Monica’s Story: The Aftermath of Polypsychopharmacology, by Monica Cassani ~ November 12, 2012

“The tragedy is that during all those years of being drugged during the prime of my life I felt purposeless, flat, barely alive and sexless.”

I recently contacted the doctor who is responsible for my iatrogenesis — the doctor who grossly over-medicated me and made me ill. I’ve been corresponding with him for several years now, but this was the first telephone conversation I’ve had with him since telling him what his drug cocktail did to me. He rarely says much in response to my emails where I link to the articles I’ve written casting large shadows on the “treatment” he gave me. So I called him and left a voicemail that I might talk to him.

When he returned my call a few days later, we talked for perhaps a half hour. I always liked this man when I was his patient and now that I’ve worked through most of the rage of having been harmed by his treatment, I still like him. His intentions were good. I’m clear on that. I do not think this relieves him of responsibility, but it does relieve me from hating him which simply isn’t good for my soul. Still, I simultaneously appreciate Dr. David Healy’s insight about patients succumbing to Stolkholm Syndrome and have made the same observation about myself. I contain multitudes. There is nothing easy about emotionally processing what happened to me and what continues to happen to so many others.

So my conversation with the man who practiced wild, untested poly-pharma on me was actually quite civil and I felt it was productive too. He listened and shared his view too. He did not always agree, but he was clearly listening.

I want to share a bit of the conversation. He has a hard time believing that what happened to me is routine, that it happens to many patients. He grants me my experience, though, like a good shrink. He believes me when I tell him both that my mind is clear now and that I’ve been gravely harmed by the drugs. I’m not sure he thinks he’s responsible, but he doesn’t challenge my experience. The phrase cognitive dissonance comes to mind. How do they do this? I don’t claim to understand.

So he said something suggesting what happened to me isn’t the norm. That he sees medications working wonders all the time. I challenged him like this, “Dr. M, when you were treating me you thought I was one of your successes, right?” He said, “Yes.” And I responded with, “Well, you were wrong. My life was miserable. I lived in a drugged haze. I slept and worked because that is all I had time to do. I had no passion for what I did and I just lived by going through the motions, flat and empty. My life was hell. I liked you and you needed to believe that I was okay…I tried to please you like a “good patient.” Still if you’d paid attention you know that I was always asking to be put on disability. That’s because it was insane for me to work 8 hours a day when I required 12 hours of sleep because of the heavy sedation. It was also dangerous for me to drive on that pharmaceutical cocktail yet I needed to drive to keep my job. If you had really paid attention you would have known my life was miserable. And I promise you, you have other patients just like me.”

I’m sharing that vignette as an opening because I think most doctors hear stories like mine and think that they are not the ones perpetrating such injury. My doctor is a very well-reputed psychiatrist in the Bay Area, CA. He’s well-known and well-regarded. He is a typical psychiatrist and typical psychiatrists are causing grave harm every day all over this country and throughout a good part of the world. He still seems to believe that I’m an anomaly and that somehow I’m not his problem. Yes, cognitive dissonance.

So I was on a six drug combination including every class of psychiatric drug at high doses that required over six years of withdrawal. I was left severely ill, afflicted by a severe iatrogenic illness: “Withdrawal syndrome” for lack of a better name. The name makes it sound like something that might last days or weeks but it’s crippled my life for years. Those of us who become this sick (I’ve networked with thousands of folks in withdrawal now) are subject to dangerous care and outright denial of our experience by medical doctors and the medical establishment in general.

What possesses a doctor to prescribe such a cocktail? I don’t think I’ll ever know, but I can tell you how it happened.

The drugs never did “work” and in retrospect they made me much worse… in fact they caused the chronic illness I am now living with. It became clear to me when I was unable to continue working about fifteen years into the (heavy) drugging as my mind and body simply stopped cooperating under a fog of neurotoxic chemicals. I knew I had to try to free myself from them.

So, how did it all begin? After an illicit drug-induced mania I triggered in college, psychiatry got a hold of me. I was told that I was bipolar and would be sick for the rest of my life. One doctor, in fact, told me I would die if I did not take medication for the rest of my life. Having suffered repeated traumas in my life the additional trauma I was subjected to in the psychiatric ward took its toll. I gave in to what they told me, they scared me good including threats to send me to a state hospital for permanent residence. It’s clear to me now this was used only to terrorize me into submitting to drug treatment, it was not a threat that would have been carried out, but I did not know that then.

The truth, however, is that I had a history of trauma that needed tending to, not any sort of brain disease as mental illness is popularly understood. The years of heavy drugging, in the end, is the only thing that made me truly sick. That is, psychiatric and physical symptoms caused by the drugs I was being given for “treatment.” My original diagnosis, bipolar disorder, given as a life sentence never really had much credibility. The tragedy is that during all those years of being drugged during the prime of my life I felt purposeless, flat, barely alive and sexless. I went from being a fit and toned athlete to being 100 lbs over-weight and unable to exercise much at all due to the sedation and nausea. Yes, I had long-term chronic nausea as an adverse effect of the Lamictal. I went through the motions of living while in a fog.

Now, drug-free, I’m quite often too ill to leave my home but my mind is crystal clear. I am motivated and productive, the author and editor of a popular mental health blog that offers alternatives to psychiatry. Having been both a professional in the mental health system and a victim of the same system, I have some interesting and uncomfortable insights into the standard of care. I’m passionate about my work. I have more of a life than I ever had on drugs even while able-bodied and even though now my life is painfully limited in ways it’s hard to convey to those who’ve never experienced such illness and isolation.

In retrospect I see now how one drug led to the next. The “mood-stabilizers” which left me depressed led to the antidepressants which left me with insomnia and agitation which led to the benzos for sleep. They still didn’t get rid of the agitation which led me to the antipsychotics (which made everything worse and in fact my doc kept adding Risperdal milligram by milligram until I was on 11 mg for my akathisia which I now know is CAUSED by the Risperdal—he was treating a symptom with the very drug that was causing the symptom!! My akathisia ceased when I finally got off the Risperdal. We always called it “anxiety”, but it was akathisia.

That big cocktail of drugs left me sedated and lethargic. No surprise. The next step was stimulants. Addiction and dependence to benzos also leads one to needing more and more drug to get the same “therapeutic effect.” And so my dose continued to increase. Unfortunately I’ve learned this happens to way too many people, some of whom never even realize it. Drugs leading to more drugs leading to more drugs. And once in the trap it’s almost impossible to see clearly. To realize what is going on is difficult and perhaps sometimes impossible.

I’ve been free of this massive cocktail of drugs for over two and half years now. The sad part is the greatest amount of suffering I’ve ever endured in my life has been a result of my body adjusting to no longer having neurotoxic drugs in my system. Medically-caused harm and a term that often sounds Orwellian to those of us who experience the protracted version: withdrawal syndrome. It totally fails to capture the grave disability some of us experience.

Still, I have not one moment of regret for having freed myself from these drugs because my mind is clear! I have a clarity of mind that is so beautiful I can cry if I spend time thinking about it. My clarity was stolen from me for almost half my life. I have it back and even impaired as I am, unable to leave the house most of the time, I am grateful.

I once made a list of the myriad insults my body and mind endured. It included over 50, mostly disabling symptoms. What is most astonishing is that I am exponentially better now and don’t experience the bulk of these symptoms anymore, but I’m still very very sick. This, again, is something very few people can conceive of. It’s mind-boggling to me as well and I’ve experienced it.

The fact is our bodies and minds are intrinsically driven to seek wellness and mine is no exception. I am on a path towards wholeness. I don’t imagine it will stop now. There is no going back.

(Read more about Monica in one of my previous blogs ~ LindaKay1948):

If I Had Remained Med Compliant… by Monica Cassani

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About lindakay1948

I am what is known as a psychiatric survivor. I've had three breakdowns, each occurring after SEVERE SLEEP DEPRIVATION. I was forced to take neuroleptics each time, but have been off of them now for over twenty eight years. The problem is that, even though I took these drugs for very short periods of time, they left me with permanent damage. My first breakdown came in 1975, before I had any children. I was on Haldol and Cogentin for about four months, then took myself off these drugs after the psychiatrist refused to do it, telling me I would have to be on them for the rest of my life. After I went off of them I realized that I had lost the feeling in my saddle area that made it possible for me to become sexually aroused. I also didn't understand why I couldn't feel when I had to urinate until there was strong pressure in my abdomen. I wondered if this numbness would be permanent, but was relieved when, after two years, the feelings came back to some degree. (However, they were never to be as strong as they had been.) Well, time went by, and I married and had two children, one in the hospital and one at home, both without anesthesia. The feelings I had seemed intact until about a month after my second child was born in 1981. I was a nursing mom, did my own diapers, and worked very hard, often into the night. My baby seemed to have colic, both of my children woke me up over and over at night, and I could not get them to sleep at the same time during the day. So I didn't sleep for about a week. I started to exhibit psychotic symptoms again, was taken to the hospital, forcibly drugged, and labled a "chronic paranoid schizophrenic". Again I took the Haldol and Cogentin for a couple of weeks, then flushed it down the toilet. Again I had lost all my sexual feelings and had to remind myself to urinate. After a couple of years I began to feel just a little. Then a major family crisis came along in 1983 over which I didn't sleep for about a week. I would have taken a sleeping pill if I could have, but did not have the opportunity until it was too late. By that time I thought I could do anything. I felt like a superwoman. Well, I was only in the hospital for three days, and I immediately flushed the Haldol and Cogentin down the toilet when I got home, but it was too late. I felt as though I had sat on a big piece of ice that I couldn't get off of, and it wouldn't melt. 'Still feels like it never will. I have (literally) sat on this secret for over twenty eight years. At first I thought it must be psychosomatic, something having to do with my anger, and went though extensive therapy. Then, in 1993, I found an M.D. who would actually listen to me, and he put me through some medical testing. When he had finished he told me that I had apparently lost the feeling in my saddle area. In other words, I have a permanent saddle block, or PERMANANT GENITAL ANESTHESIA. I am blessed with a wonderful, understanding, husband, whom I've been married to for thirty three years. We have two grown children, who are both married, and two wonderful grandchildren. I'm AMAZED, because I was once afraid to marry and have children. As I was working toward my BA in Psych, I was told that mental illness is inherited. Yes, it seemed to run in my family. My great grandmother died in an institution and my mother was on psychiatric drugs for most of her life, until she developed Tardive Dyskinesia (brain damage) from them just before she died. I thank God everyday for my family, but I believe that it is important for me to share my story with the public now because so many young people are being given the drugs I was given, and other similar ones. I have heard about people who are on anti-depressants reporting permanent sexual side effects, but I wonder how many have experienced them after being given the major tranquilizers (neuroleptics). The damage that these drugs have done to me has been DEVASTATING. Is it any wonder that there are so many angry, violent, depressed, and suicidal young people when so many of them are being put on drugs they can't "say no" to? Country: United States Occupation: Montessori Teacher
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