nurses’ station and asked if I could leave because it had been more than 72 hours. They said they needed my doctor’s approval and that they would ask him.
A few minutes later the practitioner came to my room and told me that because I had not been attending group, I was not participating in my treatment, and I couldn’t be considered for release until I started attending all of them. I was so sick that all I could do was lay in bed all day. I wouldn’t even go downstairs for meals. At first they brought them up to me, but eventually they said if I wanted to eat I had to go to the lunch room downstairs, or I would go hungry. I went hungry. I was barely eating anyways.
One of my delusions was traumatic: I became convinced that the medications were designed to make me so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. Then I wouldn’t be able to go to group, so they could tell my family and insurance company I wasn’t participating, so they could continue to give me poisonous medications, so that I couldn’t get up to go to groups… basically I thought I was in a program designed to keep me locked up for years while they milked my insurance for money.
It literally felt like the sickness would never end. For days I was convinced it wouldn’t. I thought I was going to die there — after years of torment.
After I was finally able to force myself out of bed, I started attending group. I remember how impossible it felt to sit in the chair. I was so sick I needed to lay down, but I had to get out of that hospital ASAP. So, I forced myself to go.
I had to listen to drug addicts and criminals tell stories hoping to win validation from their peers. This is one of the most boring, obnoxious discussions you can listen to. I had to do it for hours every day feeling so horribly ill.
That’s when I had to start socializing with the patients who had witnessed all my psychotic episodes for the past three days.
There were many incidents of major abuse from other patients and staff members during all of my hospitalizations.
An old fat man started hitting on me. I told the staff I was uncomfortable. They did nothing. He gave me a piece of paper with an email that said something like Slave_Master_Mike@whatevermail.com.
I brought it straight to staff and begged them to move him to the other psychotic ward or transfer me downstairs. No beds. They refused. He was friends with two women, who started to try and take my personal folders from me. My folder had my full name inside of it and a list of family members and their phone numbers.
I was incredibly paranoid they would take it from me. All day every day I had that folder in my hand or underneath it. I wasn’t allowed to take it to meals, so I had to slide it under my door where it would be locked away.
But in the daytime all the rooms were open, and I couldn’t safely leave it there. So instead I had to be incredibly paranoid about it all the time. Which this man’s friends exploited for fun. I was 23 years old at this point and these people were all in their 30’s to 60’s.
Once the man cornered me in a poorly designed wing (there was a group room that was open around a corner where the staff couldn’t see). He cornered me there and it was terrifying. Another 20-something man stepped in and got him to back off.
One woman told the twenty or so people I was forced to live closely with that I was a meth addict. She convinced everyone that all the delusions I came in with were my fault because I was a drug addict. Thus it was fine and fun to ridicule me. I had never done an illegal drug. All the emotional abuse was devastating. Later she punched me and another time she threw urine on me.
There were never any beds open downstairs, even if you were stable enough to be there. Near the end of all my forced hospital stays, I would finally be moved downstairs, and being in that environment would help me again. Like it helped me the first time. But at that point I was so tortured from captivity I just wanted out.
The 72-hour hold is a lie. The police or the family can demand a person be held for at least 72 hours — after that, the doctor can keep you for as long as they want or until you request to go to mental health court.
After you make the request it can take up to two weeks (and usually does) before your case is heard. If the mental health court doesn’t find you competent and you are court ordered to stay in the hospital, you lose many rights permanently, including the right to own firearms, or to not disclose your diagnosis to employers, etc.
So at first, you don’t want to go to court because the doctor says you just “need a few more days.” Why take the risk? You’ll be out of there before the court date anyway, right?
Then a week passes, and you start to panic — the doctor is finding all these tiny reasons to keep you, and now it seems the only way out is through court. From that point, you have to wait another two weeks.
This is how I met people in the hospital who had been detained there for over a month without any sort of hearing or appeal process.
After witnessing this happen consistently to hundreds of people, I know this is a fact. All the psychiatrists at the hospital care about is: Liability and Insurance. They do not care about your mental health. I have met over 12 different hospital psychiatrists and every single one of them were the same.
There are good psychiatrists in the world. None of them work in mental hospitals. They see what is going on, and they quit. And they do everything they can to keep their patients from ever going to one. I know this because I now have a good psychiatrist and he was appalled that I had been in so many hospitals in the past three years. He told me he was aware of how awful they were, and that we would work together to not let it happen again.
I had the same conversation with two other not-so-good psychiatrists. Even they agreed.
If you have good insurance, the hospital will use anything they can against you to prove to the insurance company that you need to be there. Health insurance is the true decider — if they think someone is at risk, they will opt to continue paying for the hospitalization. This is because if they refuse someone treatment and they hurt themselves or someone else, the insurance company can be held liable. Also, if they let go of someone prematurely, they think that person might get worse and need to return for a longer stay or make costly trips to the ER, etc.
The standards that insurance companies require to continue paying thousands of dollars a day for your bed are incredibly low for this reason.
HUGE TIP: If you find yourself or a loved one in a mental hospital when you shouldn’t be, call your insurance company and ask for your case manager. You will have a case and a case manager as soon as you are admitted to the hospital. This person is who really decides if you stay or go. You and your family will have a much easier time persuading this person rather than the doctor. No staff or patients at the hospital will tell you this. I figured it out myself, and it worked once. (Other times I couldn’t get anyone to give me the phone number to my insurance.)
The doctors know the game. Many hospitals are privately owned with the doctors earning a percentage. If all their beds are full all the time (which they are — every time I have gone in, they were at max capacity) they make a good profit that quarter. Profit = larger dividend. There is a clear conflict of interest.
Most hospital psychiatrists are purposely harming their patients to make money off their insurance. It’s like a doctor in the ICU prescribing the wrong medications on purpose to keep a person there just to make money off them. They do it, it hurts the person, and that ends up helping them make even more money later when the person relapses and must come back.
The hospital is not liable for letting a person leave early — the insurance company is. Which means that no one will be held responsible when an uninsured person walks out of a hospital and kills themselves. Which they often do since a person is 100-264 times more likely to kill themselves within one week of being released from a mental hospital.
No uninsured person stays for longer than three days. That kills people, too. The doctors say they are good to go because they can’t pay to stay.
It’s written in the law: If someone was held at least 72 hours the state/hospital did all that they were required to do.
However, if an insured person was forced to leave by their insurance when the doctors disagreed with the course of action, the insurance company will be held responsible. So, you must make a good case to your claim manager that you are stable and there is absolutely no need for you to be hospitalized anymore.
I did not know this for the first two years of hospitalizations and instead felt helplessly at the mercy of my “doctor.” This would lead me to later lose my health, my teeth, my house, all valuable possessions, my dog, my cat, and my family.
On top of that, my business has been completely ruined and will go bankrupt soon. Website traffic to my eCommerce store fell during and after my hospitalizations. I had to lay off four employees and now operate the business alone.
One miracle happened: I got married.
This is just what I experienced during my first two hospitalizations. I have eight more hospitalization stories to tell.