The Drugs Don’t Work: Coming Off Psychiatric Meds

It’s been about two years, now, since I was hauled into the top tier of psychiatric ‘care’ in my county after being assaulted at home and my assailant misleading the police about it. On the basis of further misleading comments from my family, I’d eventually be placed on medication I’d said in advance had always done me harm. Over the course of the past year, I’ve been withdrawing from one of those meds, Olanzapine (an ‘anti-psychotic’ and ‘mood stabilizer’), after being told by my GP that the effects of it had led to high cholesterol which put me at risk of a heart attack. In my last meeting with my psychiatrist – someone who I don’t mind, personally, but whose profession I don’t believe in – he stated that my GP has said no such thing, leaving the door open to being forced on the medication again.

Last year, I tried to come off all meds. Not only on psychiatry’s standards was my admission to hospital and the imposition of medication botched, but by any rational standard, the whole situation was dealt with badly and even corruptly, with poor assessment of the evidence and illogical conclusions being made of it. But my mistake last year was in merely acting on the basis of this and not tapping into my long experience of mental health and medication to acknowledge that, once psychiatric medication is in your system, it’s very difficult to come off it. I was rendered incapable that summer, spending much of it deep in psychosis as my body and mind couldn’t adjust to the withdrawal in the time I’d taken to come off the pills.

This time, often working closely with my psychiatrist, I’ve taken a year to come off just the one medication I’ve been on (I’m also on a ‘mood stabilizer’). I’ve had a year of tapering off a chemical that I’m now free of, but even so I’m still enduring an exhausting process with a lack of psychological stability along with the physical punishment of quite severe sleep deprivation as my body gradually adjusts to the new reality and my brain slowly restructures along with my mind. It’s certainly not easy, especially the frequent absence of self-reflection, but it’s something that’s almost impossible to get support in doing (though there are resources online, should you wish to chase them up), not least because we live with a culture which, while having no reliable evidence of the claimed benefits of psychiatric medication beyond limited and disputed definitions of success, asserts almost universally that you should take ‘your’ meds, even seeing the body’s natural adjustment to coming off them as a reason to be on them. It’s just the way we’ve been conditioned to think and that conditioning’s just about everywhere you look.

If I’ve made any mistakes, this time, it’s been in not tapering out the withdrawal long enough, not giving myself time to become stable for a duration before embarking on the next reduction, but even here, there’s not a lot that would have prevented the situation I’m currently in, of being incredibly weak and tired – it’s just part of the process I’ve got to go through and, despite the instability, it’s nothing major and doesn’t fall within the boundaries of ‘mentally ill’. Tired, irritable because of that at times, sure, but psychotic or having extreme moods? No.

What I do know, though, is that if I was on a mental health ward, I could be engineered into mental illness rapidly. That’s happened before in my ‘mad’ career, even when I’ve been functioning well, rested and what you’d call ‘healthy’ (to the uninitiated, these things do happen, and can happen more easily than they’d think). It wouldn’t take much to pull it off now, but what’s in my favour is that I haven’t currently got the social environment to make that likely, though that’s never far from being brought into effect. The last time, those two years ago, was the culmination of my half-family’s behind-closed-doors emotional difficulties and their manipulation of local services and the Police in a process that gradually enclosed me in their abuse of legal and medical powers, without adequate safeguards to get me out of it. Safeguards that should be in place were also abused and, in that environment, there was nothing I could do – no avenue of redress, even – but take ‘my’ meds and agree with the fanciful notions of a psychiatrist who had far more power than cognitive ability or ethical grounding. So, I complied and, in so doing, further empowered my half-family and the bogus structures that had built up around me. It was a blatant abuse of my rights, but one I’ve worked to come to terms with by rationalising around it.  A tough process when your rights have been so badly trampled upon, but I’ve had no choice. There’s nothing I can do about it, anyway.

Like everyone I’ve come across in the mental health system, there’s fault lines in my family life. I’ve distanced myself from my half-family but, psychologically toxic and manipulative as they are, there’s always the danger that they’ll muscle in and I’ll be back on the merry-go-round of mental health again. My half-sister would be classed as quite severely ‘mentally ill’ by psychiatric standards, if psychiatrists went on the evidence of this. Highly manipulative with marked psychological issues, she maintains a control over my mom so that, in any dispute, my mom is likely to lie and sacrifice my rights to the system to protect her self-image. It’s an abusive and highly toxic situation where the family increases the level of abuse whenever it looks like the cat’s going to get out of the bag, and has been very successful in doing so. The problem’s compounded by the fact that local psychiatrists treat their comments as neutral observations, not as the misleading abuse they’re adept at. Indeed, my current psychiatrist, after my last meeting with him, has already claimed that I’m mistakenly ‘blaming my family again’. To him, there are no problems in the family, only with me, highlighting the dangers of poor critical ability in assessing situations (in my experience, common in clinical psychiatry) and making him vulnerable once more to being an extension of the abuse by my family, again in ways that I can do little about. My psychiatrist has claimed that he uses a ‘holistic approach’ but while they give the impression of comprehensive analysis, implying environmental understanding, they still instinctively reduce evidence to the individual’s perceived biological flaws. They really can’t help themselves, it’s so natural to them.

I don’t believe in clinical psychiatry at all. I’ve witnessed too much over the years. The fundamental basis of their medicine is a mess and the worrying thing is that so many people believe in it, without even bothering to adequately check. I’d started out, before being put on a ward, with a sociological approach to mental health. However, after the pills and persuasion that transform your mind, thinking and logic, I came to believe in all the myths and misnomers of the psychiatric profession, even blogging, as many do, about how much better I was with its help, how we needed to overcome stigma and educate the public. Yeah, that cliche. Now, though, I’ve regained my former approach and the proper conclusion: that the real stigma comes from psychiatry’s ideas about the aetiology of mental ‘illness’ and educating the public should mean informing it about facts, not the myths clung on to by the bulk of the mental health community. But that requires the people calling for the public’s education to become aware that they aren’t even remotely educated about mental health themselves, before patronising the public (and themselves) with their missionary zeal on a false journey of deluded hope that’ll only end with the very type of stigma they seek to address.

The situation’s not a good one. Even the left abandons its science and beliefs with the very mention of mental health. They might as well hoist a blue flag and sing ‘There is No Such Thing as Society’ as well as Thatcher ever could when the subject’s raised, they can hardly wait to abandon everything they hold dear in the face of the issue. Like the psychiatrists they take their lead from, they may pay lip-service to nurture and other environmental factors, but break down what they’re really saying and they’re peddling the same old stigmatizing notions of bad biology, without even bothering to independently examine what they’ve come to believe and how much of this approach has been discredited. In the modern world, I’ve got to wonder – outside of religion – if there’s any other set of beliefs so widely held with so little genuine examination and critical ability applied.

While I was spaced out for more than a decade, I did rise to the surface at times and argue such things as I’m arguing here and I also had the sense to pursue some valuable support. What I didn’t know at the time was that this would have a delayed effect, as the pills and ideas of psychiatry had to be gradually overcome. I went to Relate counselling, which meticulously looked at my social context, amongst other things – again, something psychiatry pays lip service to, but when it tries it, always tends to apply the same old framework of decontextualizing the individual to reduce issues to individual biology, to be resolved by other chemicals. Relate, though, almost immediately identified the fault lines in my family life and reintroduced me to thinking that I hadn’t had for a long time, developing some ideas into even more useful approaches. This would be the seed which would eventually give me the impetus to rediscover a sociological approach and reject most of what I’d been conditioned to accept within the psychiatric system.

Even now, though, as evidenced in my last post, it can take me some time to recall the sequence of events regarding, for example, the shifts in my approach and thinking. It wasn’t always that way, but after so long on chemicals, there was always bound to be consequences. I’m lucky, though. Even though I went further into psychosis than anyone I ever met in the system – stupidly, I’m even quite proud of that, but, again, this is not least a consequence of medication (as well as environmental factors that were compounded by the meds) – I haven’t remained on the brink of psychosis, as some people do.

But the experience of having been so far out does give me the authority, at least with myself, to reject the emotional stunts many people who’ve been in the system and live by it try to pull in defending bogus claims about mental health. I’ve been on forums in the past where the stunts are almost without limit in their extremity, but with most things psychological, I can match them point for point and the stunts fall flat. It’s a bit pathetic, like the scene in Jaws where characters compare injuries, but this is what discussions between people who’ve been through the ringer can be like. The pity is that a lot of the people who pull these stunts don’t even realise that their use of these stunts are often a big clue to where many of their problems really emanate from. I’m ultimately quite patient of that sort of thing, because I’ve pretty much been there and can understand why a lot of people cling to a system that can do them so much harm in ways they often can’t see, but that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with them, whatever bogus point they make, emotive or not.

But the body of opinion, however wrong, is, in terms of numbers, against me and other people who’ve discovered themselves the true state of psychiatry and mental health. But this is the way people have to do it. I could, as I’ve tried before, continue sounding off about it all, but it never comes to much. Until people make a concerted effort to challenge what they believe and investigate for themselves, talking about this stuff is like talking in a foreign language. People like me are also easily discredited and ignored. You’ve may have done that already in the paragraphs above, but to cover all the angles that are open to dispute and require significant reframing, it’d take a sizeable volume of writing. For myself to successfully come off meds, I’ve got to often think in creative ways, thinking patterns which are frowned upon in psychiatry, which likes things conservative, and broadly know what I’m doing, too. I don’t know everything and some of my thinking is more extreme than most people who think along the same lines, but at least I know, on the basis of a realistic comparison of approaches that I’m on the right lines.

These days, I can’t watch or hear or read a story on mental health in the media without seeing the cracks. What used to anger me was that most people can’t see them along with my urge for them to be able to. But why? If people don’t want to know and are happy taking their pills in blissful ignorance, while also thinking they’re on the ball as they try to ‘educate’ others into their borrowed ignorance, then they can go for it. That they’re not told of their options and what those options really are in the first place is wrong, but it’s common practice. To me, going to see a psychiatrist is little different to going to see a witch doctor or a clairvoyant. If you don’t believe me, check the science and check it properly.

The approach of clinical psychiatry is common practice that needs a complete rethink: a new approach to language with an entirely different perspective and reforms across the board in how we work as individuals and as a society. I’m lucky in that I had strong ideas about mental health before I entered the system, but the ideas and shifts in thinking required can be so great for many, along with the way psychiatry influences relationships and thinking, that most don’t ever even get close to realising there’s more valid options to what they’ve come to believe. Individuals need to be contextualised and the environment shouldn’t be depoliticized so the highly complex nature of nurture is recognised as crucial to everyone’s psychological well-being and reforms can be thought about accordingly. We need a system which, rather than doping people up to brush things under the carpet, addresses crucial issues in ways that offer long-term solutions, something psychiatry has never been able to honestly, ethically and safely offer.

For me, I’ve got to carry on trying to make sure I’m not put back on pills that could kill me, while taking the strain of the adjustments I’m having to make. All summer, I’ve been all over the place, but this should eventually level out. Then it’s time to think about the other med, then, in the years ahead, a transfer to psychological approaches, then discharge. I don’t tend to bother with debates on this, especially in the UK. The issues of prestige and deference that are such a problem in psychiatry are what beat the heart of Britain, so if I do talk about it, it makes sense for that to be done elsewhere. Even so, it usually doesn’t get very far – psychiatry’s got its feet under the table and it isn’t moving for quite a while. Meanwhile, I’ve got a meeting coming up with my psychiatrist and that’s partly why I’ve written this – writing something about it all is cathartic in a way, but it’s bizarre for me to have to go to a clinical psychiatrist, someone who I have no belief in and know relies on so much discredited science, while lacking the ability to assess real-world situations adequately. But, even though I’m right and there’s ample evidence that I am right, I’m not only in the minority in knowing that but there’s also a legal framework – informed by dodgy science and its own ignorance – that disempowers me and any legitimate argument I may make in the face of a lot of power. There’s nothing I can do about that and that’s why I have to go.


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