I will never be able to come to terms with the fact that I have spent my entire adult life slowly killing myself with the drugs prescribed to me by my doctors. The pain is just too deep and unbearable. I find nature provides some respite, and for that I am glad but for the most part, the pain is there all the time, it just fluctuates in intensity. I try to make the best of my days because there is no other choice.
“I try to make the best of my days because there is no other choice”
As a young woman, I thought I was doing the right thing. It started off with jerking of my arms and legs, and a referral to neurology resulted in the prescribing of a benzodiazepine. These drugs were brought to market without any due warnings about dependence or the horrific ordeal that withdrawal could be. When my health rapidly deteriorated I was said to have had a “nervous breakdown”. As I had no knowledge of what these drugs could do I accepted that explanation. If I had known they had similar effects to alcohol, I would not have been interested in them at all.
“I was so emotionally blunted and impaired how could I ever discuss how I was feeling?”
I was a student, training to be a teacher. I realised I could not carry on with my course. I became more and more depressed and I took an overdose. This led to a referral to psychiatry. No psychiatrist ever considered the possibility that my rapid deterioration in health was due to the benzodiazepines. Although they did not offer drugs immediately, the group therapy I took part in was totally useless. I was so emotionally blunted and impaired how could I ever discuss how I was feeling? As my condition did not improve and instead got worse, my psychiatrist started prescribing antidepressants. They were terrible drugs, and I was now a drugged zombie, finding it hard to even stay awake. However, I had been persuaded that antidepressants were the treatment for “depression” which was my diagnosis. Thrown into the mix was the suggestion that I had a personality disorder, which made matters even worse. As someone with low self-esteem, to be told that was just another blow with which to make sure my self-esteem would get even worse. And so I was now physiologically dependent on two terrible classes of drugs, but the word dependence was not a word I ever heard uttered. No advice was ever given about slow and gradual tapering, the best I got was cut in half and cut in half again. No one ever mentioned recovering and leading a normal life which was my goal.
“No one ever mentioned recovering”
It is completely unsurprising that my state of health continued to worsen. I experienced constant suicidal ideation and made several attempts on my life. One nearly fatal. Still, I had no idea what was wrong with me or why I felt this way. My psychiatrist then suggested I be sectioned and offered ECT. Thankfully neither I nor my husband were in agreement with him and I point blank refused ECT. There was no way that I would even consider risking the type of memory loss associated with ECT. I didn’t know about the more serious dangers or I would have been even more horrified. The sad thing is whilst I was able to refuse ECT, I didn’t know that I was causing permanent harm to my brain by consuming the drugs.
And so whilst my goal was to get better and lead a normal life, the reality was that I was now killing myself slowly and it started when I was 20 years old, too young to know any better. I think it was about 5 years, maybe a few more, before I finally accepted that I had an illness called depression which would be lifelong and that in fact, I would never lead a normal life. After all, that was what psychiatrists seemed to expect for their patients. One told me my husband was lucky even to be able to work, most patients could not even do that. Like me, he was given a diagnosis of depression but in time the primary diagnosis became paranoid personality disorder. He had always worked full-time but of course, as the years passed, on psych drugs and having ECT, there came a time when he could not work at all and had to depend on welfare benefits. Was it his “mental illness” that caused this decline or was it the effects of drugs and ECT? I will never know. He did say before he died that he didn’t think the drugs had ever helped him and I would have to agree with that assessment. They may have calmed him down at times, but other than that they probably caused more harm than good.
“I wonder what else is to come?”
And so I carried on consuming drugs, self-harming on a daily basis, believing I had two medical conditions, one myoclonic jerks (epilepsy as it was described to me) and depression. And all the time I was simply very unwell from prescribed drugs. For me it has been a life in chains, a life sentence in a prison, a prison of drugs, never able to break free from them or from the prescribers. Not a single day of normal functioning, not a single day of good health. Drug withdrawal on the advice of a GP was catastrophic sending me into a hell I could not even have imagined. My health is considerably worse than it was on the drugs. At least then I could walk without any problem and be more independent. The latest blow has been the loss of the central vision in my left eye. I wonder what else is to come?
I noticed that an anonymous Twitter account claiming to be a “family physician” commented that my illness is very much part of my identity. He said it meaning to cause me hurt, but he didn’t. It was also unsurprising that he was replying to someone who claims to work as a “therapist”, whatever that is supposed to mean. Of course, it is part of my identity, it has dominated every day of my life for nearly 50 years, every hour of every single day a struggle to function normally. Why would it not be part of my identity? It is as much a part of me as living and breathing. I cannot understand the nastiness and vindictiveness of people on Twitter towards the disabled, people attack me when they have never had any prior contact at all and they also attack me knowing full well what my history is. I liken it to kicking the homeless in the street for a bit of fun and imagine those people trampling over my grave when I am gone. It no longer surprises me that such attacks often come from those who claim to be working in a caring profession, after all, I have experienced so much harm from such people in real life. There are many people working in the mental health system who should not be there, attracted no doubt because they have their own problems but they simply take their problems out on the people they are paid to help.
My time spent in psychiatric hospitals was very much one of being “attacked”. Staff spent their time observing, years of observing, perhaps if they had ever noticed that I was suffering from the disabling effects of the drugs prescribed to me, their narrative would have been completely different, in fact, if they had noticed then the narrative could have come to an end nearly 50 years ago. As soon as drugs are prescribed that alter the functioning of the brain, the only thing being observed is drug effects and that should be stated clearly in the medical notes. After that, no comment is about an undrugged person until such time as they become drug-free.
I came to Twitter in the hope that I could, along with many others, campaign for a better future, unfortunately, I do not see many signs that that will come to pass. Making people sick is just far too profitable and there are too many people enjoying a good lifestyle from the proceeds.
“What has happened to me can happen to anyone.”
No doubt millions have suffered similar throughout my lifetime and millions will suffer similar long after my death. Always follow the money and understand our lives are seen as entirely disposable if someone somewhere can make a profit.
How many lives have been ruined by psychiatric drugs? The harm will never be quantified but it must be absolutely massive.
MITUK Editor: This blog is reprinted with permission from Fiona French’s website