I’m gradually leaving the Church of the Poisoned Minds: the philosophy, chemicals and other systems of medicalized psychiatry. I was on two meds and now I’m on just one, having successfully withdrawn from the more difficult one to come off. It was a very tough withdrawal, even though it was spaced out over a year and done very gradually. But the psychological and physical trials are now over and I’m stable again, gradually building on that stability in many ways, not least being able to pause for thought and have a consistent personality. I’m still suffering sleep loss, but that looks like a side-effect of the increased relative strength of the other med, which also brings feelings of nausea with it. I’m relieved, though, that I’m now able to get a few power naps throughout the day to supplement the few hours I get at night, but a reduction in the other medication should start helping with that.
I have a meeting with my psychiatrist this coming week, where I’ll lay out my plans for the months ahead, which includes withdrawal from this other drug. I don’t expect enthusiasm and yet the research is that, for the diagnosis he gave me, people who come off meds are vastly better off than those who stay on them in the long-term. Not only that, but in the short-term, the chances of relapse through an increase in dopamine receptors, in the absence of chemicals which block such receptors, should be non-existent, now, as I’ve surpassed that danger with the one medication designed around that idea (the need of which, like most things about meds, is without solid foundation) and regained stability – the danger really lies in if there’s any complications with withdrawing from the other.
Moreover, planning, for a time, to add another therapy to the mix should address any remaining residue and build on the work I’ve already done myself in those areas. Again, though, despite this approach being backed up by research, it might not get the reception it could with my psychiatrist if it conflicts with his beliefs. And his beliefs are backed by power, so ultimately it’s his call, regardless of what science states. However, I’m optimistic that he’ll offer support, though that support will probably come with negative expectations, based on the poor analysis of false records (WTF! Sounds bizarre, I know, but get me to a judge and I’ll prove it!). That lessens the chances of success but I don’t think by enough to affect the outcome, as my environment at home is the best it’s been for a very long time.
The only involvement I’m looking for from my psychiatrist is to help with the doses in withdrawing and I’m partly having to do this for political reasons, rather than medical ones, which isn’t the way it should be. And yet, my psychiatrist will cling on to a number of baseless concerns framed by false beliefs brought about by a poor approach to assessment I can only offer to put right, subject to whether he chooses to believe me. It may not be worth my time, even though that approach maintains a lot of power over my life. I could turn to another organisation and therapist for the withdrawal, which would deal with the problems of the dominant psychiatric approach my psychiatrist is part of, but I can manage my approach to these, even though it would be better if I didn’t have to. It’s a bullshit situation by anyone’s standards, but medicalized psychiatry is a severely broken and discredited system, enough informed people – even many at the top of psychiatry – have known this for a long time, but little is being done about it because so many side issues are involved that really shouldn’t enter into it. But that’s the situation as it is and that has to be dealt with, however surreal it is.
What can happen when you withdraw from psychiatric meds and even psychiatry itself (if I do do that) is that a number of issues and factors start cropping up that you have to both identify and deal with. It isn’t just a case of adapting to the withdrawal of chemicals from your system – that can be the minor part, but you do have to manage the thoughts which re-emerge when you come off meds, which you probably went on to avoid confronting or to dismiss completely and yet still had swimmingly around – unresolved – in the recesses of your mind, almost certainly causing unforeseen complications, which are potentially compounding. However, it helps to confront and make sense of them, because these thoughts and the circumstances that contributed to them can show you why you originally became distressed and lead to problem-solving strategies, also building on your experience, while preparing you for if they return. Here, knowledge really can be power, and empowerment is usually no bad thing.
Many factors can lead someone to experiencing a level of mental distress that many consider requires psychiatric care. There’s a very good chance that a complex social environment of early neglect or abuse was a factor and that the underlying fissures have never been addressed. This can lead to a situation where breaking from psychiatric ideas challenges the power dynamics which moulded around you, promoting your disempowerment while a patient – not only are mental health patients stigmatized (as they always will be in the medical model), but people become comfortable with the power around adopting some sort of dominant carer/advisory role as it validates to them their approach to life. Challenge these and you can promote bizarre behaviour in people who find it difficult to adapt to this loss of power and position – becoming equal to a mental health patient who fed your guru status isn’t always palatable to many people – and try instead, sometimes unconsciously, to reinforce the old dynamics. This process can go to some extreme lengths. Indeed, it can be so problematic and intractable that you are faced with little alternative but to break off contact from some people completely. Another of the factors hindering this approach is that it can necessitate an explanation of the original social problems and that can also lead to a very hostile response if taken the wrong way by people who’ve never understood the situation in such terms before explained by someone of such a relative lack of social status as a patient. But another important point in using this approach is to also see other people’s behaviour in contextual terms – that there’s reasons they might not get it and that that’s not entirely their fault. That way, you don’t make their mistake of carrying baggage you don’t understand away from the encounter.
Another problem you have to face is a philosophical one. The shift from a medical perspective to, say, a psychosocial one isn’t by any means easy, either. This also shouldn’t be the case, as the science and informed opinion is that the medical model is comprehensively an unscientific failure, often doing more harm than good, and where it does seem to do good, it’s often because of unreliable definitions of success backed up with shady evidence that’s not fully understood, including when the model works merely because the patient believes it will (a common factor), while rarely understanding the potential implications of its treatments. But the medical perspective is partly so persuasive because it’s so widely held and now embedded throughout our culture and in our everyday thinking. Here, prior research can help in giving you confidence that the ideas which may confuse, lead to doubt and get you unnecessarily running to the medicine cabinet if the going gets tough, are largely based on prestige and belief, not reliable science.
There’s also the shift in support that you can experience. You can’t expect the bulk of the psychiatric community to be supportive in you withdrawing from meds because it’s not really an option they frequently consider. To them, as with mainstream psychiatrists, you may have an ‘illness’ which they need to put right with ‘medicine’. That there’s no grounds in realism for such a belief in psychiatric matters doesn’t wash. That’s what they’ve been led to think, so that’s the way it is. As with the above factor, there’s a lot of belief involved, here designed around maintaining your self-perception as a patient, with those limited, disputed and misguided definitions of success based on false interpretations frequently thrown into the mix. You can also invite hostility if you’re vocal about what you’re doing and why, partly because it challenges and even threatens ideas, ways of life and even institutions, along with a world view which, although false, a lot of people have come to rely on and deeply believe in in ways similar to how religious faith works. Although many people who work in mental health are great on a personal level (if tending to be a bit on the conservatively-limited side), in this light, is it really help at all? All told, this shift in support can be a release because a better understanding of the system, yourself and the world, along with the experience you’ve gained, your successful withdrawal from medication and other forms of misguided support can lead to you experiencing increased independence, confidence and empowerment.
In the midst of all this, you also have to try to apply what you’ve learned (if you have) from your experiences via intuition, thought, reflection, interaction and research. I’ve possibly gone over-the-top in my approach to getting to this stage, gradually, over time, assessing pretty much everything I could from any angle I know, but it seems to have reaped quite good rewards in the longer-term, even though I’m more than open to an experienced and effective therapist going over things at some stage. That said, the more I look into this stuff, the more I realise that I’ve been quite astute in my approach, discovering much of it being supported by informed opinion and research. Your experiences and adaptation to a life off meds does affect your personality, but at least you’re working on the basis of your personality and an approach to it that’s up to you. Many people experience this change in personality unpredictably imposed on them by a system that obscures this process, with some devastating consequences for too many people, especially over the long-term. It really boils down to being able to make informed judgements about your life, including your environment, developing strategies according to this, so that you have a healthier relationship between the two. In other words, don’t adapt to your environment because your environment might be wrong; don’t impose your maladaptations on an environment, because it won’t accept that anyway; and, don’t try to impose your new way of life on your world, because the rejection from a world – however misguided much of it currently is – might knock you back. Instead, understand yourself and the world around you enough so that your life’s a successful negotiation but where your mental state isn’t vulnerable to damaging distress and potentially worse ‘solutions’. So, sure, all that does change you, but, based on an effective approach to the trials of life, it’s a more rounded and thus better you and so, arguably, a better life – not for everyone, perhaps. Maybe not even for most, as the philosophy of medical psychiatry runs so deep and distorts so much, but that’s partly the point.
I wasn’t fully ready to leave the Church of the Poisoned Minds the last time I tried, but neither was my environment. Now I feel a lot more ready and parts of my social environment are transformed from the toxic atmosphere that was dominant even a couple of years ago. That my medical team clings on to the ideas born of that atmosphere is something I’ll have to deal with or leave as an unresolvable issue with services, but not with me. If this ultimately fails, and I’m dragged back in by psychiatric services – which, now I’ve been in the system for so long, will probably remain a lifelong hazard – I’ll at least try to make it that I’m not put on anything other than tranquilizers, much as I dislike even those. But rather that, than potentially damaging ‘cures’ for ‘illnesses’ that don’t even exist. But you try telling someone that whose whole career has been spent in the belief of that approach. That said, I seriously doubt that I’ll be returning to a ward any time soon, though, because of the absence of the toxicity I experienced for years, while I lurched from crisis to crisis, in a probable – though moderate – brain-damaging fog of psychiatric medication (is there even such a thing as ‘moderate brain damage’?).
Although there’s more to contend with in coming off medication than the simple act alone, once you’ve got there, then what? Well, then the temptation to ‘spread the gospel’ and enlighten everyone can be immense and also frustrating, but, from one angle, this is to make a similar mistake to that of the Church itself. Medical psychiatry’s a belief system, from top-to-bottom – from the creation of diagnoses to the perception of the results of pill popping. There are psychiatrists who are trying desperately to enact reform, but there’s not much hope for them, the beliefs and what keeps them in place are so strong. Debate is skewed, so that the burden of proof is always with the people who are on the side of science against those who claim to be, coming, as they do, with some of the most bizarre arguments you’ll ever find in any sphere, once you know what they’re really saying in context. And, as you’d expect from such a belief system, proof is never enough, anyway, not least because it’s a system backed up by almost unparallelled power, influence and often desperate adherence. Back in 2007/8, I made the argument that the situation with the dominant strain of psychiatry is a civil rights issue and a huge one at that. Nothing’s happened since to change my mind. If anything, with more experience and research, that belief’s now stronger than it was. When even the people medicalized psychiatry limits and damages are often more than willing to collude – granted, unwittingly – in their own maltreatment, and there’s little hope of them, the majority of the politicians supposedly representing them, or even the bulk of the media that’s supposed to inform them, seeing this, debating it or being able to do much about it, and you can see that’s a serious impediment to reform or even the very conditions to see the urgent need for it. One of the great tragedies I’ve often seen is when someone in the system tries to come off meds they somehow know are wrong in a way they can’t begin to understand, gets no support but is usually faced instead with a wall of power and influence that has nothing to do with health, apart from its hindrance. It’s the closest many of them ever get to regaining some of what they’ve lost but it’s soon lost as the system is usually quick to swoop in, lock down and dope up.
There’s disincentives to saying anything that conflicts with the ideas of mainstream psychiatry, especially if you’ve been through the system as a patient, as I have. You’re an easy target from the off. Not only that, but you’re rarely believed, even by people who’ve seen the abuses of the system first-hand, and yet been unable to really understand them or have the resolve to see through such an understanding. I have friends in the system I can talk to about this stuff, who listen but sadly can’t really hear, then go on to appointments with the psychiatrists they see as parental figures – or some other nonsense idea about their relationship – while the psychiatrists, as many carers tend to do, lap up the power the whole scenario gives them, ignorant of why and how to adequately resolve it, while often waxing lyrical about empowerment in a system that damagingly offers anything but. I can’t, because I don’t have the prestige my friends regard as paramount because that’s what they’ve come to value in a system that encourages deference towards that stance in many, many ways. Elsewhere I recall interactions on forums that get nowhere near breaking through, people are so wedded to ideas that simply don’t add up, concentrating primarily on debates within the framework of psychiatric diagnostics, too often failing to see there’s clear alternatives. I even recall commenting on a TED Talk that was about the perceived need to introduce psychiatry to India, which was breathtaking in its ignorance and omissions, while the audience – typical of such talks – lapped it up. Essentially, my argument, which most people reading this probably won’t get, partly because good knowledge isn’t as prominent as it should be, was that India achieved its independence a long time ago and it would be grossly wrong to impose on them such a bogus colonial system, though in a different form, again. The scale of the blinkered nature, not least the depoliticization, of this debate is such that I was even quizzed about whether I was a Scientologist, a common belief of the believers towards the disbelieving. There’s no space for reason in such a repressive church. But, whenever you discuss anything like this, you get used to the fact that, with the vast majority of people, all it takes a simple mistake or a piece of misinformation from a believer to get everyone running, once again, to the altar of the Church of the Poisoned Minds.
You’re not only faced with marginalisation and the ‘Crucible thinking’ of mainstream psychiatry which consumes the vast majority of its advocates, but the imposition of that thinking in political and medical institutions (including the NHS, where resources are being squandered on a massive scale in their misapplication), the legal framework, the bulk of the media and the web, charities, support groups, individuals, and so on. Almost wherever you go, you’ll face it sooner or later, because it’s become how we tend to think as a society, while we also tend to believe we live in an age of science. And when you do face it with someone who’s taken their ‘body of Christ’ – people who stand to benefit hugely from the abandonment of mainstream psychiatry, if only they could somehow wake up – you also have to contend with all that along with the additional complications of facing someone who’s personality is probably different to what it’d otherwise be in ways they often can’t fully see, with thinking influenced chemically and psychologically by the system and, the chances are, a further set of unresolved social issues dating way back, that locks them in and you well and truly out. Is it really worth anyone’s while trying to reach these people in those circumstances? Ultimately, yes, especially from the perspective of it being a civil rights issue, but that it isn’t and is unlikely to be seen as such in the near future, it’s probably best for those in the know to hold their tongues, concentrate on their approach, and remain on the margins, leaving everyone else to dance in the moonlight, until the meds run out.
So, although it looks like I’m well on my way to leaving the Church of the Poisoned Minds, and there are some positive signs for reform even in psychiatry (though predictably marginalised), the disappointment has to be that the almost limitless potential for the wider society of a cultural shift to a psychosocial approach based on science, rather than belief, almost certainly won’t be taking place any time soon. It’s also clear to me that we need far more awareness of ourselves, our environment, their relationship and our adaptive strategies in ways that address pre-existing problems along with those we might face but, again, is anything like this really on the horizon? I doubt it. It all needs a cultural shift that’s currently too distant a vision for too many people. This coming week, I’d just better make sure I don’t mention most of this to my psychiatrist or I face being bundled on some ward somewhere for quite some time, while my feet, however right they may be, won’t even touch the sides of the walls.