Tag Archives: Recovering from Psychiatry

Five Years After Psychiatric Drugs

I’ve been writing, this morning, about the era of my childhood in which I began to wake up to the world as it really was, when the oak tree on the lower school playground showed me her true nature: that she was not ‘a tree’ but rather a world of vast vertical deserts of hard bark under which tens, hundreds, thousands of bugs made their homes; a jungle of two hundred thousand leaves, each with an intricate network of veins through which minerals journeyed just like I once did down the Piscataqua on a summer evening with my family.


Then, I believed in the possibility of almost anything. That’s what it feels like when you’re a kid in love with the world: your heart is full with faith in possibility, potential, the unknown, with yourself in this big thing called life. And this, of course, is what I’d lose to the mental health system only a few years later. What you lose when you become a mental patient.

I am, today, five years free from psychiatric drugs. As I sit here and reflect on my journey, I can’t help but feel like the same kind of waking up is happening all over again, has been happening, now, for a while. My time as a mental patient was a time of sleep—of numbed limbs, numbed thoughts, a numbed heart beneath the drugged, psychiatrized state of barely there existence. So much has changed since I took the last pill in September 2010. So much.

Waking up from a psychiatrized existence hurts. At first, it’s all it seems to do, and fuck, does it hurt beyond words… beyond anything you could possibly grasp unless you’ve been in its grasp yourself. But slowly over time, as your brain heals from pharmaceutical trauma, a kind of space is made within you in which non-hurt starts to take hold. It’s slow, non-linear, and confusing, but bit by bit it begins to grow. And as the non-hurt grows slowly larger, the hurt feels less overwhelming, because there’s something else within you now to share the space.  Eventually, that non-hurt begins to change slightly in nature until it’s less of an absence of pain and more of the presence of something else, something totally foreign to you: okayness. In this shared space of pain and non-pain, there is now this sense from somewhere deep down inside of you that you’re okay, that what you’re in is bearable.

Somewhere down the line, that okayness then begins to morph into something you soon discover is even better: pleasure. Perhaps it’s physical in nature—the rush of sexual desire, the smell of a flower—or perhaps it’s more mental or emotional. Whatever it is, once you feel it, my friend—even if it’s for a few seconds at the start— you’re off (and if you’re reading this and you don’t yet feel it, hang in there; time is bringing you closer to it, I promise.) You now have proof in your capacity to feel something pleasurable, and the momentum of hope takes hold. All you need to do going forward is buckle into the ride back to aliveness.

For what a ride it is.

Over the past year, life has been full. Full of pain and full of joy. Full of connection and aloneness, of struggle and beautiful quiet. It’s overwhelming nearly all the time, this aliveness I feel. I’m still bumbling around in my body, my life, still perplexed on a regular basis by the vibrancy of my thoughts and emotions, my body’s sensations, my capacity to expand and contract in the world depending on how I’m taking care of myself.  But I am here, feet on the ground, present in my life, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts. And most of all, I am not afraid anymore of myself, just as the mental health system once trained me so effectively to be.

I’ve been thinking about the circular nature of existence thisUnknown morning, about how it seems I’ve
come back to that little girl I was beneath the oak tree, waking up into aliveness and consciousness, seeing the intricacies of life around me as if for the first time. What a thing, this life.

If you’re out there overwhelmed by the seemingly unbearable pain of psychiatric drug withdrawal, I promise you that this, this now that feels so total and smothering, will change. As time guides you back to aliveness, the nature of this hurt you’re swallowed whole by will evolve, make space for non-hurt, and eventually okayness. After that, you will reclaim the capacity for pleasure, joy, and peace of mind. This isn’t to say you won’t hurt anymore—you will, for you’re human after all!—but it will feel entirely different.  For when you wake up from psychiatrized sleep, realize that you’re not sentenced to a life of pills and labels and institutions, and discover that there’s nothing wrong with emotional pain, you slowly feel less and less afraid of yourself and your darkness, until the fear isn’t there at all anymore.  There, in that liberated space, pain no longer feels like a prison.  It feels, instead, like a facet of daily existence that is as impermanent as the leaves of an oak tree.  And in that internal space of liberation, you have the chance to fall back in love again with the world.  It’s always there, that chance, waiting for you patiently.

When I Was Your Mental Patient

I have a feeling, Dr. X, that when you told me I needed to set “realistic expectations” for my future given the grave nature of my so-called “serious and persistent mental illness”, you weren’t imagining that I’d come off the pills you told me I’d need for the rest of my life, abandon the labels and “behavioral therapy” you put upon me under the guise of science, come alive and light on fire, and find an international collective of activists who’d done the very same.

Yes, I can’t help
but think that
the life I’m living today… wasn’t what you had in mind.

Perhaps in the near future we might sit down together so I can hear what you have to say about this all; I find myself truly curious to better understand what makes you tick, what kind of childhood you had, what might have happened that led you to be the man— the psychiatrist— you were when I knew you. I find myself truly curious to know what beliefs you held tight to your chest about “patients like me” that led you to tell me the things you did about myself from behind those piercing blue eyes. I find myself truly curious to witness what and how you’d feel upon learning of who I am today, of where I’ve traveled within myself and beyond since I left your hospital less than five years ago.  I find myself truly curious to know how you’ll respond when I stare back into those piercing blue eyes without wavering, like I couldn’t do back then when I was your mental patient.


Question Everything

Photo on 8-16-14 at 11.27 AM

Today, I question everything. I question everything not out of fear or paranoia, but out of my newfound, spirited curiosity about the inherently flexible nature of reality. I question everything because I’ve discovered how wrong I was in believing I was a powerless, voiceless, worthless cog in the machine of the societal status quo. After a lifetime of existential paralysis, I question everything because I know I am powerful. I know I have a voice. And I know that our current reality of pervasive disempowerment, marginalization, and dehumanization exists only because We the People have been tricked into believing it’s inevitable, and that we can do nothing about it. We the People have bought into the bullshit myth of “Well, I’m just one person, what could I possibly do to change the world?”

Imagine if we all came together, began to believe in ourselves and our communities, and decided to question everything—to question the institutions that claim to offer us “care”, “treatment”, “aid”, and “protection from ourselves”; the institutions that claim to be giving us honest, “scientific”, and unbiased information about ourselves; the institutions that claim we’ll feel better if we adjust and modify ourselves instead of resist and transform, accept and receive instead of critique and act.


I believe it must begin by each of us looking inwards; at least, this has been my experience. I began by questioning the stories I’d come to believe about myself—stories like, “My body is ugly because it doesn’t look like what I see in magazines.” “I need to go to X school if I’m to be a worthy person.” “There’s something wrong with me because I hurt so much inside.” “I can’t trust my mind because it’s sick.” “My intense emotions and thoughts are evidence of my life-long mental illness that requires life-long medication use.”

Once I discovered that my reality was in fact a construct of the imprisoning myths I’d come to believe were my capital ‘T’ Truth, I became conscious of just how much power I truly had— of how much power each of us has— and of my innate human capacity for transformation. Of the fact that no one gets to define who I am, and that, in truth, I don’t need self-definition in order to feel at peace in the world. For that’s where I’ve found that freedom lies—in the questioning. And what I’ve discovered, interestingly enough, is that the more I question, the more my spirit knows.

Tears, Sweat, and the Sea

Yesterday, as the cool, wet fog of morning kissed my face, I closed my eyes in gratitude, remembering the loneliness that once arose from being medicated out of communion with the world.

Later, I cried twice, my chest and throat tight with anxiety, all of this a manifestation of the pain that comes from realizing you’ve been misunderstood.

Before I left for home last night, I swam in the Maine sea one last time with my sister and aunt, soothed by the setting sun and cradled by the waves.

Once home, the unresolved energy that pulsed through my arms and legs and pounded at my chest demanded to be listened to. I went on a run through the night and came home to find that time had slowed down in a most beautiful way. This is something new for me.

Yesterday, my sister read me a quote by Isak Dineson, the pen name of a woman who wrote the book that would be turned into one of my grandmother’s favorite films, Babette’s Feast, which I remember sat throughout my childhood in the same spot beneath her television in the room that holds some of my fondest early memories. The quote reads,

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”

I woke up this morning closer to myself. Indeed, I believe that the nature beyond us and the nature within us are meant for symbiosis, especially in our most excruciating times of pain and struggle. I learn this more deeply every time I open myself up to the world, listen to my body, and trust that it knows where to take me and what to do when my mind is on fire. Holding onto this trust, I’ve learned, is all the more important when I hurt the most. For I’ve come to believe that the air and the ocean and the sky and the earth are here to hold us, if we let them.  They are here to carry us closer to ourselves.

A found piece of beach glass