We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose ~ Romans 8:28
Sometimes God’s purpose isn’t at all what we have in mind.
I arrived home last December after an hour long drive in the dark, having just completed a grueling 4 and a half hour final exam for my history course. I was tired but content. Finals were over. I was very ready to eat supper, say rosary with my parents, and pass out for the night.
That wasn’t quite how the evening went.
I walked through the door, kicked off my boots and shuffled into the kitchen where I found my mother waiting.
“Finally done.” I offered her a tired grin. “I think it went well.”
“You have to come off all of your medications.”
She was clearly agitated, hovering by the island in the center of the kitchen with her Kindle in her hand.
I stared at her blankly.
I’d been relatively stable for the past year, with only two or three mild episodes. I’d finally stopped rapid-cycling two years previously. As far as I was concerned, bipolar disorder was no longer something I had to worry much about. I had found a medication combination that worked, and it didn’t give me side-effects. I had a very effective anti-psychotic medication on hand to prevent me from ever having to go through another psycho-manic episode. I barely gave my disorder a second thought anymore. The tendonitis in both of my elbows that I’d spent the past two years combating was a much bigger problem in my mind, and more than enough of a cross to bear.
My mother is a pharmacist— not exactly a profession than encourages an anti-pill mentality. And yet, much to my alarm, she proceeded to explain to me that my medications were all doing terrible things to my brain and if I didn’t come off of them I would wind up in a really bad condition years down the road.
This wasn’t something I wanted to hear. My medications were my safety blanket. They kept me in control. I was not going to stop them. No way. She was nuts.
A lot of anxious wheedling later and my mother succeeded in talking me into at least reading up on what she’d discovered. Upon talking to my awesome history prof at the beginning of the winter semester, I received permission to write my research paper on the topic in order to kill two birds with one stone. So I purchased the audiobook for Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic and began making my way through it during the drive home from school twice per week.
I can honestly say it made for the most upsetting, discouraging, enraging research project I have ever conducted. Upon completing that book I ordered in David Healy’s book Pharmageddon and used the index to find all of the parts related to psychiatric medication. It only confirmed what I’d already come to accept after Whitaker’s book— namely that drug companies are one of the most corrupt things on the face of the planet, psychiatry has, in some ways, done much more harm than good to society, and that to my great dismay, my mother was right.
So to make a long story short, I’m coming off my medications this summer. I wanted to wait until after the semester was over before I started, or I would have probably started back in February. I made my first cutback on my antidepressant, bupropion (better known by its brand name Wellbutrin) on April 23rd, from 150mg to 125mg. It resulted in a week of discomfort, rather distinct discomfort on a few occasions, but I seem to have bounced back to normal. I’ll be cutting back again this coming Saturday, assuming I remain stable between now and then.
Looked at from a stance of blissful ignorance, what I’m doing is utterly absurd. The daughter of a good friend of mine has flat out stated she thinks I’m crazy. I am rather tempted to point out, in good humour, that I fall under that category by default seeing as I have a mental illness. But the choice to come off of my medications was far from arbitrary. In fact, after much prayer and deliberation I’m quite certain that this is God’s plan for me right now. I’ll probably be writing posts about this now and then throughout the summer. I don’t expect this process to be a smooth one, and pain is an excellent fertilizer for growth. Not that I go out of my way to experience it, but Jesus himself pointed out that his Father prunes us to make us bear more fruit (John 15:1-8). Pruning is rarely pleasant.
Yes, I received permission from my psychiatrist to do this. In fact, I went into the appointment expecting to have to argue with her to let me do so; instead, she barely batted an eyelash, made no protest at all, and asked me why I hadn’t already come off of my medications since I no longer wanted to take them.
So after I picked up my jaw off the floor, I was told that I could stop my bupropion that I’ve been on for 3 and a half years cold-turkey without any negative side-effects. Even though that flies in the face of everything I’ve read about coming off antidepressants. Needless to say, I disagreed. And after how I felt last week, I’m glad I decided to taper off slowly.
What exactly did my mother and I discover to make us want to do this? For an answer to that, I strongly encourage you to check out the books I mentioned above, particularly Whitaker’s. If you or a loved one are on any psychiatric medications, this is information you need to know. I’m not at all suggesting everyone should drop off their meds. That isn’t feasible for everyone, especially if a person has been on their pills for many years. But people need to know this stuff. It’s serious. And it’s not a conspiracy theory. As one of the professors at my university bluntly stated when I gave a presentation on this topic, “I always tell my students to never believe in conspiracy theories, unless they involve drug companies.” The evidence of corruption, fraud, and downright criminal activity is freely available to people who choose to look for it. A look at the various lawsuits that have been filed against companies like Eli Lily is telling. The numerous studies that have been swept under the carpet because their results were inconvenient are even more telling.
I have now posted my research essay online, so feel free to read it if you’re interested in more details. That said, I’d rather people check out my sources and do their own research. You are very unlikely to hear about any of it from your psychiatrist. I certainly never heard it from mine. Misinformation among the general public is rampant, drug companies encourage it, and many doctors buy into it as well.
Just one example:
Were you aware that the chemical-imbalance theory of mental illness is completely false? The medical community no longer accepts it because it has been proven wrong so many times over the past 40 years. In fact, there’s never been any solid evidence to support it. But the general public has been repeatedly informed that depression is the result of a serotonin deficiency (or some other chemical imbalance) and schizophrenia is chalked up to an overactive dopamine system. The reality is that studies have repeatedly shown unmedicated schizophrenics have the very same dopamine systems as healthy individuals, and unmedicated patents suffering from depression have the very same variations in serotonin levels as healthy individuals. Check out Whitaker’s book if you don’t believe me.
A quote from Ronald Pies, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times on July 11, 2011, says it all:
“I am not one who easily loses his temper, but I confess to experiencing markedly increased limbic activity whenever I hear someone proclaim, “Psychiatrists think all mental disorders are due to a chemical imbalance!” In the past 30 years, I don’t believe I have ever heard a knowledgeable, well-trained psychiatrist make such a preposterous claim, except perhaps to mock it. On the other hand, the “chemical imbalance” trope has been tossed around a great deal by opponents of psychiatry, who mendaciously attribute the phrase to psychiatrists themselves. And, yes—the “chemical imbalance” image has been vigorously promoted by some pharmaceutical companies, often to the detriment of our patients’ understanding. In truth, the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”
I offer in rebuttal two sources that (incorrectly) support the “preposterous” chemical imbalance theory. The first is The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide written by PhD David J. Miklowitz, published in 2011. First off, in a list of the various things that influence bipolar disorder he includes:
“biological agents–abnormal functioning of brain circuits involving neurotransmitters such as dopamine” (pg 75).
On the very same page he adds:
“Your brain may be over- or underproducing certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, or GABA.”
Farther into the book he explains:
“we suspect that people with bipolar disorder have disturbances in intracellular signalling cascades, which regulate the neurotransmitter, neuropeptide, and hormonal systems that are central to the limbic system” (pg 88). (Emphasis not added by me)
A short while later he adds:
“bipolar disorder is believed to be related to diminished functioning of the serotonin system…. bipolar disorder has been related to increased sensitivity of the dopamine receptors and changes in the regulation of dopamine ‘reward pathways'” (pg 90).
In Miklowitz’s defense, he nowhere claims that the chemical imbalance theory has been proven 100% true, or is the entire cause of the disorder. But he certainly doesn’t shoot it down as incorrect either.
My second source is the textbook from my Psych 101 university course Psychology: Themes and Variations by Wayne Weiten and Doug McCann. They claim:
“Recent evidence suggests that a link may exist between anxiety disorders and neurochemical activity in the brain…. Abnormalities in neural circuits using serotonin have recently been implicated in panic and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Thus, scientists are beginning to unravel the neurochemical basis for anxiety disorders” (pg 651).
Later on they claim:
“Correlations have been found between mood disorders and abnormal levels of two neurotransmitters in the brain: norepinephrine and serotonin, although other neurotransmitter disturbances may also contribute. The details remain elusive, but it seems clear that a neurochemical basis exists for at least some mood disorders” (pgs 661-662).
These quotes are taken from the Third Canadian Edition which was published in 2013.
I am not quoting these to defend the chemical imbalance theory. In fact, from what I’ve read elsewhere, I am as convinced as Mr. Pies that the theory is bogus. However, his snide derision of psychiatry’s opponents is as absurd as the theory itself. This theory has been propounded for years by psychiatrists and by people teaching psychiatric students in universities. Is he making the claim that none of these people were “knowledgeable” or “well-trained?” Am I “mendaciously” making up these quotes to smear psychiatrists? I’ve got both books sitting open beside me on the desk. Check them out for yourself if you don’t believe me.
So to make a long-winded story short, you can’t just blindly trust professionals. Do some research of your own. But don’t panic and go off your meds cold-turkey if what you find freaks you out. That’s dangerous. Do more research and taper off slowly, preferably under the supervision of a doctor who is willing to help you.
That turned into a much longer rant than I intended. That always happens when I get on this topic. Anyway, please check this stuff out yourself. And I’ll keep you posted on how things go on my end.
Take care and God bless,
March 2019 Edit: I’ve now been successfully off of all my medications for over a year, and am doing much better now than I ever was on my medications. I encourage you to please check out Part 4 and Part 5 of this series for an explanation of why this is so and how you might be able to achieve the same result in your own life. God bless you!