LWe can get what we want so quickly like no other time in history. For example, you can just say a few words to Alexa to find out the average height of a giraffe. The information age, particularly the Internet, allows faster access to knowledge than at any time in history. Access to more information can help us learn about health and other topics, perhaps even faster than doctors and healthcare professionals, especially if you’re lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to learn about a medical problem firsthand.
You may be thinking, “I can learn more than doctors if I’ve had an illness?” If you read on, you’ll know what I’m talking about; I experienced this interesting phenomenon firsthand.
The irony of disparity in Mental health awareness between patients and professionals
First-hand experience with an illness or disease can give you an edge over any medical professional; When a person experiences enough suffering, they can be willing to do anything to find relief, including seeking the TRUTH about the causes of their illness. The truth you find may go against the conventions of society and medicine, which can be frightening. However, this is a recipe to get to the bottom of things and find out what’s really going on with your health. A doctor’s survival does not necessarily depend on finding specific answers to diseases. But when your survival and happiness depend on the answers you find for your illness, it’s certainly motivating. It was only after going through everything I am about to tell you that I discovered this reality. My experience showed me this truth.
I grew up believing that doctors can always be trusted and that they know far more about health than the average person. Most of the problems I had were solved fairly easily by doing what my parents or the doctors said. However, this trend began to change as I got older. During my teenage years I had an experience where I suffered from depression in my life and was told by a psychiatrist that an antidepressant would help me. My experience had shown me that the doctor was usually right, so I started taking this pharmaceutical drug, looking forward to the depression relief and healing.
Living with psychiatric drugs
The doctors had a good track record of helping me recover from illnesses, so initially I was happy to heed their advice on the depression I was having. I also spent some time in both group and individual therapy. Group therapy was mostly a positive experience for me because I started to learn more tools to help me deal with life on life’s terms. When I felt confused and had overwhelming emotions, I learned to write my thoughts and feelings in a journal. I had journaled before, but my understanding of the value of this practice deepened and I found that I gradually became better at expressing myself and becoming more aware of my thoughts and feelings. Another benefit of group therapy was meeting other people who were also struggling with mental health problems; Working with these people helped me to remind myself that I was not alone, but that I had other people to relate to and work with. Group therapy helped me learn tools and build relationships that gave me a good, healthy foundation to become a more balanced and happier person.
Individual therapy with a counselor was another bright spot in my recovery. It has helped me learn to look at and talk about those areas of my life that I had not previously dared to address. I have learned more deeply about the importance of having someone outside of my family and friends who can look at me more objectively, which I think is so important. Often family and friends have difficulty being as objective as someone like a counselor for reasons such as fear of offending me or maybe even being blind to good things about me and ways I can continue to grow. However, I must also emphasize that family and friends have also been instrumental in my recovery.
Unfortunately, the psychiatric drugs were a different story than the benefits I had received through therapy, family and friends. The series of doctors who had successfully helped me had come to an ugly end.
After I started taking a psychiatric drug, I felt numb and gained a lot of weight. My thinking slowed and I found it harder to connect with other people. I felt tired all the time. Over the next few years I expressed these challenges to the psychiatrist and so began the horrible and very difficult experience of finding the “right drug”. In a way, this was worse than anything I experienced before I started taking psychiatric medication. There was a plethora of side effects caused by these various drugs; some were a bit difficult to deal with and others almost made me feel like I was dying. I experienced painful things like chest pains, feeling like I could never be still, depression and more.
I remember thinking during that time, “This is awful. I don’t know if this will ever end. I feel so alone. Why do I feel so awful?”
Luckily, I was finally able to find only one psychiatric drug to take where I was feeling good, or at least not feeling horrible. Although I still felt tired all the time, I self-medicated with caffeine and was eventually able to return to full-time work. However, after a few years of taking this drug, I found that I was gradually getting sicker. I was more depressed than before I started taking psychiatric drugs. I was overweight and had skin problems and digestive problems. I was constantly in survival mode and had no idea what the problem was. My psychiatrist had no answers, and my doctor said I seemed fine for the most part. But I knew I was sicker than I was before I ever started taking the drug. I had also learned that I “needed” this psychiatric drug because I had been told I had a “neurochemical imbalance.” Shortly after being told this, I had hit a brick wall full-on trying to get off the drug without success, confirming that I did in fact have a neurochemical imbalance.
A conversation that would change my life forever
After going through this circus for over a decade, a wise psychologist asked me if I really needed psychiatric medication. I think I may have looked at her at first like she just told me the moon is made of cheese. However, after digesting what she had to say over the next few months, I realized that when I first experienced this depression, I was not getting enough sleep and not eating very well at the same time. Coincidence? Surely it was. Because I had a “neurochemical imbalance” and needed these drugs, according to the psychiatrists.
My ally, the internet
After taking some time to sink in about this not needing psychiatric drug option, I did what anyone would do: I googled it. My search criteria included phrases such as: “dangers of psychiatric drugs,” “psychiatric drug withdrawal,” and “psychiatric drug withdrawal experience.” Once again I was a bit surprised by all the information I found. I discovered many stories of people claiming to have successfully come off psychiatric drugs even after taking them for 10 to 20 years or more. I even found psychiatrists who stopped giving their patients psychotropic drugs. Another reality that gave me hope was the discovery of a variety of factors that can cause a person to become anxious or depressed, including lack of sleep, poor diet, and poor stress management habits. Thanks in part to the internet, I gradually began to realize that there might be good reasons why I had symptoms of depression when I was young and that taking medication wasn’t the best answer to solve this problem.
After doing my due diligence to research more about psychiatric drugs on the internet and through some books I bought, I decided to follow this wise psychologist’s suggestion and try to come off the drug; and I was somewhat surprisingly able to get away from it. It was very difficult to get off the drug, especially as the doctors had drummed into me that if I was having trouble coming off the drug, it was proof that I needed it. What I discovered was that it was difficult to get off the drug because of the withdrawal symptoms and because the drug had messed up my health. But eventually I was off the meds! What a relief and what a miracle! Having been off psychiatric drugs for many years now, I’ve found that the longer I’ve been off them, the better I’ve felt!
So living in the information age can have the odd irony of going against a doctor’s orders because the pain of my situation helped inspire me to search DEEPER for answers, including via the internet. My experience has taught me that when you experience enough pain in your life, you will search everywhere for the truth, even when that truth contradicts what the medical system is telling you. Part of me wanted my psychiatrist to be right because, in a way, it would be easier to just keep taking psychiatric drugs. But I feel so much better not taking them and I hope I never have to take these meds again. Sometimes it feels a bit like the book 1984; I feel like I’m on a mission and “the system” doesn’t really care about our well-being. Thankfully, however, I have found that this is not entirely true.
On my journey, I have met wonderful holistic doctors and health professionals who are interested in finding the root cause of health problems, not just patching symptoms of anxiety or sadness. As I was reflecting on my past while writing this article, I wonder if I would have been able to gain the knowledge I needed to come off psychiatric drugs if I had lived in a time without the internet. I am grateful for both the internet and this wise psychologist for helping me save my life and wellbeing.
Mad in America hosts blogs from a diverse group of writers. These posts are intended to serve as a public forum for discussion—broadly—about psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the authors’ own.