To anyone clinically diagnosed with some form of Bipolar Disorder, the title of this post probably sounds like some click-bait ad along the same lines as “Make millions of dollars fast and easy from your own home!” or “Look 20 years younger overnight with this one simple trick!” Would those promises be nice? For sure. Are they actually legitimate? No way.
In the case of my post title though, I’m living proof that its actually possible, as impossible as that may sound. 8 years ago shortly before Christmas I was clinically diagnosed with Type 1 Bipolar Disorder. I was hospitalized on two separate occasions for psychotic mania (ie. suffering from delusions and hallucinations), and went through various different prescription medications and years of misery and struggle. Yet now, as I write this post, I am currently sitting at the one year mark of being entirely symptom free. And that isn’t for lack of triggers and the stress of various momentous life events: from missing way more sleep than usual, to entering into a serious romantic relationship for the first time, to dealing with unexpected family emergencies, and more, 2019 has been a very eventful year!
Despite my hopes of getting into the habit of writing more regularly on here (something I mentioned in my first post at the beginning of the year), I haven’t written anything new since March. This is largely due to the fact that my previous motivation for writing stemmed from my own personal experiences with depression, mania and everything in between that I was going through on a day to day basis. Having been completely symptom free for an entire year has meant that Bipolar Disorder in general has rarely come to my mind, and I’ve had no new thoughts and inspirations to put into a post. But aside from that, its also something I haven’t had any desire to dwell on much. I’ve just been savouring the ability to live life like a normal person again, free from the looming shadow of having to juggle everyday life while avoiding triggers and bracing myself for inevitable future episodes on the horizon.
If you haven’t read any of my previous posts before, I encourage you to check out my post Withdrawl – Part 5: Med-Free Bipolar for an explanation as to what has helped me reach a place of complete stability for such an extended period of time. At this point, I consider my Bipolar Disorder to be cured—though there is a caveat to that. The reason I’ve been symptom free is that I continue taking the supplements I mentioned in that post with the same borderline-religious regularity that I used to take my prescription meds. Were I to come off of those supplements, I have little doubt I’d start having symptoms again sooner or later. So in that sense, I’m not completely cured. But for all intents and purposes, I’m no longer someone who deals with Bipolar Disorder.
Of course, I still hang onto a lot of my pre-established life routines from my bipolar days—I try my best to get regular sleep, I don’t go out wildly partying or binge drinking (not that I would even if I could), I continue to watch my stress levels and organize my schedule so as not to get overburdened and burn myself out. But I have way more flexibility in my day to day life and choices, and a sense of peace and freedom knowing that if I have a night here or there where I only get a couple hours of sleep, or I have an especially stressful/difficult week, I’m not going to plunge into weeks of depression or skyrocket into weeks of steadily escalating mania as a result. I thank God over and over again for the unbelievable miraculous blessing that this is. For years I thought I’d spend the rest of my life chained and constrained by my disorder. Now I feel like I can finally live again.
So I come to ultimate reason for this post: I think I may be putting this blog to rest. I started it because I felt strongly called to minister to other people going through the same challenges as me, to offer them a Christian, faith-filled perspective on the gritty realities of living with a serious mental illness. Now that I’m free of my illness, I’m not sure what else to say except to urge other fellow sufferers to look into the things that brought me to this place of restored health. Even if your illness is something other than Bipolar, the supplements formulated by the TrueHope company help with managing many other conditions as well, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, autism and others. Diet and lifestyle are also important components of recovery— for instance, I eat a ketogenic diet now by and large, though I do allow myself to indulge and eat whatever I feel like now and then when hanging with friends.
I may change my mind and write other posts in future if ideas come to me. But even if I don’t, what I’ve written so far will remain here for anyone who needs it. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! I’ll be notified of any comments here and will respond to them.
I mentioned back in Part 1 of my series on my withdrawal from psychiatric medication that I might post the research paper I wrote about the subject online. Now, three years later, in the aftermath of successfully coming off all medications and living med-free for a year with great success, I’ve decided to finally post it. This will have a decidedly different tone from my usual posts, and it includes citations and endnotes because this was written as an undergraduate paper several years ago. For a more personal explanation of my own story and the important supplements I’ve discovered to make this lifestyle possible, please read Part 4 and Part 5 of my Withdrawal series.
I promise to return to my usual style of posting after this! I have a number of important faith subjects I intend to tackle this year. But for now, here is my research paper, tweaked slightly in formatting for the purposes of making it a blog post:
The Advent of Psychiatry and the Rise of Mental Illness in America
If you were diagnosed with manic-depression (now called bipolar disorder) while living in pre-1970 America, you would have a 75-90% chance of a good long-term outcome. Today your chance would be 33%. Prior to 1950, one out of every ten-thousand Americans received such a diagnosis. Today that number has jumped to one out of every forty (Whitaker 192-193). If you find that hard to swallow, consider this: in 1955, depression severely impaired about 0.02% of the total American population; in 2014, the number had risen to 12.5% (Whitaker 151; NIMH RSS). Psychiatry has made a number of major breakthroughs in the past sixty years and there are numerous psychopharmaceutical treatments now available for doctors to prescribe, but mental illness in America has not declined; on the contrary, it has exploded (Whitaker 5). Where is psychiatry going wrong? A look into the history of the profession shines a light on information little-known by the general public, and it raises the uncomfortable possibility that the psychopharmaceutical treatments themselves are doing more harm than good.
Psychiatry as we know it today was born in the mid-1900s, during the era of “magic bullet” medications. German scientist Paul Ehrlich coined the term when, in 1909, he discovered a compound that cured syphilis without harming the infected patient. In 1935, the Bayer chemical company discovered a drug that cured staphylococcal and streptococcal infections. Penicillin came to market in the early 1940s, and other antibiotics followed hot on its heels, offering cures for pneumonia, scarlet fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and many others (Whitaker 40-41). The magic bullet revolution had begun in earnest. It was time for psychiatry to catch up with the rest of the medical field. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was founded in 1949 to oversee a much needed reform of the mental health system (See endnote 1), and a few years later, the profession had finally developed some “magic bullets” of its own. But they did not arrive in the same way as had other such discoveries (Whitaker 46).
The grandparents of today’s psychopharmaceuticals were all stumbled across unexpectedly while scientists were looking for other things. What would become the first antipsychotic medication was discovered in 1946 by scientists trying to formulate a compound that would cure diseases such as malaria and African sleeping sickness. Though the research did not work out the way they had hoped, a compound they discovered in the process seemed to have promising potential as an anesthetic. After more research on it, they were able to develop a drug that seemed to disconnect parts of the brain that controlled motor movements and emotional responses, without inducing unconsciousness. It was considered a breakthrough in anesthesiology. It was in 1951 that the drug, called chlorpromazine, was first suggested as a possible treatment for psychiatric ailments, since it produced “a veritable medicinal lobotomy” (qtd. in Whitaker 49). This “medicinal lobotomy” was marketed to the American public in 1954 as Thorazine, the first antipsychotic medication for the treatment of schizophrenia (Whitaker 47-51).
Thorazine became psychiatry’s first magic bullet medication, thus bringing the profession up to speed with the rest of the medical field (Whitaker 59). An article published in Time magazine on June 14th, 1954 claimed that the new “wonder drug” allowed patients to “sit up and talk sense with [the doctor], perhaps for the first time in months” (qtd. in Whitaker 58). Articles in the New York Times called the drug miraculous, claiming that it brought “peace of mind” and “freedom from confusion” to psychiatric patients (qtd. in Whitaker 58). The Smith Kline and French company had obtained approval from the FDA to sell this medication in America, and according to the company’s president, Thorazine had been put through the most stringent of tests and had been proven safe for human administration. But though the company had done extensive animal testing of the drug, fewer than 150 psychiatric patients had been exposed to it at the time the company submitted its application to the FDA (Whitaker 58). Furthermore, the French researchers who had initially discovered the drug had found that it worsened the conditions of one third of the schizophrenic patients they treated with it. It was not, in their opinion, a cure for the disease. Nevertheless, because studies in the United States showed that the drug worked, on average, marginally better than a placebo, it was marketed to the American public as a key breakthrough for psychiatry (Healy 88).
Given the praise lavished on Thorazine at the time of its release, it would be expected that it must have had a significant impact on the treatment of the mentally ill (See endnote 2). Initially, the short-term effects of the drug on patients seemed dramatic. A study conducted by the Psychopharmacology Service Center in 1961 found that 75% of patients treated with Thorazine, or a similar drug, were much improved over the course of six weeks, versus 20% of patients treated with a placebo (Whitaker 96). In 1977, a review of 149 similar trials concluded that in 83% of them, antipsychotic drugs were superior to placebo (Whitaker 97). However, when the Cochrane Collaboration (an international group of scientists not at that time funded by pharmaceutical companies) conducted a meta-analysis in 2007 of all the chlorpromazine-versus-placebo studies conducted up until that point, they were surprised at how weak the evidence of efficacy was for the drug. On average, for every single case of “global improvement,” seven patients had to be treated; furthermore, they admitted that “this finding may be an overestimate of the positive and an underestimate of the negative effects of giving chlorpromazine” (qtd. in Whitaker 96-97 footnote).
This leads us to the question of negative side-effects. The test of time has shown that the use of Thorazine provides questionable improvement for some steep costs. Over half of the patients treated with the drug in state hospitals developed tardive dyskinesia, a disfiguring, sometimes disabling, movement disorder that remained even once the drugs were withdrawn (Breggin 15; Whitaker 104). It has also been found that even though the drug can successfully combat psychosis over the short-term, it increases a patient’s susceptibility to psychosis over the long-term. For instance, in two drug-withdrawal trials, the NIMH found that 65% of the drug-treated patients relapsed when withdrawn from Thorazine, while only 7% of the placebo patients relapsed. It was also found that the higher the dose of medication pre-withdrawal, the greater the risk of relapse (Whitaker 99). Why? Thorazine and other antipsychotics have been shown to cause alterations in the brain that are often permanent after long-term use. The frontal lobes shrink, while the basal ganglia structures and the thalamus begin to swell. The latter effect results in patients becoming increasingly psychotic and more emotionally disengaged, while frontal lobe shrinkage eventually leads to frontotemporal dementia. In essence, the drug eventually increases the very symptoms it was supposed to treat (see endnote 3). (Whitaker 114; Frontotemporal Disorders)
While its fate is less than encouraging, Thorazine was only the first of many advances made in the field of psychopharmacology. Other drugs launched between 1954 and 1959 included the anti-anxiety agent meprobamate, marketed as Miltown, the “psychic energizer” iproniazid, and the first tricyclic antidepressant, imipramine. Miltown had been accidentally discovered during the search for alternative antibiotics to penicillin. Iproniazid was developed for the treatment of tuberculosis, but it was turned to as a potential treatment for depression because it had the unexpected side-effect of causing patients to start gleefully dancing in the wards (Whitaker 52). Imipramine had been stumbled across by Swedish researchers while they were searching for a treatment for schizophrenia (Fitzpatrick). These new discoveries were accidental, and none of them were “cures” in the sense that antibiotics were cures, because they were not treating the illness; they were simply treating the symptoms the illness caused (Whitaker 50-51). But this was not the picture that was painted for the American public.
At the time that these new drugs were being discovered, the American Medical Association (AMA) had recently given up its role as a watch-dog for the medical community. Previously, it had published a book each year detailing all of the drugs that had been proven safe and effective. But in 1951, the Durham-Humphrey amendment was added to the 1938 Food and Drug Cosmetics Act. This amendment mandated that prescriptions would be required for most new drugs, as well as their refills, thus putting doctors into a much more profitable position than they had hitherto been. No longer would the public be coming to them solely because of their expertise, so it mattered less from a business perspective if they made a point of only dispensing drugs proven to work. In 1952, the AMA ceased publishing its book of useful drugs and began to allow advertisements into its journals for drugs not approved by its Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry. A 1959 review found that 89% of these advertisements failed to provide information about the side-effects of the drugs, but the AMA received a convenient boost in advertisement revenues—from $2.5 million in 1950 to $10 million in 1960. It even lobbied against a proposal put forward by Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver in 1960 that drug companies be required to prove to the FDA that their products worked (Whitaker 57). Such was the scene into which psychiatry stepped as it began to expand and improve in the public eye.
One of the next major breakthroughs in psychiatry came in 1988 with the drug company Eli Lilly releasing the antidepressant Prozac, the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). The drug was said to work because it caused serotonin to pile-up at synapses in the brain, and since it was hypothesized that depression could be the result of low serotonin levels, the logic was that an SSRI drug would correct the chemical imbalance (Whitaker 79). Before the drug’s release, Eli Lilly employee Joachim Wernicke claimed it had “very few serious side effects,” and after its release, its efficacy was compared by some to be as great as that of antibiotics (qtd. in Whitaker 288; 291). According to the American Texas Medication Algorithm Project in 1994, Prozac and the other SSRIs that followed it had become the drugs of choice for treating depression (Healy 140). Psychiatrist Peter Kramer, in his book Listening to Prozac, announced that the drug even made some patients “better than well,” suggesting that people might be able to expect future pills to allow ordinary people to have whatever personality they wanted (qtd. in Whitaker 294). It seemed Eli Lilly had done something right.
Despite glowing reviews in the media, a look at the development of Prozac and the studies conducted with it reveals a very different side to the story. When the first human trial of the drug was conducted in 1977, Eli Lilly’s Ray Fuller admitted to his colleagues that “none of the eight patients who completed the four-week treatment showed distinct drug-induced improvement.” Furthermore, it had caused “a fairly large number of reports of adverse reactions” (qtd. in Whitaker 285). These included an incident of psychosis, and a number of reports of akathisia—a state of agitated distress that increases the risk of suicide and violence. This was a problem for the company, and in order to solve it they decided that future studies would allow the use of benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety agents) to help suppress reports of akathisia and boost efficacy results, even though an Eli Lilly employee later admitted in court that such a decision confounded the results and “interfered with the analysis of both safety and efficacy” (qtd. in Whitaker 268). On top of that, in six out of seven studies that Eli Lilly conducted comparing Prozac to the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine, the latter was proven more effective. In Germany, the country’s licensing authority in 1985 declared Prozac to be “totally unsuitable for the treatment of depression” (qtd. in Whitaker 286). In their study, it had caused an incidence rate of suicidal acts that was 5.6 times greater than that of imipramine. This increased risk for suicide was also found in many studies conducted in the United States, which on average showed that patients on Prozac committed twice the number of suicidal acts as patients on placebo (Healy 212). In order to get the FDA’s approval for the drug and to gain acceptance for it in the medical community as an effective treatment, Eli Lilly chose to hide and intentionally misinterpret its own data regarding both its lack of efficacy and its potential to increase the risk of suicide (Breggin 14).
Given such poor results in the studies, it should come as little surprise that the results of Prozac’s 1988 release to the public were less than positive at the grass roots level. By 1997, 39,000 adverse-event reports about the drug had flooded the FDA’s MedWatch program—far more than any other drug in that nine-year period. These events included instances of patients committing horrible crimes, committing suicide, and reports of numerous unpleasant side-effects, including psychotic depression, mania, hostility, amnesia, convulsions, and sexual dysfunction. Furthermore, according to FDA estimates, only about 1% of all adverse events end up being reported to the MedWatch program. It can be safely assumed that the 39,000 reports were only 1% of the poor responses to Prozac (Whitaker 287-288). There is also reason to believe that antidepressants such as Prozac have contributed to the sky-rocketing number of patients being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A recent survey of members of the Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association showed that 60% of those with bipolar disorder had been exposed to an antidepressant prior to their diagnosis (Whitaker 175-177; 181). The generally accepted belief is that antidepressants simply reveal a pre-existing condition by triggering mania that would have eventually appeared anyway on its own (Bressert); however, a look at the aforementioned number of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder before the advent of antidepressants, and the number of people diagnosed with the same disorder today, is telling. Keep in mind, too, that the expectancy of good outcomes for bipolar patients today is far lower than it was fifty years ago.
After the advent of SSRIs, psychiatry’s next breakthrough came with the creation of a new class of antipsychotics, referred to as “atypicals,” that functioned somewhat differently, and supposedly more effectively, than typical antipsychotics like Thorazine (Atypical Antipsychotics). One such example is Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa, a drug brought to market in 1996. After its handling of Prozac, and the lawsuits that inevitably followed as a result, one would hope that the company’s approach to later medications might improve. Initial reviews after the drug’s release were encouraging. A number of psychiatrists at various academic schools declared that it was well-tolerated by patients and that it caused a better global improvement of symptoms with fewer side-effects than the first atypical, Risperdal—a drug that had been brought to market by one of Eli Lilly’s competitors (Whitaker 301-302). Stanford University psychiatrist Alan Schatzberg described the new drug as “a potential breakthrough of tremendous magnitude” (qtd. in Whitaker 302). He might very well have been right, however, “tremendous magnitude” can be applied to negative events as well as positive, and the true nature of this “breakthrough” is questionable.
Psychiatric drug studies seem to inevitably shatter the glowing picture that drug companies paint of their products upon their release. During Eli Lilly’s trials of Zyprexa, two-thirds of the patients were unable to complete the studies, 22% of those that did suffered a “serious” adverse event, and twenty patients died. Today the drug is well known to cause hypersomnia, excessive weight gain, diabetes, and a host of other troubling effects that include some of the very same problems caused by Thorazine (Whitaker 301). In 2005, a study conducted by the NIMH showed that there were “no significant differences” between atypical antipsychotics like Zyprexa and the typical antipsychotics that they were supposed to replace; in fact, both classes of drugs had proven startlingly ineffective. Due to “inefficacy or intolerable effects,” 74% of the 1,432 patients had had to come off of the medications before the trial was complete (qtd. in Whitaker 303).
After seeing these results, it’s worth asking what exactly these drugs were supposedly doing in the first place. The theory that is widely considered common knowledge among the general public is that mental illness is due to chemical imbalances in the brain: for instance, depression is the result of a serotonin deficit, while schizophrenia is the result of an overactive dopamine system. These answers are simple, easy to understand, and easy to market medications with. But the chemical imbalance theory of mental illness has been repeatedly proven false. Numerous studies have shown that people with unmedicated depression have the very same variations in serotonin levels as those without depression, while schizophrenic patients that have never been exposed to medication have the very same dopamine levels and receptor numbers as people without the disorder. (Whitaker 72-79). As editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times Ronald Pies wrote on July 11, 2011, “the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists” (qtd. in Whitaker 365).
Rather than correct chemical imbalances in the brain, psychopharmaceuticals actually create them. As neuroscientist Steve Hyman explained, “[psychotropic drugs] create perturbations in neurotransmitter functions” (qtd. in Whitaker 83). In essence, these medications work by distorting the mechanisms of an ordinary brain in order to have an effect on the symptoms of the mental illness. The truth that is openly acknowledged within the medical community, but that the general public remains surprisingly ignorant of, is that there is still no known cause for any of the mental illnesses we see today. Thus, we have no way to treat the illnesses themselves. We are treating the symptoms, not the disease (Whitaker 84-85).
Perhaps one of the most telling examples of the effect psychiatric drugs can be seen in the long-term study funded by the NIMH and conducted by psychologist Martin Harrow on sixty-four young schizophrenic patients. They were divided into two groups: those on antipsychotics, and those off antipsychotics. In 2007, Harrow announced that at the end of fifteen years, 40% of the group that was off antipsychotics were in recovery and 28% still suffered from psychotic symptoms. In the group that remained on antipsychotics, 5% were in recovery while 64% still suffered from psychotic symptoms (Whitaker 115-116). This may seem shocking, but this is far from the only evidence of schizophrenic patients faring better when not kept on antipsychotics long-term.
In 1978, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a ten-country study, primarily enrolling patients suffering from a first episode of schizophrenia. All of those involved had been diagnosed using Western criteria. At the end of two years it was found that in “developed” countries, including the United States, just over one-third of the patients had had good outcomes, while nearly two-thirds had become chronically ill. In contrast, just over one-third of the patients in “developing countries” had become chronically ill, and nearly two-thirds had had good outcomes. What was the difference? WHO investigators found that 61% of patients in “developed” countries had remained on antipsychotics, while only 16% of patients in “developing” had done the same. In places where patients had fared the best, such as Agra and India, only around 3% of patients had remained on antipsychotics. Contrast this with Moscow, the place with the highest medication usage, and the highest percentage of chronically ill patients (see endnote 4) (Whitaker 110-111).
What can we take away from all of this? I think that Robert Whitaker hit the nail on the head in his book Anatomy of an Epidemic when he stated that “[t]he psychopharmacology revolution was born from one part science and two parts wishful thinking” (47). Are psychopharmaceuticals behind the rise of mental illness over the past half-century? I think it’s safe to say that their indiscriminate use has, at the very least, been a significant contributing factor. Many doctors place far too much trust in the information they receive from drug companies. In 1992, the FDA’s Division of Neuropharmacological Drug Products warned that the testing done to acquire the FDA’s approval of a drug “may generate a misleadingly reassuring picture of a drug’s safety in use” (qtd. in Breggin 14). The drugs are by no means a cure, and while it isn’t true for every case, repeated studies have shown that many cases of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, can be handled more successfully when medication is either not used, or is limited to very short-term usage. This flies in the face of psychiatric convention, and one might very well ask if it’s truly possible for an entire profession to be so mistaken about its practice for so many decades. My response is a confident ‘yes.’ Case in point: bloodletting was once considered to be highly beneficial and was one of the most common medical practices for a span of nearly two-thousand years (Bloodletting). In fact, I believe an argument could be made that one of the things the medical profession has been most successful at since the dawn of time is coming up with treatments that cause more harm than good, even when they are thought up with the best of intentions. This certainly seems to have been the case in psychiatry.
The first half of the twentieth-century was not one of psychiatry’s high points. The popular “cures” that the profession made use of included treatments such as convulsive therapies and frontal lobotomies. It wasn’t until 1948 that the deplorable treatment of the mentally ill in American asylums was brought to the attention of the public. That year, journalist Albert Deutsch published his book The Shame of the States, giving the nation a photographic tour of such facilities. The photos showed naked patients left in rooms with nothing but their own feces, over-crowded sleeping wards filled with thread-bare cots, and facilities riddled with mold, rotted floors, and roofs that leaked. The public was horrified (Whitaker 43-45).
Some credited Thorazine for emptying out America’s asylums, but this was incorrect. In 1955, there were 267,000 schizophrenic patients in state hospitals, and in 1963 there were 253,000—a modest reduction, at best. It wasn’t until the 1965 enactment of Medicare and Medicaid that the numbers of patients in asylums began to noticeably decline, since states began shipping their chronically ill patients out of state mental hospitals and into federally subsidized nursing homes in order to save money (Whitaker 93-94).
In 1985, the publication of Dr. Peter Breggin’s book Psychiatric Drugs: Hazards to the Brain laid these results out for the public and pushed the FDA to upgrade its warnings about Thorazine. While it is still prescribed to patients today, it has fallen from favour in the wake of new drug developments (Breggin 15-16).
Despite how alarming these results may first appear, it does not mean patients currently taking psychopharmaceuticals should abruptly stop them. In fact, doing so would be disastrous. The brain adapts itself to being on such medications for any length of time, and once it does so, any immediate withdrawal of them will almost certainly result in a relapse—likely more severe than previous ones. As Dr. Peter Breggin explains in his book Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal, “the brain can be slow to recover from its own biochemical adjustments or compensatory effects.” Coming off of psychiatric medications requires a carefully managed, often slow weaning process. Unfortunately, the fact that coming off of medication too quickly results in a relapse has reinforced the belief that the pills are helping to keep an otherwise out-of-control disease at bay (Breggin xxiii).
“Atypical Antipsychotics.” Drugs.com. Drugs.com. n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
“The Basics of Frontotemporal Disorders.” National Institute on Aging. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, June 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
“Bloodletting.” Science Museum Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine. Science Museum. n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Breggin, Peter. Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients, and Their Families. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2013. Print.
Bressert, Steve. “The Causes of Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression).” Psych Central. Psych Central. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Fitzpatrick, Laura. “A Brief History of Antidepressants.” Time. Time Inc., 07 Jan. 2010. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Healy, David. Pharmageddon. Berkeley: UP of California, 2012. Print.
“Major Depression with Severe Impairment Among Adolescents.” NIMH RSS. National Institutes of Health. n. d. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
“Major Depression with Severe Impairment Among Adults.” NIMH RSS. National Institutes of Health. n. d. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Whitaker, Robert. Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. New York: Broadway Books, 2015. Print.
That concludes my paper. Keep in mind that due to restrictions on length, this was a very cursory treatment of the subject. I strongly encourage you to do your own research. Check out my sources, especially Whitakers book. Visit Dr. Breggin’s website and see what he has to say about psych meds and withdrawal from them. And look into the very effective alternatives to psychiatric medications which I detail at length it my post on Med-Free Bipolar. This information is for anyone, with any mental illness, on any psychiatric medication. If you or a loved one is has been diagnosed with an illness and prescribed psych meds, please, please look into this further. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to be armed with knowledge so you can take the best care of yourselves that you can.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will do my best to find you an answer!
At long last, we come to the final post in this series. As I promised in the previous post, I will be explaining about the supplements that have been critical to my recovery and stability in the aftermath of coming off all my medications and living med-free long term. So lets begin.
If you’ve followed the previous posts in this series, then you already know why I decided to ween off my medications, as well as the pretty major pitfalls I encountered doing so (if you haven’t read them, please do check them out! You can find Part 1 here.) If you had asked me 5 years ago whether it was possible for someone with Type 1 Bipolar Disorder to live a happy, stable life without any pharmaceutical medications, I’d have told you a very emphatic “No way!” I’d have said you’d be crazy to even try it—after all, the life threatening dangers of psychotic mania and suicidal depression are all too real. And yet, as I write this post, I have passed the 1 year mark of living a completely medication free existence. How is this possible?
For the record, I’m in no way affiliated with the company I’m about to point you toward. I’m not getting any perks for promoting them. Their products have just worked so incredibly well for me that I can’t not point them out to other people to try.
The company is called Truehope. As a side note, I have to share a funny detail with you all. A few years back, before I started this blog, and before I had even the slightest notion I would ever be coming off my meds, I had the idea come to me in prayer that I ought to write a book about journeying through the spiritual life with mental illness, and entitle it Finding Hope. The title came to me so clearly and emphatically that I wrote it down at the front of my journal and kept it there. While I haven’t dismissed the idea of writing a book, I later decided to start this blog first as a more immediately doable option. I just have to say I find it ironic that years in advance I was prompted to “find hope,” only to discover the eventual solution to my mental illness problems in a company called Truehope.
So what is this company? Well, here is their mission statement in their own words:
And because the story of how they all started is so compelling, I will quote it in full, as it’s described on their website:
The Truehope Story
Before Truehope… the beginning
Ten children were left motherless the cold January day that Debbie took her own life. She had been suffering the pains of Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD) for years and finally succumbed to the dark and irrational side of the disease. Somehow, out of the sheer agony and crushing pain of her loss came a determination for Anthony her husband. He began a prayerful and desperate search to find hope and health for their children who were also ravaged by the disease. At the time of her death, two of Debbie’s children had also been diagnosed with BAD. As a desperate father, and after exhausting all known medical routes, Anthony sought the help of a friend. Together these two men established a program of nutritional supplementation that would eventually lead to the recovery of Anthony’s children and the formation of The Synergy Group of Canada Inc. – a non medical research group dedicated to researching and overcoming the disorders of the central nervous system. Debbie’s tragic death had initiated that series of events which would change the grim picture of mental illness forever.
Joseph Stephan exhibited signs of attention deficit disorder as a child. By the time he entered puberty, the symptoms were escalating into panic attacks, delusions and violent fits of rage. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with BAD shortly after Debbie’s death.
Joseph was first treated with lithium, an element used to make batteries, which caused severe side effects. When he refused to take it, he lapsed into severe mania and panic within a couple of days.
Then, on January 20, 1996, Joseph started using the nutritional supplementation program created by his father. The results were dramatic and immediate. Within four days he was off the lithium; within two weeks, his mood and emotional control improved immensely. In the years since, he has maintained his well being and has had no recurring symptoms of BAD.
Autumn Stringam’s recovery is, if anything, more dramatic than her brother’s. At 12, she showed signs of suffering from Bipolar Disorder, a condition which deteriorated throughout her teens. She married Dana, had a child at 20, and was subsequently diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder I with rapid cycles; a daily seesaw of mania and depression. Those eventually gave way to regular visual and aural hallucinations and the belief her husband and other family members were conspiring to kill her. These visions often led her to act out violently.
Following a particularly terrifying episode, Autumn was admitted to a psychiatric ward. After many adjustments to her medications, she was released a few weeks later. Drugged and with her cognition impaired, she “broke through” her medications frequently and was extremely unstable.
After threatening suicide, she was again hospitalized. Upon release, she was taking a pharmaceutical cocktail of Haldol, Rivotril, Ativan, Epival and Cogentin, a combination that failed to control her psychosis. She continued to rapid cycle.
Told Autumn would require round-the-clock adult supervision, Dana took her to her father to begin the alternative treatment, which had helped Joseph. Within four days she was forced to eliminate Haldol and Rivotril because of the drastically increasing side effects. Ativan was no longer required when hallucinations ceased. After one week on the program, she returned home to her husband. Less than a month later, she reduced, then eliminated, the mood stabilizer Epival. Her only “medication” now was the nutrient supplement which would become Empowerplus.
Autumn’s recovery exceeded the expectations of her psychiatrist, doctor and family. The woman who was expected to remain a prisoner of BAD, confined by a medley of psychotropic drugs and pursued by thoughts of suicide for the rest of her life, continues to be healthy and stable to this day.
But perhaps even more compelling is how Autumn, once counseled to be sterilized after the birth of her son, gave birth in 1999 to a happy, healthy daughter, and again in 2001 and 2003 to two more healthy daughters!
“My life is a miracle and an example for all who suffer,” she says now. “There is hope, healing and ultimately, health for all who seek it; there is an alternative to despair.” Autumn spends her time raising her four wonderful children, remains happily married to Dana, her beloved husband and volunteers for her church and community. Hers is a parable of hope to those who follow her footsteps.
Anthony Stephan, in reflecting on the marvelous recovery of his children, said; “Truly God has answered my pleadings and intense prayers with a great blessing.” Hundreds of participants have borne that same witness and acknowledged the hand of God in bringing restoration to their life or that of a loved one. Hence, we have named this web site “TRUEHOPE” because we believe that true hope can only be found in the healing sustenance that God has provided for us. No man or company or science can ever replicate or replace that which our Creator has provided for us. In seeking to treat the symptom, we have all ignored the Source.
My mother (a pharmacist) had been pointed in the direction of this company back in 2017, however since I didn’t seem to be having any major problems at that time, she didn’t bother looking into it. After my psycho-manic episode and hospitalization in early 2018, she began searching for solutions for me, since despite having succeeded in coming off all my meds, I was far from stable and only just barely getting through my daily life. She found Truehope again in the spring and got in touch with the branch of the company which operates in southern Alberta. The lady she spoke with, Teresa, has since kept in regular contact with us. She was able to give mom very helpful advice and reassurance. They sent us a number of supplements, most importantly the EMPowerplus Advanced micronutrient formula.
I noticed immediate, dramatic results within a day or two of starting the EMPowerplus supplement. Previously, I’d been dealing with high levels of anxiety and panic attacks (the result of my ongoing mania and some mild PTSD from the trauma surrounding my hospitalization), not to mention agitation and racing thoughts. The EMPowerplus completely halted the anxiety and panic attacks, reduced my agitation and slowed my thoughts to something approaching normalcy. This is not to say it made me groggy–I felt none of the fatigue, drowsiness or befuddlement that I was used to living with when taking antipsychotic medication. I was simply beginning to feel normal again.
I first began taking the supplements in April. By May, the mania had dissipated almost completely, leaving me with only mild hypomania. Then, as I mentioned, following my exam, I crashed into depression. From my understanding of it, this supplement is more effective for treating mania than depression, but it helps with depression too. However, my body needed to go through a healing process after being on various psychiatric med combinations for close to 6 years. Teresa stayed in touch with me, suggesting supplement tweaks, and promising me hope that yes, the depressive episode would end and I would be stable in the future.
To be honest, I didn’t believe her. But I kept on taking the supplements because there was no way I would ever go back on pharmaceutical medications again. And slowly, the depression eased. The “greyness” lingered, the sense of anhedonia and lack of any creative drive, clung on for months. Then suddenly, in December 2018, it began to lift. My creative drive began to slowly come back to life. My sense of joy and pleasure at life returned. And by January, 2019, I felt completely back to normal.
We’re now partway into March. My stability has remained rock solid in a way it never did when I was on psych meds. The few times I’ve thought maybe I was getting more energetic, and my old fears about mania reared their head, I simply increased the dose of my supplement and added in some Choline for a day or two, and the anxiety and hints of hypomania vanish without a trace. It’s so much more effective than my old medications that it makes the thought of them laughable.
Teresa told me that as long as I’m on these supplements, I won’t ever have a relapse of mania. I didn’t believe her initially, but I do now. I’m back to a place where I don’t even think about my disorder much anymore. I’m still careful with my sleep schedule and I take my supplements consistently. But I’ve stopped worrying about having episodes. Despite having experienced several major former triggers (various stressful, emotionally difficult situations that would have formerly sent me swinging up or down with a certainty) I’ve remained completely stable.
Lastly, did I mention there are no unpleasant side effects with any of these supplements? None. Zero. In fact, I’ve noticed a number of positive side effects: my hair is way healthier, I don’t feel tired, and I find stress way easier to manage than I ever have before. I only wish I could have found these supplements before I started coming off my medications because they would have made the whole process much easier and I probably wouldn’t have ended up hospitalized at the end of it for mania.
If you or a loved one is on any psychiatric medications, I encourage you to check out the Truehope website for their much healthier alternatives. They don’t just specialize with Bipolar Disorder. They also work with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Depression, Fatigue and Stress related problems. I’ve heard they also help people with schizophrenia, even though it’s not listed on their website specifically. At the very least, it can’t hurt you to learn more about the alternatives that are out there.
First off, I’d like to wish a very belated happy New Year to all my readers. It’s hard to believe I haven’t written a post on here since May 2018. Last year proved to be a long and difficult series of months, but I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now at the end of January 2019 than I was at the same time last year.
As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, I was hospitalized for a week at the beginning of February 2018 for a full manic episode, complete with psychosis and all that that entails. Following that, I made a number of posts on here, some of which I have since taken down, since I was still decidedly manic while writing them and now either no longer agree with that I wrote, or they simply no longer make sense to me now that I’m stable again. To be honest, it’s taken a full year to begin fully coming to grips with everything that happened. The idea of blogging about any of it before now was something I just couldn’t face. However I’ve been feeling increasingly prompted lately to start writing on here again. So to start, I will finish of this Withdrawal series with two final posts.
Despite what happened last year, I am indeed completely off all psychiatric medications and have been since December 2017 (setting aside the very small dose of antipsychotic medication I took while in hospital). And believe it or not, I’m actually doing much better now than I was back when I was on medications, though I believe this is largely due to the special supplements I began taking in April last year and have remained on since. I will explain about them in depth in my next post. I detailed my reasons for deciding to ween off my prescription medications back in the first post in this series. In this post I will give you all a summary of how that process went, and the biggest pitfall I fell into.
As I touched on in Part 2 of this series, coming off my antidepressant medication Bupropion (aka Wellbutrin) actually proved to be much easier than coming off my mood stabilizer Lamotrogine (aka Lamictal). The withdrawal from antidepressants resulted in some mild-to-moderate depression symptoms and fatigue, however I went slowly, breaking the pills into smaller and smaller pieces. From April 2016 to August 2016 I weened myself down from 150mg daily, to nothing, dropping by 25mg increments every few weeks. I took a break from pill withdrawal for a little while before attempting to withdraw from Lamictal, since it’s better not to come off multiple medications within a short period if you can avoid it. I didn’t keep as close a record of my Lamictal withdrawal, since it took most of a year (I was on 250mg daily, if I remember correctly). Each drop in that particular medication caused anxiety, disorientation and mixed-episode symptoms that were mild-to-moderate, so I had to move slowly with it. And when I finally came off the last of it on December 17, 2017, I hit a major pitfall.
Early on in December I could feel the very first inklings of hypomania tickling the edges of my consciousness–more energy, increased cheerfulness and optimism, much stronger creative drive, etc. However I continued to taper anyway and ignored the symptoms, assuming they would go away. What I should have done, was stopped tapering for a while until I was past the Christmas season (always a troubling time for me when it comes to my disorder). But I didn’t. And I mistakenly believed that because I had tapered off the medication so slowly, I wouldn’t have any sort of relapse upon completely coming off of it. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that it’s common to relapse with a manic episode upon reaching a completely med-free state even if you taper off slowly. In my ignorance of this fact, I slipped into a state of denial over what was happening.
Generally I am quite self-aware with my episodes, but with this particular one, I lost all personal insight. As the hypomania began to escalate to full out mania in late January 2018, grandiosity and delusions took over and I became convinced that I wasn’t bipolar, that I had been misdiagnosed all along, and that I was just entering a new state of consciousness, a heightened level of existence (very similar to some of the delusional beliefs I experienced back in my first manic episode). I was in complete denial that I was manic, so I flat out refused to take any of my antipsychotic medication, Zyprexa. No one could convince me to. I actually had someone slip some of it into my drink at one point, unbeknownst to me, but I quickly discovered it and became utterly incensed and even harder to reason with thereafter.
Looking back, I can safely say my irrational denial sprang in large part from the fact that having to go through another full manic episode had been my worst fear ever since my diagnosis (worse even than a natural fear of death. I had essentially developed a phobia of mania and psychosis). I couldn’t bring myself to admit the reality of what was happening. Even after ending up in the hospital and experiencing the remission of most of my psychotic symptoms, I remained convinced that I had been unjustly hospitalized, and that I had never been manic in the first place. My behavior was normal enough during my hospital stay that I was able to persuade the doctor to release me after just a week. Looking back though, I can see that I remained manic for months after my release. This, of course, was readily apparent to my parents and close friends, however they felt I was manageable and would be better off at home.
Astoundingly, I managed to go back to work right away and continue “functioning” in daily life without any of my coworkers or students picking up that anything was amiss with me (at the very least, no one ever commented on it). Though internally, I was still fluctuating between various mild delusions and paranoia. For instance, I firmly believed the RCMP were following me around and spying on me for several weeks, and could not be convinced otherwise (this was not helped by the fact that the RCMP did in fact show up at the college where I work and kept undercover surveillance on the place for a week, though this was due to an incident caused by some unruly students and had nothing to do with me. It just happened to be very bad timing) . Thankfully, I kept all of these beliefs to myself, only occasionally mentioning them to my parents and close friends, which is likely why no one else in my life noticed.
It wasn’t until April that my family discovered the supplements that I subsequently began taking. These had an immediate effect—my previously high levels of anxiety and agitation almost completely vanished. For the next month and a half I remained in a hypomanic state, still more extroverted, enthusiastic and impulsive than I usually am, but grounded once more in reality without any lingering delusions or paranoia. Thankfully I was able to direct my extra energy into studying for my RCM music history exam, which I took and passed successfully. Within a week after the exam, my hypomania vanished entirely, and I dropped into the inevitable depressive episode that always follows my manic episodes.
This particular episode reached a moderate-to-severe intensity by the end of May, beginning of June, though it was no worse than episodes I had experienced while on medications. It lessened to a moderate level throughout most of June and parts of July, then eased off further to a lingering mild depression that continued into December, when it finally lifted completely. The episode lasted a total of 6 and a half months, by far the longest episode I’ve ever had, though that probably isn’t surprising considering the 5 month hypomanic/manic episode that preceded it. December was actually my only month of stability in 2018, which is ironic since that’s usually my most unstable time of year. That stability has continued throughout January this year. It’s a real blessing to feel normal again. I’ve been told that as long as I stay on my current supplements, I am not likely to experience any future episodes of mania. I would very much like to believe that, but only time will tell for sure.
I did learn a number of important, if painful, lessons last year, which I will unpack in future posts. In particular, it was a time of much spiritual growth. Jesus and Mary were both very much beside me, guiding my steps the entire way, though there were times when I felt entirely cut off from them and in the dark, and I backslid to a large degree in many of my devotions for an extended time. That, in and of itself, was a learning experience (a strong blow to the spiritual pride I’d been falling into prior). There were times I felt as if I’d gone completely astray and was right back to square one spiritually, my relationship with Christ and my trust in him reduced to tatters. I will delve into that much more in a future series. Suffice it to say, by the grace of God I am back on my feet again with a reinvigorated spiritual life, and a restrengthened desire for growth in holiness. I can safely say that the process of renewing my 33 day consecration to Mary that I began on December 31 and will finish this Saturday, February 2nd (Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord), has had a large part to play in my spiritual recovery.
I’ll leave it at that for now. In my next post I’ll explain the supplements I’ve been taking and discuss my plans/strategies for the future. In the mean time, take care, and God bless you throughout the coming year!
It’s been a long time since I posted anything. Or at least, it feels like a long time. Realistically it’s only been a few months, but that might as well have been a lifetime ago. A lot as happened since then.
I’d like to start with the good news: I successfully came off of my last medication (Lamictal/Lamotrigine) mid-December last year. It was, in a way, the most freeing experience of my life. It precipitated a manic episode that ended with me in the hospital, but that’s all right. I learned a lot from it. Christmas 2017 was beautiful for me. So many blessings. I had a strong re-conversion experience in which I gave my life to Jesus again to do with me what he willed. Admittedly, if I’d known doing that would end with me in a hospital, I probably would have hesitated. But God knows our weakness. He hid from me how things were going to turn out. He wanted my complete and unconditional trust, and he was there for me every step of the way. He and His mother, Mary.
I plan to write a blog series explaining what happened. For now, though, I’m still processing everything and picking up the pieces (i.e. catching up on everything I’m behind on after two weeks out-of-commission, and praying to discern God’s will moving forward). I just wanted to send a shout out to my few followers that yes, I am still alive! And I’m doing great. Just decidedly worn out after everything. I look forward to writing more in the future.
He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful. ~ Corinthians 1:8
So back at the beginning of May I posted about my decision to start weening off of my medications. I’m happy to say I’ve been completely off of my antidepressant bupropion (better known as Wellbutrin) since August 15th. All that’s left is to start slowing coming off my mood stabilizer lamotrigine (better known as Lamictal). I’d intended to write several posts throughout the summer commenting on my progress coming off the antidepressant, but things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned them out. In fact, they still aren’t.
My plan for the summer was that I would come off of my antidepressant, experience some possibly moderate to severe depressive symptoms throughout the process and get through them with God’s grace, and then be back to normal by the time the semester started in September.
This lovely plan of mine should (rightly) provoke incredulous laughter from my fellow bipolar sufferers. Really? You planned out exactly what sort of episodes you would have, and for how long, and expected the universe to cooperate with that?
Well, it never hurts to think positively, right? Although, I was actually thinking rather negatively since I expected the summer to be hellish. In fact, it wasn’t. Coming off of bupropion was far, far easier than I expected. The worst I experienced was a week or two here and there of mild-to-moderate depression. Nothing more. (I tapered quite slowly, mind you, especially towards the end.) It was almost a let down after how hard I’d worked to brace myself for the worst.
But of course, when my plans don’t work out, it’s usually a complete and total bomb on every side. This is no exception. The rest of my plan was to hit the semester running and make my way through it relatively symptom free as I came off my mood stabilizer (which both I and my mother assumed would be easy peasy compared to the antidepressant).
Haaaah. Hahaha. Ha.
Yeah, no, that’s not quite the way it’s working out.
It seems that lamotrigine is a much harder drug for me to come off of than bupropion was (for whatever reason). Granted, I almost always have some symptoms in the fall. Season changes are a trigger for me. But I’d assumed from everything I’d heard that I could come off of this drug without any trouble over the course of a couple weeks. In fact, my psychiatrist had said back in April that I could stop it cold-turkey without any problems (and that at the same time I could stop my antidepressant cold turkey. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to her). So I decided to drop from 250mg right down to 200mg.
Well. That didn’t go over well. Much to my surprise, I almost couldn’t get out of bed the next morning. So I decided to bump back up to 225mg. Ever since that drop I’ve been experiencing mixed episode symptoms to a greater or lesser degree. They were quite dramatic in the week following the drop, and then eased off since then and have been fluctuating between hardly there or unpleasantly intense, depending on how much sleep I get. I’m fairly certain much of what I’m experiencing now is due to the season change and my body adjusting to my new sleep schedule. But the symptoms I experienced in the week after my initial drop were far more severe than any of the withdrawal effects I experienced from the antidepressant. Maybe its a coincidence and I would have experienced those symptoms if I hadn’t changed my meds. Its possible, but I’m certainly not going to count on that. I’ll be tapering this drug much slower than my last one, and have resigned myself to a rougher semester than I’ve had for a while.
I’m not going to lie. My initial response to God about this unplanned development was a whiny one. Why couldn’t I have just gotten all of the really difficult symptoms out of the way in the summer? I could have afforded to be incapacitated then! I’d been prepared for that. I’d been all ready and eager to shoulder that cross. I hadn’t signed on for this cross. The cross of wading through my university courses while battling symptoms. That hadn’t been part of my plan!
The response I received was quite simple: crosses aren’t something we get to choose. Jesus didn’t go to his father with a plan all worked out about which cross he was ready to carry. He took what his father gave him— and it certainly wasn’t a cross he wanted. He asked to have it taken away if possible, but he also bowed to his father’s will. And his father gave him all of the grace necessary to bear it. He sent an angel to him to strengthen him in his Agony, sent Simon of Cyrene to help him carry the cross, and sent both his mother and Veronica to encourage him on the road.
He does no less for us, and he also expects no less. He may not let us choose our cross, but he will always, without fail, give us the grace necessary to bear it, so long as we go to him for our strength and don’t try to do it all by ourselves.
This whole experience has also served as a gentle reminder that I need to stop making life plans and assuming they will work the way I expect, even if I think I’ve made them with him in mind. Really, you’d think I’d have figured that out by now.
As a parting thought, here’s a lovely something I stumbled across on Pinterest:
Crosses serve a purpose, even if we can’t see it in the moment.
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!