Twelve Years Later: After My Last Psychiatric Drug
Guest Blog by Daisy Anderson
I had always dreamed of getting off of my psychiatric drugs. In May of 2002, after thirty-seven years of living in a drugged fog, I took my last psychiatric pill. That was twelve years ago. Life is good now. Finding the good life, though, meant that I had to rethink what wellness was, to do a lot of hard work, and to practice patience.
Taking pills had become a habit; pills to keep me calm; pills to help me sleep; pills to make me happy. After I was off them all, I had the shocking thought that a pill might help my discomfort. To stick to my resolve to live medication-free, I quickly reflected on what the bad things the drugs had done to me and immediately found a non-chemical way to feel better.
I expected that my family, friends and doctors would see me as healthy and not sick. That did not happen. Doctors' eyebrows would rise when I said I did not take any medication. It was about five years before people stopped waiting for me to “crack up.”
Life without medications was the real thing, and I had to learn to accept that bad things happened to good people, including me.
I did not want to take any drugs at all. Then I got sick. My biggest fear was being given a medication that might reactivate the neurological and other serious drug reactions that I had had. To protect myself, I checked the list of adverse reactions for all the medications that a doctor might prescribe. Then I told the treating physician that I was “allergic” to the drugs that listed an adverse reaction that I had had previously. When he asked how I knew I was allergic, I told him the drugs caused agitation. He accepted my answer.
After I had a local anaesthetic in a dentist's office, my friends told me I was “wonky” and that I should not be driving. I visited the dentist and told him what my friends had said. He listened carefully and said he would be on the watch whenever he gave the drug to his patients. Now I wait a day after any local anaesthetic before I drive or make important decisions.
I required a general anaesthetic for a quick procedure. Five minutes before I went into the operating theatre, the anaesthetist came to see me. I was lying on a gurney, wearing a hospital gown and without my glasses, looking up at a tall doctor holding a clipboard. When I said no benzos, he replied sharply that it would not addict me and that he did not want his “hands tied.” I gave in. After the anaesthetic I was agitated and could not stop talking. Later, when I read my health records, I found that he had given me a benzo. If I had insisted on a meeting with the anaesthetist several days ahead of the procedure, I would have been in a better position to explain my reasoning and to work out the best way to proceed.
My high pitched voice slowly lowered to my normal speaking range.
As a child I had learned not to trust. For years, I kept a close watch on what was going on around me to be sure I was safe. When I went on psychiatric drugs that either sedated or stimulated me, I found it more difficult to keep watch. I felt vulnerable and trusted others even less than as I had as a child. For a number of years after the drugging, I felt on edge and very distrustful of people. I am now more at ease with my social environment and I am calmer too.
For several years after my last pill, I just had to talk and talk about how I was drugged and that it was wrong. I also hated seeing others being treated the way I had been and I wanted to fix their situation. Now I am still passionate but do not feel compelled to make everything right. As a result, I am more effective in what I do.
I thought I had brain damage from the drugs. A psychologist tested my intelligence a year after getting off the drugs. The results went up significantly from when I had been tested while on them.
I still become excited easily and thus I do not often go to parties, meetings or the theatre. I am careful about what I watch on TV and how much radio I listen to. I seldom go the local farmer's market.
For sure, the various stimulating and sedating medications that I was prescribed have changed my nervous system. But my nervous system was altered by the abuses I experienced in childhood, and later as a psychiatric patient. As the abuses played a significant part in my neurological, hormonal and other physiological changes, it is difficult to say which abuse left what mark.
Taking care of myself
While I was on heavy doses of drugs, I fell and seriously injured my elbow. I was too sick to follow through with the rehabilitation. Over the years, my arm weakened and I was dropping dishes and could not carry shopping bags. Once I was off the drugs, I was able to keep up with regular exercises that strengthen my withered muscles.
Getting enough sleep was a problem, that was, while taking the drugs, during the tapering and for years after. It was five or more years before I slept for six hours in a night, and that was only once in a while. On the positive side, I did not have to go to work, so could I catch sleep as I needed it.
I paid close attention to what interfered with my sleeping. Taking on too much, getting into an excited conversation, worrying about this or that, or enjoying a hot chocolate revved my nervous system. Caffeine was and still is too stimulating. If I have a cup of weak tea, it takes about 1½ days to resettle.
I wrote my story to make sense of what had happened. As the story developed, I realized that my psychiatric treatment had made sicker than when I was on my first visit to the psychiatrist. By the end of the writing, I saw the extent to which my care had worsened my condition. I got better because I asked questions, expected answers, asked more questions and never gave up.
E. Daisy Anderson, 2014
Updated: August 5, 2014