Withdrawal – Part 4: Unpacking the Experience

Hello again, everyone!

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 hypoIMG_2584mania 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.

hospital_hall_by_triller14Looking 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.

The Advantage of Suffering cover photo resizedThis 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, thoassumptionugh 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!

Kasani

divine-mercy4

Withdrawal – Part 3: Joyful People Suffer

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.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

Withdrawal – Part 1: Have Blind Faith in God, not Doctors

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.

“Huh?”

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 more harm than good to society, and that much to my 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 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.

*cough*

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 may or may not post my research essay on here. I’d rather people just check out my sources. 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,

Kasani