10 Months Off Meds And Loving It?

I was in the middle of writing another post on a similar subject when I realized it’s almost been a year off of psychiatric medication and then I had to double check because that seemed like a lot of months to me considering I’ve spent the last 8 years going on and off medication at least three times a year. The most months I’ve stayed on medication was about nine. And that was 7 years ago. Let’s just say I’ve been as consistent with medications as I have been with this blog.

Throwing shade at myself.

I stopped my medication in the first place because I was sick of being tired, I was angry, hurt, and frustrated over a break-up and I just wanted something to alter my state of mind. Now that I look back on it, I can see that was my intention: distract myself from reality by overloading myself with a different type of reality.

I was on Abilify and Trintellix this time, with a psychiatrist ready to switch me from Abilify onto Vraylar. I think I ripped up his prescription though.

The Abilify I’d been on many times before. It’s the only antipsychotic that my body would tolerate. I have a theory about why, but I won’t go into that. Trintellix however, was very new. Not just new to me, but new to the market, and I agreed to try it because I’ve tried the majority of other SSRI’s and SNRI’s and hated each one. Psychiatrists liked to tell me SSRI’s were supposed to help with anxiety but that shit ain’t ever do shit. Straight up.

I figured the only way to get a real anxiety medication, like a Benzo, would be to prove I wasn’t an addict and the way to prove that was to be compliant with their plans first.

I’ve stopped every SSRI, SNRI, mood stabilizer, and antipsychotic I’ve ever been on abruptly. And by abruptly, I mean cutting my dose in half every week for about a month. There are studies coming out now that show you should reduce medication by about .25mg or less every few months in order to safely come down. I was cutting miligrams by the fives and tens (if applicable). Quickly. And I’ve never had an adverse reaction from it, even if I was on them for 6+ months.

*I do not recommend anyone do what I’ve done, or come off of medication without the watchful eye of a medical doctor who can pinpoint physical consequences easier*

But with a new, and very under-tested SSRI, I should have been a little more logical. I didn’t spiral immediately, it took about another month to feel the effects. I woke up depressed, more depressed than I’d ever been (and that’s saying something) and I remember a lot of dissociating and voices. Mind you, I stopped both medications simultaneously. I laid on the couch eating chocolate cake and chocolate chip pancakes during the days and spent the evenings drinking whiskey and heading into downtown. Oh, I also went to work. How? WHO KNOWS.

But eventually something had to give and I ended up in a bathtub with my clothes on arguing with my voices about killing myself. Good times. I didn’t pull myself out of that situation, in case you’re wondering.

But, I also didn’t end up in the hospital. And I’m glad I didn’t.

For the next few fuzzy months I went into an outpatient program, stayed at the mental health program I currently work at (little bit of conflict of interest there, but it worked out) and for a couple weeks was back on the medication. Then, I stopped it again and discarded of them.

What resulted from that was strange. A lot of depression, even the depression I experienced before I stopped my medication, lifted. I felt great. Not manic great, not even hypo-manic great. Just . . . content. That continued steadily and increased once I completely changed my diet and exercised (I’ve lost 35 pounds over the last four months).

It was only a couple weeks ago did I notice my mood become a little wobbly. I started noticing things, strange things again. People kept knocking on my room door and my walls, breathing through them, talking through them, and I could never catch them. I started distracting myself more often, which I didn’t notice until a few days ago. If I wasn’t listening to music, I was watching YouTube or television or playing video games–loudly. Sometimes I’d do all of it simultaneously. Sleeping has become more difficult and I went from getting 8 solid hours to 5, and more recently, 2. I started feeling touches on my arm and legs at night and when I spoke to people I misheard them. I mean, really misheard them. It’s not like when someone says something and they stumble over their words so you think they said cat when they said car. This was people saying full sentences and me hearing “you don’t know what you’re doing at all” when they really said “how have you been today?”

The mumbles have come back too, the hearing a crowd of people talking but not really catching what they’re saying, and so have some familiar voices, particularly one of the softer deep ones who has generally been kind. While I was struggling to get to sleep the other night listening to all the other shit, he told me “I’m proud of you” and for whatever reason, that helped. Me and him, we’re on the same page.

Now that it’s been ten months off medications, I understand why this is happening again. I think the real test begins now. Most of the medications are the lowest they’ve ever been in my system in 8 years and this will basically be me bare-assing my mind around.

My brain has a big ass and the meds were pants three sizes too small.

I’ll have to find new ways to deal with all this, and not get caught up in paranoid thoughts. Constant music and videos has helped keep my mind less focused on all the chatter, but I can’t live life like that all the time. It’s why I haven’t been able to read or write or stay motivated in general.

I recently got a new therapist. She hasn’t known me for longer than a month and a half. In our first session I told her I hadn’t heard voices consistently for a few months, so we’ll see what her reaction is tomorrow when I tell her

Conclusion: meds aren’t always the answer. Not taking meds isn’t always the answer. What works is what works. Will this work? Who knows. But I’d rather try and find out than never try and wish I had.

How Sick Are You, Pt 2

Another long stretch since I’ve written. I spent some days adjusting to medication, some days hating myself for taking medication, and other days deciding to come off of medication.

Experiment number 2984719374:

Hypothesis: I will have a burst of energy and feel-good neurotransmitters flooding the gates of my synaptic terminals, followed by an immediate and harrowing decline which will, therefore, push me inevitably towards reuniting with the medication I so despise.

Methods: I will stop both the Abilify and Trintellix and monitor my moods and/or whatever aspects of psychosis that may rear its ugly head.

Results: TBD

Discussion: TBD.

Now that we have that settled, let’s talk a bit about mental health and awareness. There are so many great people out there doing great advocacy online and in person. There are so many great Non-Profit organizations doing the same. There are even clubs dedicated to such a thing at my college campus. And yet, there are still people wary and ashamed of their mental health. Let me give an example of how this thought process is still prevalent.

Today, while sitting in my Cognitive Psychology class, we were going over, for the umpteenth time in my life, neurotransmission, synaptic terminals, receptors, antagonists and agonists, Dopamine, Gaba, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin, some of the main receptors you learn in an introduction class. It follows that we should then speak about the dis-regulation of some of those neurotransmitters, and discuss the THEORY of chemical imbalances: regarding primarily dopamine and schizophrenia, serotonin and anxiety/depression.

Again, the idea of a chemical imbalance is a (repeat after me kids):

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which means it can never be proven, only dis-proven.

Anyway, that brought up the topic of SSRI’s, their side effects, and their withdrawal symptoms.

One young woman, who was probably younger than I am, raised her hand and said this:

“I was wondering about the withdrawal symptoms, because I take an SSRI, and I noticed that–well, I don’t have depression, it’s for some nerve problems–but I noticed that when I didn’t take it even for just a couple days, I was sleeping a lot, I couldn’t focus in this class . . .” and yada yada yada, personal life bullshit.

But what struck me is that she immediately discounted the experience of depression. She wouldn’t want her classmates thinking she’s “mentally ill” now would she?

And this is why I advocate for changing the culture around this term “mentally ill”. Because people are ashamed of that, of “being ill”. But what if we weren’t “ill”? What if we were perfectly well humans with a variation of neurons (a very, very, very large variation of neurons) that just so happened to result in different experiences? What if believing we are “ill” is keeping us, well, “ill-er”?

What if the perception of those experiences changed from unpleasant to being perceived as unique, variable, malleable, valuable, curious, and wonderful?

That’s not to say the struggle isn’t hard, because it’s very hard. But the harder we believe it is, the harder it will get.

Now, this could all be the feel-good neurotransmitters talking, because I started my little experiment about two weeks ago, and that is about the amount of time it takes for this poison to slowly remove itself from my body. Although, if you know anything about half-lifes, it never really goes away.

But whether or not this is me being euphoric and grandiose, I think we need to expand the discussion around neurotransmitters, and inform the public of just how wrong it is to think that the pathway of ONE SINGLE neurotransmitter leads to something as complex as what we call schizophrenia or what we call anxiety, Bipolar, Depression, any of it.

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You’ll read in a lot of studies released to the public–or at least glorified in the media–that they’ve found another link of dopamine to this, another one of serotonin to that, and it’s just not feasible that with 30-100 different molecule versions of neurotransmitters (granted there are a few that do a lot of the work) and 100 Trillion estimated neural connections plus constant variation of cell death/growth, neural connection death/growth, as well as environmental and genetic influences that dictate those neural connection and sell growths and deaths, that ONE neurotransmitter is going to be responsible for making or breaking our mental health.

Now, we can say that they are correlated. We can say we see increased dopamine in people who experience what we label as schizophrenia. But you cannot, and I repeat, CANNOT use that as CAUSATION.

Fuck I can’t stress it ENOUGH.

Psychology 101 folks: CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION. 

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Dopamine may be high during what we call psychosis, but that does not mean that the high dopamine CAUSED the psychosis, or that the psychosis CAUSED the high dopamine. We haven’t learned what “causes” mental health struggles yet, that’s why chemical imbalance is a THEORY.

See how much you’ve learned already today.

And that’s what happens in a lot of these articles that are debriefed by media or science magazines online with writers who don’t know a single thing about psychology. They get hung up on correlations.

It’s also a result of research publications being manipulated to suit the needs of pharmaceutical companies.

It’s a fact that if you give someone a drug that decreases dopamine, you’ll likely see a decrease in what we call psychosis. You’ll see a decrease in a lot of other things too, and those are what we cal side-effects. But are those drugs really doing anything to the thing we call psychosis, or is it just blunting some aspects of the self? Because often “psychotic symptoms” continue during the usage of said drug.

These are all questions I can’t answer, and neither can the magazines that publish articles on published research. It’s important to read these things carefully and really take a moment to look inside of yourself and ask yourself if you want to consider yourself broken, sick, ill, and helpless.

And that’s today’s Mental Truth.