Formally Schizo-Affective, Now "Weller than Well."
by David Mitchell Boie
Dear Al Siebert:
I found your Website, Successful Schizophrenia, while traveling around the Anti-Psychiatry web-circuit. After a number of months passed by, I thought I would write my story down and send it to you. Please feel free to use it in any capacity which might be helpful. I do not require anonymity.
My first anxiety attack occurred during a bad trip I had in college, but I was not on LSD, mushrooms, peyote, or PCP, in fact I have never tried any of these psychoactive substances because of fear of destroying my mind. What I took was a bottle of Robotussin DM cough syrup, which I had heard had psychedelic effects when ingested in large doses. I thought that since it was over-the-counter it must be safe. I also drank about nine beers with the cough syrup. The effects were intense. my perception was altered markedly, with tracers happening in my field of vision.
While on this substance, my friends and I climbed up a fire escape, and someone said, "so-and-so" was up here on acid last week and was talking about jumping. That comment set me off. I started worrying, what if I lost control of myself and decided to jump??!! The rest of the night was a horrible journey through a series of anxiety attacks. The next morning, I was so glad to be back to my old self I did some trigonometry in my head to assure that I hadn't screwed myself up and went on with life, vowing never to do that stuff again.
The following summer while doing an engineering internship, I read an article in Scientific American about how an ingredient in some cough syrups helped people recover from stokes. However, in larger doses, the chemical, named dextromethorphin-hydrobromide, mimicked the effects of PCP. This was the infamous DM in the cough syrup, Robotussin DM. Weird, I thought. I had done the equivalent of PCP, angel dust, a drug I was terrified of.
Back at school for my senior year, I went out for some drinks, and started thinking, what if that cough syrup damaged my mind; what if I have flashbacks? Then, I had my first unprovoked panic attack. I only had one more full-blown panic attack after that, but the anticipatory anxiety at the possibility of having another one was overwhelming.
I'll try to keep this submission manageable by skipping over the intricate details of my illness. To summarize, I was afraid I was going crazy and was going to lose my mind. I suffered from intense fears of having horrible thoughts and the fear made certain that they would pop up frequently. I began experimenting with the notion that these thoughts were, just words and began actually entertaining bad thoughts so that they would lose their power over me. I began to get an inkling of insight into what Buddhists mean when they assert that the ego is illusory, it is not really in control of the organism.
I delved into Eastern thought and environmentalism, convinced that my illness was not an isolated event; it must be symptomatic of the sickness we are inflicting upon the planet and each other. When I found that few people I knew were interested in what I was exploring, I became depressed. I would alternate periods of depression with periods of elevated mood where I would sense that there may be hope after all, and that I could actually do something. I was classified as bipolar (manic-depressive) and was put on lithium.
I was angry about taking medication, and went off it occasionally. I had a few psychotic episodes and was hospitalized each time, with the eventual diagnoses of both bipolar and schizo-affective disorder. At the Menninger Clinic, I was placed on a slew of medications. I was horribly over-medicated: drooling, shaking, and I had the affect of a zombie upon returning home from Menninger. I entered therapy, and began coming back. We slowly reduced my anti-psychotic (Risperdal) from six milligrams a day down to two milligrams a day. I felt like myself again, was making great breakthroughs in my informal practices of Buddhism and Taoism, and generally enjoying life.
I began exploring the anti-psychiatry movement on the Web, having been introduced to it by the works of historian and author, Theodore Roszak. I read a copy of Peter Breggin's book, Your Drug May Be Your Problem, and summoned the courage to discuss my intention to titrate off medication with my family, therapist, and psychiatrist. Interestingly enough, after reading that abrupt withdrawal from both lithium and Risperdal (as well as other neuroleptics) often precipitated psychotic episodes, I realized that every single psychotic episode I ever had began after I had abruptly stopped taking my medications.
I am now doing well and am almost three-quarters of the way off my medications, which have included Serezone (an anti-depressant), Cogentin (an anti-convulsant), Depakote (a mood-stabilizer), and Risperdal (an anti-psychotic). My creativity has increased markedly, and I have been doing a good deal of writing about mysticism, economics, gentle birthing practices, psychology, and sexuality. I am becoming convinced that, in many people, anxiety attacks are actually very intense memories of the terror experienced during intense birth trauma, which is really quite common in Western medical hospitals. There is a growing movement toward re-establishing the softer-birthing practices found in traditional cultures.
I thank you for reading this letter.
p.s. I have a two-page sample of my writing to look at. It is a letter to my friends about a potentially "Mind-Expanding" Sensory Awareness Exercise.
e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Material found on the Successful Schizophrenia website is for your information only. We are not able dispense specific advice for your situation. If you are under a doctor's care, you should talk with him or her about your mental health goals and if they are not on the same page as you, ask for a referral to a doctor or counselor who is. It may mean interviewing several. If you are on your own, you may wish to contact your local county mental health department to ask for local resources. Our site exists to show people that there are all varieties of mental states and assessments of those states; that sometimes 'mental health' is in the eye of the beholder; and that the mental health profession needs to continue to open itself up to the new paradigm ... progress is being made!
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