Side effects may include the inability to connect with your own soul.”
That’s what the insert should say. Nobody reads it, so it doesn’t matter. In 1992, when I was twenty-five, I was prescribed Prozac after a long period of unrelenting depression. Even though the antidepressants never worked for me I was told that medication compliance was the key to resolving my mental illness. I complied for nearly twenty-five years.
The thoughts of suicide remained and just became a part of me. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about it. For the next twenty-five years I was tormented by a dual existence. There was a part of me that desperately wanted to live, to see the color blue contrasted with orange like I had remembered, to taste a ripe strawberry like it once tasted, to be in awe of a simple line in a poem. I wasn’t asking for the world. I just wanted to feel.
Then there was this other part of me that just said, “Fuck it.” To everything.
As the years rolled by I became more detached; I couldn’t connect with my past, I didn’t have any desire for the future or any desire at all. I was slowly disappearing. There would be medication changes, increases, medication boosters and medication to counteract the side effects. The “fuck it” in me was winning no matter what I did. My soul was dying and I knew it.
Like so many others, I believed I had an illness and I believed the hype and dogma about the necessities of medication; I was a good patient. The medication seemed to work for other people, why didn’t it work for me? It must have been something I was doing wrong that made me so miserable. So, along with taking my daily dose of prescriptions I tried every new self-help fad that came along. I spent weeks, months and years in every kind of therapy you can imagine. And although I had passions and interests, I had no energy for them. My main job in life was battling my depression. For those that live with mental illness know the job of battling the symptoms can be all consuming.
I totally trusted that the pharmaceutical industry was making new and revolutionary treatments and that the drugs that I was taking were thoroughly tested and that side effects were very rare. Even though I was getting more depressed and having more and more health problems while medicated, I thought if I stopped taking the drugs I would just finally pull the trigger and end my miserable life. It would take a dramatic event to change my mind.
Entering the Medical Wilderness
In late 2014 my boyfriend and I decided to move from Brooklyn to New Jersey. During this time I went to a functional medicine doctor to try to figure out the mounting health issues I was having. I was getting migraines that had me in bed nearly seven days a month; I was on long term medications for acne rosacea, eczema, high cholesterol and acid reflux. On top of my mental struggles, I was in pain, felt weak and sick all of the time; it was believed I had fibromyalgia. I was a mess. The doctor concluded I had an overload of bad bacteria in my gut and prescribed me 2 weeks of the antibiotic, Ciprofloxacin. By the 10th day of taking this drug, I spiraled into an even more severe depression and my legs were in excruciating pain. I could barely walk from my bed to the bathroom. I researched and found that this class of antibiotics called Fluoroquinolones harmed many people. My doctor dismissed my claims and denied that the antibiotic caused my situation. I tried to find another doctor for help and found that every single doctor I encountered did not recognize the side effects caused by this class of drugs. I was in shock to learn that doctors didn’t seem to know much about the effects of the medications they were prescribing at all. I found myself in a medical wilderness. I desperately turned to Internet forums and Facebook groups for information, and ultimately support, in getting through the pain of Cipro-toxicity. I found a community of people through a blog called Floxie Hope, by Lisa Bloomquist. In a conversation with Lisa, I told her I was on psychiatric medication and that I wondered what these drugs might be doing to me, “If a supposedly harmless antibiotic can cause this much damage, I wonder what these supposedly safe psychiatric drugs are doing?” I asked.
She suggested I read “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker. She said the book analyzed the efficacy of psychotropic drugs and it would be “Eye opening.”
She was right. Halfway through the book my view of pharmaceuticals would forever change. A fire ignited from deep within and I realized, very suddenly, that the cure was the killer.
Before I could turn the next page I started a rapid taper off my meds, and although my plan was very calculated, I tapered off four medications very quickly. I also threw myself into researching and implementing nutrition and healing methods that would best support my journey. A couple of weeks after stopping my last psych drug, I became very sick. I had read a lot about complications that can occur called, “protracted withdrawal syndrome,” nothing could have prepared me for the nightmare that I would endure.
Coming off psychiatric medications has many similarities to the monster in the story, Frankenstein. It was as if my body parts and organs were not my own, that they had been soaking in a toxic solution in a laboratory and then were surgically sewn into my body by some mad scientist. It felt like all my cells and every neuron had been chemically burned. I was weak and stiff; I couldn’t lift my frying pan or reach to put a dish in the cabinet without injuring myself. All my senses were hyper aware; smells and tastes were so overwhelming they would make me vomit. Like the electricity that brings the monster to life, jolting nerve pains uncontrollably shocked through every part of my body, every organ and limb, even my tongue. The smallest morsel of food I put into my mouth felt like I was swallowing fire; my belly was abnormally bloated and painfully distended. I had tactile sensations; my skin crawled and burned, there were muscle spasms and twitching that made me feel like I was at the edge of sanity. Like Frankenstein’s monster I was mentally stiff. I spoke through my teeth and could barely put a sentence together. I definitely couldn’t write a sentence. I got lost going to the same store where I bought groceries and the same woods where I walked; I could not get to the same places without a GPS. I would pull my car over and sob into the steering wheel. I would cry when I had to cross a street because it seemed so complicated. We had moved to New Jersey at the end of 2014 and my belongings would stay packed in boxes down in the basement for nearly two years. I couldn’t wrap my head around how I ever did anything at all.
I had terrifying days and I was completely freaked out about the neurological damage and chaos I was experiencing. My mind was out of control, sometimes looping the same sentence over and over for days. I had gruesome images that I could not stop: a fox getting bludgeoned to death, a child falling from a window to the cement below. My heart pounded through my chest as if these things were really happening while I watched in horror. My short brown hair grew out to shoulder-length shocking white as time passed in this debilitating state.
I Am My Own Scientist
No matter how broken I felt, I made myself do self-nourishing actions that reinstated that I was worth it. I ate the most nutrient dense foods I could find. And even though I was only fifty, I joined a geriatric hiking club. The folks in my group were in their eighties and nineties; they seemed to move like gazelles, with their walking sticks, while I dragged myself to keep up. I strived to be just like them one day. I learned how to limit my toxic exposure; I filled my house with plants, filtered my water and detoxed with coffee enemas. I went into nature; I watched and listened to the birds, I sat in the sun and under the moon. I implemented new practices and habits I learned from reading piles of books and watching natural health seminars. I became my own mad-scientist doing my own experiment in self-love.
I saw Dr. Kelly Brogan in an online mental health summit and sixteen months after I discontinued the meds, I made an appointment with her. Up until this point I had the support of my boyfriend and family, but I really had no idea if I was heading in the right direction. I needed some reassurance that I was going to be okay. This was a huge step for me because I had zero trust in doctors and I had zero money. It was an investment in my health I wanted to make. Dr. Brogan did reassure me that I was on the right track and I would heal if I continued to commit to myself. She also introduced me to Kundalini Yoga and I immediately started a morning practice. I was very drawn to the Kundalini breathing techniques because they provided relief to some of the neurological damage that I had been experiencing. The painful pressure I felt in my head became less of an issue and with every breath it eventually disappeared. I noticed that I could connect to the world again. My sister texted me one day and wrote, “I miss you so much.” I felt her words so deeply that tears streamed down my face. After decades of numbness, I could finally feel. My morning routine not only helps heal the damage, it enhances my abilities every level. I am able to plan and navigate my day without debilitating emotions; I can have a day full of activities without becoming broken by the end of it. And rather than taking Advil or Tylenol when I have an ache, I use Kundalini methods for pain relief. It works. I believed and still believe I am totally worth the time and financial investment I’ve made into my well-being.
My progress has not been linear. I’ve had terrible setbacks. There were times when my condition regressed and I sat in our apartment comatose in excruciating pain staring at the wall for days. It was frustrating, but every time I recovered from one of these setbacks, I became a little stronger. In October of last year I went to New Hampshire and hiked up and down some 3000 foot mountains. We’re planning on some bigger hills this year.
There Is No Going Back
Going through withdrawal from psychiatric medications has been, by far, the most difficult thing I have ever done. In my younger days I went through a terribly destructive addiction and then withdrawal from alcohol and street drugs. There’s just no point in comparing the two.
It’s been about three years since the Cipro-poisoning and twenty-seven months since my last psychiatric drug. I still deal with issues from medication damage, but now I have created my own doctor’s bag of remedies. No matter how painful it’s been, I have not once thought about going back; I know with certainty that there is nothing to go back to. I have been down the road of conventional treatment; I know where it leads. I truly believe if I would have continued taking the drugs, as prescribed, I would have soon been dead.
When I decided to go off the meds, I totally believed that there was something special out there beyond my fog of disconnection. I found the part of me buried underneath all the labels that wanted to experience life, free from drugs and psychological jargon that diagnoses forced upon my existence. I believe that psychiatric terms conveniently explained my terribly painful life and provided a reason, although very shallow, for my behavior and existence. I was a lost and hurting soul. At a time when I needed to be nourished, loved and guided I was treated with pills that gave me a chemical lobotomy. I get sad when I think about the years lost to medication. I don’t want anyone to suffer this loss. I want you to know that you are not sick and broken. That YOU, whoever you are struggling, you are significant, you can unmask your true self and you are worthy of real inner freedom.
Lifted From Psychological Poverty
My commitment, along with a little stubbornness, to stick to a holistic lifestyle has paid off tenfold. All those sicknesses and ailments that I lived with for decades have fallen away. I do not experience depression or suicidal thoughts. I am not crazy or sick. I have been lifted from a psychological poverty. With time, patience and a lot of hard work, the reward has been my health. The reward is my life!
I woke up this morning feeling rested and looking forward to the day. I took a bite of that ripe strawberry and it tasted so sweet. I wept when I read a favorite poem from my youth. The strength and love inside and outside of me is far bigger than I could have ever imagined. I survived and persevered through the darkness of trauma, medical diagnoses, poly drugging, damage and withdrawal. I not only survived fifty years of a traumatized life, but I am transformed and thriving more and more everyday. Life is a clean slate ready for me to write a new story.